Photo Courtesy of Cody Wellons
A weekend in Glacier National Park is an escape from technology, deadlines, and the hustle and bustle of everyday modern life. With more than 700 miles of trails and numerous pristine glacial lakes, visitors can head into the wilderness for adventure or simply to enjoy the pure natural beauty. Go on… a rejuvenating hike to the park's glaciers or take in the stunning mountain views with a glass of wine at a lakeside lodge.
What to know before you go to Glacier National Park
Going-to-the-Sun Road connects Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, and the St. Mary Valley—all major park attractions—and is an hour-long drive through the natural wonders of the park. During warmer months, take in lake views from the back porch of Lake McDonald Lodge. Hidden Lake Overlook Trail goes through meadows of wildflowers and past wandering mountain goats to a lookout point over the lake. No visit to Glacier is complete without a stop at the Polebridge Mercantile just outside the northwest entrance to Glacier; the "Merc" has served as a general store and saloon for park-goers since the early 1900s.
Much of the Glacier National Park is inaccessible to vehicle traffic during the winter months, but the park remains open. Some of the areas around Lake McDonald make for great snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and winter camping. Though it requires more preparation and far more layers of clothing, the park is beautiful and much quieter during the cold months. The bears are hibernating and except for a handful of other hardy souls, you'll practically have the park to yourself in the off-season. Just be sure to fill the gas tank, pack your snacks, and bundle up!
With more than a million acres to roam, the park is a safe haven for Montana wildlife—including 66 species of mammals and 260 species of birds. In Glacier, you'll find elk, the seldom-seen northern bog lemming, and even one of the largest remaining grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states. Mountain goats wander freely and several wolf packs make their home in the park. Grinnell Glacier trail is a good place to spot bears and mountain goats, and Swiftcurrent Nature Trail and Hidden Lake Overlook are good areas to find mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bears, and possibly wolverines (which are being considered for listing as a threatened and endangered species).
Glacier National Park became the nation’s tenth national park in 1910 and in 1932 was combined with Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park to become the world's first International Peace Park, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Archaeological studies have found human presence in Glacier dating back more than 10,000 years, a time when parts of the park were covered in mile-deep ice. In 1850, Glacier was home to 150 glaciers; today, only 25 remain large enough to be considered glaciers, and it's predicted that the park will be without glaciers by 2030. Vulture Glacier, Two Ocean Glacier, Rainbow Glacier, and Gem Glacier are visible from the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The seven-day vehicle fee for Glacier National Park is $25 for summer, $15 for winter. If you enter by foot, bicycle, motorcycle, or as part of an organized group, the seven-day fee is $12 for summer, $10 for winter. An annual park pass is $35. Glacier Outdoor Center, just outside the west entrance, has rentals and trip planners. Most main attractions can be reached by car from Going-to-the-Sun Road. For camping, bring firewood with you; it’s illegal to gather or cut firewood in the park except in designated areas—where only dead wood on the ground may be collected. Fireworks are prohibited. Gasoline is not available in the park, so fill up at West Glacier Village or East Glacier. Visit the General Store at Lake McDonald for other supplies.