Glacier National Park | First Come First Serve Camping and More


"The Elk was feeding onto the fallen pine cones just behind our tents sometimes staring us in our eyes and sometimes acting oblivious of our presence. We saw the bear flocking everyday in the flowery meadows next to our campground in the evenings at around 7pm where cars would tread slow to catch the glimpse of the wilderness up close until ranger cars would shoo the slowing cars away. Bears get used to the attention, said one ranger and it's not doing anything good to them nor to us. The sun was late to set and early to rise. This is where we were standing in queue of cars, wishing and wanting to make it our home for the next few days. Our experience of First Come First Serve camping here was one of its kind and how."

Tip1: Please do check the campsite status and trail closures at the Glacier National Park website. Due to frequent visits by wildlife, soft tents are sometimes closed. Currently on Aug 31, 2019 Many Glacier and Rising Sun campsite is closed to soft tent temporarily due to frequent bear activity. 

A lot of us, enjoy the luxuries an American vacation could instantly provide. But the real essence of traveling in the USA is by exploring the national parks from within the park by being present and by being there. Since the origin of early explorers adventures are the most sought for in the USA. The presence of both virgin and developed national parks spread in acres and acres across the country makes it for some of the most amazing campsites and ranger programs in the country.

                                                        The elk trotting in our campsite.

With each camping experience we learn something different. Since all the reserved sites were booked prior we had no option but to opt for first come first serve camping at Glacier National Park. Prior to this we had done FCFS camping just once at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

To know more about Glacier National Park: A week in Glacier National Park | 20 tips to get you started.

"The beauty of First Come First Serve camping sites are that most of them are located at the prime spots within the park, sometimes even adjacent to a great scenic view. The only downside with FCFS camping is, you really have to rush in early in the morning to reserve your spots, specially on long weekends"

First Come First Serve Camping - Why we chose Rising Sun?

"The Rising Sun campground is at an excellent location. It is not very far from Logan Pass and various vista points, it is located next to St. Mary Lake and even the drive to Many Glacier is 50 minutes away. In a way, it is centrally located to be able to move around easily. There is another FCFS campground called St. Mary towards St. Mary Lake however we found Rising Sun to be more centrally located than that!"

On our day 2 of our trip, we arrived at the Rising Sun campground early in the morning at 5:45 am. The ranger comes a little before 7am to open the barricades. There were a few cars standing in front of us already. The free time gave us ample time to enjoy sunrise right from our cars.

                                                 Sun Rising at Rising Sun campground. 

"Unlike Grand Teton FCFS, we did not have to circle around several sites in our car to find one and that's the part that I liked about Rising Sun FCFS the most.  The ranger was kind enough to pre-allocate the site based on running vacancy just before she let us in. She also gave us a form to fill in required basic details (name, length of stay, etc) in an envelope which we dropped in the reservation box. It was pretty simple that way and our campsite was huge with even an adjacent parking space!"

Our neighbors from the adjacent campsite had driven all the way from Canada and as I awed at the elk behind my tent, she says ," Oh they come here everyday! We have been camping for a week now, and we see them on most days. "

This campsite felt like a dream to us after our last night mishap with the dreaded mosquitos that had dampened all our hopes on camping from last night. But wait where did we stay on Day 1? 

Our Last Night KOA Experience at St. Mary's

A lot of time the national park service campground get sold out pretty fast and since most often we do not have the time to enjoy the luxuries and amenities of hotels we stay anyway, we choose to stay budget. KOA is a great alternative at many locations in the USA. Most often they are located just outside of the national park, they usually have decent campsites and some cool restrooms and facilities that sometimes even can include swimming pool etc. The reason why we chose KOA St. Mary over other campgrounds within national parks was because we were arriving post late afternoon and most First Come First Serve camping gets full by that time.

"KOA Campground is a decent alternative. It feels like an enclosure of RV's, cottages and campsites within an area that puts it all together.  If it wasn't for the dreaded mosquitos that I kept running from during most of my stay hours, I can still consider it for second time. Two things I felt strongly at this place: a) For the price, the campsites were way too small b) If you do not have an insect or mosquito repellant, it won't be easy on you! I stayed in my car for half the night as I couldn't imagine myself getting big blobs of mosquito bites on my body any longer even though I dared to put myself out there for the camping fire, I retreated almost as instantly.  I had never been this shit scared of mosquitos before. The mosquitos here were humungous. The plus side is though, it has showers and a swimming pool."

Since we personally prefer more natural setting and fewer insects, we loved our stay at Rising Sun and here's comparing the two:

  • Because Rising Sun is within the national park and is cheaper at $20. Whereas KOA is $50 for one night.
  • Because Rising Sun is inside the park more so the drive to the prime spots are less.
  • Because Rising Sun has very few insects, you might still need insect repellent if you are sensitive to insects however you can still survive without it. 
  • Because Rising Sun has their evening ranger programs in their amphitheater which is pretty educational and informative ->
  • Because the free Glacier National Park bus shuttles comes at Rising Sun.

The Rising Sun experience

It’s close proximity to St. Mary’s boat harbor and the Going to the sun road made us choose Rising Sun on Day 2 till the end of our vacation. We had initially reserved for two days and then kept extending it for rest of the days. Had we not discovered Rising Sun, we would have had totally missed our experience. Rising Sun is a gem of a campground. It is clean, the campsites are huge and they have clean toilets too.

Our neighboring campsite folks gave us a gift - A carton to start fire :)

                                                              Bear Box to store food.

                                             Parking with the campsite was convenient. 

"One of the greatest dilemmas many times we face is where to charge our devices in the campsites. Charge phones in your running vehicle. Charge cameras either at the visitor center (if its near they can do it for you) or at the charging points located in the washroom. "

Should you wish to take a shower, head to the gift center and ask for tokens. They have tokens for $3 and at the back of gift center is the shower. Bring your own toiletries and towels to the shower. You also will get firewood at the gift center.

Us, breaking the soap into two for shower!

"There is tap water in the campground for drinking purposes. There is also utensil cleaning room adjacent to toilets incase if you wish to wash your utensils..

 The gift center also stocks a few prepackaged food and grocery however, I would suggest going to St. Mary’s village for more options on food.

One of the best part about staying here was Bears (both Grizzly and Black) would flock around the nearby meadows and every evening at around 7-7:30ish we would see them inside those meadows. We even heard stories from our neighbors on how one of the Bears from the nearby meadow came to the campground and was shooed away by the rangers on one of the days we had gone hiking.

“ Bear activity is common in the area. The popular Many Glacier campground was closed for soft tents during our visit due to some Bear activity even though that was our first preference of stay. We have Bear Box in each campsite and that’s where we are supposed to keep our food.”.

During night, look up into the sky from the campsite. Crystal clear sky makes it an eternal viewing gaze far into the twinkles. Star Gazing is recognized at the park and at the Logan pass, they also have Star Gazing parties.

Another campground that we have in the area is the St. Mary campground. Should you not get in Rising Sun you can try your luck there. I don’t think that other week would be as packed as that week when we went was, so it might not be a problem getting into one.

The significant campgrounds like Rising Sun, St. Mary or Many Glacier gets filled up by 7:00-8:00 am on an average busy weekend while the campgrounds such as on the West Glacier Side or Two Medicine may have occupancy till the afternoon however I found that the drive to Two Medicine was a little too much for going back and forth to the Going to the Sun road.

One of the best ways to enjoy your stay In Glacier National Park would be to split your stays between campgrounds. Many Glacier is where many of the significant trails (Grinnell and Iceberg) starts. Rising Sun is near to St. Mary’s and Logan Pass whereas Apgar is near to Mc. Donald Lake. The distances between Many Campground to Rising Sun is significant at 50 minutes and it’s best to stay at varied locations than wasting time going back and forth on mountain roads.

“During Summers when we were there, the day light would stay as long as 10:30pm. So a day could be long and you could pack in more in a day. However, if it looks dark and feels that its going to get dark, its best to return back as thats when most wildlife is active and Glacier National Park is wild at its best! We even spotted Fox on the road walking in pride. Bears were common in the area too!”

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