A week in Glacier National Park, Montana | 20 Tips to get you started!


As one of the park rangers said, “Glacier’s beauty is charming and grabs our attention but Glacier’s beauty is more than skin deep that each hike let’s us uncover. The beauty that we don’t necessarily see at first glance but the more we see it, the more appreciation we have.” We were never avid hikers before Glacier National Park happened. As soon we we reached there, we were in awe of the jaw dropping “Going to the sun” road and the hikes that took us to crystal clear and bluest of blue Alpine lakes and rushing waterfalls!

Over the course of couple of Blogposts that follow you will learn about Going to the Sun road that stays open for just 3 months a year, about our experience on first come first serve camping once again, spotting Grizzly and Black bears, Hiking Alpine waterfalls and Alpine Lakes such as the famous Grinnell and Iceberg lake and more..

But before I begin, how did Glacier National Park happened?

Glacier National Park was the last minute plan. It wasn’t until late May that we realized that we may have been already too late to plan our July 4th Vacation. For those who live in US, we know that three vacation hold significance during Summer time and are Summer Vacations for kids too that attracts most visitors so much that you may have to plan months in advance to book affordable airlines and your stay within US and they are:

Memorial Day (Usually May end) , Independence Day (July 4th) and Labor Day(in Sept 1st week)

I had narrowed down my options and Denver was one of the them. I wanted to do Trail Ridge Road in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, however, a flash of news on Google caught my attention that said:

Going to the sun road likely to open before 4th of July.

I was amused by the name. What could “Going to the Sun” road possibly mean and where is it? I immediately turned to my hubby saying this is the place - to which he said, is that worth it? Like him, I haven’t heard of this place extensively. Yes people do Zion Bryce Antelope and Yes people do Yellowstone and Yosemite but I have hardly heard anyone talking about Glacier National Park. Few pictures though have popped up here and there from my Facebook friend’s list on where people have posted pictures as a weekend gateway from Seattle to Glacier. I wonder if a 2 day vacation can ever do justice to this place after a long 10 hour drive from Seattle.

The problem still was,
  • We did not had air tickets yet.
  • All the campsite reservations were booked.
  • And we were aiming for the busiest times of the year.
But it turned out to be totally worth it and how! We booked Southwest that had checkins free so we could carry our tent, we did First Come First Serve camping, did Ranger programs at our leisure, lots of hiking and had a gala time.

Of all the places that I have been to in US, this place deserves a week. If its not a week-long vacation that you seek, everything would seem to pass by in a flash of scenic beauty wanting to be touched but slipping through your fingers. It can be seen yes, but it can only be enjoyed when you live by it and hike by it. If you do not wish to hike, you can still sum it up by driving along Going to the Sun road and watching from the overlooks, however as I said the essence of this place can be best enjoyed with different grades of hikes it has ranging from easiest to the hardest.

It qualifies for a relaxed and not a rushed vacation. I abhor checklists anyways so for both of us, it was an ideal vacation.

Thankfully, the entrance to to Glacier National Park gives a ticket for 7 days (I did not see tickets day-wise) : $25.

Glacier National Park | 20 Tips to get you started!

1. July and August are the busiest months of the year to go to Glacier National Park.

2. If you are planning a July 4th week as a vacation here or a labour day vacation here, do book in advance. Since we did not book way in advance, we luckily got affordable tickets flying out of Newark on the 4th and returning on the 10th. That was the day of the holiday we flew and the tickets were surprisingly cheaper than usual. By usual I mean $320 round trip compared to $450-$700 round trip for the entire week.

3. July may be a good time to go to Glacier as Going to the Sun road is open and the snow hasn’t melted yet… That could also mean closure of some trails. For example, on our week, Grinnell glacier overlook trail was partially closed due to snow. Mid or Late July may be ideal time to go there.

4. The nearest airport is Kalispell - 45 minutes to West Glacier (costliest). The other airports are Great Falls International Airport - United and Delta Airlines flies here : 2 hours 30 minutes from Glacier, Missoula : 2 hours 30 minutes from Glacier , Helena: 3 hours 20 minutes from Glacier, Billings - 6 hours from Glacier, Spokane - 5 hours to West Glacier. We flew in and out of Spokane.

5. There is also a train called Amtrak Empire Builder that takes you to Glacier National Park from Spokane to West Glacier Entrance. From there one can take red bus to get inside the park.

6. For the road trip, we had book a mid size SUV with Priceline. The prices were high for July 4th for the week however, we noticed that these fares are dynamic and was greatly reduced on the day of our journey something which we missed on totally. We paid $650 including insurance but we could have totally gotten it for $380 had we checked the last minute non-refundable fares.

7. We drove from Spokane at 1 am night towards Glacier National Park. Although we were told by the car company that we mustn’t venture as far as Glacier in the night, we figured out that yes, the highway becomes narrower and darker and kind of deserted after we crossed Coeur D'Alene, Wallace and the lookout pass, a little day light helped due to change of time.

4th of July Pass 

 There is change of time in between Spokane (Washington) and Glacier National Park (Montana) and you lose 1 hour 10 min when driving from Spokane to Glacier. Since you lose 1 hour 10 minute, it was already day light by the time we reached St. Regis (Montana).

                                                                  Spokane Airport (Washington)
8. Make sure you take GPS. Once you are in the area, there are very few places that has network. Inside Glacier National Park, there was absolutely no network for us T-mobile users. That meant we went no contact full throttle with this vacation.

9. Make St. Regis your first pit-spot. If you are reaching by 7am, you can also try their local Huckleberry shakes. We tried it on our way back from Glacier National Park and its amazing. The store also had some great soverniers and free popcorns.

Glacier is all things Huckleberry !!!! :)

                                                       Stop at St. Regis Travel Center

Huckleberry Shake

Huckleberry Ice-cream 

Huckleberry Cream Cheese French Toast

10. Kalispell can be your next pit-spot. It is also where the nearest Walmart is. So, if you are camping, you can stock up your grocery from Walmart in Kalispell as the food choices inside the park is very limited. Kalispell looked like a small little town that had CVS, Walmart , Best Buy and other brands and stuff. I wish I had stocked more items from Walmart than rely on the tiny little shop from St. Mary’s in Glacier because you may need more items than you think you may need. The bear spray specially in this Walmart was cheaper than the ones sold inside the park although we did not get one.

You get affordable Bear Spray at Walmart, Kalispell

                                                    Eat Homemade food at The Knead Cafe, Kalispell

11. There are two entrances to the Glacier - the West Side (Apgar , Mc Donald Lake) and the East Side (St. Marys , Many Glacier etc). We entered from the West Glacier Side. Between East to West it is a drive of about 1 hour 30 minutes.

12. As soon as you enter, make sure to visit the Apgar visitor center. Since there is no network in the area, the most reliable information and tips we could get was from the information center on how to plan our vacation. Make sure to gather newsletters and the maps.

13. At the visitor center, they also have a TV screen with runtime updates of the occupancy of the campsites and parking areas.

14. The landscape changes dramatically as you enter from the West Side and drive towards the East side. The West side is more dry and there’s McDonald Creek that flows and there’s the Lake Mc Donald which is a good recreational lake with low laying mountains. As you drive towards the east of the road and gain elevation, then comes the popular Loop, The Wishing Wall, various vista points and the Logan Pass, St. Marys and several hikes. I liked the east side of the park more.

15. West Glacier to St. Mary is an hour and a half drive. But it took us literally several hours to get from one end to another as we were taking several photos from the various vista points on the Going to the Sun road. We even stopped at a few places, ventured into the snow and the nearby places. This was not an empty road when we went, there were cars on the road and since its a mountain road (with one way up and one way down) with lots of curves and twists, the cars tends to slow down.

16. For many people, Many glacier campground makes an ideal place to stay as it is easily accessible to the start of many trailheads.

I would suggest , if you are staying for a week, a mix of campgrounds could be a good choice.

 If you are arriving from the West:

Day 1: Stay at Agpar or Fish Creek
Day 2,3,4: Stay at  Rising sun or St. Marys
Day 5,6,7: Stay at Many Campground

If you have more days you can even accommodate Two Medicine area campground, however, to us it felt like quite a drive from St. Marys and hence we chose to opt out of it. We stayed at Rising Sun Campground on all nights, as when we were there, Many campground was closed to soft tents because of some bear activity.

17. However, if you are reaching to Glacier National Park anytime after 3pm, then its most likely that all the first come first serve campgrounds are taken, and hence you can still stay at KOA’s located at St. Mary’s or just outside the West side entrance of the park.

We reached St. Mary’s late afternoon and we stayed in the KOA St. Mary on Day 1(advance reservation preferred. We had booked one night in advance because we had estimated that we might be too late to try FCFS on day 1.

18. There is first come first serve camping available at Glacier National Park which one can avail. It comes out pretty cheap at $20 per night. I will talk about them in my next blogposts.

19. If you are not comfortable with driving in hilly areas, there is also a free shuttle bus that you can take. The cute red bus costs you dollars ($$$) but not the White shuttles. The White Shuttles are free.

Free White Shuttles

A lot of people do take them to avoid parking their cars in the already jammed parking lots of Logan pass. If you wish to take the cute red bus the prices are listed here

Red Bus Tours

20. There is little to no cellular network in the area. So if you are craving 3G or wifi, go to St. Mary’s visitor center. Even if you sit outside the visitor center, it works.

Upcoming Blogposts

Glacier National Park | First Come First Serve Camping and More...

Glacier National Park | Hidden Lake

Glacier National Park | Going to the Sun road

Glacier National Park | St Marys

Glacier National Park | Iceberg Lake

Glacier National Park | Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail

Glacier National Park | Bear and the wildlife

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