Despite this being a poorly planned trip, I think we did pretty well. My fiancé, brother-in-law, and I, spent seven gorgeous days in Montana the second week of July. We were in the silver and gold state for a wedding.
The wedding would be in Great Falls, which is in central Montana. We knew we wanted to visit either Yellowstone National Park—4 hours south, or Glacier National Park—4 hours north. We only had three days to spare so after talking to friends, and reading about the recent Bison goring in Yellowstone, we decided on Glacier.
Flights to/from Great Falls, Montana
We were warned that flights from Virginia to Great Falls, Montana were going to be expensive. We also found that flights were very limited and wound up paying a little extra to get home at a decent time. We watched flights every day for a week and found that economy ranged from roughly $600 to $1,000+ mid-June. And yes, we got travel insurance.
No Rental Cars, Anywhere!
If you’ve needed a rental car recently or are looking for a used car, you already know that times are tough. We were spending 7 days in Montana, and planning a road trip, so a rental car was a must. Trying to find a rental car was stressful. Because of the unprecedented number of people flocking to national parks and the used car shortage, there were literally no rental cars available in Great Falls or near Glacier National Park. Luckily, the Groom and his Fiancée didn’t need two cars that week, so we were able to secure a vehicle for our trip!
Staying in Hungry Horse, Montana
Finding a hotel was not an option as they simply did not exist near West Glacier. Many of the lodges or cabins that were still available started around $500 a night. Being that we were only going to be at Glacier 2 nights, we decided to save the extra money for activities and souvenirs.
Our last option was a motel. And after calling around, we lucked out with the Mini Golden Inn in Hungry Horse, Montana—only 10 minutes outside of the park entrance. The place was clean as hell, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast items and coffee, and excellent room service. At $139/night, I’d have to agree with the 4-star online ratings.
Be sure to pencil in some time to visit the local shops! Our favorite was the Montana Fur Trading Company as it was filled with unique authentic Indian treasures.
Parking & Ticket Information
The first thing you’ll need to do is purchase a $2.00 ticket online to access anything along the Going to the Sun Road. That is basically where all the fun is. Tickets are released at 8AM two days prior and all 300 of them are usually sold very quickly. If you don’t have this $2.00 ticket you can only access the Going to the Sun Road before 6AM and after 5PM.
You’ll also need to purchase a 7-day vehicle pass for $35. Click here for site pass options.
Day 1: Hiking the Avalanche Lake
We chose Avalanche Lake on the recommendation of a local shop owner we bought bear mace from. He suggested a local hiking guide which included in-depth information on each trail. Avalanche Trail was 4.6 miles, an elevation gain of 575 feet, and was rated challenging. And to be honest, it was tough but well worth the stunningly beautiful nature.
Day 2: Kayaking Lake McDonald
We decided to go kayaking, but there are tons of other water-related activities available. You can rent paddle boards, canoes, rowboats, and motorboats. Kayaking Lake McDonald was an awesome experience. Glacier water is so beautiful and clear! We even found a small private beach and had a picnic. Words won’t do justice, so check out the photo gallery below.
PRO TIP: If you have trouble getting in the park because you forgot your $2.00 Going to the Sun Road ticket, call Apgar Rentals. Set up your kayak rental ($15.50/hour) and they’ll get you in the park. Glacier Outfitters is another option right inside the main entrance to the park. They also offer whitewater rafting.
Hiking St. Mary’s to Virginia Falls
Using the same local hiking guide, we decided to hike Virginia Falls to see a few waterfalls. To get to Virginia Falls, you had to hike St. Mary’s trail. I highly recommend the St. Mary’s trail for its unique scenery. In 2015, the east side of the park, in the St. Mary’s area, was destroyed by a massive fire. Today the area is still in bad shape, but the bare charred trees create stunningly beautiful views.
Day 3: Going to the Sun Road
The Going to the Sun road is about 50 miles and will take you around 2 hours to drive with no traffic. The highest point is 6,646 feet! While two hours seems like a long time, the beautiful scenery is so distracting time will fly by. Remember, you need that $2.00 ticket in advance to get on this road and into the main park. Otherwise, they will not let you in between 6AM and 5PM.
No Bears, Just Goats!
As you’ve probably noticed, transportation costs will take up much of your budget. Otherwise, park costs are pretty minimal. It was a great time and I highly recommend visiting Glacier National Park next time you’re in Montana. Oh yeah… and we still have a full can of bear mace! Thank goodness!