Your Guide to Glacier National Park, Montana

 

WHERE IS GLACIER?

Founded in 1910, Glacier National Park is located in northwest Montana on the U.S-Canada border. It is connected to Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and together they make the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

There are a few places to fly into. Kalispell (Glacier Park International Airport) is the closest to the park. For my trip in July 2018, my friends and I flew into Great Falls International Airport (2.5 hrs from the St. Mary Visitor Center). Missoula is another option (2hrs45mins from West Glacier). You'll have to do some extra driving should you fly to the airports in Helena, Butte, or Bozeman.

The visitor centers are only open from May-September and the Going-To-The-Sun Road (the main road through the center of thepark) usually opens sometime in mid-late June dependent on how soon it gets snowplowed. Generally, you're going to be looking at a summer vacation for this beautiful place - my favorite national park.

 

PLACES TO SEE

St. Mary Lake

St. Mary Lake is a 9.9 mile long lake on the east side of Glacier National Park just after the St. Mary Visitor Center. It has a max depth of 300ft and rarely gets over 50 degrees F. There is ample hiking along the lake, boat tours, and good fishing. You will get views of 6 beautiful mountain peaks on your drive by - so definitely worth the trip!

 The beginning of a fiery sunset taken from the bottom of the trail down to lake level from the St. Mary Overlook

The beginning of a fiery sunset taken from the bottom of the trail down to lake level from the St. Mary Overlook

 St. Mary Lake churns out waves along the lakeshore under a fiery sunset

St. Mary Lake churns out waves along the lakeshore under a fiery sunset

 Sunrise illuminates the peaks surrounding St. Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island showing one of the most iconic views in the park

Sunrise illuminates the peaks surrounding St. Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island showing one of the most iconic views in the park

 

Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake is the third largest lake in the park. It is on the west side of the park, but isn't very frequented by visitors as it is accessed via a 6 mile gravel road just outside of the small town of Polebridge. I would recommend a four wheel drive car, but it is not absolutely necessary. If driving from the Apgar Visitor Center, it will take around 1hr 20mins. There are many day hikes around the lake along with activities like fishing, kayaking, and canoeing on the lake itself. If you're looking for a campground, this one does not fill very quickly and is a nice spot to get away from the crowds!

 My friend Meg ( @lilm3gg ) takes in the a beautiful sunset over the calm glacial waters

My friend Meg (@lilm3gg) takes in the a beautiful sunset over the calm glacial waters

 If you're lucky, you can photograph deer on the shoreline of the lake - sunrise in this case

If you're lucky, you can photograph deer on the shoreline of the lake - sunrise in this case

 

Swiftcurrent Lake

Swiftcurrent Lake is another iconic lake in the park. It is the hub for many popular hikes including Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake. Located on the northeast side of the Glacier, the largest hotel in the park - the Many Glacier Hotel - calls its lakeshore home. When you're done gawking at the beauty of this lake and surrounding mountain peaks, other activities include boat tours, kayaking, and canoeing. This is a must see if you're heading to Glacier.

 You can witness one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world right from the Many Glacier Hotel

You can witness one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world right from the Many Glacier Hotel

 

Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald is the most well known lake in the park and most frequented with its proximity to West Glacier and the Apgar Visitors Center. Because of this, it has one of the most famous views in the park where you can see five of Glacier's mountain peaks. There are many trailheads along the lake and it is very popular for boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and stand up paddle boarding. The lake has also become very famous for colorful rocks found along the shore. When you're here, grab some ice cream from Eddie's Cafe and take it out to the shore to watch the peaks light up from the fading sun.

 A colorful sunrise lights up the distant peaks over Lake McDonald

A colorful sunrise lights up the distant peaks over Lake McDonald

 The rocks of Lake McDonald are a must see in the park

The rocks of Lake McDonald are a must see in the park

 

HIKES TO DO

Grinnell Glacier (Grinnell Lake Overlook)

Length: 6.8 miles one way / ~3.8 miles one way to Grinnell Lake Overlook (both distances from Many Glacier Hotel - a boat is available to cross Swiftcurrent and Lake Josephine to knock off 1.7 miles one way)

Elevation Gain: 1840 feet

Max Elevation: 6515 feet

Trailhead: Either Many Glacier Hotel or Grinnell Glacier Trailhead

Tip: If you're not quite up for the challenge to get to the glacier, cut this hike short at the Grinnell Lake overlook as seen below. On the trail map, the overlook is in the area of the switchbacks - the shot below was just before the switchbacks. It has became my favorite view in the park.

 

 My friend Ben ( @bentretow ) overlooks Grinnell Lake late in the day as shadow starts to overtake the lake

My friend Ben (@bentretow) overlooks Grinnell Lake late in the day as shadow starts to overtake the lake

 

St. Mary & Virginia Falls

Length: 0.85 miles to St. Mary Falls then 0.8 miles to Virginia Falls (both one-way)

Elevation Gain: 525 feet

Max Elevation: 4845 feet

Trailhead: St. Mary Falls Trailhead

Tip: Start hike at Sunrift Gorge to see the Gorge and Baring Falls. Doing this adds another 1.9 miles to the hike. If feeling ambitious, visit Baring Falls, St. Mary Falls, and Florence Falls all in one hike - exit the hike at the Gunsight Pass trailhead. This hike is 17 miles round trip.

 St. Mary Falls at sunset in late June

St. Mary Falls at sunset in late June

 A kayaker paddles off the falls in late June

A kayaker paddles off the falls in late June

  My friend Ben ( @bentretow ) takes in the view of Virginia Falls

 My friend Ben (@bentretow) takes in the view of Virginia Falls

 

Florence Falls

Length: 4.9 miles one way

Elevation Gain: 975 feet

Max Elevation: 5305 feet

Trailhead: Gunsight Pass Trailhead (Jackson Glacier Overlook)

Tips: #1 Bring bug spray and wear pants - much of the trail is very overgrown, especially after the trail splits to the falls. #2 Start hike at Sunrift Gorge to see the Gorge and Baring Falls. Then hike to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. You will then backtrack to continue the hike to Florence Falls. Exit the hike at the Gunsight Pass trailhead and take the free shuttle back to Sunrift Gorge - roundtrip hike total of 17 miles, waterfalls seen - four!

 Florence Falls is actually a 5+ tiered waterfall, the viewpoint gives you vision of the beautiful bottom tier

Florence Falls is actually a 5+ tiered waterfall, the viewpoint gives you vision of the beautiful bottom tier

 'Levels' of Florence Falls

'Levels' of Florence Falls

 

Highline Trail (to Haystack Pass)

Length: 3.6 miles one way

Elevation Gain: 825 feet

Max Elevation: 7024 feet

Trailhead: Highline Trailhead (Logan Pass Visitor's Center)

Tips: #1 If you are looking to do a little shorter hike with no switchbacks, you can hike about 2 miles out to the viewpoint below - just before the switchbacks. #2 If you are looking for a challenge, you can do the whole Highline Loop - 11.8 miles - where you follow the Continental Divide up to the Granite Park Chalet and down to The Loop bus stop - total elevation gained is 1950ft

 Clouds roll across the sky above the Highline Trail with the Going-to-the-Sun Road below

Clouds roll across the sky above the Highline Trail with the Going-to-the-Sun Road below

 

PLACES TO STAY

Picking a place to stay is all about location. If you're looking to be around Lake McDonald, then you should stay somewhere around there - even Whitefish. If you're looking to explore Logan Pass, St. Mary, or Many Glacier, then I would stay somewhere on that side of the park. It is a large park so remember... location, location, location.

Hotels

Many Glacier Hotel

The Many Glacier Hotel is the largest hotel in the park and was built by the Great Northern Railway. It is on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake (seen above) so you will have world class views throughout your stay. It is on the spendy side, so if you're on a budget and looking to stay at Many Glacier, I would recommend going to see it, but staying at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn

St. Mary Lodge & Resort

The St. Mary Lodge & Resort is very much like the Many Glacier Hotel, but has more variety of rooms. It is located just outside of the park in St. Mary and is only about 5 minutes away from the St. Mary Visitor Center. This is a great spot to have a base to explore the east side of the park. It is  an hour away from Two Medicine Lake, 30 minutes from Logan Pass, and 30 minutes from the Many Glacier hotel.

Other Glacier Park Hotels

Glacier National Park has a collection of hotels throughout the park. They are booked months out for the summer so try to book in advance. Hotels on the west side of the park include the Agpar Village Lodge, Village Inn Motel, Lake McDonald Lodge, and Motel Lake McDonald. Hotels on the east side of the park include the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and the Rising Sun Motor Inn. When booking, remember - location!

Camping

Glacier National Park has 13 drive-in campgrounds. Most of them are first come - first serve with the exception of 4 - Fish Creek, St. Mary, Apgar Group Sites, and Many Glacier - where half the sites can be reserved online in advance. They range in price between $10-$23 per night based on location and popularity. Most of the campgrounds fill before 10am each day and a few filling before 9am. Get there early to get a campsite! My favorite spots include Bowman Lake, Apgar, Rising Sun, and Many Glacier.

See Glacier campground statuses here

 
 

THANK YOU

I want to take this opportunity to offer a huge shoutout to my Glacier traveling companions Ben (@bentretow) & Meg (@lilm3gg)! You guys both helped make the July 2018 trip extremely special and one that will never be forgotten!

 

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