Traveling to the heart of Glacier National Park via Going-to-the-Sun Road is more complicated these days after changes to entry requirements for the iconic thoroughfare, as well as the route to the North Fork region. Now, along with your park pass, a $2 entry ticket is required to access Going-to-the-Sun Road when it’s open, which is typically in the latter part of June until after Labor Day; a separate ticket is needed for the North Fork.
For visitors looking for something to do beyond the park’s borders (or hoping to avoid entrance fees), here are seven activities and destinations on both the east and west sides of Glacier National Park.
1. Iron Shield Creative
Take a hike with cultural storytellers at Iron Shield Creative. Spend a day, or half-day, exploring areas near Glacier National Park to learn about the deep connection between the landscape and the Indigenous Blackfeet people. Learning the rich history of those who’ve called this land home for centuries offers a new appreciation for this stunning area.
“Sasquatch Hikes” with “Amskapi Pikuni aunties” take guests to Bigfoot hot spots while sharing stories about this important figure in Indigenous cultures. Healthy lunches are provided, but be sure to pack accordingly with extra water and proper clothing. Many of Iron Shield Creative’s guides also share stories during the Native America Speaks programs held in the park during the evening hours when a ticket is no longer required.
2. Museum of the Plains Indian
For those who want to explore the Indigenous heritage of the region without hiking, or deepen their knowledge before or after exploring the landscape, the Museum of the Plains Indian is an exceptional foundation from which to understand the cultural traditions of the Blackfeet Nation and their relationship to the land in and around Glacier National Park. This is the perfect place for an immersive experience through the art, clothing, and traditional handwork of tribal members.
Pair your museum visit with a bus tour from Sun Tours, a longtime Native-operated business that takes guests through parts of Glacier, as well as native land outside of the park. The extremely knowledgeable guides provide commentary that enhances the entire experience.
3. Dark Sky viewing
Nightly astronomy programs take place at the St. Mary and Apgar visitor centers. Astronomy experts set up telescopes in the parking areas, and after providing a tour of the night sky, guests view the planets and constellations. While both locations offer fantastic viewing through top-notch equipment, the Dusty Star Observatory at St. Mary provides a glimpse into deep space.
Check the visitor centers for specific days and times, but during the height of the summer, you can plan on starting around 10 p.m. Evenings are often chilly, even in July and August, so dress accordingly.
4. The Montana Vortex
With twisted trees and mind-bending gravitational anomalies, the Montana Vortex is sure to raise more questions than answers as people seem to shrink or grow before your eyes, or you find it impossible to stand upright in the “House of Mystery.” With marbles rolling uphill and brooms standing on their own, even skeptics start to wonder what strange energy manifests from this ancient portal. Besides a fascinating tour, the Montana Vortex has a fantastic gift shop and is a pleasant stop only 13 miles from West Glacier along Highway 2.
5. Raft the Middle Fork of the Flathead River
During the heat of the summer there’s no better place to be than on or near the water. Rafting companies outside of West Glacier have a long history of taking guests on wild rides down the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Ranging from 3- to 6-hour floats, guests can either grab a paddle to be part of the action or just enjoy the ride. Trips typically start with a slower, more scenic float until they hit the Class 2 and 3 rapids with names like Bonecrusher, Jaws, and the Pumphouse. Plus, there are options for relaxing floats for those who don’t seek an adrenaline rush but want to soak in the beautiful scenery.
6. Whitefish Mountain Resort
The quaint mountain town of Whitefish is a popular place to stay for many visitors to Glacier, and the Whitefish Mountain Resort offers plenty to do. There are numerous trails for mountain biking, as well as hiking, including the popular Danny On Trail where you can hike to the summit, then buy a ticket for a chairlift or gondola ride to the base. For adventurous guests there are also zip line tours, an aerial park filled with rope ladders, trapezes, and cable bridges, and an exhilarating alpine slide. Plus, the Strider Bike Park and the Spider Monkey Mountain play area are designed for young visitors. There is also a Junior Forest Ranger program for children, as well as Discovery Walks led by interpretive guides throughout the summer.
Although a ticket is required to travel to the North Fork region of Glacier to experience Bowman or Kintla lakes, no fee is required to visit the rustic off-grid community of Polebridge. Built in 1916, the Northern Lights Saloon is known for hearty food, cold beverages, and lively music. The same holds true for the neighboring historic Polebridge Mercantile. Don’t be dissuaded if there’s a line for the huckleberry bear claws because they are worth the wait—plus the mercantile offers other delicious baked goods and sundry items. This idyllic mountain town is the perfect place to chill out, maybe start an impromptu volleyball game, and simply unwind.