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Glacier National Park

Straddling the Canadian border, Glacier National Park is Montana’s premier destination for outdoors enthusiasts. The park spans 1,583 square miles in the wilderness of the state’s Rocky Mountains and is home to more than 700 miles of hiking trails.

Visitors will find a vast landscape brimming with endless natural wonders in the park, from alpine forests to dramatic mountains to sparkling lakes.

There are around 24 glaciers within the park which, as well as offering spectacular views, also contribute to the local ecosystem; the meltwater from the glaciers supplies irrigation for agriculture and cold streams for wildlife to use. The melting glaciers also feed into the park’s lakes for visitor recreation.

There are more than 700 lakes in the park, and 131 of those are named (National Park Service). The lakes are renowned for being cold and crystal clear, many of them ideal for fishing and boating.

Several of the local lakes also provide wonderful opportunities for water sports in the warmer months.

The park is home to wetlands in the way of beaver ponds and fens (wetlands with deep organic soil). These provide homes for several rare plant species and feeding and drinking habitats for much of the fauna, making them great positions from which to spot wildlife.

glacier national park wildlife

Several species of diverse wildlife flourish in the park, from grizzly bears to bighorn sheep (National Park Service). There are more than 276 species of birds to be observed, along with an assortment of fish and amphibians living in the park’s windy rivers and lakes.

Humans have been present in the park for more than 10,000 years. Prior to white settlement, Native American tribes used the land for hunting, fishing, gathering, and cultural ceremonies.

The Blackfeet resided on the east side of the area that makes up the park today, close to where the Blackfeet Indian Reservation is located. Approximately 8,600 members of the Blackfeet Nation live on the reservation.

The Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai peoples lived on the western side of Glacier, characterized by its luscious forests. Today, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes of the Flathead Nation reside on the Flathead Indian Reservation, situated along the Flathead River.

Glacier National Park has several accommodation options, whether visitors would prefer to camp in the wilderness or rest and recharge at a historic chalet. There are also some dining outlets and commercial stores on site.

Simultaneously, the park offers the chance to totally escape civilization while still providing creature comforts to those who want them.

Though it is enough to simply take in the rugged natural beauty of the scenery, there are plenty of recreational activities and tours available in the park.

Visitors can experience boat tours, bus tours, guided hikes, guided rafting, horseback riding, fishing, winter sports, ranger-led cultural activities, and more.

Everything You Need to Know About Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park Stats

glacier national park stats

  • Size: (1,012,837 acres/409,880.5 hectares)
  • Season: All year round
  • Highest mountain: Mt. Cleveland (10,448 feet/3, 190 meters)
  • Largest glacier: Harrison Glacier (1,661,456.75 square meters)
  • Largest lake: Lake McDonald (9.4 miles long, 1.5 miles wide, 464 feet deep, 6,823 acres)
  • Number of campsites: 13 (8 class A, 5 class B)
  • Number of trails: 158
  • Number of designated picnic areas: 8

Main Attractions

Going-to-the-Sun Road

going-to-the-sun road

A picturesque alpine road, Going-to-the-Sun is aptly named and one of the most popular attractions in Glacier National Park.

The road stretches across more than 50 miles and crosses the Continental Divide, traveling across Logan Pass (Glacier Park Collection).

The vistas from the road are worth traveling across the country to witness. Along the road, glaciers, waterfalls, valleys, mountains, and thriving wildflowers in every shade of color will materialize into view. There are also plenty of opportunities to spot native wildlife.

Many visitors drive their own vehicles along the road, but for those who don’t want to drive, there are bus tours available.

The alpine section of the road is open seasonally and sometimes closes at short notice due to weather. This part typically opens in July and closes in late October.

For more information about Going-to-the-Sun Road, please visit the National Park Service official website.

Lake McDonald

lake mcdonald

Lake McDonald is the largest of the park’s 762 lakes. Surrounded by mountains on nearly all sides, the fjord-like lake is an ideal location from which to see mountain goats, elk, black bears, mule deer, and bighorn sheep.

Situated on the park’s west, the lake is open year-round and boasts sublime views no matter the season.

The lake is famous for its iconic rainbow rocks—the colorful pebbles lying at the bottom of the lake.

They can easily be seen from above the water due to the lake’s cold temperature, which prevents plankton or algae from forming. Some of the rainbow rocks date back to the ice age when the lake was originally created by glaciers.

Many visitors base themselves on Lake McDonald, as there are four campgrounds in close proximity, as well as the nearby Swiss chalet known as Lake McDonald Lodge.

Along with fishing in the lake, visitors love exploring the local hiking trails and bike paths that are found in the vicinity.

For more information about Lake McDonald, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Logan Pass

logan pass

Logan Pass offers visitors unparalleled views from the famed Continental Divide. This is the highest elevation in the park that is reachable by car or bus, so is naturally hugely popular among park guests.

Visitors will see Reynolds Mountain, Clements Mountain, and meadows overflowing with colorful wildflowers.

If you’d like to see grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats, it’s best to arrive either early or late in the day, before all the crowds. The wildlife is most active when the pass is quieter, and the light in the morning is truly spectacular.

There are also several must-see hiking trails situated around Logan Pass. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a total newbie, there are trails of every difficulty level, all of them boasting wonderful views.

For more information about Logan Pass, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Avalanche Lake

Park guests flock to Avalanche Lake for its many hiking trails and abundant fishing opportunities.

Located on the west side of the Continental Divide, the lake was named after the frequent avalanches that occur in the area, thanks to the enormous mountains bordering the lake.

The avalanches typically take place on warm days in late spring. By early summer, they transform into flowing waterfalls that pour from the mountains around the lake, creating amazing views.

The wildlife around the lake is ample, making it one of the best spots in the park to see local animals. Mountain goats are the most common sighting, though deer and grizzly bears have also been known to roam the area.

Visitors can access the lake via the Avalanche Lake Trail, which runs for two miles. For more information about Avalanche Lake, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Grinnell Glacier

Grinnell Glacier is one of the most famous hiking areas in Glacier National Park. Located in the center of the park, the glacier is the only one that is easily accessible by trail in the area.

The hiking trail to the glacier is considered strenuous, however, it is worth it for the magnificent views at the top.

The glacier was named after George Bird Grinnell, who was the first to discover the glacier in 1885 and later campaigned for the creation of a national park.

Around the glacier, visitors will also get stunning views of alpine meadows, flourishing flora, and fascinating glacial striations on the rocks of the rugged mountains surrounding it.

For more information about Grinnell Glacier, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Recreation Activities

There are endless recreation activities available in the park, and visitors will never run out of opportunities to have fun while connecting with nature. The most popular activities include:

Hiking and Biking

hiking and biking

Hiking is arguably the most popular activity in Glacier National Park. With so many stunning trails to discover, it’s no surprise that visitors come from all over the country to explore the park on foot.

There are over 700 miles of hiking trails available, ranging in difficulty from easy to expert.

Some of the trails are also ideal for biking, for those who prefer to navigate the park on a bicycle. These activities are cost-effective, fun, and allow park guests to work on their fitness at the same time!

For more information about hiking and biking in the park, please visit the National Park Service’s official website

Camping

camping

With eight campgrounds consisting of more than 1,000 campsites, Glacier National Park is an unmissable destination for those who enjoy camping.

Visitors can enjoy backcountry camping, river camping, and just about every other style of camping within the park’s boundaries, truly enjoying the land as nature intended.

Some of the campgrounds in the park operate on a first-come-first-served basis, while others are reservation only. There are also group sites available for up to 24 campers, and fees can be anywhere from $10 to $23 per night.

For more information about camping in Glacier National Park, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Fishing

fishing

Montana is famous for its fishing opportunities, and Glacier National Park is one of the most in-demand areas in the state to enjoy it.

Visitors don’t need a license to fish in the park, however, rules are in place to help preserve the natural ecosystem.

While all native fish, such as bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout, that are caught must be released, there is no limit on possessing non-native fish. Lake fishing in the park is also open all year.

DIY Fly Fishing recommends Flathead River, Elizabeth Lake, and Belly River as the top spots in the park for fishing.

For more information about fishing in Glacier National Park, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding in Glacier National Park is like stepping back in time. Most of the trails are open to using by horses and have been since before the area was officially a national park!

While bringing your own horse is an option, there are also several outfitters in operation that run guided horseback riding tours through the park.

There are horseback riding tours available for beginners and experienced riders. For more information about horseback riding in Glacier National Park, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Boating

boating

With an abundance of lakes in Glacier National Park, boating is a natural pastime. The waters of the park are renowned for being nearly transparent, making them stunning to view up close.

Some of the most popular lakes in the park include Bowman and McDonald on the west side and St. Mary and Two Medicine on the park’s east side.

Along with larger boats, visitors can rent canoes and rafts, which can be used for the smaller bodies of water, including rivers and streams. Additionally, white-water canoeing, kayaking, and rafting are popular recreational activities in the Flathead River.

For more information about boating in Glacier National Park, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Winter Sports

winter sports

Summer is the most popular time to visit Glacier National Park, but the park is also open in winter.

Many of the summer recreational activities are available in winter too, including hiking and biking. Visitors can also enjoy winter sports in the colder months, such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. As with the hiking trails, there are ski trails on offer for participants of all skill levels.

While there are no opportunities to rent ski equipment in the park, there are several private businesses operating in the surrounding communities where guests can hire equipment.

Among the most popular ski locations in the park include Apgar, McDonald and Avalanche Creek, Polebridge, Two Medicine Valley, and St. Mary.

For more information about winter sports in Glacier National Park, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Trail Routes

trail routes

With over 700 miles of trails, there is no shortage of hiking paths to choose from in Glacier National Park.

Regardless of your skill level or expertise, there are trails available for everyone, from young children in families to advanced hikers. Some of the most popular trail routes in the park include:

The Highline Trail

For pristine views of the rolling forests and prairies of Glacier National Park, the Highline hiking trail is a must. This trail begins at Logan Pass, from the north side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

A difficult trail, the route has a roundtrip length of 11.8 miles and the highest elevation is 7,280 feet. The trail can also be daunting in some places as the path becomes narrow, but it remains the most popular in the park thanks to the wondrous views it boasts at every step.

The Highline follows along the Continental Divide, and while there are lots of opportunities for spotting wildlife, it’s not the best route for solitude as it’s typically crowded with park visitors.

Hiking Glacier recommends checking with park rangers about recent bear activity as the trail runs through prime grizzly habitat.

Trail of the Cedars

trail of the cedars

Only a single mile in length, the Trail of the Cedars in Avalanche Creek is an ideal trail for those looking for an easy-difficulty hike.

The trail has a total elevation of 3, 478 feet and is one of two wheelchair-accessible trails in the park. It is a loop hike that begins and ends on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The Trail of the Cedars is renowned for taking park guests through a lush forest carpeted with majestic cedar trees. Some of them are estimated to be more than 500 years old and stand around 100 feet in height.

One of the highlights of the trail is a footbridge that crosses Avalanche Creek. Here, hikers will get unrivaled views of the lower Avalanche Gorge.

Mt. Oberlin

Mt. Oberlin provides fantastic views of Clements Mountain, which is located in the Lewis Range. The trailhead can be accessed from the Logan Pass Visitor Center from Going-to-the-Sun Road and runs for three miles.

This is a moderate-difficulty trail that offers more of a challenge than some of the easier trails but still doesn’t require advanced hiking skills.

There is an elevation gain of 1,500 feet and the average hiker takes around two and a half hours to complete the hike.

Best Tours

best tours

Half-Day Sun Tour Through Glacier National Park and Blackfeet Country

Taking half a day, this tour guides travelers up the eastern side of Going-to-the-Sun Road to the top of Logan Pass. It is run by local Blackfeet tour guides who cover the local history, culture, and connection to the landscape.

The bus stops frequently throughout the tour, allowing participants to get out and explore areas like Two Dog Flats, Rising Sun, Wild Goose Island, and Jackson Glacier.

Full-Day Sun Tour Through Glacier National Park and Blackfeet Country

Also run by Sun Tours, this full-day tour begins in the high plains and is ideal for those interested in learning more about the local ecosystem, as it covers an area that is home to more than 1,500 species of plants.

It enters Glacier National Park from the East entrance at St. Mary’s Visitor Center and travels up Going-to-the-Sun Road.

As with the half-day tour, there are multiple opportunities to stop and take photos at impressive vantage points like Deadhorse Curve and Grizzly Point.

Glacier Park Red Bus Tours

Departing from both the East and West sides of the park, the famous Red Bus tours provide guests with a fun and historically significant way to learn more about the area.

The 1930s buses are actually an important part of the park’s heritage, and the roll-back tops offer complete views of the pristine surroundings.

The guides who run the Red Bus tours are typically park veterans who typically love the park and enjoy teaching guests about it.

The buses seat 17 people and tend to sell out on a daily basis, so it’s a good idea to get in quickly.

Glacier Park Boat Tours

st. mary lake

This company offers boat tours of the most popular bodies of water in Glacier National Park: Lake McDonald, St. Mary Lake, Two Medicine Lake, Swiftcurrent Lake, and Lake Josephine.

Operating in the park since the 1930s, these tours give participants an insight into the local history while also offering distinct views only available from the water.

Some of the boats in use are nearly a century old and have been maintained and refurbished to perfection to ensure a safe and comfortable boat ride for every guest.

Swan Mountain Outfitters Horseback Riding Tours

A family-owned business, Swan Mountain Outfitters runs guided tours of Glacier National Park on horseback.

Trekking through untouched land off the beaten track, these tours are a fun way to explore the park while paying homage to the early days of tourism in the area.

The company has three corrals inside the park and runs three kinds of trail rides: Apgar Trail Rides, Lake McDonald Trail Rides, and Many Glacier Trail Rides.

The rides are either short or longer and there are tours for every skill level, whether you’re a novice rider or a seasoned expert.

Glacier Guides Day Hikes

Although plenty of visitors enjoy hiking without a guide in the park, going on a guided tour is the best way to discover the best-kept secrets of the park.

Participants can leave all the planning and coordinating to the guide and simply enjoy taking in the scenery.

Glacier Guides runs hikes of every length and for every skill level. While some are easy or moderate, others are specifically for advanced hikers only.

The backpacking trips run by the company also strive to visit remote areas of the park that other guests often miss.

Glacier Guides Rafting Adventures

Along with hiking, Glacier Guides also offer guided rafting trips that traverse the magnificent rivers of Glacier National Park.

As the rivers can be accessed without technically entering the park, rafting reservations do not include an entry ticket.

Adrenaline-spiking white-water rafting, tranquil scenic floats, multi-day rafting, family-friendly rafting, private rafting trips, and combination tours are all available.

Safety is the top priority on the tour and the guides are trained in safety procedures on a yearly basis.

Best Places to Stay

best places to stay

The lodging options in Glacier National Park are as diverse as the striking landscape and range of recreational activities available within its boundaries.

Inns, Lodges, Motels, and Hotels

For those guests who like to rest, recharge and enjoy a few comforts and conveniences after a day of hiking, there are many accommodation options to choose from in the park.

Many of these offer amenities like running water and electricity, which tend to be absent from the chalets and campgrounds.

The inns, lodges, motels, and hotels in the park include:

Backcountry Chalets

Chalets are the best option for those looking to immerse themselves in a true alpine ambiance. The chalets are rustic and historic with primitive facilities.

There are two chalets in the park:

Accommodations in Surrounding Cities

There is a chance that on your visit to Montana you may find yourself staying just outside of the Park in one of the bigger cities that surround it. You can check options in each of the following areas to find what best suits you!

Campgrounds

Most of the campgrounds in Glacier National Park operate on a first-come-first-served basis. They include:

The reservation-only campgrounds include:

FAQ

Which park entrance should I use?

There are seven entrances to Glacier National Park:

  • West Glacier Entrance
  • St. Mary Entrance
  • Camas Creek Entrance
  • Polebridge Entrance
  • Two Medicine Entrance
  • Many Glacier Entrance
  • Cut Bank Entrance

If you are coming from Kalispell, Whitefish, or Columbia Falls, the West Glacier Entrance is recommended, which provides access to Lake McDonald, Park Headquarters, and the Apgar Visitor Center. It is also the only west entry to the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

If you are coming from Great Falls or Browning, it is recommended to use St. Mary, Many Glacier, and Two Medicine entrances.

Can I fill up gas in the park?

Gas is not available anywhere in the park, but the surrounding communities, such as East and West Glacier, offer opportunities for filling up.

Should I visit the park in the summer?

Summer is the most popular season to visit Glacier National Park, but this is also the most crowded time.

As the park is stunning all year round, it can be a good idea to visit in the less popular seasons, such as spring or fall. These also happen to be less expensive.

While much of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed to vehicles in winter, the chance to witness blankets of snow covering the landscape and participate in snow sports also makes winter a great time to visit the park.

Are dogs allowed in the park?

Dogs are permitted in certain areas of the park, but in general, it is recommended to leave them at home or in a kennel nearby.

Do I need to wear a face mask to enter the park?

Face masks are required on public transportation, which means you’ll need to wear one when using any of the shuttle buses within the park. But they are not required in the open air.

When does Going-to-the-Sun Road open?

There are portions of Going-to-the-Sun Road that are open all year. But the higher elevations in the alpine portion are only open seasonally, and the date varies every year depending on the weather.

Generally, the road is completely open by early July, although this is subject to change. Typically, the road stays open until the third Monday of October.

What is the speed limit on the Going-to-the-Sun Road?

The lower elevations of the road have a speed limit of 45 miles per hour. In the alpine section, the speed limit is 25 miles per hour for safety reasons.

Are all the hiking trails open in summer?

Not all hiking trails are open in summer, and all trails are subject to changing opening times due to weather. Some trails, such as the Highline Trail, remain closed until mid or late July due to lingering snow.

It’s important to check the National Park Service’s regularly updated trail reports before hiking.

Do the campgrounds have shower facilities?

Some of the campgrounds at Glacier National Park have shower facilities. The St. Mary, Fish Creek, and Apgar campgrounds have showers but they are only for guests staying at those campgrounds.

While the rest of the campgrounds don’t contain showers, there are private campgrounds beyond the boundaries of the park that sell a shower service. 

What is a campground in primitive status?

A campground in primitive status means that a campground doesn’t have portable water or flushing toilets. Some of the campgrounds at Glacier National Park are in primitive status.

What seasons are campgrounds open?

Most campgrounds at the park are open for spring, summer, and fall only. The Agpar Campground is an exception that runs a loop for winter camping.

Is wildlife present at the campgrounds?

Campers may observe wildlife while camping and so it is important to follow the recommended safety guidelines when it comes to correctly store food, fresh fish, or trash.

These items must be securely stored at all times when they’re not in use. Some of the safest places to store them include in a solid camping unit, in a sealed vehicle, or in a bear-proof storage locker or trash can.

What should I do when I spot wildlife in the park?

Most park guests will get the chance to view at least some species of wildlife while in the park, and this is one of Glacier’s greatest drawing points. It is important to maintain 25 yards from all wildlife and 100 yards from bears and wolves.

Keep an escape route clear and move away if an animal approaches you. It’s also advisable to bring binoculars or a telephoto lens, as you will be considered too close if your presence is causing the animal to change its behavior.

All of the animals in the park are wild and their behavior can’t be predicted. It is vital to respect all of the animals.

How do I practice bear safety?

There are more than 1,000 bears in the park, and while these beautiful animals are amazing to view, they are dangerous and should not be approached under any circumstances. When hiking in bear country there are several safety steps to take:

  • Hike in groups rather than on your own as this significantly reduces your chances of a negative encounter
  • Make noise with your hands or voice to avoid surprising bears
  • Walk, don’t run, along the trails to avoid surprising bears
  • Carry bear spray
  • Avoid hiking very early or very late in the day, or at night
  • Avoid areas that are dense with vegetation or that are obvious feeding areas, such as berry patches
  • Always secure your food and garbage

If you do come in contact with a bear:

  • Move out of its way slowly, unless this appears to agitate the bear
  • Learn to recognize aggression in bears. Typical signs include a lowered head, laid-back ears, swaying the head, huffing, and clacking the teeth
  • Use peripheral vision rather than direct eye contact

For more information on bear encounters in Glacier National Park, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.

Do the park rangers run tours?

There are ranger-led activities that run in the park, including long and short hikes, boat talks, and campfire talks. They typically take place in June and last until Labor Day.

For a full list of the ranger-led activities in Glacier National Park, please visit the National Park Service’s official website.