Habitats of Glacier


Program Start Date:


3 DAY COURSE – In this course we will explore the east side, west side, and the top side of Glacier and learn the real “story behind the scenery”.

(Summer Activity Level)

Habitats of Glacier

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Habitats of Glacier
Instructor: Denny Olson
September 13 at 7 a.m. – September 15 at 4 p.m.

Glacier National Park is spectacular for many reasons, but the emphasis in this course will be “how all those reasons fit together”, for example, the ecological relationships between fungus and forest, nutcrackers and grizzlies, climate and Glacier’s alpine – and the odd, fascinating, but nearly unknown species of plants and animals in the Park. With day hikes on the east side, west side, and top side, we will examine Glacier’s fine-tuned ecology — the real “story behind the scenery”. This class is an intensive, on-site overview of the Park, with an emphasis on the “bet-you-didn’t-know!” stories from a 45-year teaching naturalist.

Meeting Place: Glacier Institute Field Camp.

Itinerary: (subject to change due to trail closures and weather)

Day 1: Westside, Wet side

We will meet at 7 a.m. for brief introductions, orientation and course overview. Next, we will drive to McGee Meadow on the Inside North Fork Road to learn about fens and bogs. Afterwards we will take a short hike to Johns Lake. Here we will learn about the “little bog of horrors” and pioneer rainforests. Then we will embark on the Trail of the Cedars for an exploration of fungus within the forest; swift accommodations and cancer cures. Next, we will head down the Avalanche Lake Trail, the valley of NO fire; log cities; power of ice; Oregon dirt. After returning from the trail, we will have dinner at Field Camp at 6 p.m. After dinner there will be an evening presentation: The Spectacular Birds of Glacier – with special guest Professor Avian Guano, Bir.D. (Clown ducks, ouzels, camp robbers, woodpeckers and fire, etc.)

Day 2: Life at the Top

Breakfast will be served at 6 a.m. We will leave Field Camp at 7 a.m. and head to Siyeh Bend on Going to the Sun Road, where we will stop for the oldest recorded life in prehistory, hard rock café geology in the bus! We will then hike to Preston Park to discuss the Whitebark pine keystone: grizz, squirrels, nutcrackers, and living in the subalpine world. The group will have lunch overlooking ‘half of Montana’ where we will learn of plant survival strategies in the alpine. With our return hike we will discuss: climate, glaciers and the disappearing alpine – Timberline sparrows, ptarmigan, rosy finches and wolverines. Dinner will be at 6 p.m. at Field Camp, followed by an evening presentation: Glacier’s Little-known and Seldom-seen (alpine frogs, toads and fire, boreal boas).

Day 3: Eastside Windy Parklands

Breakfast will be at 6 a.m. Afterwards we will load up in the vans and head to the east side of the park. Along the way we will discuss the newly discovered under-riverbed world. At Marias pass we will stop to hear about the 300 X 50-mile-all-time world record bulldozer. The group will then trek along the Firebrand Pass trail and dive into the following: Glacier’s fish – mega-messing with Mother Nature; beaver behavior, wind and where trees live; grizzlies-huckleberries-moths-lilies-and- ladybugs – the ‘Paleo-diet’; a “krummy” place to be a pine. For our return hike we will discuss: the magical physiology of bears; taking a “lichen” to primitive plants; picky butterflies and other endangered species. Then we will head back to Field Camp, go over the “Big Pictures” of the week, and conclude the course.

Food: The following meals are included: lunch on Day 1 through lunch on Day 3.

Accommodations: 2 nights of lodging are included into the course fee. Our student cabins are basic, hostel-style cabins with 5 single beds, bedside lights, and electrical outlets.  Students should be prepared to share a cabin with up to 4 other people, cabins are separated by gender. Couples may be paired up in the event there is ample space. We provide a bottom sheet for your bed as well as a pillow and pillow case, but please bring a warm sleeping bag.  Be sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp for night trips to the bathroom. The community bathhouse has flush toilets, sinks, and hot showers.

Park Entrance Fees: Participants are responsible for purchasing their park entrance passes prior to the course. These can be purchased online at: https://www.recreation.gov/sitepass/74280.  

Equipment: You will receive a Field Camp gear list once you register. Most importantly are comfortable hiking shoes, snacks, water bottle at least 1-2 liters, backpack, rain gear, hat, and sunscreen. Weather can be varied, especially in the higher altitudes, so please be prepared with appropriate clothing, with extra warm layers. We will be hiking in varied elevations throughout the course so expect cold, potential snow and high winds

Physical Requirements: Strenuous to moderate difficulty. The elevation gains on four hikes range from 500 to 2000 feet. Day 1 involves 6 miles of hiking with 800 feet of elevation gain. Day 2 involves 9 miles of hiking with up to 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Day 3 involves 10 miles of hiking, with up to 2,000 feet of elevation gains. Frequent learning breaks will be taken along the trail.

Academic Credit: Please see our ‘2021 Academic Credit’ link on our website to learn about OPI credits for our courses.


Additional information

Refund Policy

The Glacier Institute has a 24 hour cancellation policy for a full refund with all of our courses.

Did you know Glacier Institute members receive a 10% discount?