The location: Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana, actually crossing over the US-Canadian border. Called the “Crown of the Continent,” the park boasts stunning raw wilderness. But you don’t have to be a survivalist or extreme hiker to enjoy the best of Glacier. We found that many of the park’s stunning views were accessible by car or on short kid-friendly hikes. The park offers far more than glaciers, including lush cedar forests and turquoise blue waters.
The story: our favorite destination
We sacrificed reliable internet to camp as close as possible to the West Glacier entrance of the park—completely worth it. We visited the park five times in eight days, each time finding new wonders. We drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road nearly end to end and enjoyed hikes on both the west and east sides of the park. Even with a toddler in tow, we were able to see incredible sights. Compared to some national parks, Glacier feels very raw and undisturbed. The trails felt secluded, even on busy summer days. After nearly a year traveling full time, we concluded Glacier is our hands-down favorite destination in the U.S.
The best photo spots: Going-to-the-Sun Road
The world-famous Going-to-the-Sun Road runs east to west across the park. There are 29 official stopping points with great views and notable sights, as well as dozens of perfect moments that aren’t marked on the map.
The fiercely blue waters of Lake McDonald greet you shortly after entering the park from the west, running parallel to the road for several miles. We caught our best shot of the lake on our way out of the park around sunset, after 8 p.m. in the summer. We parked in an un-named pull off to hop out and enjoy the view.
We visited Glacier in early July and were treated to hundreds of waterfalls as the snow melted. The stepped rocks at Big Bend reminded me of South American pyramids—looking more crafted than wild. This stop offered incredible views of the peaks across as well.
Sunrift Gorge is stop 22 out of 29 and much farther east into the park. It would take about an hour to drive here from the park entrance if you weren’t stopping frequently. This stop has man-made stone stairs taking you right to the waters’ edge almost under the road. You could easily drive by and not notice the stunning combination of water, rock, and foliage.
The best photo spots: trails
Johns Lake Loop
Johns Lake Loop was a delightful surprise. We wanted to take an easy hike as a family and not focus as much on taking photos. The trail is an easy three-mile loop that follows McDonald Creek before cutting into a verdant forest. We were blown away by the turquoise waters of the creek, and, of course, took tons of photos.
Avalanche Lake Trail
If we were to choose a single favorite spot on the planet, this would be it. You begin on the Trail of the Cedars, an easy mile-long loop, and continue on the Avalanche Lake Trail. The hike all the way to the lake is about 4.5 miles total, rated as moderate, and is significantly steeper than the easy beginning section. But you don’t need to go all the way to the lake to see the best of this trail. As soon as you start following Avalanche Creek you’ll be dazzled.
St. Mary and Virginia Falls Trail
On the east side of the park, we hiked to St Mary Falls and then on to Virginia Falls. The first section is an easy trail that runs about a mile out, depending on where you start. The easy trail took us through a hauntingly beautiful burn scar. St. Mary Falls is bright turquoise, like St. Mary Lake itself. The water truly looks tropical and contrasts greatly with the red-brown rocks. If you continue another 0.7 miles or so along a moderate trail to Virginia Falls, you’ll find yourself marveling at its height and power.
Getting the best shot: be water ready
We actually found it difficult to take photos of Virginia Falls and others because of the spray coming off the falls. A sleeve or rain cover that covers both the camera and your arm would be very helpful in these spots. We even pulled out the plastic cover for the camera bag when we got close.
So many of these sights include water so be sure to bring a tripod, a shutter remote, and a neutral density filter to catch that perfect water blur.
We shot the national park at various times of day. The Going-to-the-Sun Road winds quite a bit, so each stop has a different ideal light direction. The road heads northeast from stops 1–7, northwest for stops 8 and 9, southeast from 10–14, and east from 15–26.
The gear: Canon
These photos of Glacier National Park were taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, with a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L wide lens or Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L telephoto lens, each with a polarizing or neutral density filter.
All images are copyright of Josh Schaulis and may not be reproduced or used in any way without written permission.