So now we’re on to a part of the trip we like to unofficially call Geysers to Glaciers. It’s our route from Yellowstone National Park to Glacier National Park via the Beartooth Scenic Byway. Along the way we found several noteworthy towns, two of which we’ll take a closer look at.
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Setting out from Grand Teton National Park, we headed through the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway on the highway of the same name. The Parkway is 24,000 acres managed by the Park Service and provides protected land connecting Grand Teton to Yellowstone. This forms the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The Parkway was named for the man who was instrumental in purchasing, donating and protecting this land as well as Grand Teton National Park. It’s really to great men like him that we owe our deepest gratitude. They were before their time, not only recognizing the value of preserving wild spaces, but in his case especially, making the financial commitment to acquire and preserve the land for people to enjoy long after he passed.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park has the claim to being the first national park in the US and, therefore most say, in the world. Founded in 1872, it’s one of the Big 3 for America’s National Parks in our minds, right up there with Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. It’s the second largest National Park outside of Alaska (Death Valley being the largest in the 48 states). But the reason Yellowstone is so famous is not that it’s the first or one of the biggest, but rather for the geologic wonders it holds. Hooray for geology! We’ll be taking a closer look at this geologic paradise, fun for young and old.
Beartooth Scenic Byway
One of the most scenic drives into or out of a national park has to be the Beartooth Scenic Byway. Topping out at 10,947 feet, the road takes you into bonafide alpine wilderness. Our drive up and over this famous road was spectacular, if not a bit on the hairy side. Wishing we could have spent more time admiring the view at the top and wandering around the alpine lakes and meadows, the weather had other plans for us…
Red Lodge, Montana
At the other end of the Beartooth Highway lies the quaint western town of Red Lodge, Montana. Having visited Red Lodge in 1993 for field camp during my junior year as a geology student at Penn State, I can attest to the fact that the town was not nearly as inviting as it was this time around. Red Lodge has grown up, but still maintained a great old west charm.
Helena was a city we didn’t expect to be as charming and historic as it was. Founded as a gold miners camp during the Montana gold rush, the city was established in 1864. The spot that became Helena was picked for good reason as they extracted over $3,000,000,000 (today’s value) of gold from within the city limits (that’s over 60 tons!). At one time in the early 1900s, Helena was the richest city in the world, per capita. Oh, and one thing we did not expect…Helena has a stunning cathedral that looks as if it’s been plucked from a grand city in Europe.
Glacier National Park
Get there as soon as you can. By our estimates during our visit, and from what we heard from the rangers, Glacier National Park will be a misnomer by as soon as 2030. With over 150 glaciers in the park when it was founded in 1910, there are now only 25 glaciers over 25 acres in size. The park is stunningly beautiful with hiking trails to waterfalls, lakes, and yes…glaciers too. All of the trails have sublime views complete with an overabundance of wildflowers. The famous Going to the Sun Road is an amazing day trip, one we won’t soon forget.
We hope you read about all our adventures in our upcoming posts by signing up for our newsletter in the footer at the bottom of this page. If you would like to follow our route on your own or with friends you can download any of our trips in our shop section. As a way to trace our steps, we’ve created state code stickers, helmet flag stickers and country code stickers that can be used on helmets or vehicles; purchase these stickers so you too can commemorate your travels.