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Glacier National Park “jammer” driver Matt Isbell puts a shine on his bus recently in preparation for the summer season. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the park’s establishment. Photo by KURT WILSON/Missoulian

WEST GLACIER - Ride a bike or hike a trail, pitch a tent or rent a room, catch a fish or find a flower.

That's the advice from Wade Muehlhof, spokesman at Glacier National Park.

With the Memorial Day weekend fast upon us, he said, the park is opening and readying for business - and his first instinct is to grab a bicycle for a scenic ride up Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Much of that famed mountain highway remains closed to vehicles, making it a perfect path for cyclists of all ages and abilities. The road winds along the whitewater flats of McDonald Creek, gaining gentle elevation from the gate at Avalanche up to the switchback Loop.

"That ride is just phenomenal," Muehlhof said. Hikers and bikers often see deer and bears in the woods, ducks and dippers in the river, snow slides and mountain goats among the peaks.

Currently, he said, the Sun Road is open to vehicles for 15 miles from West Glacier to Avalanche Creek. East of the Continental Divide, the road is open 13 miles from St. Mary to Jackson Glacier Overlook. Beyond those gates, hikers and bikers own the asphalt - but should be on the alert for wildlife, construction crews and wintry weather.

Or, if your trail tracks the path less followed, Muehlhof suggests an early season hike on one of Glacier's fine low-elevation trails. While the mountain heights still are choked in snow, he said, the trails through Glacier's bottomlands are blooming with spring life.

A popular choice this time of year is the Autumn Creek Trail, which winds along the stunning Rocky Mountain Front just east of Marias Pass. Muehlhof points visitors to the park's Web site - nps.gov/glac - with links to "plan your visit," "things to do" and "hiking the trails" for more tips and a list of trails and their current status.

At day's end, Meuhlhof recommends pitching a tent at one of Glacier's many frontcountry campgrounds. With several sites opening just in time for this holiday weekend, he said, "there's a lot of opportunity for campers."

Only Avalanche, Logging and Quartz Creek camps remain off-limits.

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Also opening for the long weekend is Glacier Park Lodge, which along with Lake McDonald Lodge will offer holiday guests somewhat more luxurious lodging than the pup-tent motel.

"They're just opening up," Muehlhof said of the lodges, with several more to greet guests in coming weeks.

Visitors staying on Lake McDonald will find some fine fishing out their front door, which for Muehlhof is yet another option for a Memorial Day getaway. "The lake's always good fishing," he said, particularly up near the inlet at the head of the lake.

But boaters beware of hitchhikers - this year, the park has new rules to combat the spread of invasive aquatic species. Beginning on June 1, owners of motorized boats must obtain a launch permit before hitting park waters. Just drop by any visitor center, ranger station or park permit office, and be sure your boat is clean and dry before arriving.

For landbound fisherfolk working the shorelines, Muehlhof recommends that while on the trail to that favorite fishing hole you keep an eye out for Glacier's wildflowers, which are opening as fast as park concessioners this time of year.

The trilliums already are out, as are the twin flowers and a few fairy-slipper orchids, and the glacier lilies can't be far behind.

More wildflowers - paintbrush, penstemon, sky pilot and forget-me-not - soon will follow, as will more concessions and visitor services.

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Granite Park Chalet opens June 29, and Sperry Chalet greets guests July 7. Boat tours and rentals already have started on Lake McDonald, with services on other waterways opening mid-June.

West of the Divide, horseback rides have begun at Apgar and Lake McDonald corrals; rides at Many Glacier begin June 4, the same day Many Glacier Hotel opens and shuttle service starts between East Glacier and Waterton, Alberta.

The free Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle hits the road July 1, by which time all major concessions should be up and running throughout the park.

"There's so much to do," Muehlhof said, adding that the holiday weekend marks the park's official "busy season."

"The weather's looking kind of iffy," he said of the holiday, "but it seems like you can always find some sunshine somewhere."

And if all else fails, he said, you can just snuggle back down into that sleeping bag, or pack a lunch for a wildlife cruise down one of the park's rustic roads.

"There's lots of options," Muehlhof said. "The summer's just getting started."

 

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