Planning a Trip to Glacier National Park

Nicholas T
Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park in Montana is a testament to wilderness at its finest. Pristine lakes shine in gorges dug out by the glaciers long ago, and the rocky mountains spire high above. This park attracts more than a million visitors each year, and will probably enchant you should you venture within its borders. It was the home of the Blackfoot and Flathead Natives, and is currently home to a myriad of animal and plant life. This unique ecosystem is often referred to as the "Crown of the Continent."

Getting to the Park

Depending on how long your journey is, there are several options for getting to Glacier National Park.

By Car

Going by car is probably the simplest way to get there and it makes it easier to transport yourself around the park too. Anyone with a GPS or smartphone will be able to find it easily, and those without one can find directions on the park's website. Just be sure to choose which entrance you want to use ahead of time, as the park is large and the entrances are far apart. RV camping in Glacier National Park is another excellent option.

By Plane

If you fly to Glacier National Park, the closest airport is the aptly named Glacier Park International Airport, which is about 30 miles from the West Entrance. Missoula International Airport is about 150 miles away. If you fancy the Eastern side of the park, Great Falls International Airport is between 130 and 160 miles away from the East entrances.

By Train

Taking the train is a great way to experience the delightful countryside and amazing wilderness even before you get to the park. It also allows you to skip the hassle of airport security or packing for a long road trip. The train has some other advantages too.

Erin Gartner wrote for Associated Press that taking the train was "about half the cost of flying" and their "mammoth backpacks with protruding hiking poles fit, with creative maneuvering, into the train's overhead compartments." Trains can be booked through Amtrak.

Getting Around

If you didn't bring a car, Glacier National Park offers a shuttle system. While Gartner notes that misinformation about shuttle schedules can cause problems, it's a reasonable bet that you'll be able to get around the park this way. The full shuttle schedule is provided online. Perry Rosenbloom even recommends hitchhiking in the Glacier National Park Travel Guide, saying that visitors with cars are friendly and it is easy to get a ride.

What to Expect

Here are a few basics on what to expect when you arrive at Glacier National Park.

Entrance Fees

Summer entrance fees range from $15 (for a single person) to $30 (for a car), both of which cover a full week in the park. If you'll be returning often, the $45 annual pass could be a better value.

Camping and Lodging

No matter whether you're looking for a true outdoor living experience or a historic hotel with all your preferred amenities, you can find something to suit your style here.

Avalanche Campground, Glacier National Park

Camping

Some campsites can be reserved ahead of time, while others are on a first-come, first-served basis. Camping fees typically range from $10 to $23 per night. You can see a full list of campsites, with prices and amenities, on the park's website. Hikers can also camp in the backcountry for a mere $7, but be sure to get your permit before 4:30 pm. Campfires are allowed in designated campsites only.

Lodging

You want it? They've got it. Anything from cozy cabins and chalets to historic hotels, vacation rentals, and reasonably priced motels are available in the Glacier National Park area. Many Glacier Hotel is a popular choice, probably because of its character and rustic charm. There are quite a few options, each to fit a particular budget and style of travel, so look around a bit before you make your choice.

Food

There are places to eat and buy supplies in all the major locations, including Apgar, Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, Rising Sun and Two Medicine. Either eat at one of the restaurants or cafes within the park or stop in a camp store to pick up supplies. A list of stores and restaurants can be found on the park's website.

What to Do at Glacier National Park

There are nearly as many possible activities in Glacier National Park as there are people who visit. For the sake of space and sanity, you'll find some of the most popular ones below.

Adventures

  • Mountain hiking trail in Glacier National Park
    Hiking: Glacier National Park has over 700 miles of hiking trails, from peaceful day-hikes to wilderness backpacking expeditions. Take some time to decide which hike is best for you, and check in with a ranger beforehand for information on trail conditions, weather, and other factors that may affect your trip.
  • Boating: Motorized boats are permitted on Glacier National Park's rivers, though you will need a permit in order to launch. Canoeing is also a great way to see the park's pristine lakes and rivers.
  • Fishing: What does it feel like to catch your dinner in the middle of untouched wilderness? No license is required to fish in the park, though there are still rules to follow in order to protect the local ecosystem.
  • Whitewater Rafting: Ready for a thrill? Try whitewater rafting in Glacier National Park. Glacier Raft Company offers whitewater rafting tours during the warmer months. If you're not in the mood to get wet, the same company also offers horseback riding tours.
  • Cross-Country Skiing: Glacier National Park's winter months are reminiscent of the park's namesake. With fewer visitors in winter, cross-country skiing is an opportunity to experience this magnificent wilderness all alone. There are trails for a variety of skill levels.

Sightseeing

  • Going-To-The-Sun Road: This famous road cuts through the entire park from east to west. Driving through the midst of one of the wildest places in America is exhilarating and awe-inspiring. It passes through a variety of landscapes and crosses the Continental Divide through Logan Pass. There is also ample opportunity to view wildlife like mountain goats and bighorn sheep. If you don't have a car, you can opt for a ride in one of the park's red "Jammer" buses.
  • Bighorn Sheep - Glacier National Park
    Wildlife: Glacier National Park is home to a large variety of wildlife, from elk to mountain goats and bighorn sheep to black bears and foxes. Take some time to learn about the wildlife before going out.
  • Ferry Tour: Take a ferry to see the park's majestic wilderness from the water. Glacier Park Boat Company offers regular ferry tours of the park's beautiful landscapes.

Visitor Reviews

Most people who have been there love Glacier National Park. Indeed, it has a full 5-star overall rating on both Yelp and TripAdvisor. Reviewers often use words like "awesome," "gorgeous," or even "the closest thing to perfection that exists in the world."

The only negatives that come up consistently are troubles with parking or conversely, getting from place to place without a car. Reviewers also note that Going-To-The-Sun Road is much nicer in July after the park's team has finished clearing off all of the snow.

A few people were disappointed that they didn't see any wildlife, however, with patience, most people will get a chance to see some. Unfortunately, the park's namesake is swiftly melting away, so if glaciers are your reason to visit, try planning your trip sooner than later.

Enjoy the Park!

There are few places left in the United States, or even the world, that are truly untouched. Glacier National Park is one of those places and is an example of the intense beauty and majesty of nature at her finest. If you can, take some time just to be in the park, without expectation, and experience what it has to teach you.

Planning a Trip to Glacier National Park