A family of goats near Gunsight Pass in Glacier National Park

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Glacier National Park

Top choice in Montana

The rival of any of the United States' most spectacular national parks, including Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park is full of jagged peaks produced by dramatic geologic thrust faults and carved by ancient ice. But its mountains and dense forests are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg here – Glacier boasts deep ongoing ties to Indigenous tribes, one of the finest scenic parkways in the whole National Parks system, historic 'parkitecture' lodges and 740 miles of hiking trails punctuated by wandering grizzlies and moose.

Couple hiking, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
Thousands of years ago, valleys like this one were carved by huge sheets of ice © Getty Images/Cavan Images RF

Highlights of Glacier National Park

Glacier's Glaciers

Many are surprised to learn that the park's current number of glaciers – 26 (35 were identified and named in 1966) – is significantly less than other American national parks, including the North Cascades (with over 300) and Mt Rainier (with 25 on one mountain). Today's visitors could be some of the last to actually see a glacier in the park. Current figures suggest that, if current warming trends continue, the park could be glacier-free by 2030.

Head to Jackson Glacier Overlook for an easy-access vantage point. This popular pull-over, located a short walk from the Gunsight Pass trailhead, offers telescopic views of the park’s fifth-largest glacier, which sits close to its eponymous 10,052ft peak – one of the park's highest.

Vintage red car on a mountainous road in the Glacier National Park. ©EdwinM/Shutterstock

Going-to-the-Sun Road

A strong contender for the most spectacular road in America, the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road was built for the express purpose of giving visitors a way to explore the park's interior without having to hike. This marvel of engineering is a national historic landmark that crosses Logan Pass (6,646ft) and is flanked by hiking trails, waterfalls and endless views. The opening of the road marks the official start of the park's crowded summer season.

Logan Pass

Perched above the tree line, atop the wind-lashed Continental Divide, and blocked by snow for most of the year, Logan Pass – named for William R Logan, Glacier’s first superintendent – is the park’s highest navigable point by road. Two trails, Hidden Lake Overlook, which continues on to Hidden Lake itself, and Highline, lead out from here. Views are stupendous; the parking situation, however, is not – you might spend a lot of time searching for a spot during peak hours.

Scenic Views of Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park
Scenic Views of Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park Montana Getty Images/iStockphoto

Two Medicine Valley

Before the building of Going-to-the-Sun Road in the 1930s, the Two Medicine Valley was one of the park’s most accessible hubs, situated a mere 12 miles by horseback from the Great Northern Railway and the newly inaugurated Glacier Park Lodge. Famous for its healthy bear population and deeply imbued with Indigenous beliefs, the region is less visited these days, though it has lost none of its haunting beauty.

Located around 3 miles to the northwest, 8020ft Triple Divide Peak marks the hydrologic apex of the North American continent. Empty a bucket of water on its summit and it will run into three separate oceans: the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Arctic.

A hiker stands in all-black clothing in front of the bright turquoise waters of Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park
Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet


There are nearly a thousand miles of hiking trails in Glacier National Park, from short jaunts just off Going-to-the-Sun Road to epic backpacking excursions into bear country. Here are a few of the trail highlights:

The Highline Trail

A Glacier classic, the Highline Trail contours across the face of the famous Garden Wall to Granite Park Chalet – one of two historic lodges only accessible by trail. The summer slopes are covered with alpine plants and wildflowers while the views are nothing short of stupendous. With only 800ft elevation gain over 7.6 miles, the treats come with minimal sweat.

The Iceberg Lake Trail

Deservedly, one of the most popular of Glacier's hikes, this 9 mile there-and-back takes you to the eponymous deep glacial cirque surrounded by 914m vertical walls. The sight of icebergs floating in the lake's still waters in the middle of summer is breathtaking. The ascent above Many Glacier Valley is fairly gentle with awesome views and passes meadows filled with wildflowers.

A turquoise cascade falls over rocks twice at St Mary's Falls in Glacier National Park
St. Mary's Falls in Glacier National Park © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet

Sun Point to Virginia Falls

Handily served by the free park shuttle, myriad trailheads along the eastern side of Going-to-the-Sun Road offer plenty of short interlinking hikes, a number of which can be pooled together to make up a decent morning or afternoon ramble.

If you take the busy St Mary Falls Trail, you’ll climb undemanding switchbacks through the trees to the valley’s most picturesque falls, set amid colorful foliage on St Mary River. Beyond here, a trail branches along Virginia Creek, past a narrow gorge, to mist-shrouded (and quieter) Virginia Falls at the foot of a hanging valley. It’s approximately 7 miles round-trip to Virginia Falls and back. The easy hike takes about four hours.

Piegan Pass

A popular hike among Glacier stalwarts, this trail starts on Going-to-the-Sun Road at a handy shuttle stop on Siyeh Bend just east of Logan Pass and deposits you in Glacier’s mystic heart, Many Glacier, with transport connections back to St Mary or even Whitefish. It also bisects colorful Preston Park, one of the region’s prettiest and most jubilant alpine meadows. The 12.8-mile trail (allow six hours) starts at the Siyeh Bend shuttle stop.

Dawson-Pitamakan Loop

This spectacular 18.8-mile hike along exposed mountain ridges crosses the Continental Divide twice and can be squeezed into a day for the ambitious and fit or, alternatively, tackled over two or three days with nights at backcounty campgrounds. Blessed with two spectacular mountain passes and teeming with myriad plant and animal life, including grizzly bears, this is often touted by park rangers as being one of Glacier’s hiking highlights.

A classic alpine lodge sits by a bright blue lake under towering, jagged grey mountain peaks
The Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet

Places to stay near Glacier National Park

Glacier's classic 'parkitecture' lodges – Many Glacier Hotel, Lake McDonald Lodge and Glacier Park Lodge – are living, breathing, functioning artifacts of another – more leisurely – era, when travelers to this wilderness park arrived by train and ventured into the backcountry on horseback. 

But that's not the only option for a place to stay in Glacier National Park. There are also beloved back-country chalets, numerous campgrounds for RV travelers and tent campers, and also motel-style accommodations in and around the park. These are a few of the best:


These early 20th-century creations were built with Swiss-chalet features and prototypical Wild West elements. Today they seem to consciously and appealingly conjure up a romantic, almost mythic, vision of rustic comfort – ideal reflections of the beautiful scenery on their doorsteps.

Glacier Park Lodge

Set in attractive, perfectly manicured flower-filled grounds overlooking Montana’s oldest golf course, this historic 1914 lodge was built in the classic national-park tradition, with a splendid open-plan lobby supported by lofty 900-year-old Douglas fir timbers (imported from Washington State). Eye-catching Native American artwork adorns the communal areas, and a full-sized tipi is wedged incongruously onto a 2nd-floor balcony.

In keeping with national-park tradition, the rooms here are ‘rustic’ with no TVs or air-conditioning. Rocking chairs are dispersed inside, and out on the shaded porch where the views of the Glacier peaks are worth the price of admission alone; the pool out back has little shade. Two restaurants and a bar are also open to nonguests.

The interior of the Lake Mcdonald Lodge is classic "parkistecture". ©Kit Leong/Shutterstock

Lake McDonald Lodge

Fronting luminous Lake McDonald and built in classic US 'parkitecture' style, the lodge welcomes its guests through a more mundane backdoor setting – they originally disembarked from a boat on the lakeside. Small, comfortably rustic rooms are complemented by cottages and a 1950s motel.

Built on the site of an earlier lodge commissioned by park pioneer George Snyder in the 1890s, the present building was constructed in 1913 and rooms remain sans air-conditioning and television – it's worth requesting one of the more than two dozen rooms and cabins renovated for the 2016 season. Deluxe ones even boast some boutique stylings, including tiled bathrooms, extremely comfy king-sized beds and a touch of art. Two restaurants are on-site and evening ranger programs are held nightly in the summer. The lakefront location is fairly ideal and close to trailheads on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Accommodation by a lake in Glacier National Park.  ©OLOS/Shutterstock

Many Glacier Hotel

Enjoying the most wondrous setting in the park, this massive, Swiss chalet–inspired lodge (some of the male staff wear lederhosen) commands the northeastern shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. It was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1915, and the comfortable, if rustic, rooms have been updated (restoration work continues) over the last 15 years. The deluxe rooms feature boutique-style elements, including contemporary tiled bathrooms.

The raised stone hearth with a unique chimney system from the 1940s marks the center of the large lobby and lounge area where guests gather to take in the shimmering snow and glacier-capped peaks (anyone can try out the lobby piano circa 1877). Some of the park's most iconic hikes leave from nearby. Several restaurants are part of the complex, and hikers can stock up on food and other supplies at the cafe and shop downstairs.

The Granite Park Chalet in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
The Granite Park Chalet in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA © Chuck Haney / DanitaDelimont.com / Alamy Stock Photo

Historic Chalets

Granite Park Chalet

A popular stopping point for hikers on the Swiftcurrent Pass and Highline trails, this very basic chalet (pit toilets) dates back to the park's early 20th-century heyday. A rustic kitchen is available for use (with propane-powered stoves), though you must bring and prepare your own food. Snacks and freeze-dried meals are available for purchase. Twelve guest rooms sleep from two to six people each.

Bedding costs $25 extra per person. Book in advance as it gets busy, and remember to bring as much of your own water as possible (bottled water and sodas are available to buy). Reservations should be made online.

The original Sperry Chalet was built by the Great Northern Railway in Glacier National Park, Montana © Shutterstock / Nikki Yancey

Sperry Chalet

Constructed by the Great Northern Railway in 1914, much of this 17-room historic Swiss-style chalet burned down in a 2017 fire, but its historic features were maintained in the rebuild. It's a good three-hour hike from the nearest road, and guests must either walk or horseback ride here via an ascending 6.5-mile trail that begins at Lake McDonald Lodge.

With no lights, heat or water, this was part of an old accommodations network that once spanned the park before the construction of Going-to-the-Sun Road, Sperry offers phenomenal views. Be sure to bring a flashlight for midnight trips to the outdoor toilets. Rooms are private; walls, however, are paper thin. Rates include three excellent meals (box lunches are available) and mules can be hired to carry gear.

Belton Chalet

Built and opened the same year as the national park (1910), this Swiss chalet overlooking the railroad tracks in West Glacier was Glacier’s first tourist hotel. Other incarnations followed, including time as a pizza parlor, and it lay rotting until a late-1990s refurb, which dusted off 25 traditional yet elegant rooms, arts-and-crafts-style furnishings, a spa and a celebrated taproom. Two stand-alone cottages and a fairly spectacular cabin, in the Old West rustic vernacular, are open year-round and are ideal for families.

Camping near Glacier National Park in Montana © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet


There are a lot of places to pitch a tent or park an RV in Glacier National Park. Here are a few of the most popular:

Apgar Campground

This large wooded campground, the park's largest, is a good choice for its proximity to the conveniences of Apgar Village and West Glacier, as well as for being only a short stroll to Lake McDonald. It feels, however, far from a wilderness experience.

Avalanche Creek Campground

This lush campground abutting the park’s old-growth cedar forest gets more rainfall than most. Some sites are overshadowed by old stands of hemlock, cedar and Douglas fir, but you’re close to Lake McDonald and right in the path of a couple of very popular trailheads. Expect no quiet or privacy during the daytime.

Many Glacier Campground

With access to phenomenal trails, this heavily wooded campground is one of the park’s most popular. It lies within strolling distance of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn complex, which includes a restaurant, hot showers, a laundry and camp store. Primitive camping available through the end of October. Half of the sites are reservable, including numbers 94 and 92, which are the best spots along the river.

Bowman Lake Campground

Rarely full, this campground 6 miles up Inside North Fork Rd from Polebridge offers very spacious sites in forested grounds, and beautiful Bowman Lake is only steps away. It has a visitors information tent with reference books and local hiking information. The road from Polebridge can be especially rough after heavy rain. Also offers primitive camping through to end of October.

Sprague Creek Campground

Off Going-to-the-Sun Road on the shore of Lake McDonald, the park’s smallest campground draws mostly tents – no vehicles over 21ft are allowed – and feels more intimate than many of the park’s other options, at least at night when the passing traffic goes to bed. Arrive early to claim a site overlooking the lake. Hiker/biker sites $5.

Teepees on the Blackfeet Reservation on the eastern side of Glacier National Park  ©Justin Foulkes/Lonely Planet


The Indigenous history of Glacier National Park

For thousands of years, the Blackfeet (Niitsitapi), Salish, and Kootenai tribes called Glacier National Park home, worshiping at sacred sites including Two Medicine and Chief Mountain that remain integral to their creation stories. After initial contact with white settlers when the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through the region in, the Blackfeet, Salish, and Kootenai suffered during the westward expansion of white settlers in the early 19th century and the near extinction of the buffalo that was part of the United States' Indian removal strategy. 

Relying increasingly on government money, Native Americans had little choice but to agree to one-sided treaties in 1855. The reservation originally included all of the Glacier National Park region east of the Continental Divide; however, the Blackfeet sold a portion of what is now Glacier National Park to the United States government, and in 1910 that land was turned into the eighth national park in the system.

Today, approximately 10,000 Blackfeet live on a 3812-sq-mile reservation immediately to the east of the park. The reservation includes important park access points such as St Mary and East Glacier and, despite their dispossession, the land in and around the east side of Glacier holds significant ceremonial and cultural significance.

A family rides their bikes in Whitefish, Montana.
Whitefish, Montana is one of the towns closest to Glacier National Park, and is a great travel and supply hub ©Craig Moore/Getty Images

Visiting Glacier National Park

Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell has year-round service to Salt Lake, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle and Las Vegas, and seasonal service to Atlanta, Oakland, LA, Chicago and Portland. Alaska, Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta and United have flights to FCA.

Amtrak's Empire Builder stops daily at West Glacier and East Glacier Park, with a whistle stop in Browning. Xanterra provides a shuttle (adult $6 to $10, child $3 to $5, 10 to 20 minutes) from West Glacier to their lodges on the west end, and Glacier Park Collection by Pursuit offers shuttles (from $15, one hour) connecting East Glacier Park to St Mary and Whitefish.

Glacier National Park runs a free hop-on, hop-off shuttle bus from Apgar Transit Center to St Mary over Going-to-the-Sun Road from July 1 to Labor Day; it stops at all major trailheads. Xanterra concession operates the classic guided Red Bus Tours.

If driving a personal vehicle, be prepared for narrow, winding roads, traffic jams, and limited parking at most stops along Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Road biking on a high alpine road in Glacier NP.
The famous Going to the Sun Road that crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass in the heart of Glacier National Park, MT. It's the only road across the park and open for biking during limited hours. Getty Images

When is Glacier National Park open?

Although the park remains open year-round, most services are closed between October and mid-May. Nevertheless, visiting the park on snowshoes or cross-country skis in the dead of winter is a memorable experience. Going-to-the-Sun Road opens when they finish plowing, which could be as late as July.

The East Side of the park reopened March 18, 2021 after an extended closure by the Blackfeet Reservation to protect the tribe against the COVID-19 pandemic. Campgrounds, certain roads, lake access, and other park features are being reopened slowly on a case-by-case basis. Definitely check the Glacier National Park website for the latest updates as the park opens back up.

Visitor center at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park © Shutterstock / Jim Parkin

Visitor Centers

The LEED–certified Apgar Visitor Center with a large parking lot and free Wi-Fi signal is 1½ miles north of West Glacier at the west end of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Catch the free park shuttle here for all points along Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass, where you transfer to continue to St Mary Visitor Center. 

The Logan Pass Visitor Center sits in the most magnificent setting of all the park's visitor centers, and features park information, interactive exhibits and a good gift shop. The Hidden Lake Overlook Trail and Highline trails begin there.


Most sights and campgrounds within the parks are wheelchair accessible; for a complete and detailed list, download Glacier's own accessibility brochure (available at any entrance station). It's an excellent source of information on everything from hotels and campgrounds to visitor sites and ranger-led activities.

Service animals are allowed in Glacier. All lodging options within Glacier have wheelchair-accessible rooms. Shuttle buses in Glacier all have wheelchair lifts and tie-downs, and the drivers can assist disabled passengers on and off. If you need to make arrangements in advance, call any park visitor center.

Glacier National Park produces braille handouts, audio described videos and large print brochures. Discount passes to the parks and national forests are available for people with disabilities.

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