One of the most beautiful of the U.S. National Parks is Glacier National Park located in Northwest Montana. Glaciers have carved the mountains over the eons resulting in steep rugged mountains and gorgeous waterfalls. Glacier National Park is one of America’s most spectacular mountain parks. Sheer mountain peaks carved by mountain glaciers dominate the landscape. Abundant winter snow blankets the landscape and during spring melting creates the breathtaking waterfalls. www.travelrows.com
Glacier National Park on the map:
Rare wildlife still thrives in the park and visitors have the opportunity to experience the alpine environment from their vehicle on the world famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. Glacier National Park is located in northwest Montana and bordered on the east by the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, the west by the clear and cold North Fork of the Flathead and on the south by the immense Great Bear Wilderness.
Immediately adjacent to Glacier National Park to the north is Waterton International Peace Park in Alberta, Canada. The park’s historical roots are tied to a rich railroad history. In fact, it was the Great Northern Railroad who first promoted Glacier National Park to America’s adventurous tourists.
You can access the west side of Glacier Park from US 2 at West Glacier, which is about 35 miles from Kalispell, Montana. Another remote access point on the west side of Glacier is from the North Fork of the Flathead Road at Polebridge. Highway 2 also provides access to the east side of Glacier Park at East Glacier. On the east side, you can also take US 89 to St. Mary and Many Glacier.
* Amtrak trains from Seattle to Chicago stop year-round just outside the park at Whitefish, West Glacier (Belton), Essex, and East Glacier.
* The nearest airports are Glacier International at Kalispell, Great Falls, and Lethbridge, Alberta.
The weather in Glacier Park is always changing. The mountains, large lakes, Pacific maritime influences and Candian cold fronts combine to create unique weather throughout the park. Be prepared for a wide range of weather conditions during your trip to Glacier Park. Be sure to check the Glacier National Park weather forecast.
The best time to go
The most popular time to visit Glacier Park is during the summer months. Be aware that road work is currently underway on the Going-to-the-Sun Road which is the main road through the interior of Glacier Park and is only open mid-June to mid-October due to snow. Plowing of Going-to-the-Sun Road starts the first part of April and depending on snow conditions can take until mid-June. The lower elevations provide a lot of hiking opportunities starting in April and May. Expect snow on the high elevation trails into mid-July. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are very popular winter activities.
Glacier National Park has 7 live webcams that provide you several views of Glacier Park right from your computer. A majority of the webcams operate year-round, but some like Two Medicine operate seasonally.
The Glacier Park webcams are great for checking the weather throughout the park and the amount of visitor activity. The webcams that give you the best views of the park include Apgar Mountain and Lake McDonald on the west side of the park. On the east side St. Mary, and Two Medicine webcams provide great views.
The Apgar Village webcam is great to see if there are a lot of visitors at Apgar. The park headquarters webcam lets you see park employees eating lunch at the picnic table and the parking lot.
What to do and to see
When you visit Glacier National Park, you will need to spend several days to see the popular areas of the park:
- You should plan on spending your first day on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. You can either drive your own vehicle, take a red bus tour, or ride the Glacier Park shuttle bus.
- The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the most scenic drives in the world. On a second day, you should visit either the Many Glacier or Two Medicine areas on the east side of Glacier.
- You could also take a day to explore the more remote North Fork of the Flathead on the west side of Glacier Park. If you have several days, definitely take some day hikes or horseback rides.
- If you really want to experience the Glacier backcountry, plan on an extended backpacking trip either on your own or with an experienced guide from Glacier Wilderness Guides.
Glacier National Park’s diversity of habitat types creates opportunities for a wide range of wildlife. Everything from the bighorn sheep of the mountain slopes on the east side of the park, to the small and seldom seen northern bog lemming in the coniferous forests of the wet west side of the park.
Many people when they think of Glacier think of bears. Glacier provides the core of one of the largest remaining grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states. Recent research provides interesting insight to this threatened population. More frequently seen than the grizzly however are the snow-white mountain goats that thrive on the steepest of slopes along the Continental Divide.
The development and history of Glacier Park was closely tied to the railroad. In the late 1890’s, visitors arriving at Belton (now called West Glacier) could get off the train, take a stagecoach ride a few miles to Lake McDonald, and then board a boat for an eight mile trip to the Snyder Hotel.
Soon people, like naturalist George Bird Grinnell, pushed for the creation of a national park. Grinnell was an early explorer to this part of Montana and spent many years working to get the park established.
The area was made a Forest Preserve in 1900, but was open to mining and homesteading. Grinnell and others sought the added protection a national park would provide. Grinnell saw his efforts rewarded in 1910 when President Taft signed the bill establishing Glacier as the country’s 10th national park.
There are may lodging options in and around Glacier National park. One of the most popular hotels is the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn which is located in the rugged Many Glacier Valley on the east side of the park. The Inn has splendid accommodations and a quaint coffee shop that is often filled with hikers and climbers. The remote Inn is a trekker’s hub both in the morning and early evening. Many adventurous travelers can be found holding court and sharing stories in the coffee shop and café. There are also many hotel accomodations in the nearby communities of East Glacier, West Glacier, Columbia Falls, Whitefish, Bigfork, and Kalispell.
Chalets and Lodges
Historic chalets were constructed in bygone era. Glacier has four front country chalets that are accessible by vehicle. East Glacier, Many Glacier, McDonald Lake Lodge and the Belton Chalet are all rustic and magical.
- The East Glacier Lodge is constructed of giant Douglas fir timbers and represents classic log style architecture. This chalet is the one to see if you can only stay for a short period of time.
- The Belton Chalet and other hotels in West Glacier offer accommodations at the west entrance. Perhaps the most spectacular view from the deck and patio is from the historic Many Glacier Lodge. From its perch nestled on the shore of beautiful Swiftcurrent Lake visitors can literally watch grizzly bears, mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
- McDonald Lake Lodge offers a secluded and wooded experience right along the shores of deep McDonald Lake. There are boat concessionaires on the lake that offer boat rides daily.
For the thrifty traveler and those with minimal belongings there is the North Fork Hostel, in Polebridge, Montana which is located just outside the park’s remote western boundary. The historic Polebridge Mercantile is right next door and offers some of the most enjoyable fresh pastries and sandwiches year round.
One of the most unique experiences in Glacier National Park is being able to stay in a remote high country chalet. Glacier Park offers two of these breathtaking experiences. Both backcountry chalets offer basic services and reservations are required if you want to experience an overnight stay.
Granite Park Chalet
The first is Granite Park Chalet which is more like a hostel. It is first come – first serve for a nominal fee and is located in an alpine wonderland below the continental divide. While Sperry Chalet is known for the mountain goats that use the area, Granite Park Chalet is known for the grizzly bears that spend time in Bear Valley and the slabrock parks around the chalet.
The most popular routes to Granite Park Chalet are the Highline trail that takes off from Logan Pass. The 7 mile hike to the Chalet traverses the Garden Wall and provides breathtaking views of the McDonald Valley. The Highline trail can be covered in snow during June, but trail crews and volunteers will actually shovel snow off portions of the trail.
The shorter route to Granite Park Chalet is by the Loop Trail which takes off at “the Loop” along going to the Sun Road. The loop trail is a little over 3 miles long, but it is an uphill climb the entire way. During late August into September, huckleberries ripen along the trail and grizzly bears may be encountered at anytime. Avoid hiking alone, make noise, watch for bear sign and carry bear pepper spray.
Second is Sperry Chalet which is perched high up on a mountain, not far from the Sperry Glacier, and offers rooms and meals in the same package. It is about a 7 mile hike or horseback ride up the trail to the chalet.
Sperry Chalet is known for the mountain goats which tend to hang close to the chalet. It isn’t unusual to have mountain goats on the deck and looking in the windows. Remember that you shouldn’t approach or attempt to feed any of the wildlife in Glacier Park. That includes the mountain goats at Sperry Chalet. They do provide a great photo opportunity, but remember to use a telephoto setting on your camera and keep your distance.
Whether you enjoy lake or clear cold stream fishing, Glacier National Park offers something for every type of angler. If you forget your rod and tackle do not worry. Glacier raft Company is located in West Glacier and has the Glacier Outdoor Center. Glacier Raft Company has experienced and talented employees with more experience than many other recreation businesses near the park. Glacier Raft Company offers both fishing gear, outdoor clothes, and cross country skiing gear. Glacier raft Company also donates time to local conservation efforts in and around Glacier National Park.
Hiking and Climbing
Glacier is a hiking and climbing paradise. There are many hiking books available at bookstores in and around the park. Once you arrive at the park check at all of the ranger stations for ranger led hikes. These are both fun and informative and are a great option for visitors that are new to the park.
If you want to take a guided day hike or an extended backcountry trip, Glacier Guides located near West Glacier is the only permitted outfitters for Glacier National Park trips. They have experienced and friendly guides that know the best places to hike in Glacier Park and how to make your Glacier Park vacation an experience you will always remember.
Remember that Glacier Park rock is often unstable and climbing can be dangerous so exercise caution. The rewards, however, are some of the best views that planet earth has to offer.
One of the annual events in Glacier National Park that attracts a lot of attention is the plowing of the Going to the Sun Road. Glacier receives a lot of snow during the winter. The “Big Drift” on the east side of Logan Pass can be up to 80 feet deep even in June. In order to open the road to vehicle traffic, the Park begins plowing the road in May and depending on snow depths, usually finish the task in mid-June.
Many locals take advantage of “Show Me Day” when Glacier Park provides shuttle buses to take park visitors up to a vantage point where you can watch the snow plowing operations. Every spring the Glacier road crews perform the dangerous task of locating and plowing the road using bulldozers and giant snowblowers.
The high country of Glacier National Park in June is something you should try to experience. As soon as the Going to the Sun Road opens, you can drive or take a shuttle bus to Logan Pass. There is a visitors center at Logan Pass and in June the boardwalk to the Hidden Lake overlook is usually covered in snow. Wear your warm boots with good traction and take a walk over the snowfields for a truly unique experience.
All the articles on our website about Glacier National Park
Frequently Asked Questions
How many glaciers are there in the park?
According to the information on Wikipedia there are 35 glaciers left. 25 of them are active.