There’s a reason Glacier National Park is called the Crown of the Continent. Inside the park’s 1 million acres you’ll find glacial-carved terrain, rushing waterfalls, snow-covered mountain peaks and 734 miles of trails, all perfectly complemented by the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is a drive that can only be described as epic.
Traveling from Kalispell to Glacier National Park is easy, as it’s 32 scenic miles from downtown to the park’s west entrance. The park is open year-round, which makes it convenient to visit any time of year, with Kalispell as your home base. (Find the latest information on road and trail access here.) Along the way, you’ll drive through Bad Rock Canyon, cruise past the Flathead River and be given sneak peeks of the park’s snowy mountain peaks. The west entrance, which is located in West Glacier, will take you directly onto the Going-to-the-Sun Road, as well as to Apgar Village and Lake McDonald. During the summer season, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is open in its entirety (exact dates fluctuate as it’s weather dependent) and the 52-mile-long road takes travelers through the heart of the park over Logan Pass before ending at the east entrance in St. Mary.
And while it’s safe to say that Glacier National Park’s top attraction is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, there are other amazing places that are prime for exploration, including Many Glacier, Two Medicine, Essex and the North Fork.
Accessible by a gravel road, the North Fork is home to the small community of Polebridge, which sits outside the park’s boundaries and is home to the Polebridge Mercantile and Northern Lights Saloon. Polebridge serves as the gateway to Glacier National Park’s Bowman and Kintla lakes, as well as trails and campgrounds. Be sure to stop into the merc and pick up a cinnamon roll or huckleberry macaroon prior to heading into the park.
Inside the park you’ll find visitor centers, guided hikes, ranger-led interpretive programs, bus tours, boat tours, horseback rides, historic lodges, restaurants and shops. Outside of the park’s boundaries, area outfitters offer incredible guided experiences, from horseback rides to whitewater rafting and fly-fishing trips to scenic floats.
And if you’re missing Glacier National Park? You can check in anytime on the park’s webcams, with views of Lake McDonald, Apgar Village, St. Mary and more.
THINGS TO DO IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Red Bus Tours
There’s no doubt that one of the most iconic ways to see the park is on a red bus tour. Available during summer, the red buses take their passengers to various destinations within the Crown of the Continent. And, with a roll-back top, they give guests the chance to focus on the scenery while the experienced “jammers” (also known as the drivers) share insights and history into the park.
Interpretive and Naturalist Tours
From ranger-led offerings to guided tours that share the history of the area from the perspective of the Blackfeet Tribe, there are lots of ways to take a deeper dive into the park. A few of note: ranger-led tours, Native America Speaks presentations and events, Glacier Institute’s educational treks, Glacier Sun Tours, Glacier Guides, Glacier Adventure Guides and Glacier Park Boat Company.
Since 1938, Glacier Park Boat Company has taken visitors onto the waters of Glacier National Park on guided tours in four different areas, including Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, St. Mary and Two Medicine. Tours are given on historic wooden boats that are well-maintained by the experienced crew at the boat company. Rentals are also offered at Apgar Village, Lake McDonald Lodge, Two Medicine and Many Glacier.
Inside Glacier National Park’s 1 million acres are 734 miles of hiking trails, from easy boardwalk treks that are accessible for users of all abilities along the Trail of the Cedars to high alpine hikes at Logan Pass and a wide array of trails in Two Medicine. While recreating, be sure to follow the rules of Leave No Trace.
YEAR-ROUND ACCESS TO GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
While the majority of visitors to the Backbone of the World visit during the summer, Glacier National Park is open year-round. Each season provides a distinct experience in the park and varying accessibility.
Spring in the Crown of the Continent
Ask any Montana local and they’ll tell you that spring is one of the most spectacular times to visit Glacier National Park. Prior to the Going-to-the-Sun Road opening for vehicle traffic, the park is a playground for hikers and road bikers who essentially have it all to themselves. The road is accessible from both the west entrance in West Glacier (and is plowed to Lake McDonald Lodge) and the east entrance in St. Mary. Glacier Guides and Montana Raft also offer interpretive, guided biking adventures on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Summer in Glacier National Park
Most of Glacier National Park’s visitation happens during summer and the opening of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in its entirety signals the full start of the season. Gateway communities, from East Glacier Park to West Glacier, offer services and guided excursions in and around the park.
Fall in the Backbone of the World
Autumn has quickly become the favorite time of year for residents to adventure into our backyard national park. With crisp mountain air, colorful foliage and fewer people, fall is one of the most jaw-dropping times to visit. Depending on the weather, the alpine section of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is typically open to mid-October. Discover all that fall offers on the blog.
Winter in Glacier National Park
While winter is unlike any other season and has almost no amenities within the park’s boundaries, it’s also one of the most beautiful. The Going-to-the-Sun Road transforms into a destination for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and there are several ski trails along the road, as well as in other areas of the park. Before heading in during winter, make sure you have all the necessities, like water, food, boots and a warm jacket.
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