This past August I tagged along for a family reunion photo shoot at Glacier National Park in Montana. The chance to experience the great outdoors and bond with family is an excellent excuse to visit one of the most beautiful parks in the National Park Service system.
We caravanned around the park, stopping on cue for classic views such as the mountain-framing St. Mary’s Lake, crystal clear Lake McDonald, and the top of the world at the Logan Pass Visitor Center.
Going-to-the-Sun Road tips
To stay connected with separate vehicles and to stick to the shoot schedule, we communicated via walkie-talkie. Since the park does not have cell phone coverage, it’s a good idea to either rent or bring a two-way radio with you to stay in touch. With over 1 million square miles of natural park land, do what you must to stick together.
Going-to-the-Sun Road has some of the best scenery in North America, along with sharp curves and higher altitudes. Always bring plenty of water to stay hydrated and stop to rest if you feel dizzy.
Try to schedule your family vacation in Glacier National Park for the summer months of July or August. This is the best time to ensure the part of the park you want to visit is open. Watch out for mid-September, since Logan’s Pass may close unexpectedly for an early snow.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is gorgeous, but other photogenic spots are well worth the stop, such as the stunning Flathead Lake. Flathead is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi and is framed both with fir forested hills and rugged grasslands.
The more rugged east side of the park also hosts spectacular views. Be sure to stop for a photo next to the statue of John F. Stevens, who braved extreme conditions to found a route through Marias Pass for the railroad. This location also boasts an obelisk monument to President Theodore Roosevelt, who made land conservation a national priority and marks the site of the continental divide, where water falling from one side of the Rockies drains all the way to the Pacific Ocean and on the other drains into the Atlantic.
Keep your family entertained with scheduled activities. Some tour companies will take both small and large groups on combination trips that include rafting, horseback and fishing or your can pick and choose the activity you want and schedule it with different companies. With a little planning, your family can join a cattle drive with a local working ranch.
Huddle together for a sleigh or wagon ride depending on the season. In the winter, most of Glacier Park is closed, but you can schedule a group downhill ski trip to nearby Whitefish or take the family cross-country skiing in certain areas of the park.
Tackle the beauty of Glacier National Park up close with a guided horseback ride. No matter what your family’s skill level, there’s a ride that will fit your group’s needs. We enjoyed a two-hour trip along the Sperry trail with Swan Mountain Outfitters in Apgar. We meandered along the glacier-fed Flathead River and rode deep into the Lodgepole forest.
Boating and rafting
Whitewater rafting is an adrenaline rush option, but for groups with varying age and skill levels, you might want to consider a slow float. On a slow float you’ll experience the same stunning scenery, but the slower approach is more conducive to taking photos.
It’s faster to fly into Kalispell International Airport, but why not get some serious family bonding in with a scenic trip to Glacier by rail? Amtrak takes bookings in groups of 8 on the Empire Builder that originates in Chicago, passes through Minneapolis, North Dakota and Montana. Be sure to hit the viewing car for those breathtaking views when you pass through the park. Area stops with good accommodations and points of interest include Essex, East Glacier (summer-only service), West Glacier and Whitefish.
Whether your reunion involves a handful of immediate family members or a large group, there are accommodations to fit various budgets and interests. From camping to renting a large home to reserving a large block of rooms at an area lodge, there are plenty of authentic Montana accommodation options both in the park and areas close by such as Whitefish to match your group’s needs.
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Kimberly is an Orbitz employee and mother of a 4-year-old son. She lives in the Chicago area.