Go back to my accounts of our visit to Glacier Park in September and you’ll notice that Deb and I spent all of our time west of the Continental Divide. We set up “base camps” in two places over eight days — first West Glacier, then Columbia Falls.
That was intentional.
The most obvious reason, I suppose, is that I lived and worked in West Glacier one summer many years ago, so it’s the place most familiar to me. But having spent time all over the park and throughout the surrounding area, I knew that “the west side is the best side” — it offers more services and easier access to breathtaking scenery than anywhere on the east side.
Simply put, whether you prefer natural or developed, wild or commercial, the west side offers more to see and more to do.
In all fairness, the east side of Glacier Park gets to brag on St. Mary Lake, Many Glacier and Two Medicine, all spectacular areas. I remember vividly a large framed photo of St. Mary Lake adorning the wall of Mrs. Musgrove’s classroom in 1963, so I could argue that it was the east side that first drew me to Glacier.
That side of the park is windier, drier and a little warmer. The forests aren’t as dense. Base elevations are higher — 4,800 feet at East Glacier and 4,600 feet at St. Mary, compared to 3,200 feet in West Glacier. The topography is different, too, and beyond the park’s boundary the terrain abruptly becomes rolling grassland. In ecological terms it’s known as “shortgrass prairie.”
It’s also worth noting that all of the land immediately east of Glacier Park is occupied by the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Over the years Blackfeet Nation have shown little interest in taking advantage of potential revenue generated by tourism. The result, especially in places like East Glacier, is that services are fewer and establishments are decidedly shabbier than those on the west side.
Because Deb and I originally approached Glacier Park from the south and west, we didn’t see the east side until the day we left, rolling over the Continental Divide on US 2 at Marias Pass. Glacier was in Ernie’s rearview mirrors eight miles later.
Four miles after that we crossed the Two Medicine River and entered the wide-open grassland.
I know lots of folks who prefer the east side. They’d say we missed many of the park’s jewels by not spending any of our time there.
To each his own. Deb and I are glad that we did what we did.
Ultimately, Glacier is two distinctly different parks. And once again — grammatically correct this time, for every English teacher I’ve ever had — it’s still my opinion that the west side is the better side.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.
(Today’s header image: Eastbound on US 2 entering East Glacier Village, elevation 4,823 feet, on September 16th. The grassy bluffs in the background are about a mile away, on the opposite bank of the Two Medicine River. Those bluffs, which we’d reach a couple of minutes later, are almost 200 feet higher than the spot where this photo was taken; the river itself is 200 feet lower. There is, of course, a bridge.)