Glacier National Park receives about 2 million visitors per year (on average). That makes it the 10th most visited National Park in the country-- a great spot to occupy, since it's not too remote, but still less crowded than many of the most popular parks. The park encompasses over 1 million acres, though, so your odds of running into large crowds are pretty slim, if you stay off-the-beaten-path. Native Americans were the first to recognize the region for its breathtaking beauty, calling it the "Backbone of the World", but to Americans, the park is more like America's answer to the Alps of Switzerland. Whatever the park is to you, it's certainly a special place.
Some tips for visiting Glacier National Park:
-If you want a guided tour of the park, there are plenty to be had. The red, 1930s-inspired "jammer" buses are a common sight throughout the park and make for a great introduction to some of the parks highlights. You can also find boat tours to take you out onto some of the lakes like St. Mary Lake, Lake McDonald, Two Medicine and Many Glacier.!
-Huckleberries grow rampant throughout Glacier, and visitors are welcome to help themselves. They ripen in the mid- to late summer, so keep your eyes peeled for the delicious little treats. And don't forget to bring a basket, because you can even pick up to a quart to carry out of the park for yourself.
-Be careful when visiting Glacier during the winter: few roads get plowed, so access to many sites is limited, and many stores, restaurants and hotels close. You can find great skiing and snowshoeing during the colder months, though.
-The park is a million-plus acres, and there are no gas stations anywhere inside the borders. Top off your tank whenever you can, and plan trips outside the park to fill up on gas whenever you start to run low.
-Be bear aware. Bring bear spray (and know how to use it!) and don't forget bear canisters for storing food and valuables if you're camping. As long as you give them their space and follow posted signs, you shouldn't have any trouble.
Spanning 53 miles across Glacier National Park in Montana, Going-to-the-Sun Road is one drive every nature-lover, engineering buff, and/or thrill-seeker should make… Carved through some of the most stunning landscapes in America, the road is as historic as beautiful, being one of the first NPS projects borne from America’s then-newfound love with the car. Today, road trippers still enjoy Going-to-the-Sun’s unparalleled views, hair-raising curves, and access to Glacier National Park’s most stunning spots.
Craving something with a local touch? Two Sisters Cafe offers up a taste of Montana with dishes like bison burgers and rainbow trout with huckleberry aioli... and you can wash it all down with a local craft beer, a huckleberry or martini, or a huckleberry milkshake. Oh, and don't forget homemade pie and fresh ice cream! As an added bonus, the decor, waitstaff and atmosphere are just as creative as their food-- feel free to ask the employees for advice on what to do in the area and in the park!
Visitors can find tons spots in the park that are on the National Register of Historic Places. Lodges and hotels, often in the Swiss chalet style commonly seen in the Alps, began popping up across the park, and many, like Belton Chalet, are still operational! In many ways, a stay here is a trip back in time (the classic decor and the fact that rooms don't have TVs really add to the old-school vibes) but it makes up for everything with its charm. Plus, the convenience of staying in the park is undeniable.
Want a slightly more rustic experience? Book a stay at Glacier Under Canvas. Only 7 miles from the park, this "glamping" resort lets you camp out in the beauty of nature, but in style. Safari tents, treehouses, cabins, and tipis are already set up and are perfectly appointed with the basics: beds, wood-burning stoves, and some even have ensuite private bathrooms. Since its a resort, you can take advantage of their activities in and around Glacier as well.
If you're in need of a quick boost before hiking your way through Glacier, stop at Hungry Horse Espresso. It's not a big or fancy operation, but it's got the drive-thru, and they make lattes and frappes that are truly better than what you can get at a chain. Plus, they have huckleberry whipped cream when the berries are in season. Amazing.
If you find yourself in search of civilization, head out to Whitefish, one of the many adorable towns in Montana's Flathead Valley. Here, you'll find gems like the Stillwater Fish House. Crudo, ceviche, grilled octopus, king crab, Maine lobster, and tons of other delicious seafood options are served up here. Take advantage of the fact that Glacier is less remotely located than other National Parks and enjoy a nice, sit-down meal.
One of the coolest overnight experiences in the area? Spending the night in a refurbished train caboose at the Izaak Walton Inn! The rentals are outfitted with everything you could need for a cozy cabin getaway (kitchen, plumbing, decks with scenic views), except they're located in authentic railcar cabooses! The Inn was originally built to serve the railroad personnel, but they've morphed into a resort experience, complete with lodge, restaurants, and activities, that will add that extra special touch to your trip to Glacier.
Did you know that Glacier's official symbol is a mountain goat? It's true... and after a visit to the park, it's not hard to see why! The furry white mountain goats are all over... and they're kind of adorable. Plus, they can climb up vertical cliffs and have been known to leap as far as 12 feet in a single jump! They're especially fond of the salty minerals found on a sheer cliff face near Walton Ranger Station, and can often been seen in action, climbing up the mountain and socializing-- stop by in the morning or evening to watch them!
Two Medicine Lake is heart of the wild interior of Glacier, so if you're looking for hiking trails and boating where you're less likely to encounter crowds, set your GPS here. There's camping, hiking trails, and awesome canoeing around the lake, plus you can find a few of Glacier's historic buildings here as well.
Another offbeat restaurant just outside the park is Big Lodge Espresso-- they're known for making a mean latte, but they're probably just as famous for their distinctive digs as their delicious drinks. That's because they're located inside a retro concrete tipi-shaped building! It evokes old-school Americana and vintage roadside attractions, but they still brew up a cup of coffee that will make your visit well worth the stop.
Nope, that picture isn't Photoshopped! Grinnell Lake is most famous for being a shade of striking blue or bright teal-- this is because the water in it is made of pure glacial melt, with glacial silt that gives the lake its vibrant color. Plus, the cold water temperatures ensure that little plankton grows in the water, keeping it crystal clear.
Glacier in the spring is covered in endless fields of wildflowers, and the Garden Wall is the best place to view them. Access it along the popular Highline Trail, or drive through parts of it on Going-To-The-Sun Road. Also keep your eyes peeled for the Weeping Wall along Going-To-The-Sun Road: water cascades over the Garden Wall and down the small stone cliff, making it into a waterfall of sorts.
While you can view Bird Woman Falls from Going-To-The-Sun Road, if you can get closer, you can get a great idea of how massive this waterfall is. Plus, there's a stone footbridge going over part of it, which is utterly enchanting.
One of the coolest features of Glacier is that you can casually pop over the border and add a quick trip to Canada to your tour of the park! The northern edge of Glacier National Park butts up against the southern edge of Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park, and on the border of the two is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Created in 1932, it's the world's first International Peace Park, and is a symbol of Canada and America working together and committing to preserving the natural beauty and resources in the area. Of course, you'll need your passport to go through customs, but who wouldn't want to take a day trip to Canada?
The best time of year to visit Glacier National Park really depends on what you're looking to experience. Spring and summer are popular (read: crowded) but all roads, stores and restaurants are open then. And if you come too early in the spring, you might still run into snow. Fall is pretty chilly, and things are starting to die off and hibernate, but it's still a lovely time to visit. Winter is not ideal for most people... unless you're an avid snowshoer or cross-country skiier!