Glacier National Park: Lodging, Hiking, and Best Time to Visit

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View of snow on Mountains & lake at Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is situated in the northern Rocky Mountains of Montana. It’s known as a jewel in the crown of America’s national parks and also called the “Crown of the Continent”. The park is renowned for its stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and wilderness.

Glacier National Park was created to protect the region’s unique ecosystem in 1910. In 1932 completion of the Going-to-the-Sun Road was a pivotal moment and made the park more accessible. Geographically and landscape-wise Glacier National Park is Spanning over a million acres, with a vast wilderness of mountains, deep valleys, clear lakes, and cascading waterfalls.

View of Mountains & lake at Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park Map

Glacier National Park Hikes

Glacier National Park is renowned for its stunning hiking trails. All the trails vary in difficulty and length, offering something for everyone. This Park offers diverse hiking experiences for all levels of hikers but keep in mind you have to plan your hikes according to your fitness level and interests.

View of Green Mountains & Blue lake at Glacier National Park

Popular Hikes

TRAILDISTANCEDIFFICULTYHIGHLIGHTSTIPS
Highline Trail11.6 miles round trip (to Haystack Butte)Moderate to strenuousStunning views along the Garden Wall, wildlife sightings, and sweeping vistasStart early to avoid crowds and wear sturdy footwear
Grinnell Glacier Trail10.6 miles round tripStrenuousScenic views of alpine lakes, Grinnell Falls, and the glacier itselfConsider taking the shuttle boat to cut down on the hiking distance
Avalanche Lake Trail4.6 miles round tripModerateHike through old-growth forest to reach the picturesque Avalanche LakeThis is a popular trail, so expect crowds, especially in the summer
Hidden Lake Overlook Trail2.7 miles round trip (to the overlook)ModerateBreathtaking views of Hidden Lake and surrounding peaksThe trail can be snowy even in summer, so check conditions before heading out
Iceberg Lake Trail9.7 miles round tripModerate to strenuousAlpine meadows, wildlife, and the stunning Iceberg LakeCarry bear spray and be aware of bear activity in the area
Swiftcurrent Pass Trail13.8 miles round tripStrenuousPanoramic views, Ptarmigan Tunnel, and the chance to see mountain goatsThis is a long hike, so bring plenty of water and snacks
Trail of the Cedars0.8 miles loopEasyWheelchair-accessible boardwalk through a beautiful cedar forestThis is a great hike for families and those looking for a short, easy walk
Glacier National Parks Popular Hikes Comparison
awesome view of snow at Mountains in Glacier National Park
View of Fogy clouds, Mountains and lake at Glacier National Park
View of Green Mountains with waterfalls at Glacier National Park
View of Iceberg Lake Trail with green mountains & lake at Glacier National Park

Backcountry Hikes

TRAILDISTANCEDIFFICULTYHIGHLIGHTSTIPS
Dawson-Pitamakan Loop18 miles loopStrenuousRemote, less crowded, and offers some of the best views in the parkPermit required for overnight camping
Gunsight Pass Trail20 miles one wayStrenuousAlpine scenery, waterfalls, and the chance to see Sperry GlacierCan be done as a multi-day hike with a backcountry permit
Glacier National Parks Backcountry Hikes comparison
Sun Road Tunnel View Glacier National Park
View of Highline Trail with green mountains at Glacier National Park
beautiful pic of Swiftcurrent Pass Trail Glacier National Park

After experiencing Glacier National Park you can visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for Hiking Trails, Waterfalls, and Wildlife experiences.

view of lush green Trail of the cedars at Glacier National Park
entrance of Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail Glacier National Park-min
view of fogy mountains greenery of Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail Glacier National Park-min

Glacier National Park Lodging

Glacier National Park offers various lodging options. Which vary in location, amenities, and availability. Here’s more detail about Lodging.

Lodging Inside the Park

Mountains and lake view of Historic Lodges at Glacier National Park-min
  • Many Glacier Hotel:- It is Located in the northeastern part of the park and offers stunning views of Swiftcurrent Lake. There are dining and recreational activities available.
  • Lake McDonald Lodge:- It’s Situated on the western shore of Lake McDonald. It features a classic lodge atmosphere with modern amenities.
  • Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins:- It is located near the St. Mary entrance on the east side. Here you have options for cabins and motor inn rooms.
  • Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins:– Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins are located in the Many Glacier area. They are ideal for hikers with easy access to trails.
Mountains and lake view of Lodges at Glacier National Park
view of Mountains and lake of lake Macdonald at Glacier National Park

Chalets

  • Granite Park Chalet:- Granite Park Chalet is accessible by hiking. There are no modern amenities. It offers a backcountry lodging experience
  • Sperry Chalet:- Sperry Chalet also requires a hike to reach. It was rebuilt after a fire. It provides a unique historical experience.
view of moon at top of Rock at Glacier National Park

Lodging Outside the Park

West Glacier Area:

  • Whitefish and Kalispell:  It offers various accommodations, including hotels, motels, and vacation rentals. It’s close to the west entrance, with plenty of dining and shopping options.

East Glacier Area:

  • St. Mary and Babb: St. Mary and Babb provide lodges, motels, and bed-and-breakfast options. It’s close to the east entrance and the Many Glacier area.

Campgrounds

Apgar Campground, Fish Creek Campground, Many Glacier Campground, Rising Sun Campground, St. Mary Campground

Glacier National Park Camping

Camping in Glacier National Park is highly competitive. Here we discuss favorite campgrounds and best practices to secure a campsite. The focus is on front country campgrounds, not backcountry camping.

pic of tent & RV for Camping at Glacier National Park

13 front country campgrounds Popular Areas

West Glacier, Going-to-the-Sun Road, St. Mary, Many Glacier, Two Medicine, and North Fork.

  • West Glacier: Most visitors enter here; amenities in Whitefish, Kalispell, and Columbia Falls.
  • Going-to-the-Sun Road: Connects West Glacier and St. Mary, a famous scenic drive.
  • St. Mary: Small town with limited amenities, and some commercial campgrounds.
  • Many Glacier: Beautiful, popular, and worth the trip if time allows. Competitive, not ideal for large RVs.
  • Two Medicine: Smaller, isolated area, beautiful but fewer activities and far from main attractions, good for quieter stays.
  • North Fork: Includes Kintla Lake, Bowman Lake, and Polebridge, with no traditional electricity. Remote, beautiful, not ideal for first-time visitors.

Camping Options:

Ariel view of Glacier Campground, West Glacier, Montana
  • First-time visitors: Focus on Going-to-the-Sun Road campgrounds.
  • West Glacier Campgrounds:
    • Apgar: Largest campground, good for RVs, and western park exploration.
    • Fish Creek: Beautiful, smaller sites, showers available.
    • Spragg Creek: Tent camping, small trailers possible.
    • Avalanche Creek: Near popular trails, good for medium trailers and tents.
  • East Side Campgrounds:
    • Rising Sun: Near St. Mary Lake, bear activity, and some trailer sites.
    • St. Mary: Wide open, good for larger RVs, tent camping, wildlife-rich area.

If you are a camping lover, here is another destination for your experience is Camping At Yellowstone National Park

Camping Strategy:

  • Split lodging between the west and east sides if staying more than two days.
  • Make reservations outside the park as a backup.
  • Aim for central campgrounds if possible to reduce driving time.

Camping Tips:

  • 14-day stay limit in the park during summer.
  • No RV hookups; find these in West Glacier or St. Mary.
  • Bear safety is crucial; store food properly.

Reservation Process:

  • Visit the website recreation.gov to book campsites.
  • Most popular campgrounds are now reservation-only.
  • Prepare by creating an account, checking available campsites, and knowing your equipment needs.
  • Reservations open six months in advance at 10 am Eastern time.
  • Multiple people in your group should try to book simultaneously.
  • Be flexible with dates to increase your chances of securing a campsite.
  • Be persistent in securing a reservation because it’s a bit hard.

Things to Do in Glacier National Park

Park offers a wide range of activities for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Here are the details of activities for all ages.

pic of Moose in lake at Glacier National Park wildlife-min
pic of Goats playing at top of mountains in Glacier National Park

Activities:

  1. Hiking:
    • Explore over 700 miles of trails.
    • Popular hikes include the Highline Trail, Grinnell Glacier Trail, and Avalanche Lake Trail.
  2. Scenic Drives:
    • Going-to-the-Sun Road: A must-do, this 50-mile road offers breathtaking views of mountains, lakes, and valleys.
    • Many Glacier Road: Leads to the Many Glacier area, known for its stunning scenery and wildlife.
  3. Wildlife Watching:
    • Common sightings include grizzly bears, black bears, moose, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep.
    • Best spots for wildlife include Many Glacier, Two Medicine, and Logan Pass.
  4. Boat Tours:
    • Enjoy guided boat tours on lakes. Such as Lake McDonald, St. Mary Lake, and Two Medicine Lake.
    • Learn about the park’s history and geology from knowledgeable guides.
  5. Camping:
    • Over a dozen campgrounds, both primitive and developed.
    • Popular campgrounds include Apgar, Many Glacier, and St. Mary.
  6. Photography:
    • Capture stunning landscapes, wildlife, and wildflowers.
    • The best times for photography are early morning and late evening for the golden hour light.
  7. Fishing:
    • Fish in pristine lakes and rivers.
    • Common catches include trout and whitefish. Check for regulations and permits.
  8. Horseback Riding:
    • Guided horseback tours are available, offering a unique way to see the park.
    • Tours are available at Apgar, Lake McDonald, and Many Glacier.
  9. Ranger-Led Programs:
    • Participate in educational programs and guided hikes led by park rangers.
    • Programs cover topics such as wildlife, geology, and park history.
  10. Visitor Centers:
    • Apgar Visitor Center: Near West Glacier, offers exhibits and information.
    • St. Mary Visitor Center: On the east side, provides park information and ranger programs.
    • Logan Pass Visitor Center: At the top of Going-to-the-Sun Road, features exhibits and information on the area’s natural history.
  11. Biking:
    • Biking is allowed on certain roads and paths.
    • Going-to-the-Sun Road is popular with cyclists, though restrictions apply during peak hours.
  12. Winter Activities:
    • Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing: Trails are available in winter for these activities.
    • Winter Camping: Available with proper equipment and preparation.
pic of Sheep at Glacier National Park-min

Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park

The best time to visit Glacier National Park depends on your interests and the type of experience you seek. Here is the detail, which will help you to decide and plan your trip according to your interests

Summer (Late June to Early September)

  • Weather: Warm temperatures, ranging from 60°F to 80°F during the day.
  • Activities: All park facilities and roads, including Going-to-the-Sun Road, are fully open.
  • Hiking: Trails are snow-free, offering the best conditions for hiking.
  • Wildlife: Excellent time for wildlife viewing, especially early morning and late evening.
  • Crowds: This is the peak tourist season, so expect larger crowds and book accommodations in advance.
pic of Mountain Goats at Glacier National Park-min

Fall (Mid-September to Late October):

  • Weather: Cooler temperatures, ranging from 40°F to 60°F. Nights can be chilly.
  • Activities: Going-to-the-Sun Road remains open until mid-October (weather permitting).
  • Hiking: Fewer crowds on trails; fall foliage adds vibrant colors to the landscape.
  • Wildlife: Good time to see elk during their rutting season.
  • Crowds: Less crowded compared to summer, offering a more tranquil experience.

 Spring (Late May to Early June):

  • Weather: Variable, with temperatures ranging from 30°F to 60°F. Snow is still present at higher elevations.
  • Activities: Limited access to higher elevation areas; lower elevation trails begin to open.
  • Hiking: Some trails may be muddy or snow-covered; good time for lower elevation hikes.
  • Wildlife: Bears and other wildlife are more active as they emerge from hibernation.
  • Crowds: Fewer visitors, providing a quieter experience.

Winter (November to April):

  • Weather: Cold temperatures, often below freezing. Heavy snowfall is common.
  • Activities: Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter camping are popular.
  • Hiking: Most trails are snow-covered; limited access to higher elevation areas.
  • Wildlife: Opportunities to see wildlife adapted to winter conditions.
  • Crowds: Very few visitors, offering a serene and peaceful environment.

You have to be prepared for variable weather conditions, regardless of the season. Layered clothing is recommended.

Safety Tips:

Pic of Beer in lake eating at Glacier National Park
  • Bear Safety: Carry bear spray, make noise, and hike in groups.
  • Weather: Be prepared for sudden weather changes; carry layers.
  • Hydration: Bring plenty of water and snacks.
  • Trail Etiquette: Stay on designated trails and practice Leave No Trace principles.

Conclusion

Glacier National Park the “Crown of the Continent,” offers breathtaking landscapes, diverse wildlife, and a true wilderness experience. This park spans over a million acres of stunning natural beauty With a variety of hiking trails, lodging options, and activities like wildlife watching, boating, and photography, Glacier caters to all visitors.

Whether you seek adventure or tranquility, Glacier National Park is a jewel of America’s national parks. After exploring Glacier, consider visiting Zion National Park for even more breathtaking adventures.

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