7 Popular Places and Activities to Enjoy in Glacier National Park, Montana (2022)
Glacier National Park is the 10th National Park of the U.S.A. and the “Crown of the Continent” as well. All the Montana beauty rumors the world knows about are mostly hidden inside this wilderness region. It is home to dense ancient forests, 1 million acres of glacier-carved peaks and valleys, shimmering alpine lakes, basically, beauty which is a world apart. These 1,583 square miles of Montana wilderness draw close to 3 million local, national and international visitors every single year. Even after the impact of COVID-19 in 2020, Glacier welcomed 1.6 million visitors, despite all the protocols.
The Glacier National Park is one go-to place for anyone seeking wilderness and solitude. It is a hiker’s paradise, a haven for lake lovers, and undoubtedly a world for Glacier enthusiasts. The diversity of ecosystem and blessing of nature in Glacier make one leave the car and jump into the wilderness. Making up for all the hype, lakes here are crystal clear, stars are incredible, wildlife is in abundance, and parklands are extensive. The park offers the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure vibes that aren’t very common in your regular State and National Parks.
7 Popular Places and Activities to Enjoy in Glacier National Park, Montana
With that said, here is the list of popular places and activities to enjoy in Glacier National Park, Montana.
1. Begin with the Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald is perhaps the most famous lake in Glacier National Park and Montana. It is the park’s largest water body located on its west. It is quite an introduction to the park, considering if you enter from the West Glacier entrance, this is the first notable element that will captivate you. Lake McDonald is popular for its incredibly clear water and the colorful rocks underneath. A photographers’ paradise, it is which normally represents Glacier Park through most of the pictures online. Besides beauty, the Lake is also popular for swimming and boating. The shores of the lake also make up for camping (Apar Campground), lodging (Lake McDonald Lodge), guided horseback rides. On its southwest shore, there are a few casual restaurants, a general store and a visitors’ center.
2. Do Not Miss Driving On Going-To-The-Sun Road
Going-to-the-Sun Road offers the most scenic mountain drives in the United States, a centerpiece and highlight of most Glacier visits. It is a 50-mile road with twists and turns, and it takes about two hours to explore it fully. However, the time may differ depending on the rush and the multiple stops you take just to observe the beauty around. It is also the only road spanning through the park. Considering the rush it used to bring, only a limited number of vehicles are allowed for a day and that too on a permit basis.
Some of its notables are Apgar Visitors Center (mile 2.1), Lake McDonald (mile 2.5), Trail of The Cedars (mile 16.3), Avalanche Trail (mile 17), Weeping Wall (mile 28.7), Big Bend, the best sunset spot (mile 28.9), St Mary Falls (mile 38.8), and St Mary Visitors Center (mile 49.7).
NOTE: For driving on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, your vehicle must be less than 8 feet wide, less than 10 feet tall and less than 28 feet in length.
Also, the road operates only during summers from Late May to Early or Mid-September. During winters, it turns inaccessible due to snow.
3. Drive-up Till the Continental Divide at Logan Pass
Sitting at an elevation of 6,646 feet, Logan Pass is the highest motorable point in the Glacier National Park. It is a prominent part of the Going-to-the-Sun Road and is somewhere halfway into it. Upon reaching here, one can witness the great views of Glacier’s grandeur, fields of wildflowers and abundance of wildlife. Even the Highline and Hidden trails (popular Glacier hiking trails) start at Logan. Travelers can also stop at the Logan Pass Visitor Center and grab information about the surrounding region.
Considering the crowd, the parking lot here gets full by 7 in the morning, making others circle around waiting for their chance to park. Logan Pass is also a getaway for wildlife, including grizzly bears, marmots, mountain goats and Bear Grass, the park’s signature flora.
4. Go Seek the Ultimate Glacier National Park’s “Glaciers”
In the mid of 1800s, the Glacier National Park was home to about 150 Glaciers. Today, with global warming and increasing temperature, there are only 25 ice glaciers and 13 rock glaciers left. Even the ones left today aren’t the originals but remnants of some of the larger ones. Of this, 2 glaciers are estimated to disappear by 2030 (if not before), while others would not take many decades. Hence before Glaciers here disappear, consider seeking them in real. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to see one, but not even impossible. After driving or hiking, some of the Glaciers, you may see include:
- Jackson Glacier (It is visible from a designated pull-off from the Going-to-the-Sun Road).
- Grinnell Glacier (It is visible after a 10 mile (round-trip) strenuous hike from the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead.)
- Sperry Glacier (It is visible by binoculars from the Hidden Lake Overlook. Or for adventure lovers, the 8.5-mile, one-way hike to Sperry Glacier begins right from the Lake
- McDonald Lodge. However, the latter option isn’t everyone’s cup of tea).
- Salamander Glacier (It is visible from the car itself while you drive through the Many Glacier areas of the park.)
5. Hike and Learn Why Glacier National Park Is A Hiker’s Paradise
The Glacier National Park is a true Hiker’s Paradise, offering trails of all skill levels. From the one leading you to a waterfall towards the others that drop you straight into the beauty and majesty, the park has several hiking trails. You can choose several from the Going-to-the-Sun Road or begin yours’ after reaching the Logan pass; a list of endless options awaits your way. Here are a few must-explore hiking trails in the Glacier National Park:
- The Highline Trail (It starts from the Logan Pass, going 7.6 miles to the historic Granite Park Chalet. It is often crowded, but a few sections need mindful navigation. Also, it is a signature hiking trail in North America.)
- The Avalanche Lake Trail (Encompassing 2.3 miles ) is the best short and easy hike in the park. It starts from the parking area crossing parallel to Avalanche Creek.)
- The Hidden Lake Nature Trail (It is a 1.4-mile trail that starts from the west side of the Logan Pass Visitor Center. With minimal elevation gain, it offers an excellent view of the snow-crusted Clements Mountain.)
- The Grinnell Glacier Trail (It is the most iconic trail in the entire National Park. It begins at the Many Glacier Campground and goes 5.3-mile all the way to Grinnell Glacier viewpoint).
- The Piegan Pass Trail (It begins at the Siyeh Bend Trailhead, going 4.5 miles right at the intersection of Siyeh Pass Trail)
- The Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail (It is a popular choice amongst backpackers entering Glacier. Hikers must behave mindfully because it heads deep into the park and passes through a heavily populated bear country. Rules go like travel together, take a bear spray and make noise).
6. Go Camping In Glacier National Park
The Glacier National Park is a stunning space for both day visits and staying back. Though it has a few lodges, camping here is still the number one preference. Here are a few Glacier campgrounds you might want to stay back at. Have a look:
- The Apgar Campground (It is Glacier’s largest campground and most popular. There are 200 camping and RVing sites. While individual sites fill on a first-come, first-serve basis, reservations are a must for group sites. One can access the campground from a short walk from Apar Village or three miles from the West Entrance).
- The St. Mary Campground (It is amongst one of the three reservable campgrounds. Both tenting individuals and ones with RVs can accommodate here. It is a short hike from the St. Mary Visitor Center, right near the banks of St. Mary Lake.)
- The Many Glaciers Campground (On the east side of the park is one of the most popular campgrounds. What makes it popular are the surrounding big mountains, day hikes and abundance of wildlife. With 109 sites, it caters to both tents and RVs.)
- The Two Medicine Campground (With 100 sites) is another popular though less busy campground. While 90 sites are available for camping, 10 are reserved for RVing. What makes it popular is its location on the banks of postcard-worthy Two Medicine Lake).
- The Rising Sun Campground (It is only six miles from the St. Mary Entrance of the Glacier National Park. It has 84 sites that cater on a first-come and first-serve basis).
7. When in Glacier, Go Waterfall Chasing
The Glacier National Park is home to some incredible waterfalls that flow there best during the snow melting season. Here is a list of some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the park.
- The Virginia Falls (The most recognizable waterfall in the park and reaching here is a child play. A hike to the fall is a 3.6-mile round trip. Upon reaching the final destination, be ready to get wet in the light showers from the fall. It is a great place to soak in and relax).
- Saint Mary Falls (It is right on the way to Virginia Falls and is popular for its turquoise blue water. One of the best and easiest hikers leads you to the fall taking just 2.2 miles round trip. The best stop for some photo opportunities is the bridge going over the lower part of the falls.)
- Baring Falls (A fun water, reaching to Baring is just a matter of .6 miles hiking round trip. The trails begin from the parking lot near Sunrift Gorge and are relatively easy. There are several spots around the promotes for cliff jumping).
- Weeping Wall Falls (It is an incredibly stunning waterfall somewhere in the middle of Going-to-the-Sun Road. This waterfall basically runs off the wall, and you can literally feel it simply by rolling down the window of your car).
Travel Tips for Glacier National Park
- If you want to see at least half of the park, plan a trip of 5 to 7 days. A day trip or weekend trip won’t do justice to the true adventure of Glacier.
- Seek Glaciers before they disappear. The coming years might stand as the last Glacier years of the park.
- For reaching the best and deep spots of the park, bring your car. Although a shuttle runs throughout, its access is limited to a designated route.
- Parking in the Glacier National Park, especially the Logan Pass, is very limited; thus, consider reaching early.
- Glacier National Park is heaven for hikers, and the options might let you go confused. Thus, even before entering, mark out the top spots you want to explore.
- Most of the campgrounds here are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, thus behave consciously. Reaching them during evening hours at times might disappoint you.
- Stay cautious and stay feet away from wildlife, even if it doesn’t seem harmful. Approaching wildlife especially bears, bighorn sheep, wildcats, wolverines, can prove life-threatening.
- Go prepared with airy clothes, a hat, sunscreen, and especially a bear spray.
- Seek restaurants in the Lake McDonald area, the town of St. Mary, and the Many Glacier areas.