Visitor Guide to Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is one of America’s gems. Full of rugged land and wildlife, it has a distinctly Northern Rockies feel. More “wild” than the incredible national parks to the south and west.

Along with places like Yosemite and Yellowstone, we view it as a go-to national park that everyone needs to see in the West.

Best Time to Visit

Glacier National Park is open year-round, but the best time to visit depends on your interests and preferences. Most people go during the peak season which is from June to August. The weather is warm and the park is bustling with visitors. However, this also means that the trails and campgrounds can be crowded, and accommodations may be more expensive.visiting glacier

For those who prefer a slightly quieter experience, visiting in the shoulder season (May or September and October) can be a good option. The weather is still generally pleasant, and the crowds are thinner. However, some facilities may be closed or have limited hours during this time. Just know that May can still be a bit soggy, as the snow melts slowly at this elevation and latitude. Lower areas of the park will probably be OK, but expect some snowpack up at high elevations.  Also, know that in these parts, October can be glorious or it can be early bouts of winter – you just never know.

Winter can be a magical time to visit the park, with snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and other winter sports available. However, road closures and limited services will make it more challenging to plan a trip during this time.

Entrance Fees and Passes

To enter Glacier National Park, visitors must pay an entrance fee. The fee varies depending on the type of vehicle and the length of stay.  The entrance fee is reasonable – it goes up most years but for a week is usually in the $25 – $30 range.

Alternatively, visitors can purchase an annual pass, which grants access to all national parks and federal recreational lands for one year. Seniors, military personnel, and people with disabilities may be eligible for discounted or free passes.

Getting to Glacier National Park

Montana is a big state, so don’t assume that just because you are in Montana you are close to Glacier. Glacier National Park is located in the northwestern part of Montana, USA. There are several ways to get to the park, including by air, car, and train.

By Air

The nearest airport to Glacier National Park is Glacier Park International Airport, located in Kalispell, Montana. This airport is served by several major airlines, including Delta, United, and Alaska Airlines. From the airport, visitors can rent a car or take a shuttle to the park. We recommend renting a car. When you are in this area, you just want to be able to explore.

By Car

Glacier is easily accessible by car. If you are on one of the great American road trips, like the Lewis and Clark Trail, it is easy to veer a bit North and visit the park. The park is located along the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is a 50-mile drive that takes visitors through some of the park’s most beautiful scenery. Visitors can enter the park through several entrances, including the west entrance, which is located near the town of West Glacier, and the east entrance, which is located near the town of St. Mary.

By Train

There are several options for public transportation to Glacier National Park. Amtrak’s Empire Builder train stops in the nearby town of West Glacier, and visitors can take a shuttle from the train station to the park. The park also offers a free shuttle service that operates during the summer months, providing transportation between the park’s major attractions. Additionally, several local bus companies offer transportation to and from the park.


Camping in the Park

If you really want to experience Glacier, consider camping in the park. There are a range of campsites, catering to whatever type of camping you want.

Glacier National Park offers several campsites that allow visitors to fully immerse themselves in the park’s natural beauty. The West Glacier and Apgar campgrounds are two National Park Service-operated options that flank Lake McDonald, offering sites under a forest canopy. These rustic sites have flush toilets, fire rings with grills, disposal stations, shared hiker-biker sites, amphitheaters for evening naturalist talks, and sites that accommodate large RVs. Due to their lakeside location inside the park, away from highway and railroad noise, they are popular. During midsummer, they fill up quickly, with most of the campgrounds operating on a first-come, first-served basis. It is recommended to arrive early, particularly if you do not have a reservation. It is also important to note that collecting wood is prohibited, so be sure to bring your own firewood.whitefish

Fish Creek Campground is one of the larger park campgrounds, with 178 sites tucked under cedars, lodgepole pines, and larches. Loops C and D have the best sites, adjacent to the lake, although Loop B has some larger, more level sites. A few lukewarm token-operated showers are available. Eighteen campsites accommodate RVs up to 35 feet long; 62 sites fit RVs up to 27 feet. While most of the campgrounds within the park operate on a first-come, first-served basis, Fish Creek is one of two campgrounds in the park that can be reserved starting six months in advance. To find Fish Creek, drive 1.25 miles north from Apgar on Camas Road and turn right, dropping one mile down to the campground. Lake McDonald Trail departs from the campground.

McDonald Lake is another option for those looking to camp in the park. This backcountry campsite is located on the north shore of Lake McDonald and is accessible by foot, paddling, or motorboat. It perches on a point with huge views up and down the lake, plus outstanding night sky watching. It has a communal cooking site, a fire pit, a pebble beach, and two large tent sites that can sleep four people each. Overnight permits are required and can be picked up in person at the Apgar Backcountry Permit Office 24 hours in advance. You can also apply online for advance reservations starting in mid-March.

Nearby Towns and Lodging

For those who prefer a more traditional lodging experience, there are several nearby towns that offer a variety of options. West Glacier and Columbia Falls have several hotels and motels to choose from, while Whitefish offers a quaint downtown area with boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts. Whitefish is a cool little town with a Western feel. If you don’t stay there, definitely check it out.

St. Mary and Many Glacier also offer lodging options within the park, including the Many Glacier Hotel, which is a historic Swiss-style lodge that offers stunning views of Swiftcurrent Lake and the surrounding mountains. The Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins, located on the east side of the park, offers rooms with views of St. Mary Lake.

Lodging within and on the edge of the park can be quite expensive, with rates varying depending on the time of year. If you want more traditional economy hotels, Kalispell has several. You will just need to drive further each day when you visit the park.

Must-See Attractions

Glacier National Park is home to breathtaking scenery and natural wonders. Here are our top-rated attractions for your list.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

Going-to-the-Sun Road is a scenic drive that spans 50 miles through Glacier National Park. The road takes visitors through some of the park’s most stunning landscapes, including alpine meadows, glacial lakes, and ruggedgoing to sun road peaks. The road is open from late June to mid-October and offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing.

Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park and is known for its crystal-clear waters and stunning mountain views. Visitors can take a boat tour of the lake or rent a kayak or canoe to explore on their own. The lake is also a popular spot for fishing and swimming.

Grinnell Glacier

Grinnell Glacier is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Glacier National Park. The hike to the glacier is challenging but offers stunning views of alpine meadows, waterfalls, and the glacier itself. Visitors should be prepared for a full day of hiking and bring plenty of water and food.

Outdoor Activities

Hiking Trails

Glacier National Park is home to over 700 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging treks. One of the most popular hikes is the Highline Trail, which offers stunning views of the park’s mountains and valleys. For a more challenging hike, visitors can tackle the Grinnell Glacier Trail, which rewards hikers with breathtaking views of glaciers and lakes. Just be sure to find the right hike for you, as this can be a very rugged area.macdonald lake

Wildlife Viewing

Glacier National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including grizzly bears, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep. Visitors can take a guided wildlife tour to increase their chances of spotting these animals in their natural habitat. It is important to remember to keep a safe distance from wildlife and never approach them. Bring bear spray if you plan to leave your vehicle. Grizzly bears are no joke.

Boating and Fishing

The North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River, which form two of Glacier National Park’s borders, offer outstanding opportunities for boating and fishing. Visitors can take a guided fly fishing trip with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft’s experienced guides to catch native Westslope cutthroat, whitefish, rainbow, and brook trout. All necessary equipment, including rods, reels, and flies, are provided at no extra cost. Visitors must purchase a Montana fishing license prior to their trip. For those who prefer to explore the waterways by boat, guided rafting trips are also available.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the must-see sections of Glacier National Park?

Glacier National Park is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Visitors should not miss the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Logan Pass, Many Glacier, and Two Medicine areas. These areas offer breathtakingbear views of glaciers, mountains, and lakes.

When is the best time of year to visit Glacier National Park?

The best time to visit Glacier National Park is during the summer months, from June to September. During this time, the weather is mild, and most of the park’s facilities are open. However, visitors should be prepared for crowds during this time.

What kind of wildlife can I expect to see in Glacier National Park?

Glacier National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, black bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, and moose. Visitors should keep a safe distance from these animals and never approach them.

What are the accommodation options within Glacier National Park?

Glacier National Park has a variety of accommodation options, including lodges, cabins, and campsites. Visitors should book their accommodation in advance, especially during the peak season.

What are the highlights of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park?

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a scenic drive that offers stunning views of the park’s glaciers, mountains, and valleys. Visitors should stop at Logan Pass, the Weeping Wall, and the Jackson Glacier Overlook for the best views.

How can I best plan a trip to Glacier National Park if I have multiple days?

Visitors with multiple days should plan their itinerary in advance. They should prioritize which areas they want to visit and book their accommodation accordingly. They should also be prepared for changing weather conditions and pack accordingly.

What safety precautions should I take when visiting Glacier National Park?

Visitors should always stay on designated trails and keep a safe distance from wildlife. Have bear spray if you plan to veer off the main road. They should also be prepared for changing weather conditions and bring appropriate cold weather gear if there during the shoulder seasons or winter. It’s important to follow park rules and regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.

Leave a Comment