Glacier is America’s best kept secret of the five Grand Nationals; which also include the Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Denali national parks. However, Glacier is considered the grandest in sheer geological beauty. Glacier is often called the “Crown of America” and is well known for its cliff wall mountains which appear to reach straight up out of the earth for a mile and a half.
June and July are peak tourist season for Glacier. Lodging either in the park or outside the park should be reserved no later than March or April. Most campsites are first come first serve, and if you arrive mid-week there is a decent chance you can catch one between 8 and 10 in the morning. All the roads in Glacier are between 15 and 35 miles per hour, and they will be full of cars at this time of year. Consequently, a one-day trip may be untenable. However, if you stay close, you will be able to hit the priority attractions in two days.
Consider how Glacier is not truly experienced without hiking. So, if you go, be prepared to do some walking off the main roads to ensure the greatest experience. Also, bear spray is a must!
- Going to the Sun HWY– At the time it was built, going to the Sun HWY was the highest road in the world. A narrow two-way road build into sheer cliff mountain walls, the road itself is one of the most exciting attractions at the park. It is also the only corridor between the west and east sides of the park.
- Logan Pass – The highest point of Going to the Sun HWY is Logan Pass. It is good to stop here, however parking is extremely limited. It is a good idea to take the bus.
- Apgar – One of the major camping and village areas, sits at the south west end of Lake McDonald
- Lake McDonald – A grand National Park Hotel and village area, most of the easier hikes in the park are in the general area of Lake McDonald
- Many Glacier – A grand National Park Hotel and village area. the most impressive hiking in the park is out of this area, most of which are short- or long-day hikes.
- Rising Sun and St. Mary – the eastern side of Going to the Sun HWY, views of Jackson Glacier and several through hike trailheads.
- Two Medicine – there is a relatively flat loop trail around lower two medicine lake. However, the mosquitos are at their worst around the two-medicine area. Also, there is a slightly denser bear population here only exceeded by the Polebridge area on the north western edge of the park.
- Trail of the Cedars – a flat 1-mile loop through a beautiful cedar forest. The trail is considered handicap accessible.
- Avalanche Lake Trail – a strenuous, but not too rigorous, 4-mile hike along Avalanche Creek. The trailhead for the hike is at the western u curve of the Trail of the Cedars. From the bridge at the u curve you can see tight rock rapids which roar through the smooth stone of the mountain. As you hike up the Avalanche Lake Trail, you can walk along the tight gorge to see the rapids below. At the top of the trail you will see avalanche falls on the far side of the pristine lake.
- Hidden Lake Nature Trail – a moderately strenuous decked trail which ascends the side of Clements Mounting from the Logan Pass Visitor Center. This trail has the highest views in the park and is likely to have snow on or along the trail in places. It is common to see relatively friendly mountain goats and marmots on the hike.
- Lunch Creek – more of a picknick area, there are several short loop hiking trails like what you would find in a backyard garden. The garden area has a vibe which hints towards a potential fairy sighting.
- Cracker Lake – This 6-mile trail ends an exquisite cobalt blue glacier lake. One of the most beautiful sights in the park.
- Grinnell Glacier – there is a relatively flat loop trail which travels around Swiftcurrent Lake, Lake Josephine, and Grinnell lake. It is the longest nature walk in the park. However, if you want to make the trip a bit longer and more challenging, take the high trail to Grinnell Glacier. The views along the way an exceptional.
- Swiftcurrent and Red Rock Falls Trail – one of the most popular trails, hikers ascend along a long cascade of water which is unforgettable.
- Iceberg Lake – One of the highest hikes in the park, hikers discover a cove in the north mountain side which preserves a (semi-) frozen glacier lake year-round.
Glacier has 4 entrances, 1 west and 3 east. The west entrance is the most trafficked and give access to Apgar, Fish Creek, and Lake McDonald area. The Going to the sun road enables east-west traffic. On the east side of Going to the Sun Rd is the St. Mary Gate. St. Mary is the middle of the 3 eastern gates. To the north of St. Mary is the iconic Many Glacier Gate. To the south is the relatively quiet Two Medicine Gate.
Lubrecht to the West Gate of Glacier NP:
136 Miles, 2 Hours 20 Minutes
From Lubrecht head East (R) on HYW 200 for 9 Miles (10 Minutes), then North (L, towards Seeley Lake, then Big Fork) onto HWY 83 for 91 Miles (1 Hour 20 Minutes), then North (R, towards Kalispell) on HWY 35 for 11 Miles (10 Minutes), then North (R, towards Columbia Falls) on HWY 206 for 10 Miles (10 Minutes), then East (R, towards Hungry Horse, then West Glacier) on HWY 2 for 15 Mile (15 Minutes).
The West Gate is the busiest entrance into Glacier due to its proximity to Kalispell International Airport. However, it is also a gradual and pleasant access to the park. Traveling from west to east unfolds the grandeur of the park like the peddles of a flower.
Things to see on the way to the West Gate:
- Seeley Lake, MT – A very popular summer vacation spot in the Seeley swan valley, Seeley Lake has an abundance of water-based recreation, hiking, and scenic walks. Seeley is known for it’s 4th of July celebrations which includes a local parade, a local art’s festival, and firework display.
- Big Fork, MT – Montana’s Big Sur sitting on the Bigfork Harbor, Electric Avenue (Main Street)
- Kalispell, MT – A little out of the way (9 miles past Woody’s Country Store at the corner of HWYs 35 and 206) Kalispell is one of the big 5 population areas in Montana. A great place to stop and pick up essentials.
- White Fish, MT – A little more out of the way (11 miles west of the corner of HWYs 206 and 2) is an iconic Montana mountain town, dubbed by the Montana ski community as “the ski town done right”, Central Ave (Main Street).
Lubrecht to the Eastern Gates of Glacier NP:
One of the best ways to get to the eastern gates of Glacier is to take the Going to the Sun road across the park. However, if you are pressed for time you may take the same route and stay on HWY 2 until you get to East Glacier Park Village; or this slightly shorter route.
230 Miles, 4 Hours
From Lubrecht head North (R, towards Ovando, then Lincoln, then Great Falls) on HYW 200 for 86 Miles (1 Hour 30 Minutes), then North (L, towards Augusta, then right Choteau) onto HWY 287 for 43 Miles (1 Hour), then North (L, towards Browning) on HWY 89 for 68 Miles (1 Hour), then West (L, towards Glacier NP) on HWY 89 for 31 Miles (30 Minutes). NOTE: Two Medicine is 34 miles (1 Hour) south of St. Mary, access is off HWY 49 which connects HWY 89 to HWY 2 at East Glacier. Many Glacier is 20 miles (30 Minutes) north of St. Mary, access is off Route 3 which connects to HWY 89 at Babb, MT which is 11 miles north of St Mary.
The East Gates are much less busy than the west entrance into Glacier. However, camping spots are easier to find. St. Mary has the highest traffic due to the Going to the Sun road access. However, the hotel, camping, great hikes, and profound views at Many Glacier make it a very popular spot.
Things to see on the way to the West Gate:
- Lincoln, MT – a major hunting town in Montana, the Art in the Woods exhibit is worth the stop.
- Choteau, MT – Main Street, Old Trail Museum
- East Glacier Park Village, MT – Not officially part of the national park, this was the major train station which visitors would stop at in the late 18 and early 1900’s when visiting Glacier. Glacier Park Lodge, Serranos Mexican Restaurant, HWY 49 (Main Street).
- St Mary, MT – a small git your kit kind of town just outside the park.
For more information check out https://www.visitmt.com/