Glacier National Park - 7 Trip Enhancing Tips for Your Visit

It’s simple, Glacier National Park needs to be on your travel itinerary. It's easily one of the most special and stunning places we have ever been.

Montana has the most beautiful combination of vast emerald, translucent rivers and mountains we have ever seen.

Although this article focuses on Glacier National Park there are many other gorgeous Montana locations worth visiting like The Bob Marshall, Bozeman, Whitefish, Red Lodge or Big Sky, to name a few.

Our main goal is to give insight and travel insight while visiting this beautiful park so you can make the most out of your trip.

Subjects Covered:

  1. Campground Recommendations & Insights

  2. Hiking

  3. Fishing

  4. Internet Access

  5. Food and alcohol

  6. Gear “must haves”

  7. Hotels

Going-To-The-Sund Road

Going-To-The-Sund Road

1) Campground Recommendations & Insights

CampGrounds & Requirements:

There are 13 campgrounds at Glacier, see picture below. Each location will have a permit fee ranging from $15.00 - $23.00/night (primitive campgrounds are $10.00/night)

 
 

Our Campground Recommendations:

Many Glacier

Our favorite campground is Many Glacier. Some of the United States best hikes start right next to this campground and include: Swiftcurrent Pass, Grinnell Glacier, Cracker Lake, Iceberg Lake and many more.

If you are staying in Glacier for just a few days we highly recommend just staying at this site. Quality washroom facilities with dishwater dump stations are located on the campground. Showers are available at Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge, a 60 second walk from the campground. A convenience store is also located within Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge.

If you are planning on staying more than 3-5 days or just want to mix up locations take a look at a few other campgrounds below.

Side note: Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge has a restaurant and convenience store. We did not try the restaurant but thoroughly enjoyed the convenience store. The store carries a mixture of tourist items, outdoor apparel, and a basic food selection. We had their delicious huckleberry and vanilla swirled soft serve ice cream daily (priced at $2.50/cup, no weight involved so fill that cup up as high as possible!).

Check out more camping info on Many Glacier Campground here.

Michael enjoying Huckleberry ice cream after a hike at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.

Michael enjoying Huckleberry ice cream after a hike at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.

Rising Sun

Rising Sun Campground is closely surrounded by beautiful mountains, plenty of shade, and tree coverage. Located 5-minutes from a beautiful sunset location for picnic and/or photography opportunities at St. Mary’s Lake.

It has smaller campsites, which limit the larger RVs from coming to the grounds. Located in the East-Central area of the park, it fills up later in the day and a natural endpoint if you are completing the Going-to-the-Sun drive later in the afternoon/evening. The hiking opportunities from this location are limited. We would definitely camp here again but only if Many Glacier was full.

Check out more camping info on Rising Sun Campground here.

Sunset at St. Mary’s Lake near Rising Sun Campground.

Sunset at St. Mary’s Lake near Rising Sun Campground.

Two Medicine

A large campground located next to Two Medicine Lake & Pray Lake. Mountains surround the lake with lots of hiking options and trailheads in the area. There are several campsites where you can get a lakefront and/or mountain views. Quality washroom facilities with dishwater dump stations. No showers available. Because the campground is located in a valley and next to two lakes it can get windy. It was also filled with all sorts of flying bugs in early July. Has a convenience store 5-minutes away. The store is a mixture of tourist items, outdoor apparel, and basic food items.

Check out more camping info on Two Medicine Campground here.

Enjoying a post-hike snack at our camp spot in Two Medicine.

Enjoying a post-hike snack at our camp spot in Two Medicine.

Avalanche

We did not have the opportunity to stay here but heard good things.

Check out more camping info on Avalanche Campground here.

Kintla Lake

Located in northwest Glacier. This area was highly recommended but we did not have a chance to stay here or hike. Definitely on our bucket list for the next trip. The Kintla Lake hike(s) are suppose to be incredible but long. It also offers a great opportunity for backpacking. This area is not traveled as frequently and can offer a slight break from the crowds.

Check out more camping info on Kintla Lake Campground here.

Bowman Lake

Another campground on our bucket list that offers some epic hiking in the area. Will definitely come back to this site.

Check out more camping info on Bowman Lake Campground here.

 

Campground availability status & previous day’s fill time - Click Here

If you have the ability to access wireless internet or Wi-Fi while in Glacier you can view the current vacancy status of all Glacier campgrounds. Knowing the time the campground filled the previous day is extremely helpful.

By clicking on the campground’s hyperlink (i.e. Many Glacier campground, see image below) you will access more specific details including cost, amenities, current month and historical data of fill times.

 
 

The current month and historical fill time info is an extremely beneficial tool to plan the timing and locational flow of your trip. This tool is especially useful if you are traveling around the holidays or summer.

The best method to snag a campsite however is to get there as early as possible. We often arrived around 6:30am to claim a spot and at times we found it extremely competitive (we were in the park in late June to early July). Showing up this early may sound excessive or pointless but many travelers, photographers, and hikers leave camp in the early hours of the morning.

 

How to identify an open or soon to be open campsite?

This information can be the difference between acquiring a campsite or driving to the next campground 40-minutes away.

The obvious and ideal scenario would be an empty campsite (no car, no camping gear, no nothing) without a permit or tag displayed at the site. This is ideal but at popular campgrounds it’s rare. So how do you know when a site is going to be available? From the permits, or lack of a permit.

Camper’s reserved dates are written on the permit, many times rewritten larger so you can see from your car. If the number/date reflects “today’s” date then you know these people will be leaving.

Side note: a camper also has the option to re-reserve the campsite again before checkout time (checkout times vary at each campground).

If today's date is July 26th and the campsite’s tag reflects “30” you know this site has been paid for until July 30th and therefore not available. Move on.

All parks vary on their administrative tactics to keep campgrounds flowing and Glacier is really good about subtly communicating with hopeful campers searching for a site. If the current site’s permit is expiring on the current day (e.g. it’s July 26th and they have reserved the site until July 26th) the Park Rangers will remove the permit/tag entirely. The site’s marker or sign will be empty even if cars and tents are still there. So when you show up early in the morning hunting for a site and see an occupied site with no permit just know they will most likely be leaving that day.

What if it’s early and no campsites are available yet?

If you have ever driven around a campground early in the morning stalking people as they try to enjoy breakfast you know it can be uncomfortable and nerve wrecking. More cars continue to spill into the campground making it even more competitive. You circle and circle. All you want to do is secure your future home, all they want to do is eat a tranquil breakfast in the mountains. You can certainly yell from your car “Are you almost done with those Cheerios bro?” But this isn’t the best tactic unless it is a fellow “bro”.

When this situation happens - no one is leaving yet and cars continue to crowd in - park your car out of the way and casually walk along the campground road. Make sure you have a couple blank permit slips with you. When you see a site without a permit or a permit that is expiring that day but still occupied with cars, tents, RV’s, etc take the opportunity to walk up to them and ask if you can claim their spot. It’s a Global Lane guarantee that you will be successful ;)

No one likes to be stalked by a large metal object. Take the vehicle out of the situation and you’ll be golden.

2) Hiking

Glacier’s beauty is apparent while approaching the park, let alone when you drive within it, but when your adventures spill onto the vast trail system (over 700 miles of trail) you get a true understanding of its special character. Just make some noise and carry the necessary gear (check out the gear section below), lots of [friendly] bears out there.

Below are some of our favorite hikes along with a few we weren't able to get to but heard a lot about.

Grinnell Glacier:

Grinnell Lake - just before you get to Grinnell Glacier

Grinnell Lake - just before you get to Grinnell Glacier

A must do hike. Hike through lush forest, cross a small river and hike past a pouring waterfall on your way to spectacular views. It’s an extremely popular hike so start early. We started the hike at 6:00am - got great lighting for photos and watched a momma grizzly and her cub while we enjoyed freshly made coffee and tea.

  • Distance:10.6 Miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,600 ft
  • Trailhead (TH): Many Glacier
  • Learn more here

 

Bullhead Lake:

Reflections in the early morning at Bullhead Lake

Reflections in the early morning at Bullhead Lake

A hike that is supposed to guarantee a moose sighting with little elevation gain. Bullhead is a beautiful large lake that makes for a nice spot to enjoy a picnic lunch. On the way you’ll pass Redrock Falls (1.8 miles into the hike). Recommended for those wanting a hike with little elevation gain. We stopped and enjoyed Bullhead Lake on our way to Swiftcurrent Pass.

  • Distance: 7.2 Miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 425 ft
  • Trailhead (TH): Many Glacier
  • Learn more here

 

Swiftcurrent Pass:

Top of Swifftcurrent Pass

Top of Swifftcurrent Pass

Lookout on the way up to Swiftcurrent Pass

Lookout on the way up to Swiftcurrent Pass

Mountain Goats near the top of Swiftcurrent Pass

Mountain Goats near the top of Swiftcurrent Pass

A must do hike if you want to feel the burn! Again, start early. It provides exceptional views over six lakes. As you breach the ridgeline you can see out over the western mountain range. Pictures are more powerful than words - take a look.

  • Distance:14.2 Miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,400 ft
  • Trailhead (TH): Many Glacier
  • Learn more here

SIDE NOTE: Highly recommend staying two nights at Granite Park Chalet which is another 0.9 miles further. If you are one of the lucky ones able to reserve a night or two you can hike out to Swiftcurrent Lookout (1.4 miles further from the Swiftcurrent Pass intersection). MUST BOOK IN ADVANCE - right when it opens online usually in January/February. It books up fast. We did not get to stay here, but hope to one day.

You can also access the Granite Park Chalet from The Loop Trailhead on the Going-to-the-Sun Road which is 4.2 miles and gains 2,200 ft. Some people hike up one-way and hike down the other. You would have to figure out transportation if you did this.

 

Scenic Point:

Viewpoint from the top of Scenic Point

Viewpoint from the top of Scenic Point

A really nice hike with exceptional mountain views. You gain some good elevation in the short distance to the top but well worth it.

  • Distance: 8 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,300 ft
  • Trailhead (TH): Two Medicine (Scenic Point TH)
  • Learn more here

 

Cobalt Lake:

Rockwell Falls on the way up to Cobalt Lake - good stopping point if you want a shorter hike

Rockwell Falls on the way up to Cobalt Lake - good stopping point if you want a shorter hike

A long hike that primarily channels through trees with a beautiful blue lake at the end. We enjoyed the hike but didn't love it. Do it if you have time but definitely not a must. This is on the way to Two Medicine Pass which we did hear was beautiful, so maybe do both if your legs can carry you the distance.

  • Distance: 11.2 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 1,450 ft
  • Trailhead (TH): Two Medicine, south shore TH
  • Learn more here

 

The Highline Loop:

Potentially the most recommended long hike in the park. It was closed while we were visiting but should be on all hikers “must do list”.

  • Distance: 11.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 1,950 ft
  • Trailhead (TH): Logan Pass, off Going to the Sun Rd
  • Learn more here

 

Iceberg Lake:

Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake

Smaller lake just below Iceberg Lake

Smaller lake just below Iceberg Lake

Nice hike and one of the most popular. Start early to avoid the crowds. There are glaciers floating throughout the lake which is surrounded by mountain walls. A smaller lake is below and to the right, which provides for photo opportunities. If Ptarmigan Tunnel were open while we were there (closed due to snow) we would have included that in the hike. Bring sunscreen and a hat; nearly the entire hike is exposed to the sun, due to no tree coverage.

  • Distance: 9.6 Miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,200 ft
  • Trailhead (TH): Iceberg/Ptarmigan, at Many Glacier
  • Learn more here

 

Ptarmigan Tunnel:

Hiking past Iceberg Lake you ascend up to Ptarmigan Tunnel. This was closed while we were at Glacier but have heard this is one of the best hikes in the park.

  • Distance: 10.7 Miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,300 ft
  • Trailhead (TH): Iceberg Lake TH, at Many Glacier
  • Learn more here

 

Cracker Lake:

We were told this is a Park Ranger favorite. It’s a long hike with relatively little elevation gain but breaks away from the crowds. We did not hike this but is on the bucket list. Pictures of this place are beautiful.

  • Distance: 12.6 Miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,400 ft
  • Trailhead (TH): Cracker Lake TR, at Many Glacier
  • Learn more here

An extremely useful website to find out more detail on all Glacier hikes is: www.HikingGlacier.com. It contains more information than you could possibly want and a great reference for any hike you are considering in the park.

 

3) Fishing

Fishing Glacier

For all you anglers out there, good news, along with the views and hiking, fishing is free in Glacier! Thus no need for a costly fishing permit. Bring your fly rod, flies, and dip-net because the rivers here are unreal.

To find out more on Glacier’s fishing regulations and guidelines (i.e.catch limit, catch and release waters, etc.) - Click here

Side note: many high alpine lakes and waterways do not contain fish due to glacial water temperatures and a lack of sufficient nutrients. For easy access fishing or backcountry fishing take a look at the link here on Glacier’s waterways that have been scouted out by local anglers.

 

4) Internet & Phone Service

No Wi-Fi? Get connected with the outdoors!

Although it’s great to escape the news, Facebook, sports, and email, having the Internet and phone service can be necessary. We hope this section gives you some tips on where you can find connectivity.

While in Glacier boundaries you will rarely have cell phone service, if ever. We often drove 5-10 miles outside of the park campground to check weather, emails, make calls and received 4G LTE connectivity using Verizon.

Glacier provides free Wi-Fi in set locations. Below is a list of these locations and our quality ratings:

  • Apgar Visitor Center - Good Quality Wi-Fi
  • St. Mary’s Visitor Center - Extremely good quality Wi-Fi
  • Swiftcurrent Motor Inn (Many Glacier TH & Campsite) - Poor Quality Wi-Fi, could sometimes load email and check Instagram.

Here’s a map of Wi-Fi locations in and around the Park marked with stars:

 

5) Food & Alcohol

If you plan to camp and cook most of your meals stock up on fresh fruits and veggies before entering the park. Like most remote locations, these items are not overly abundant. Having said that, there is an impressive selection of food at the Park convenience stores (located in Many Glacier & Two Medicine). Think of camp-focused meals and items (pastas and sauces, Mac-n-Cheese, peanut butter, jerky, hot-dogs, condiments, etc.). In most cases the costs are higher than grocery stores - typically around 10-20% more. You have to appreciate that they don't really exploit the fact there are no other food options for 30 miles. The only exception - s'mores stuff. You’ll get nailed on those.

Forgot booze? Fret not! The beer and wine at these convenience stores are cheaper than some liquor and grocery stores. The only complaint that you could possibly have is a limited selection - approximately 15 types of beer and 10-15 types of wine.

6) Gear "Must Haves"

Bear Spray

This is an absolute must for anyone visiting the park. There are bears all over the place. You can purchase bear spray while in the park for approximately $45-50. It’s cheaper to buy in advance on Amazon. Bear spray expires after 4 years so make sure yours falls within that time frame if you already own some.

Strong Bug Spray

Glacier doesn't have the worst mosquitoes and bugs but they can certainly become overwhelming if you do not have an effective bug spray. Spray up!

Sunscreen

Some of the hikes have minimal tree coverage, are above tree line and have high exposure to the sun. Don’t get burned! Save your skin!

Binoculars

With the robust wildlife throughout the park bring the bino's with you in the car and on hikes. You’ll spot all sorts of creatures.

Telephoto Lens

If you are debating on whether to travel with your large and heavy telephoto lens definitely bring it. There are too many opportunities to capture that special picture.

 

7) Hotels

If you are wanting to explore Glacier but don't want to travel with camping gear there are a wide range of hotels outside Glacier. Go to Trivago (our favorite hotel search engine) and pick your hotel.

Hotels in the park? Yes, but expensive. Check out the Park’s hotel website here.

Farewell Glacier. Till next time...

Farewell Glacier. Till next time...

To sum it all up we had a fantastic time in Glacier National Park and can’t wait to go back. It has something for everyone – scenic drives, epic hikes, great camping and/or fancy hotels, and opportunities for wildlife viewing throughout. Just come prepared with the key essentials and get to your campground early to snag a spot.

Have fun on your next adventure and let us know how it goes!