This is part 2 of my Glacier National Park travel post, so if you haven’t read Part 1, start there before returning to this post! The second half of our trip to Glacier National Park was on the Eastern part of the park and we had significantly more wildlife encounters and less human contact in this part of the park. The Eastern part of Glacier I’m classifying as the part east of Logan Pass (the highest point in the park and the site of the continental divide). Hikes and travel tips for Logan Pass and points West of Logan Pass are included in my Part 1 blog post.
Amenities become much more sparse and the scenery becomes much more wild the further East in the park you get. West Glacier is most definitely the primary entryway into the park and has a lot more in the way of shopping, dining and lodging.
As you can see from the map above, the only way directly through Glacier National Park is via Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is open for approximately 3-3.5 months of the year during peak visitation season.
- What to See and Do: We spent our first full day in East Glacier National Park taking in the Cracker Flats in the remote Many Glacier area. Many Glacier is a beautiful and wild area North of Going-to-the-Sun Road (very much off the beaten path) that has exceptional wildlife viewing.
- Seeing Glacier on Horseback: Our Cracker Flats tour was done on horseback through the lovely in-park vendor Swan Mountain Outfitters. I’d never been on a horse for more than a few minutes as a child and was more than a bit apprehensive, but their staff was excellent and accommodating in pairing the right horses with each guest. The tour was about 2 hours long and was $75 per person at the time (the rates are now $80 per person).
- It was a very different experience seeing a park from atop a horse – I felt like once I got comfortable enough on my horse I was able to spend my time looking all around me – sometimes I am so fixated on what is directly in front of me when I’m hiking that I do not get to take full enough advantage of the views around me.
- The guides (our group of about 12 had two guides with us) were very knowledgeable about wildlife, plants and features in the park. They are very strict that you cannot take your hands off the reins to take photos, so this is the only photo I have of this part of our trip, but there’s something to be said for just enjoying the moment and not feeling like you have to document everything with a photo.
- Wildlife Viewing: As I mentioned, the wildlife viewing in the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park is unmatched along the more trafficked Going-to-the-Sun Road. Animals tend to be more active at dawn and dusk (they come out to drink water, forage, etc.) so we would go for nature rides along the main roads with our binoculars and camera to see if we could see animals along the many lakeshores in the park. We spotted moose, mule deer, fox, bighorn sheep and black bears along the lakeshore at different points.
- Seeing Glacier by Boat: The next day we took a boat tour from park vendor Glacier Park Boat Company on St. Mary Lake that dropped us off with a Park Ranger for a guided hike to a waterfall (St. Mary Falls). The weather was a bit rainy, but as long as there isn’t thunder and lightning, you go with whatever the weather throws at you. The boat tour was an enjoyable way to see the park from the water (which is such a defining part of the park) and we were able to see a glacier from the water, too. The hike took us through an area of the park that has recently experienced wildfires. Wildfires are an important part of the ecological life cycle of a forest, but it’s still difficult seeing so many dead trees in a concentrated area.
- Learning about Indigenous Peoples in the Glacier area: We went into the nearby community of Browning just outside of Glacier National Park to visit the Museum of the Plains Indian. The community of Browning is part of the sprawling Blackfeet Indian Reservation that makes up a huge portion of land just East of Glacier National Park.
- Browning was very visibly poor and the museum, a federally managed property, had clearly not been well supported by the federal government in offering updates to the exhibits or the facility. It was a sad (but important) reflection of how indigenous people are pushed out of the most habitable areas near their traditional homes and are not provided with the same opportunities to profit off of tourism in their indigenous lands. It was so clear to the observer’s eye that the most beautiful parts of the Glacier area have been monopolized by non-indigenous parties and while millions visit this area each year, it doesn’t appear that there is equal opportunity for tribes here to benefit financially from that.
- The most interesting part of the museum was that there was a working artist studio in the back of the museum where we could meet with local tribal artists. They explained to us that becoming a tribal artist is a way to make a good living and one that allows for artists to live and stay in their own community while selling art online or through art fairs around the United States. There is a clear effort to engage youth in public schools in preserving tribal traditional arts and artists from this community make an effort to continually mentor youth.
- An art form that I was not familiar with is Ledger Art. Ledger art is a tradition among Plains tribal members that feature paintings, drawings or sketches on printed or handwritten ledger books – a source of paper for tribal members when white settlers began arriving in their homeland. Traditional paintings had been done on buffalo hides, which obviously became more scarce as eradication efforts sought to deprive indigenous people of a primary feature of their traditional way of life.
- As the artist with whom I met I explained, ledger art today also makes a cultural and political statement about how indigenous people are still creating and preserving their traditional forms of art – and by repurposing these ledgers and white documents to tell their story, it is as if they are standing firm on protecting their cultural forms of expression despite white efforts to control where indigenous people live, what resources they have and how they are able to express themselves culturally.
- Where to Stay: My husband’s parents stayed at a charming hotel inside the Park along Going-to-the-Sun Road called Rising Sun Motor Inn. The hotel, while an original property to the park, has been updated to include modern amenities and includes en-suite bathrooms. There is no air conditioning, but you honestly won’t need it most times of the year!
- We stayed in a charming Works Progress era cabin in Swiftcurrent that had been originally used by workers in the park building out park infrastructure. The cabins were two rooms and featured a sink/dining area and a very cozy (small) bedroom. Bathrooms were in a shared facility a few hundred feet away (like at a campground). No air conditioning (again, not needed), but there was heat and it alternated between being extremely cold and hot. Rising Sun Motor Inn had wi-fi, our cabin did not. We brought board games and cards and easily entertained ourselves for the three nights we were there.
- Where to Eat: I can’t stress this enough – you need to prepare and plan for eating in the park because the amenities in East Glacier are very sparse. We ate at both the Swiftcurrent and Rising Sun hotel facilities out of sheer convenience and were pleased with the variety of the menu and the healthy options available. Both hotels had general stores, as well, that had a good variety of foodstuffs (probably more intended for campers and hikers, but super convenient to be able to make sandwiches / have fresh fruit on hand). Some spots where we ate throughout our time in East Glacier included…
- ‘Nell’s at Swiftcurrent Restaurant, Many Glacier area. This restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and was right near our cabin – we ate here at least three times and always enjoyed the food.
- Two Dog Flats Grill, Rising Sun area. This restaurant is attached to the Rising Sun Motel and also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. We ate breakfast here one morning and I had a delicious tofu and veggie scramble.
- Two Sisters Cafe, Browning area. This funky restaurant had kooky wall art and delicious homemade eats and featured grassfed Montana-raised meats and a wide ranging menu.
- We also enjoyed a delicious meal of fresh seafood and locally raised chicken one night in East Glacier, but I suspect that restaurant has since closed since I can’t find anything about it online! I had the best bison meatloaf with a huckleberry demi-glace and I’m disappointed I can’t point you to where to get one yourself!
- Where to Hike: We took in a good amount of hiking in our time in East Glacier! Our hikes ranged from short and easy to more rigorous, but there are hikes for all levels in the park. Because of the looooooong timeframe when the park has snow cover and the high altitude, you have to do a bit of research to see which trails are fully open. Most trails we found are out-and-back and many were not fully open when we were in the park in late June/early July. Check with park rangers at the Visitor Centers OR do your own research on user-feedback generated platforms like All Trails, where hikers post trail conditions and when they were able to hike the full trail.
- St. Mary Falls, a short 1.7 mile hike (roundtrip) that is an out-and-back hike from the boat shuttle stop. The elevation changes are very gradual and the waterfall is a beautiful sight to behold.
- Sunrift Gorge Trail, another short 1.3 mile hike (roundtrip) that is an out-and-back featuring a waterfall. This hike is easily accessible from on-road parking on Going-to-the-Sun Road but can be crowded depending on the time of day.
- Redrock Falls, a longer 4.2 mile hike (roundtrip) that is an out-and-back and leads to a truly stunning waterfall (much larger than the first two mentioned). This also was one of the trails where we saw a mama and baby moose and had to hightail it out of there before she started to defend her baby!
- Iceberg Lake Trail, this was the longest hike we did, clocking in at just under 10 miles (roundtrip) on an out-and-back trail. This trail is strenuous – a nearly 1,300′ elevation change! This trail leads uphill to a stunningly blue glacial lake (Iceberg Lake) and you hike in snow for the last portion of the hike during certain times of year. This hike was lovely as it offered beautiful scenery, a slow ascent and great places to stop to picnic. We intended to stop for lunch at the lake before hiking back, but it was so cold at the lake that we hiked back down a bit to a warmer spot! After we finished this lengthy hike in about 3.5 hours, we took a long nap and then devoured an entire large pizza.
Glacier National Park is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever set foot and I highly encourage you to add it to your travel bucket list. While you do have to plan out quite far in advance (very short window when all amenities are available and a popular destination!), it’s truly worth spending some time disconnecting with the busy nature of life and reconnecting with actual nature! I’m so glad we chose to spend an entire week in Glacier National Park and will remember the beautiful scenery, wildlife and experiences for a lifetime.