Support Local Journalism


GLACIER NATIONAL PARK — Mountains where I’m from are rolling green hills, bumps and hollows where there is no escaping the humid heat that weighs you down throughout the summer months.

Growing up in Kentucky, these hills were the high water mark until I first came west after college. Alaska and then Montana stretched my idea of mountains beyond those soft hills into granite cliffs and glacier-carved valleys.

Earlier this month, my family visited. It was their first trip to Montana and on the top of their list was a swing through Glacier National Park.

With the park’s new ticketing system in place for Going-to-the-Sun Road and with a few physical limitations eliminating strenuous hikes, we opted to see the park along the waters that helped form it, albeit in a more liquid form.

Early this year, Glacier announced it would run a ticketed entry system from May 28 through Sept. 6 for the West Glacier and St. Mary entrances.

The tickets are meant to cut down on the high attendance rates and resulting traffic jams that have plagued the park in recent years. Since 2016, the park has averaged almost 3 million visitors for the past five years. The park did see a dip in visitors in 2020 due to pandemic-related park closures.

Since we were visiting before the full opening of the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, featuring steep switchbacks and stunning views, the park limited the number of tickets. Once the 50-mile road is fully open, connecting the West Glacier entrance with St. Mary’s, there will be about 4,600 tickets available per day.

With tickets sold out for our planned trip, we booked a boat tour of Lake McDonald to ensure access to the west side of the park. Visitors with service reservations, like boat rides, guided hikes, horseback rides, bus tours or in-park lodging, aren’t required to get a ticket.

Boarding the DeSmet, a 91-year-old wooden boat, on a day teetering between gloriously sunny and potentially gloomy, it was easy to feel tiny in the waters of the 10-mile-long and almost 500-feet-deep lake.

Glacier Park Boat Company offers four tours. Founded in 1938, the boat company is known for its fleet of wooden boats that were originally a means of transport before many of the roads were built. Now, they ferry curious visitors across at least six of the estimated 762 lakes in the park.

The water was a pale, glacial blue due to recent rainfall and high winds that day. The hour or so ride was a mini trip through Glacier’s history, with an employee describing the glacial forces that sculpted the mountains and valleys.

Floating along the northwestern shore of the lake, we skirted the skeletal remains of the 2018 Howe Ridge fire, which burned over 14,000 acres and about 13 private homes and publicly owned historic structures.

Despite the fire burning so close, Glacier Park Boat Company continued to operate tours on Lake McDonald throughout that summer.

Toward the midpoint of our ride, the clouds pulled their curtain low over the mountain peaks and rain started to pockmark the lake around us.

As we turned back toward the dock, our guide began narrating the history behind the names of Glacier’s famous peaks. While our guide acknowledged there were Blackfeet names for many of the peaks, she described the names given to the mountains by white settlers.

Pointing toward Mount Cannon, the guide told the story of how Walter Bradford Cannon and Cornelia Cannon came to Glacier in 1901 on their honeymoon. As the legend goes, Cornelia was told to stay behind while her new husband trekked to the top. Not one to be told what to do, Cornelia summited before her husband and greeted him when he finally reached the top.

Living in Bozeman, I sometimes go days without really noticing the peaks that surround us. But throughout our trip to Glacier, I found myself seeing the mountains and lakes with the same awe I had when I first moved west.

It felt like I was seeing them through the eyes of my family. Heads tilted upward, we marveled at the forces that carved these peaks that were so different from the rolling green hills of Kentucky. The wooden boat bobbed in the cold, pale blue waters.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Liz Weber can be reached at or 582-2633.

Recommended for you