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When many visitors to Glacier National Park think of lakes in the area, it is often Swiftcurrent Lake that comes to mind. Often photographed, this beautiful little glacier-fed lake hosts the Many Glaciers Hotel and is the one most park visitors to the east entrance first see. Stunning, with towering peaks reflected in the lake, Swiftcurrent Lake is the scene most remembered by park visitors. Nearly all visitors to the park, even if they aren't interested in hiking, will visit this lake.
Popular boat tours take visitors from the hotel's dock to the far end of the lake, where they can hike a few hundred yards to yet another beautiful lake. Or, they may rent a canoe or kayak or row boat and explore the lake at their leisure. The early morning boat tours often see a multitude of wildlife, including moose, bighorn sheep and the occasional grizzly bear. Trout rising to the surface leave dimpled rings on the water before the wind comes up. The air is crisp and clear, and all of nature's beauty is on display. No wonder the vision of Swiftcurrent Lake remains in visitors' memories long after they have returned home.
Just over 100 acres, Swiftcurrent Lake doesn't have any official statistics on how deep it is. A 20th century report on the lake states that it consists of two basins, each between 15 and 30 feet in depth. The near shore shallows are great for a little wading, and fly fishermen often fish for brook trout either from shore or using the float-tubes they bring for the purpose. The row boats are often rented by fishermen to reach some of the more inaccessible inlets and coves where they try their luck. Average sized trout are hungry, even with boats plying the lake regularly. Although all visitors need a park pass, fishermen don't need a special fishing permit for fishing within the park; the regular Montana fishing license will suffice. Regular visitors often bring their own canoes or kayaks and enjoy the water without time limits or fee concerns.
The shore of Swiftcurrent Lake near the hotel docks is the beginning of several of Glacier's best hiking trails. There is an easy loop trail around the lake that is generally flat and easy walking. The Swiftcurrent Nature Trail loop is two-and-a-half miles long with a new vista opening up everywhere one looks. Great views of Mount Gould, Allen Mountain, and Mount Grinnell dominate the skyline, with snow-capped peaks forming a nearly continuous backdrop to the scenic lake. During the early summer, native wildflowers paint the small alpine pastures with points of riotous color. With a good pair of binoculars, hikers may see a bear or bighorn sheep on the slopes above. At the far end of the lake, a short diversion allows hikers to visit Lake Josephine. The Grinnell Lake Trail veers off to continue on to the longer, more strenuous hike. Staying on the nature loop takes one completely around the lake, with a variety of views all begging to be photographed. These are strictly walking trails. Other trails starting near Many Glaciers Hotel are also open to horseback riding. Guided horseback trips can be arranged within the park.
The Swiftcurrent Trail, beginning near the campground next to the Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge, eventually takes hikers along Swiftcurrent Creek on a strenuous trail to Swiftcurrent Pass, the Highline Trail along the Continental Divide, and the Granite Park Chalet. Other trails lead to Piegan Pass and other points of interest in the park. Glacier National Park is prime grizzly bear country. It is estimated that the park contains more grizzlies per square mile than any other location in the United States. When bear activity is high, trails are often closed, but they can appear along the trails at any time. Rangers will tell you to give them a wide berth and carry bear spray.
Many Glaciers Valley is one of the most scenic locations within Glacier Park. Staying at the Many Glaciers Hotel overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake allows visitors to experience the historic atmosphere of Glacier National Park, with continuous reminders of its origins in the early 1900s. The hotel still looks much like it did in 1915, and guest are sometime amazed to find that the rooms contain no such 'modern' conveniences as television or air conditioning. They are hardly necessary here; nature's panorama is just outside, and the altitude keeps the temperature pleasantly cool even in summer. The campground near the hotel fills up quickly, so more active campers often move on to the back country campsites around Lake Josephine. Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge just down the road offers rustic cabins, motel rooms and yet another campground. There are no swimming beaches, since the water in Swiftcurrent Lake remains quite cold all summer. In winter park facilities are closed but trails are still open, although many may be impassible due to deep snow. Regular visitors sometimes use the lower trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Glacier National Park abuts the Blackfeet Reservation on the east a short distance from Many Glaciers Valley. A few services are located outside the park in the small towns of Babb and Saint Marys. Some lodgings can be found in these towns including a few guest ranches, small motels and bed-and-breakfasts. Local restaurants welcome tourists, and groceries and supplies can be purchased here. 'Going To The Sun Road' across the park is a not-to-be-missed drive with spectacular views. More private businesses can be found on the west side of Glacier Park. The largest city of any size nearby is Kalispell, over 125 miles away.
Real estate isn't available within the park but is sometimes found outside of the park boundaries. The tiny town of Columbia Falls near the park's western edge has several skiing locations and outfitters eager to offer their services. Private rentals are often available near here. The area is well worth a week or so to explore and see all of the sights, whether on foot, by car, or by boat and kayak. Don't forget the camera and binoculars.
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