Glacier National Park is a 1,583-sq.-mi. wilderness area in Montana's Rocky Mountains, with glacier-carved peaks and valleys running to the Canadian border. It's crossed by the mountainous Going-to-the-Sun Road. Among more than 700 miles of hiking trails, it has a route to photogenic Hidden Lake. Other activities include backpacking, cycling and camping. Diverse wildlife ranges from mountain goats to grizzly bears.
Few places on earth are as magnificent and pristine as Glacier. Protected in 1910 during the first flowering of the American conservationist movement, Glacier ranks with Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon among the United States' most astounding natural wonders.
The glacially carved remnants of an ancient thrust fault have left us a brilliant landscape of towering snowcapped pinnacles laced with plunging waterfalls and glassy turquoise lakes. The mountains are surrounded by dense forests, which host a virtually intact pre-Columbian ecosystem. Grizzly bears still roam in abundance and smart park management has kept the place accessible and authentically wild.
Glacier is renowned for its historic 'parkitecture' lodges, the spectacular Going-to-the-Sun Rd and 740 miles of hiking trails. These all put visitors within easy reach of some 1, 583 sq miles of the wild and astonishing landscapes found at the crown of the continent.
BEST TIME TO VISIT GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
The best time to visit Glacier National Park is in July and August. This is the peak season for visitors, with daytime temperatures averaging in the 70s and cool nights that can drop into the 40s (pack layers, as well as a good rain jacket). You may even see snow in June and July in the higher elevations; the east side of the park tends to be cooler and windier than the west side. The east side is also drier, while the valleys in the west see most of the rainfall. Although lodging rates and entrance fees will be higher during peak season, most facilities will be open and the complimentary shuttle service will be running. You'll also experience fewer road and trail closures than in the fall, winter and spring months. The park is open 365 days a year.
September-October - Fall is a beautiful time of year to visit, especially if you enjoy foliage displays. The only downside: Many businesses, including restaurants, stores and lodges, close after Labor Day. Look for accommodations in gateway communities just outside the park or plan on camping. Temperatures are still moderate in the fall, with warm sunny days in the 60s and low 70s and cool nights that drop into the 40s, making it a good time of year for hiking. Accommodation rates drop and the complimentary shuttle service moves to a modified schedule. Although you may see some snow, rain is more likely at this time of year.
November-April - Due to its location on the Continental Divide, the weather in the park is highly variable, especially in the winter months. Temperatures can fall well below freezing and road and trail closures are common. Many of the park's services – including the shuttle service and visitor centers – are closed for most of the winter. However, lodging rates at nearby gateway communities and the park entrance fees are the lowest of the year during this season, making it attractive for cross-country skiers and ice climbers who don't find the climate off-putting. All park lodging is closed, but auto camping is available at the Apgar picnic area and at the St. Mary Campground. There is no charge for campsites during the winter. Also keep in mind, avalanches are a real danger in the winter months when the snowpack reaches 16 feet and blizzards are common.
May-June - Many roads and trails are still closed due to snowy conditions in May and June – including the popular scenic drive along Going to the Sun Road – and shuttles run on a limited schedule and weather-permitting basis. Lodging rates are still low at this time of year, and many hikers prefer the cooler weather with daytime temperatures averaging in the 60s, dropping into the high 30s at night. In early June, the mammoth effort of snow removal along Going-to-the-Sun Road draws several spectators.
July-August - July and August are the peak months of the year for visitors and lodging rates will be at premium prices. Plan to reserve up to a year in advance for this popular season. Days are warm and sunny with temperatures that can climb into the 80s, but nights are chilly dropping into the 40s. At higher elevations, expect wind and temperatures that are 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the valleys. The complimentary shuttle service and the Glacier Park Boat Company tours will run on full schedules during the summer – reserve boat tours and shuttles in advance online or at a visitor center. What's more, the park's ranger-led activities will be in full swing, with many programs offered at Lake McDonald Lodge, Apgar Nature Center and St. Mary Visitor Center.
GETTING TO GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
The most convenient airport to Whitefish and Glacier National Park is the Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) located in Kalispell, MT. The airport is 30 miles from the West Entrance of Glacier National Park and 12 miles from the town of Whitefish.
Other Regional Airports:
- Missoula International Airport (MSO) - 140 miles from the West Entrance
- Great Falls International Airport (GTF) - 200 miles from the West Entrance
- Calgary International Airport (YYC) - 280 miles from the West Entrance
Amtrak services East Glacier, West Glacier, and Whitefish train depots on the Empire Builder line. The train can be taken from as far east as Chicago or as far west as Portland and Seattle. They provide a complimentary shuttle to Grouse Mountain Lodge from the Whitefish Train Depot and from the East Glacier Station to Glacier Park Lodge. Our vacation specialists can also arrange a rental car to be waiting for you at the train depot or at your hotel.
GETTING AROUND GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
The best way to get around Glacier National Park is by car or by using one of the park's shuttle services. If you're arriving by car, Highway 2 runs along the southern edge of the park, while Highway 89 offers access on the east side. Glacier Park International Airport (FCA), located half an hour from the park and about 10 miles northeast of the city of Kalispell, is serviced by Delta, United, Alaska and Allegiant airlines and offers rental cars from several major companies. There is also one taxi company available at the airport, Glacier Taxi.
Shuttle Service - The park offers a variety of shuttle services, including a free hop on, hop off shuttle system that runs point-to-point along the Going to the Sun Road between the Apgar Visitor Center and St. Mary Visitor Center. A fee-based shuttle service, operated by Xanterra, runs from the St. Mary Visitor Center and Many Glacier Hotel/Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and connects to the Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle. You can also take the fee-based shuttle ($10 for adults and $5 for children) from west side locations, including the Lake McDonald Lodge, Village Inn or West Glacier train station. Parking at the shuttle hubs is free and all shuttles are air-conditioned and offer educational narration along the route via a free downloadable audio app. Some shuttles feature bike racks. The shuttle system runs during peak season from July to Labor Day.
Car - Although driving is the best way to get around the park and the best way to take advantage of the spectacular scenery, be aware that road closures are common, especially during the winter. Check the park's website or stop at a visitor information center for real-time updates on road and hiking trail closures, as well as important safety information. Also make sure to fill up your gas tank and pack snacks, water and additional clothing, as facilities along the park roads and trails are minimal.
Red Bus Tours - The park's vintage 1930s Red Buses feature roll-back tops, perfect for viewing the mountain scenery. Tours depart from both the east side and the west side of the park. On the east side, tours leave from Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, Many Glacier Hotel and Rising Sun Motor Inn, as well as from various locations outside the park including the town of St. Mary's, Johnson's Hotel (for hotel guests only) and at the Glacier Park Lodge. On the west side, you can hop on a tour at the Apgar Visitor Center, Village Inn at Apgar and Lake McDonald Lodge. A variety of tours are offered, including the all-day Crown of the Continent Tour (tickets start at $94 for adults, $47 for children, and vary in price depending on pick-up location). East side tours run from early June to late September and west side tours operate from late May to early October. Each of the fleet's 33 vehicles seats 17 passengers, so tours sell out quickly. Book tickets online or reserve and purchase at any of the park's visitor centers.
WHERE TO STAY IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
My Place Hotel-Kalispell, MT is offering accommodation in Kalispell. With a shared lounge, the 2-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a private bathroom. Guests can enjoy mountain views. All rooms at the hotel are fitted with a flat-screen TV with cable channels and a kitchen. All units have a wardrobe. A continental breakfast is available each morning at My Place Hotel-Kalispell, MT. Free private parking and a business centre are available, as well as a 24-hour front desk. Whitefish is 20 km from the accommodation. The nearest airport is Glacier Park International Airport, 13 km from My Place Hotel-Kalispell, MT.
Located in Kalispell, Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Kalispell, MT - Glacier Lodge has a shared lounge, garden, spa and wellness centre, and free WiFi throughout the property. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a terrace. The hotel features an indoor pool, fitness centre and a 24-hour front desk. Guest rooms are equipped with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a microwave, a coffee machine, a shower, a hairdryer and a desk. At the hotel each room has a wardrobe and a private bathroom. Guests at Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Kalispell, MT - Glacier Lodge can enjoy a buffet breakfast. The accommodation offers a hot tub. Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Kalispell, MT - Glacier Lodge also provides a business centre and free private parking. Whitefish is 19 km from the hotel. The nearest airport is Glacier Park International, less than 1 km from Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Kalispell, MT - Glacier Lodge, and the property offers a free airport shuttle service.
Cedar Creek Lodge & Conference Center is a 4-season destination that blends the comfort of a mountain lodge with modern style at the gateway to Glacier National Park. Free WiFi and a free hot breakfast buffet are offered to guests of this accommodation. All guest rooms at Cedar Creek Lodge & Conference Center feature a mini-refrigerator and a microwave. A sundries shop and guest laundry services are provided. Free guest parking is also available. Guests can enjoy the year round indoor pool and hot tub at this accommodation. A fitness centre and a business centre are also available. A free connector shuttle with the Whitefish Mountain Resort “Snow Bus” is offered to guests for easy ski resort access.
Situated less than 20 minutes' drive from Whitefish Mountain Resort, Hampton Inn & Suites Whitefish provides accommodation with free WiFi included. Guests can enjoy the heated indoor saltwater pool and whirlpool. Guest rooms at the hotel offer a microwave, mini-refrigerator, and coffee machine. A flat-screen TV with HD channels is also included, along with a hairdryer and iron. Every room has a private bathroom with complimentary toiletries. Complimentary hot breakfast options are available each morning at Hampton Inn & Suites Whitefish. Guests can enjoy complimentary coffee and tea throughout the day in the hotel lobby. Staff at the 24-hour front desk can provide information on what to do in the area. A fitness centre is also available to guests on-site. Glacier National Park is within 30 minutes' drive of Hampton Inn & Suites Whitefish. Kalispell is 21 km away. The nearest airport is Glacier Park International Airport, 11 km from the property.
Offering a sun terrace and a ski pass sales point, Firebrand Hotel is located in Whitefish in the Montana Region. The hotel has a fitness centre and ski storage space, and guests can enjoy a meal at the restaurant or a drink at the bar. Private parking is available on site. Rooms have a flat-screen TV with cable channels. You will find a coffee machine in the room. All rooms come with a private bathroom. For your comfort, you will find bath robes, slippers and free toiletries. Firebrand Hotel features free WiFi throughout the property. You will find a free airport shuttle service at the property. The hotel also offers bike hire and car hire. The nearest airport is Glacier Park International Airport, 12 km from the property.
Boasting indoor and outdoor heated swimming pools, this hotel is located 4.8 km away from Whitefish Lake. Each guest room includes free WiFi and a flat-screen TV. A seating area is provided in each air-conditioned room at The Pine Lodge on Whitefish River. Complete with a microwave, the rooms and suites also have a refrigerator and a coffee machine. Private bathrooms include a hairdryer and free toiletries. Guests can work out in the fitness centre at The Pine Lodge on Whitefish River. Other facilities offered at the property include a shared seating area, luggage storage and ski storage. A free airport transfer service is provided from Glacier Park International Airport, 12 km away. The gates of West Glacier National Park are 40 km away. The property offers free parking.
This Kalispell hotel features an indoor pool and fitness centre. It features suites with fully equipped kitchens and free Wi-Fi. Kalispell town centre is 3.2 km away. A cable TV is provided in each air-conditioned suite at Homewood Suites by Hilton Kalispell. All suites offer a work desk, a seating area and ironing facilities. Guests can enjoy a daily full hot breakfast at Hilton Kalispell Homewood Suites. A manager reception with food and drinks is offered every Monday through Thursday. A business centre with fax and photocopy services is located on site. Glacier Park International Airport is 12.9 km away from this hotel. Big Mountain Golf Club is 7 minutes’ drive away. Whitefish Mountain Resort is 32.2 km away.
Situated 42 km from Glacier National Park, this Whitefish hotel offers rustic decor and rooms with a comfortable seating area and free Wi-Fi. It features a ski shuttle service to Whitefish Mountain Resort, just 13 km away. All spacious rooms at the Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge feature a cable TV and coffee maker. A hairdryer and free bathroom amenities are also included in each guest room. Guests can enjoy the outdoor pool and hot tub or use the on-site fitness center. This hotel provides a full continental breakfast each morning with various breads, cereal, fruit, eggs, breakfast meats, yogurt, juice, and coffee. Rocky Mountain Best Western is a 2-minute walk from the Victorian Casino and Whitefish Lake Golf Club is 3.2 km away. Glacier Park International Airport is a 13-minute drive from the hotel.
Boasting barbecue facilities, TownePlace Suites by Marriott Whitefish is situated in Whitefish. Featuring a shared lounge, the 3-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a private bathroom. The hotel has a ski pass sales point. The rooms in the hotel are fitted with a flat-screen TV. TownePlace Suites Whitefish offers a continental or buffet breakfast. The accommodation offers a sun terrace. Guests at TownePlace Suites by Marriott Whitefish will be able to enjoy activities in and around Whitefish, like hiking, skiing and cycling. For business travellers' convenience, meeting and banquet facilities, a business centre, newspapers and a fax machine and photocopier are available. Kalispell is 22 km from the hotel. The nearest airport is Glacier Park International Airport, 17 km from TownePlace Suites Whitefish.
Set off Highway 2 and providing free shuttles to Glacier International Airport, this Kalispell, Montana hotel offers easy access to local attractions along with a free daily continental breakfast. The Hampton Inn Kalispell strives to make every stay pleasant with thoughtful amenities such as in-room coffeemakers and mini-refrigerators. Guests can also enjoy the 24-hour hot tub as well as the indoor swimming pool. Guests at the Kalispell Hampton Inn can enjoy a walking tour of the historic centre of Kalispell or visit scenic Flathead Lake. Glacier National Park as well as boating, fishing and camping at Hungry Horse Reservoir are also within driving distance.
PLACES TO GO & THINGS TO DO IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
When planning your trip to Glacier National Park, it's best to book as many days as you can. Encompassing snow-crusted mountain peaks, deep glacial valleys, and shimmering alpine lakes bobbing with icebergs, Glacier National Park draws over three million people each year—particularly during the peak season between July and September. While the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road that spans the park from east to west is a mainstay of many visits, other areas like Many Glacier and Two Medicine are well worth a visit. Among the many must-see sights in Glacier, iconic park attractions like Grinnell Glacier, Logan Pass, and Lake McDonald belong on top of the list. Hiking is one of the most popular things to do in Glacier, and with over 700 miles of hiking trails, Glacier represents a true choose-your-own-adventure when it comes to day hikes and overnight trips. Other popular recreation activities include boating, fishing, stargazing, bicycling, and taking guided excursions like the park's iconic Red Bus Tours. Glacier National Park is home to many species of wildlife. Common sightings include marmots, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep, as well as grizzly and black bears. The Going-to-the-Sun Road and majority of the park's front country receives startlingly big crowds throughout the summer, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road free shuttle helps alleviate traffic concerns.
Glacier National Park is open every day of the year, with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing serving as some of the most popular activities in winter. For more outdoor adventures, read our list of the top things to do in Glacier National Park.
The only road that spans the interior of the park from east to west, the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road is often a centerpiece of any visit, connecting Apgar Visitor Center on the west side of the park to the Saint Mary Visitor Center on the east. A third visitor center is located along the road's highest point at Logan Pass. Five of Glacier's 13 campgrounds are also located along the road, as well as numerous picnic areas, pull-offs, and stunning views of enormous glacier valleys. Visitors are welcome to drive their personal vehicle along the road for no additional fees, and alternative transportation options like a free shuttle make potential issues like parking easy to navigate. The park service also offers Red Bus Tours in the park's iconic 1930s "Rubies of the Rockies" open-top vehicles. The entire road is open seasonally, weather dependent, and prior to opening for vehicle traffic in the spring, bicyclists have two weeks where they can ride the road vehicle-free.
One of the best hikes in Glacier National Park, Grinnell Glacier is an iconic landscape at the heart of the region. The round trip to Grinnell Glacier and back is just over 10 miles of hiking with over 1,600 feet of elevation gain. Visitors can cut down on those miles by taking a fee-based shuttle across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Both approaches deliver with massive mountain views and lush valley landscapes before you even set sight on Grinnell Glacier. Upon taking the last steep steps up to Upper Grinnell Lake, the Garden Wall, part of the Continental Divide, dominates the backdrop of the iceberg-filled lake and holds a collection of massive glaciers in sight. Alongside the vertical Grinnell Glacier melting into the lake, The Salamander glacier also reflects a fractured blue on the Garden Wall. Passing through prime wildlife habitat for bighorn sheep, marmots, and grizzly bears, the trail to Grinnell Glacier is traveled by hundreds of people during nice-weather summer weekends.
The center of activity on the west side of the park, Lake McDonald is the largest body of water in Glacier and is surrounded by numerous things to do. Four campgrounds can be found in this glacially carved region of the park, including one of the park's best campgrounds, Apgar Campground, with 194 sites available. Visitors can also spend the night at the historic Lake McDonald Lodge that was constructed in the 1910s on the banks of the water. The nearby Apgar Village features other resources like a visitor center, general store, and a few casual restaurants. Iconic hiking trails in the Lake McDonald Valley include Avalanche Lake and Sacred Dancing Cascade. Other recreational opportunities provided by concessionaires at Lake McDonald include non-motorized boat rentals and guided horseback rides. Stops for the free shuttle on Going-to-the-Sun Road are located at the Apgar Campground and Lake McDonald Lodge.
The highest point accessible by vehicle in the park, Logan Pass sits at an elevation of 6,646 feet and is a prominent stop on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Backdropped by the ice-clad Clements and Reynolds Mountains, the wildflower meadows at Logan Pass offer a postcard scene of beauty. The Logan Pass Visitor Center, next to a parking lot that is consistently full throughout the summer, offers great information about the surrounding landscape. Taking the free Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle to Logan Pass alleviates parking concerns. Two of the most iconic hiking trails in Glacier start at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. The Highline Trail stretches from Logan Pass to the Granite Park Chalet, and the Hidden Lake Trail meanders through an area known as the Hanging Gardens before reaching a stunning overlook of its namesake feature. Common wildlife sightings in the area include marmots, mountain goats, and the occasional grizzly bear. Throughout the spring and summer, Logan Pass is often strewn with Bear Grass—the park's signature flora.
St. Mary Lake
The defining feature near the East Entrance of Glacier National Park, the 10-mile St. Mary Lake is lined with recreational and scenic appeal. The St. Mary Visitor Center is located near the far end of the lake and entrance station, where visitors can find information about the park and pick up the free Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle. The St. Mary Campground is also located near the banks of the lake and is the second largest campground in Glacier, with 148 sites available. Going-to-the-Sun Road offers spectacular vistas of the lake, and one of the most photographed features is the tiny Wild Goose Island, seemingly floating in the middle of the water. Hiking trails stemming from the St. Mary Valley include St. Mary Falls and Siyeh Pass from Sunrift Gorge. Additional camping near St. Mary Lake is located at the Rising Sun Campground, with lodging available at the Rising Sun Motor Inn.
On the northeast side of the park, the Many Glacier region is a hot spot for hiking trails, wildlife sightings, and lodging opportunities. Alongside the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, which features rustic cabins and motel rooms, visitors can also spend the night at the historic Many Glacier Hotel—first built in 1914 by the Great Northern Railway. On the banks of Swiftcurrent Lake with an iconic view of Mt. Grinnell, the Many Glacier Hotel exudes a natural charm that is infused with the history of the park. The hotel also features a snack shop, dining room, and a unique Swiss-style lobby with a large billowing fireplace and rustic features. Keeping to Swiss-inspired traditions, many of the employees of the hotel are dressed in lederhosen. Boat rentals are located just below the hotel's generous patio that overlooks the lake, and nearby hikes include Cracker Lake and Grinnell Glacier. Other historic accommodations in Glacier National Park can be found at the Lake McDonald Lodge and the Rising Sun Motor Inn.
On the east side of the park, the Two Medicine region was once the main destination for early visitors to Glacier. After the Going-to-the-Sun Road was built, Two Medicine was no longer the central hub of activity, but all its mountain grandeur remained. Now a less-crowded and slightly more off-the-beaten path destination in the park, Two Medicine is centered around the sparkling Two Medicine Lake. Though less popular than campgrounds like Apgar and St. Mary, the Two Medicine Campground also tends to fill up entirely during the peak summer season. Several waterfalls are great outlets for adventure in Two Medicine, including the accessible Running Eagle Falls. Burlier hiking trails like Pitamakan and Dawson Pass offer elevated views of the Two Medicine region. Boat tours are also available that ferry visitors across Two Medicine Lake.
One of the most popular short hikes in Glacier, the trailhead for Avalanche Lake is located near the banks of Lake McDonald on the east side of the park. First traversing alongside the deeply carved banks of Avalanche Creek, the 2.3-mile trail leads through a lush forest to the glacial waters of Avalanche Lake. Alongside this shimmering spectacle, the trailhead also lends access to the less-than-a-mile and family favorite Trail of the Cedars.
In the far northwest corner of Glacier, accessible only by a winding gravel road, Bowman Lake is part of the less-visited North Fork region of the park. Plenty of people with proper vehicle clearance still visit Bowman Lake and the adjacent campground throughout the summer, though the congestion is nothing like you find on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Kintla Lake is a few miles farther north from Bowman Lake, and the only available resources in this part of the park are found in the small and eclectic community of Polebridge.
Making up the second half of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Alberta's Waterton Lakes National Park is located directly across the border from the Goat Haunt region of Glacier. The immensity of Glacier National Park extends well into Canada, and Waterton Lakes provides arguably even bigger terrain to explore. Popular things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park include exploring Red Rock Canyon, visiting Waterton Village, and hiking the 200 kilometers of hiking trails including the iconic Crypt Lake Trail.
With over 700 miles of trails leading to iconic landscapes like glistening glaciers, panoramic mountain passes, and iceberg-topped lakes, Glacier National Park offers a true kid-in-a-candy-shop mentality for hiking and backpacking. A few signature hikes of the park include the Highline Trail at Logan Pass and Grinnell Glacier in Many Glacier, with other less-crowded hiking trails including Cobalt Lake and Siyeh Pass. All hiking trails in Glacier National Park meander through grizzly bear country and hikers should plan accordingly.
Given its slightly remote location in northern Montana, the best way to experience Glacier is by spending the night. Glacier has 13 campgrounds within park boundaries, and several private campgrounds are located near the park's different entrances. The largest campground, Apgar Campground, on the east side of the park, often fills to capacity by early morning throughout the summer. Saint Mary Campground, the largest on the east side of the park, also routinely fills to capacity and is one of the few campgrounds that accepts advanced reservations. On the east side of the park, the Two Medicine and Many Glacier regions both have popular campgrounds connected to a variety of trails. For less crowded campgrounds in Glacier, more remote areas like Bowman Lake and primitive campgrounds including Cut Bank offer campsites that don't fill up nearly as fast. Glacier National Park also maintains over 60 backcountry campsites available by permit only.
Guided adventure opportunities can really enhance a Glacier National Park visit, from Red Bus Tours to hiking endeavors led by Glacier Guides. Both the National Park Service and several concessionaires offer additional guided experiences, including scenic boat ferries and horseback rides. Many of the guided activities in Glacier book up months ahead of time. For more in-depth and extended guided experiences in Glacier, the private and non-profit Glacier Institute features experiential educational courses for adults, teens, and children.
One of the best ways to experience Glacier is via the extensive network of backcountry trails that navigate the interior of the park. Anyone interested in enjoying Glacier's backcountry needs a permit to spend the night, which can be obtained through a lottery reservation system that opens in March, or through a limited walk-up availability during the season. Glacier's landscape is demanding but very rewarding, with a few highlighted backcountry destinations including Stoney Indian Pass, the Ptarmigan Tunnel, and Hole-in-the-Wall.
The best time to bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road is in the spring, when plows have started to move snow and before the road officially opens to vehicles. The exact dates and distances that cyclists can travel vehicle-free on the Sun Road is weather dependent, and cyclists aren't allowed anywhere near where plow crews are working. Glacier National Park's Road Status page keeps up-to-date information regarding opening dates for the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Once the Going-to-the-Sun Road opens to vehicle traffic, cyclists can still travel the entire road until June 15th. Caution and good riding practices, including highly visible clothing and gear, need to apply when bicycling the Going-to-the-Sun Road alongside vehicles. Between June 15th and Labor Day, certain sections on the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road prohibit bicycling for congestion issues. Mountain biking and trail riding are not allowed in Glacier National Park.
The least crowded time to visit Glacier is during the winter. Networks of trails are available for skiing and snowshoeing near the east and west entrances at St. Mary and Apgar. It's important to check trail conditions before heading to Glacier for winter activities, as well as local forecast conditions. Avalanche danger is real in Glacier, and anyone looking to cross the park's backcountry in winter needs to obtain a permit and understand the risk.
WHERE TO EAT IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
West Glacier's finest dining option, housed in one of its most historic buildings, has evolved with the times, the faux Swiss milkmaid waitress uniforms aside. The head chef, a Whitefish native now in his second season at the helm, has created a sophisticated menu featuring locally sourced ingredients and mains such as bison meatloaf with broccolini and bacon lardons (strips of fatty bacon). The adjoining taproom is a more casual, economical affair that offers some inventive sandwiches, microbrews and craft cocktails.
East Glacier Park's most buzzed-about restaurant serves a mean chile relleno. Renowned for its excellent iced margaritas, Serrano's also has economical burritos, enchiladas and quesadillas in the vintage Dawson house log cabin, originally built in 1909. Expect a wait.
Johnson's of St Mary World Famous Restaurant
It feels like you've stepped onto the set of a John Wayne western. Well, the plastic chairs are a giveaway. But this log-cabin restaurant perched above St Mary is charmingly heavy on the classic decor. Burgers and sandwiches are better and bigger than average and the Sunday fried chicken meal is a gut buster. Do not order a dessert pie unless you're sharing. The dinnertime menu is more extensive with various cuts of steak, veal and a few fish dishes. Not to be outdone, and indicative of both a sense of humor and responsibility, breakfast dishes, like omelettes, burritos and bacon and eggs come in three sizes: yep, small, medium and large.
Grab a burger, burrito or delicious elk meatloaf and beer and head to the picnic tables to watch the sand volleyball game, swap tales of grizzly encounters with intrepid backcountry hikers, or listen to the live music (nights vary) at Glacier's most down-to-earth and super-chill venue set in the impossibly scenic North Fork Valley. Fridays are pizza and salad only.
This off-the-grid bakery and minimalist grocery at the northwest corner of the park serves legendary bear claws and cinnamon buns. It's the de facto hangout spot in this tiny community, and attracts everyone from grizzled locals to trucker-hat-wearing rafting guides to hopelessly lost tourists.
With magnificent lakeside views, this spacious and handsomely designed restaurant with vaulted ceilings is the most refined of the park's lodges. Enjoy 7, 10 or 14oz prime rib, grilled wild Alaskan salmon, surf and turf burger, craft cocktails and microbrews, and watch bears munch on berries in the bushes outside. The staff, mostly international and seasonal (like all the lodges), have service kinks to work out early in the summer.
While the Two Medicine Valley has no standard restaurants, you can forgo alfresco campground cooking and chow down on excellent chili, soups and sandwiches, at this historic building-cum-grocery-store and gift shop that once served as a dining hall for the erstwhile Two Medicine Chalets. Your can also grab coffee, ice cream and ingredients to make up a decent picnic. President FD Roosevelt, accompanied by John D Rockefeller Jr, chose to give one of his famous ‘fireside chats’ here in the 1930s.
Only steps away, but light-years from Lake McDonald Lodge's decor and vibe, Jammer Joe's (named for Joe Kendall, who drove the park's iconic Red Buses for 16 years) looks like a pizzeria from a Midwestern suburban strip mall circa 1970. However, it's a pleasant apparition for tired hikers enamored by the simple no-frills menu, which, in addition to whole-grain pizzas, includes burgers, pasta and salads.
Summer jobbers man the diner-style tables inside Apgar Village’s only eating joint, serving up meatloaf, fish and chips and buffalo burgers from a kitchen where quantity rules over quality. We prefer it for breakfast, especially the hearty burrito. There's usually a line at the side window, which dishes out quality ice cream, lemonade, tea and coffee. Those craving a little huckleberry can choose from the huckleberry cobbler, huckleberry milkshake or huckleberry peach pie for dessert.
If you’re craving an opportunity to break away from the hikers’ breakfast/picnic lunch monotony, try this wheelchair-accessible restaurant in the St Mary Lodge & Resort, where the steaks are succulent and the footwear is equally heels as hiking boots. The bison meatloaf and rainbow trout are standouts on the dinner menu, and it's worth postponing the day's hike for a breakfast of huckleberry pancakes and bison chorizo.
WHERE TO SHOP IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
A Glacier Park institution since 1960, Montana House offers a wide selection of quality jewelry, Montana-inspired artwork and photography, and books about Glacier for adults and kids. On the second floor, the new space hosts community meetings, film screenings, live music and talks about subjects like wildfires and the grizzly bear population. Check the website for the event schedule. Importantly, Montana House is the only place open in Apgar and West Glacier in the winter. You can stop in here for a hot chocolate, coffee, granola bar and a selection of snacks. After a day out cross-country skiing in below freezing temps with nary another human in sight, entering the warm shop can feel unreal.
Just outside the park, about half a mile from the train station on US 2, this is the best one-stop shop for outdoor gear. It rents and sells everything you could need for rafting, fishing, mountain biking, camping and backpacking. It shares premises with and is owned and operated by Glacier Rafting Co.
A cozy bookstore and gift shop in the historic West Glacier train station, run by the official fundraising partner of Glacier National Park. Open year-round.