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Saint Mary Lake & Wild Goose Island, Glacier National Park, Montana
Saint Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island are located in Glacier National Park, known as the “Crown Jewel” of the National Park System and named for the glacial rivers of ice that carved its spectacular landscape.
The park sits astride the Continental Divide in Montana’s northern Rockies. Glacier is unique among U.S. parks, as it shares a border with Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.
Saint Mary Lake, the second-largest lake in the park at 10 miles long, is located on the east side of the park and begins just inside the east entrance at St. Mary. Follow the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road, which runs through the heart of the park, to the Wild Goose Island view turnout (1.5 miles from Sun Point). Be sure to continue on the Going-to-the-Sun Road to enjoy the many photo opportunities.
No matter what time of year you visit, the weather is unpredictable. Snow can fall anytime, especially above the tree line where it’s typically 10 degrees cooler. During the months of June through August, the average daytime temperatures are in the 60s to 70s, and the average nighttime temperature is in the 40s; however, highs can reach in the 90s and lows near 20 degrees. Thunderstorms are common all summer long, and rainfall averages two to three inches per month.
The weather is often different depending on your elevation and whether you’re east or west of the Continental Divide. The western side of the Divide tends to receive the most rainfall, whereas the eastern side tends to have higher winds and more sun. The National Weather Service issues separate weather forecasts for the two halves of the park. You may start in a T-shirt and shorts and need a parka by evening.
With 635 lakes, 563 streams, more than 750 miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, wildlife and the fabled 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road winding through some of the most awe-inspiring mountains in the world, this park is a photographer’s dream!
Mornings are best when shooting east-side park locations, such as Saint Mary Lake. The west side of the park is photographed best in the afternoon and evenings. During July and August, travel during early morning and early evening for the best light. The mountain views can be mysterious in the morning when mist rises from one of the many lakes. In late afternoon, the clouds can build up, adding drama that often results in good sunsets as well.
Wide-angle lenses are important for capturing the valleys and towering peaks. Telephoto lenses are great for photographing the park wildlife, and macro lenses are perfect for the many summer wildflowers, such as beargrass, the park’s official flower.
September is one of the best months to visit. Summer is the most popular visiting time, and along the more accessible and popular areas of the park, it’s always crowded. By September, though, most visitors are gone. The weather is pleasant, changing leaves color the scenes, and wildlife is abundant and at its best.
Although the park is open all year, most roads are essentially closed by snow from fall through early summer. Portions of the Going-to-the-Sun Road remain open year-round, while the higher sections aren’t open until late May or June and generally close in mid-October, unless closed earlier by snowfall.
Contact: Glacier National Park, (406) 888-7800, www.nps.gov/glac.
Instead of sticking to the roads and trails at Glacier National Park or places with similar aquatic opportunities, why not explore in a kayak and find some unique, seldom-photographed vantage points? The photography-friendly Solstice GTS touring kayak from Current Designs Kayaks has a shallow “V” cross-sectional shape for responsiveness and stability and two watertight hatches, one in the front (14×7.5 inches) and one in the rear. List Price: $2,900 (fiberglass); $3,350 (Kevlar). Contact: Current Designs Kayaks, (507) 454-5430, www.cdkayak.com.