Historic Auto Trails

Glacier Trail


Glacier Trail sign post picture courtesy of Jeff Morrison

Initially, the Glacier Trail began in St. Louis, Mo., and ended in Glacier National Park, Mont., traveling a total of 1,846 miles.1 Formerly known as the Rainbow Highway, the route eventually became the Glacier Trail due to a lack of coordinated effort on the Rainbow Highway Association’s part to provide it with proper signage.2

The Glacier Trail was first registered with the State of Minnesota Highway Department on April 24, 1918, 3 and later registered with the Iowa State Highway Commission (ISHC) on Sept. 6, 1921.4 Its southernmost point in Iowa was Bloomfield, moving north through Ottumwa, Oskaloosa, Grinnell, Marshalltown, Eldora, Hampton, and Mason City.

Correspondence following the trail’s registration mostly consists of acknowledgements of receipt of various Glacier Trail Association (GTA) documents. A letter to the ISHC from F.C. Thornton, president of the GTA, invited members of the ISHC to attend the annual GTA convention in Minneapolis, Minn., on Jan. 12, 1922. In the letter, Thornton stated that the trail had been marked from St. Louis, Mo. to Breckenridge, Minn., and that the association wished to continue marking the trail from North Dakota to Montana throughout 1922.

Thornton also enclosed a poster promoting travel to the Iowa town of Grinnell via the Glacier Trail, and the poster’s description of Iowa is almost rhapsodic. “In the center of the famous corn belt—the most fertile section of the United States, graciously favored by nature and served by far-visioned men with a realization of its future possibilities. To visit Iowa is to appreciate it—to visit Iowa is to know it. Rich in historical associations…diversity of scenery... wooded hills…broad sweeping landscapes, or quiet bits of road in low valleys, with hills beyond. Where pots of gold are spilled over the broad cornfields. The state of sunshine, smiles and stability. Nature’s own resting place.“

The poster goes on to describe the state of education, industries, parks, churches, and streets in Grinnell. It also pictures Arbor Lake and the New Monroe, a hotel for Glacier Trail travelers, and exhorts them to “Visit Grinnell—Where 6,000 Red-Blooded Americans Wait to Greet You”. 5

Glacier Trail signs - copyright Blake Reding These signs were given to Blake Reding by his grandfather, A.J. Larson, now deceased and formerly of Geneva, Iowa. He believes they may have been posted in the local area at one time, which is consistent with the route that traveled through Franklin County.
Sign images - ©2010 Blake Reding, West Des Moines, Iowa

According to the Glacier Trail Association’s pamphlet6, the Glacier Trail would “eventually be extended from coast to coast and the only marked trail in America that will run from the extreme southeast to the extreme northwest, diagonally across the continent.” While this expansion project was never documented by the Iowa State Highway Commission, according to Ohio State University’s list of national trails, the route extended from Seattle, Washington, to Jacksonville, Fla. In between St. Louis and Jacksonville, it went through Fulton, Ky.; Jackson, Tenn.; Corinth, Miss.; and Birmingham and Montgomery in Ala. 7

Glacier Trail in Hardin County, Iowa Concerning the Glacier Trail’s recent history, in Marshalltown, Ia., on September 26, 2000, the Hardin County Community Development Commission voted to send an application to the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Iowa Scenic Byway Program for a portion of the Glacier Trail between Highway 3 and Highway 30, “for the purpose of enhancement of the area for tourism.” 8 The trail is well marked throughout towns of Hardin County, such has Ackley, Eldora and Steamboat Rock.

1 PDF of Past Times: Central Iowa's Monthly Magazine Dedicated to Celebrating Our History. http://www.timesrepublican.com/pdf/news/514956_1.pdf
2 Letter from Iowa State Highway Commission to Mr. J.B. McHose, President of the Daniel Boone Trail, August 18, 1921, Box 2, Folder HA2.029; folder one of two.
3 State of Minnesota Highway Department Glacier Trail Association Registration Form: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/library/glacier_trail.jpg
4 Registration of Highway Routes Application, Iowa State Highway Commission, form No. 60; folder one of two.
5 Poster promoting travel to Grinnell via Glacier Trail, Box 2, Folder HA2.029; folder two of two.
6 Glacier Trail informational pamphlet, Box 2, Folder HA2.029; folder two of two.
7 Ohio State University National Auto Trails Website, October 26, 1998.
8 Marshall County Board of Supervisors board meeting minutes, September 26, 2000.


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