We traveled to Glacier National Park in Montana last summer (2018), but I didn’t yet have this format to share with you all the features you simply can’t miss at that time! Glacier National Park is absolutely massive (more than 1 million acres) and it takes a great deal of time to travel through, so we spent an entire week in Montana exploring. To make these posts a bit shorter, I’ve divided this Travel Bug feature up into two parts.
Glacier National Park is Montana’s only National Park and is nicknamed the “Crown of the Continent”. This park is known for its presence of large mountains and glaciers – including six peaks with elevations over 10,000′ and as one of the places in the contiguous United States where you can see a glacier. There are 25 active glaciers in the park, down from 150 in the late 19th century.
Glacier National Park is also one of the best National Parks for wildlife viewing! You can see grizzly and black bears (although you don’t want to see grizzly bears up close!), moose, bighorn sheep, mule deer and many more species.
Tips for Visiting Glacier National Park
- Timing is Important: Glacier National Park is very far North and is very mountainous. There is also only one road that runs directly through the park, so when snow piles up – the park is accessible from either side, but not through it. Logan Pass – the highest elevation point in the park – has about 100′ of snowfall each year. The main road through the park typically has snow fully removed and guardrails re-installed by the 4th of July, and often closes in October. Out of 12 months of the year, you can only drive through the full park for about 4.
- Where to Stay: We stayed in Columbia Falls, Montana outside of the West Glacier area of Glacier National Park for the first half of our trip at an Airbnb. Kalispell and nearby Whitefish are adorable tourist communities with great shops, restaurants and amenities. We especially enjoyed spending time in downtown Whitefish! They had a great variety of downtown restaurants and a farmers market and food truck rally we enjoyed.
- How to Get There: We flew into the Glacier Park International Airport, about 30 minutes away from Glacier National Park in Kalispell and it was such a pleasant experience! The airport is quite small – serviced by Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines. You can easily get there with one or two layovers. We had a short layover in Chicago and got to Kalispell pretty painlessly. I didn’t think our flights were outrageously expensive either, we paid about $450 per person for flights in June.
- How to Get Around: You will need a vehicle to explore most of Glacier and the surrounding area. There is a shuttle system within the park, but it runs with significantly less frequency than other parks we’ve explored, in part because of how far apart amenities are in the park. The shuttles run every 40-60 minutes, but we did not have too many issues finding parking spaces within the park. The only exception for this was at Logan Pass, the highest point in the park. There are no gas stations once you are inside the park and very few resources on the eastern side of the park. Be sure to fill up your tank before you head into Glacier National Park.
- You are going to want to be sure to explore Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. This beautiful road winds and weaves past vista after stunning vista and takes you to the highest elevation point in the park, Logan Pass. There are plenty of pull-offs along the drive to capture beautiful views like the photo below.
- The road is 50 miles long across Glacier National Park and takes about 2 hours to drive, without stops, due to its lower speed limit and hairpin turns.
- Where to Eat: When we were exploring West Glacier, we didn’t utilize many of the park dining options. We generally ate in Whitefish and Columbia Falls. Some of our favorite spots we explored were:
- Casey’s in Whitefish, which has a fabulous rooftop patio overlooking the mountains.
- Latitude 48 in Whitefish, a higher end dining option where we went for dinner one night. They have a speakeasy style cocktail bar in the basement with live music, perfect for after dinner drinks!
- Mama Blanca’s Cocina Latina in Whitefish, a Mexican restaurant with the most delicious burrito bowls I’ve ever had.
- SunRift Beer Company in Kalispell, a cool smaller format taproom with a neat outdoor area (bean bags, outdoor seating and rotating food trucks).
- Bias Brewing in Kalispell, a larger brewery that I really enjoyed for the sours and on-tap kombucha. They had a good board game selection, too, which we took advantage of!
- Flathead Lake Brewing Company in Bigfork, a bit further south of Glacier National Park – this brewery has a full restaurant and had delicious eats and beautiful views of the nearby lake.
- Montana Coffee Traders in Columbia Falls, a great place to grab a cup of coffee and snacks in the morning on your way into the park!
- Where to Hike: We hiked Avalanche Lake via Trail of the Cedars on our first day in Glacier National Park. This roughly 5.7 mile trail is an out and back trail that ends at Avalanche Lake and offers beautiful views. The trail is very accessible (right off the main drag) so it can be a bit crowded.
- On our second day in Glacier National Park we hiked Hidden Lake Trail. This 5.3 mile out and back trail starts at the Logan Pass Visitor Center and hikes to a glacial lake. When we were there in late June, the trail was still entirely snow covered. As a result, we only hiked to a certain point with great views and turned back. I’d say we hiked about 3.5 miles instead of the full 5.3. We had beautiful wildlife viewing this day and were able to spot mountain goats!
- What Else to See and Do: Be sure to visit the Logan Pass Visitor Center. This is the highest elevation point in the park and features the continental divide (this feature determines which direction rainfall heads and into which watersheds it flows (east or west).
- Eat something with huckleberries in it! Many tourist communities have a regional item that is hugely popular. We have cherries here in Wisconsin, some places have cranberries. In Montana – it’s huckleberries! Who am I to ignore a local tradition? I had the pleasure of trying a huckleberry bear claw, a huckleberry latte, a huckleberry margarita, meatloaf in a huckleberry demi-glace and of course, huckleberry pie.
- If you are here on a Tuesday, don’t miss the Whitefish Farmers Market in the downtown area. We had a lovely time strolling, looking at the art vendors wares and listening to live music. You can tell this is a place where people really embrace and live for their summer months.
I’ll highlight some more Glacier National Park features from the second half of our trip in West Glacier in a second post soon!
We did most of our trip planning using online resources from Glacier National Park’s official website, as well as the Kalispell and Whitefish tourism websites. A lot of people leave useful feedback on tourist attractions on TripAdvisor, and we research hiking trails using AllTrails. Happy travels!