We had superficially mentioned Glacier National Park Montana in one of our previous articles – Best Places to Visit in Montana. Considering, how beautiful it is and how people would definitely want to know more about it, we decided to write a detailed article on Glacier National Park.
Without much ado, here is all your wanted to know about Glacier National Park Montana.
Because of its stunning scenery, glacier-capped mountains, brilliant aquamarine lake, and some of America’s best hiking trails, it is no wonder that the Glacier National Park Montana is known as the “Crown of the Continent.”
Sprawling over 1 million acres in Montana USA, Glacier National Park is an ideal stopover for anyone who enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, backpacking, and cross-country ski touring.
What is the best time to visit Glacier National Park Montana?
While July, August, and September are the best months to visit Glacier National Park, it can be crowded with tourists. Although June and October are beautiful shoulder seasons, the Going-to-the-Sun Road’s higher elevations, including Logan Pass, may be closed by snow.
Winter is a great time to visit Glacier National Park Montana if you enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Although spring can be cold and rainy, it is a great time to visit the park before summer crowds arrive.
How do I get to Glacier National Park?
From the west, the communities of Kalispell, Whitefish, and Columbia Falls, provide access to the Lake McDonald area, Park Headquarters, the Apgar Visitor Center and Going-to-the-Sun-Road. From Kalispell, take Highway 2 north to West Glacier (approximately 33 miles). From the east, all three east entrances can be reached by taking Highway 89 north from Great Falls to the town of Browning (approximately 125 miles) and then following signage to the respective entrance. The St. Mary Entrance is the east entry point of Going-to-the-Sun-Road and provides access to the St. Mary Visitor Center.
Several commercial service airports are located within driving distance of Glacier National Park. Glacier Park International Airport is located near Kalispell and is approximately 30 miles west of the West Entrance. Missoula International Airport is located approximately 150 south of the West Entrance. Great Falls International Airport is located between 130 miles to 165 miles east of East Glacier Park, St Mary, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier Entrances. Car rentals are available at airports. Shuttles are available at the Kalispell airport.
Amtrak’s historic Empire Builder train line stops year-round at West Glacier (Belton), The Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, and seasonally at East Glacier. Glacier National Park Lodges provides a shuttle (for a fee) that transports West Glacier Amtrak passengers between the train depot and Apgar and the Lake McDonald Lodge. Reservations are required.
Glacier National Park Map
Things to Do in Glacier National Park Montana
The activities and events you can do in Glacier National Park depend on when you visit.
Glacier National Park Montana offers stunning scenery no matter when you visit. The area is known as “The Crown of the Continent” or “The Backbone of the World.”
Its steep peaks, valleys, clear waters, and wildflower-filled meadows create spectacular views. This stunning scenery can be enjoyed on a scenic drive or day hike, and you can also experience it on horseback, on a boat tour, by bike, or while floating on Flathead Lake.
Other activities include hiking, backpacking, watching wild wildlife, guided tours and ranger-led programs, camping, photography, and fishing.
Going to Sun Road is a two-lane paved road that runs through Glacier National Park Montana, and it divides the park into east and west regions.
The Continental Divide is crossed at Logan Pass. This road, which is both a National Historic Landmark and a Civil Engineering Landmark, passes through nearly every terrain in the park, including glacial lakes, waterfalls, cedar forests, and alpine peaks.
There are many places to stop, take in the views, and take photos. You can also bike along the road to enjoy the sights more actively, but some restrictions exist.
The 50-mile route is open all year, but the alpine sections are closed due to snow. The road generally opens in late June or early July, but check the park website before you go.
The visitors describe this scenic drive as “breathtaking” in Montana and call it one of the most beautiful routes in Montana. According to reviewers, twisting mountain roads are not recommended for timid drivers.
Many people warned that tourists should not be distracted by the beauty of the road. They suggested taking advantage of the pullouts to admire the wildlife and stunning scenery.
Trail of the Cedars
One of two wheelchair and stroller-accessible trails in the national glacier park, Trail of the Cedars is a short loop hike – less than a mile – that begins and ends on Going-to-the-Sun Road, meaning you can hike it in either direction.
You will find the middle point of the hike, which is a boardwalk elevated through an old-growth red cedar forest. You’ll find a footbridge that crosses Avalanche Creek, offering stunning views of the gorge and a waterfall. Only problem? The only problem is that parking can be difficult during peak season (July through Labor Day)
Visitors have praised this trail for being the best in the park. They said it is not only easy and accessible but also has stunning views of the gorge. To avoid crowds, many recommend visiting the park in the morning or late afternoon. Also, the picnic areas near McDonald Creek are great for lunch and dinner. Travelers also noted the cedar scent in the old-growth forest.
Park admission includes free access to the trail. The trail is located approximately 5 miles northeast of Lake McDonald Lodge. The park offers a free shuttle service to Avalanche Creek.
Two Medicine is the perfect place to check off items on your to-do list in glacier national park Montana. Are you looking for some history lessons? Two Medicine Chalet, now a snack bar and store, is located in the same log building that President Franklin D. Roosevelt used to give a radio address in 1934. Are you interested in a boat trip? Glacier Park Boat Company will take you around Two Medicine Lake for a 45-minute trip. Are you looking for a hike? You can choose from 14 trails around the area. These range from the easy Running Eagle Falls (about a mile round trip) to the more challenging Pitamakan Pass (15 miles round trip). Do you want to spend the night under the stars? This area includes a front-country campground and several backcountry spots along the trails.
Two Medicine is located about 35 miles south of St. Mary. There are several restaurants located in East Glacier Park Village. Parking is available near the boat dock. Your park fee includes access to Two Medicine’s trails. Additional fees will apply if you decide to camp or go on a boat tour. You can still access the valley at any hour of the day. However, the camp store or boat tours will be open during specific hours.
For a good reason, Logan Pass is a popular spot among park visitors. The highest point can be reached by car in the park at 6,466 feet. Plus, it’s close to the Highline Trail’s trailheads and the Hidden Lake Trail. The park boasts some of its most stunning scenery, including lakes and wildflower fields. You can find maps, trip-planning information, and more at the Logan Pass visitor center. There are also restrooms, a bookstore, and ranger-led guided hikes.
Passengers from the past agree that Logan Pass is worth the effort, despite the large crowds. Past travelers praised the stunning scenery and amazing trails. Many visitors were concerned that parking could fill up quickly and remain so throughout the day. Some even noted that spots were full by 7 a.m. Many hikers pointed out that it is cold and windy even in July. They recommended wearing layers and the right shoes. Others suggested they bring binoculars to see wildlife like bears and mountain goats.
The Best Hikes & Trails in Glacier National Park Montana
Many people drive the scenic loop around Glacier without ever getting out of their cars, only seeing a small portion of Glacier National Park. There are many options for hiking in the area, including over 700 miles of trails.
This 11-mile trail follows the Garden Wall and offers breathtaking views of the valley below. You can also park at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, Loop, or right of the Going-to-the-Sun Road to get there. Then you can take the shuttle to your car. It’s a 4-mile hike, so you should start at Logan Pass to hike it down.
Grinnell Glacier Trail
This 10-mile hike takes you through alpine lakes and open meadows to reach the famous glacier. The trailhead is located near the Many Glacier Hotel on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake. You can cut 3 miles off the trip by taking a ferry to Swiftcurrent Lake or Lake Josephine from the hotel.
St. Mary and Virginia Falls
You can hike just three miles to reach two waterfalls. For easy access, the St. Mary Falls trailhead can be found right off the Going-to-the-Sun Road. There’s also a stop at St. Mary Falls on the national park shuttle. This trail is great for families with children, as it’s not too difficult. There are many nearby trails that you can explore if you need more.
Iceberg Lake Trail
When they reach the lake, hikers who take the Iceberg Lake Trail can enjoy stunning views of Mount Wilbur and Iceberg Peak. Adventurers can see beautiful alpine meadows full of wildflowers in the spring and summer. Recent visitors have said that the trail is suitable for avid hikers. It is mostly uphill, and the trip is nearly 10 miles round. This could make it difficult for non-fit travelers. The best time to see floating icebergs is in late spring or early summer. However, travelers cautioned that it can still be cold and rainy even during the summer. Many enjoyed seeing wildlife along the way. Rain gear, hiking poles, and plenty of water are essential for a great time at the lakeside. Many sections of the trail have been designated as prime bear habitats. It is advisable to hike in groups and carry bear spray. Access to the trail is free with park admission. The hike is located in the Many Glacier areas of the park. It starts behind Swiftcurrent Lake’s cabins. After a few miles, it joins the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail, which splits just before the Ptarmigan Falls.
At the start of the hike, you’ll cross over Avalanche Gorge before taking a moderate uphill trail through the forest. The end of the trail opens onto Avalanche Lake. Cliffs surround the lake, and numerous waterfalls highlight the gray crags.
Wildlife Spotting in Glacier National Park Montana
Many people enjoy driving through Glacier National Park, hiking along its trails, and looking for wildlife. The National Parks Service offers ranger-led programs that allow guests to identify the various species of fauna and flora that call the Rocky Mountains their home.
Large animals can be dangerous, so they should not be viewed from close range. Before you visit, make sure to read the NPS bear safety guidelines. You can enjoy smaller animals like Clark’s nutcrackers, chipmunks, and marmots up close.
You might see grizzly bears, black bears, bighorn sheep, gray wolves, elks, and cougars.
Fishing in Glacier National Park Montana
Glacier National Park allows fishing without a license. However, there are certain rules regarding when, where, and what you can fish to protect the natural ecosystem. The fishing season generally runs from the third Saturday of May to the end of November. However, some areas may close during spawning. Anglers cannot keep invasive species, and you must release any native fish caught in the area.
Biking in Glacier National Park Montana
From the comfort of your bike, take in the sights of Glacier National Park. The biking season starts in April and grows throughout the spring as the snow melts and roads are plowed. The Going-to-the-Sun Road has some steep uphill sections with a total elevation gain of about 3,000 feet between Logan Pass and Avalanche Campground. Before you start pedaling, make sure you plan your route. You can plan your rides to arrive at the shuttle stop before you ride back.
All roads within the park are open for bikes and cars. Parts of the Going-to-the-Sun Road will be closed to cyclists from mid-June to Labor Day weekend. However, other roads that have fewer cars are still open. Bikers are not allowed to use most unpaved hiking trails.
Cross-Country skiing in Glacier National Park Montana
Cross-country skiing would make Glacier National Park a much more interesting place than it is. Glacier is especially magical in winter. This is not only because the landscape is completely different from what visitors see during the warmer months but also because you can explore the park without crowds.
Upper Lake McDonald’s is a popular ski area; it has consistent snow and is easy to access. In winter, vehicles up to the Lake McDonald Lodge can use the Going-to-the-Sun Road. After that, it closes. However, you can continue the route on snowshoes or skis. McDonald’s is only 2 miles from the Lodge. However, many skiers make the 6-mile trek to the Avalanche Picnic Area.
You can join ranger-led snowshoe trips if you visit the area in winter, but you don’t feel confident enough to explore the trails on your feet.
Scenic Drives in Glacier National Park Montana
Although any drive through Glacier National Park is scenic, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is the most well-known. The 50-mile route starts at West Glacier National Park, Montana, crossing the Continental Divide before reaching St. Mary. If you drive straight through the route, it will take at least two hours. However, allow extra time to visit photogenic viewpoints and photograph-taking stops, as well as for spontaneous hikes.
Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road can be stressful for many reasons. The main reason is that it’s a narrow two-lane road with steep drops. Traffic can back up during summer road construction and wildlife, slowing progress through the park. Parking at visitor centers and turnouts is also limited. Glacier National Park provides a free shuttle service on the Going-to-the-Sun Road to reduce traffic. You will not find gas stations on the route or in the park, so be sure to fill up before you enter.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road snowplow route is the most difficult in the country, and it takes several months to complete each year. Although exact dates may vary from one year to the next, the road is usually open from mid-October to the end of June.
Camping in Glacier National Park Montana
There are 13 campgrounds in Glacier National Park. Five of these are on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which means you can use the shuttle to get around the park without having to hike back or drive. Although most campsites are available on a first-come-first-served basis, a few campgrounds use a reservation system.
It is a very popular campground. It is about 15 miles from the West Entrance on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The shade provided by cedar and hemlock trees is great during summer, and the picturesque Avalanche Lake can be reached in a short distance.
This campground is near Swiftcurrent Lake. Campers can book a site online to reserve their spot before they arrive. You won’t see as many people passing by because it’s on the east side. Nearby is the trailhead to Grinnell Glacier, one of the park’s most impressive glaciers.
This was the most popular campground within the park before the Going-to-the-Sun Road was built. It’s just as beautiful today as before, but it’s far from the main road and less crowded. Two Medicine is a great place to entertain families, as rangers frequently host educational events at the amphitheater.
- Where is Glacier National Park?
Glacier National Park is an American national park located in northwestern Montana.
- Do you need bear spray in Glacier National Park?
The National Park Service recommends that visitors carry bear spray in the backcountry because it has been proven to be the most effective deterrent of bear attacks.
- Can you take rocks from Glacier National Park?
Do not take anything from the park. No matter how pretty or unique something is, do not take it so that other visitors can see it too. It is against the law to take rocks, stones, flowers, sticks and every thing else that is naturally found in a national park.