Montana’s Glacier National Park is a one-of-a-kind experience. Part of the northern Rocky Mountains, the park offers breathtaking scenery, outdoor adventure, and unique natural attractions. If you’re a lover of all things outdoors, you’ll want to visit Glacier National Park before the glaciers are gone!
Around the time of 1850, there were 150 glaciers in what is now Glacier National Park. Today, there are 25 named glaciers and a few unnamed ones left at the park. There have been several predictions about when they may no longer exist, but no one really knows. The cause is said to be natural and human-caused climate changes.
So don’t miss out on seeing the glaciers of Montana! Start planning your trip today. Below we’ll explore all the things there are to do and see at Glacier National Park.
Things to Know Before You Go
Glacier National Park is 1 million acres, has over 700 miles of trails, and over 700 lakes. With that in mind, staying up-to-date on the rules, regulations, and what’s happening in the park is essential. Below are important things you should know before visiting.
- Hours: the park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; however, during the winter and spring months, there may be closures related to weather and safety.
- Weather: the park is along the Continental Divide, which contributes to very different weather conditions on the east and west sides of the park. Be sure to understand where you’ll spend the day and check the weather conditions before heading out!
- Entrance Fee: entrance fees depend on whether you travel by vehicle, foot, or motorcycle. Click here for fee information. You can purchase either a 7-day pass or an annual pass.
- Vehicle Registration: there is a separate vehicle registration fee that you must pay to access Going-to-the-Sun Road and North Fork. Click here for registration information.
Always check the national park service website for the latest information on the park.
Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park
The best time to visit is between June and September, but most people visit Glacier National Park in the summer months. That’s because you can access swimmable waters, fishing, both sides of the park, and the entire length of Going-to-the-Sun Road.
People do still visit in the fall, spring, and winter, however there will be many restrictions and closures due to snow and severe weather.
Staying Safe at Glacier National Park
As with any other hike through the wilderness, you should exercise caution and practice safety. Waterfall ledges are slick, paths can be rocky, glacier water is extremely cold, and there are bears. Have fun on your hike, but be alert.
You’re in bear country, so you’ll also want to carry bear spray and travel in a group if possible. Try not to run or jog on a trail, as you could mistakenly surprise a bear. Don’t leave food or trash lying around or in an unattended backpack. If you spot a bear on your hike, keep your distance and report it to a ranger as soon as possible. Read the instructions and know how to use your bear spray before you begin your hike.
Things to Do at Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is filled with unique outdoor experiences for all physical abilities, including wheelchair-accessible trails. You can hike to stunning waterfalls, kayak clear blue waters, spot wildlife, go backcountry camping, catch a few fish, and go boating or canoeing.
700+ Miles of Trails to Hike
There are over 70 different trailheads at Glacier National Park, with hikes available for all levels. Elevation gains range from very easy to quite strenuous, while hikes can be as short as two miles and as long as 15+ miles.
You can even hike all the way to Canada to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, an area that allows hikers to cross international borders. Below are three different examples of moderate hikes that many visitors to the park enjoy.
Avalanche Lake trail is one of the most popular hikes at Glacier National Park. This moderate-level hike takes between 3-6 hours and is 5 miles roundtrip. You’ll hike through beautiful forests, past the Avalanche Creek gorge, and find a stunning mountain lake at the very end. You’re also likely to see wildlife such as squirrels, marmots, elk, hawks, and bears.
St. Mary Trail
The St. Mary trail is beautiful and unique. In 2015, there was a fire that burned more than 4,000 acres of the east side of the park, including St. Mary. Today, you can still find black charred trees in the area with vibrant green plant life all around.
You’ll begin your 1.5 mile round trip through the forest of charred trees with beautiful views of the mountains in the background. Along the way you’ll pass by a body of water and start to go uphill. Your reward at the end of your hike is the stunning 3-tier waterfall called St. Mary Falls.
And if you’re interested in seeing another gorgeous waterfall, you can continue onto Virginia Falls.
Virginia Falls Trail
As you continue on your journey from St. Mary Falls, you’ll cross several creeks. They are small, but you may have to skip from stone to stone to avoid getting wet! As you continue on your 3.8 mile round trip hike, you’ll begin to see a massive waterfall through the trees.
Once you’ve reached the waterfall, you’ll come across several bridges that will give you access to different views. You can get up close and personal with Virginia Falls, but please be careful as the ledges are quite slippery.
Water Sports and Activities
You have quite a few options for getting out on the water at Glacier National Park. You can rent boats, canoes, paddleboards, kayaks, and rowboats. You can go on boat tours or even go whitewater rafting. There are several bodies of water at the park that you can explore.
Kayaking Lake McDonald
Kayaking Lake McDonald is a magnificent experience. The largest lake at Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald is about 10 miles long and one mile wide. With mountain views, open skies, and clear blue glacier water, it’s a kayaker’s paradise. You can explore the shoreline, stop at pebbly beaches and explore, and just enjoy a sunny day out on the water.
Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road
Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50 mile one-on-one highway that takes you from the west side to the east side of the park. In moderate traffic, the drive will take you around 2 hours and the drive is worth every minute of it!
You’ll drive up and down and all around narrow cliffside roads which are both terrifying and exhilarating. Along your drive you’ll see waterfall spills, experience magnificent glacier views, and may even spot a mountain goat or two.
Other Things to Do at Glacier
There are many more adventures to be had at Glacier National Park. Here are a few of the other activities visitors of the park enjoy.
- Go Wilderness Camping
- Participate in a Ranger-led Program
- Take a Guided Boat Tour
- Horseback Riding Tours
- Bike Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Go Fishing
- Cross-country Skiing
- Enjoy Restaurants
- Souvenir Shopping
Glacier National Park should definitely be on your bucket list if you’re an outdoor lover! You can enjoy your favorite outdoor activities in the middle of natural beauty like no other. Plan your trip, give yourself enough time to explore the park, and be safe out there!
Alexandrea Sumuel is the founder of Wander With Alex, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel better.