Getting There & Gateways
Glacier National Park is in the northwest corner of Montana, on the Canadian border. The closest cities with airline service are Kalispell, 29 miles southwest of the park; Great Falls, 200 miles southeast; and Missoula, 150 miles south. If you're driving, the easiest ways to reach the park are from U.S. 2 and U.S. 89.
Among the park's entrances are those at West Glacier, Camas Road, St. Mary, Many Glacier, Two Medicine, and Polebridge. Access is primarily at either end of Going-to-the-Sun Road: at West Glacier on the southwest side and St. Mary on the east.
From the park's western boundary, you may enter at Polebridge to reach Bowman and Kintla lakes or take Camas Road to Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The following east-side entrances are primarily hiking trails designed to access specific places and do not necessarily take you into the heart of the park: Essex, East Glacier, Two Medicine, Cut Bank, and Many Glacier.
Visitor entrance passes are sold at the West Glacier, Two Medicine, Many Glacier, Polebridge, and St. Mary Park entrances. Entrance is restricted during the winter, when most of Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed.
The Nearest Airports -- Glacier Park International Airport, north of Kalispell at 4170 U.S. 2 (tel. 406/257-5994; www.glacierairport.com), is serviced by United, Allegiant, Delta, and Horizon. Avis, Budget, Hertz, and National have counters at the airport. The airports in Missoula and Great Falls are within a relatively easy drive of Glacier as well.
By Rail -- Amtrak's Empire Builder (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com), a Chicago-Seattle round-trip train, stops between May 1 and October 1 at East Glacier and year-round at West Glacier and Essex.
Contact the superintendent, Glacier National Park, P.O. Box 128 West Glacier, MT 59936 (tel. 406/888-7800; TDD 406/888-7806; www.nps.gov/glac). A vast array of publications is available from the Glacier Association, 12544 U.S. 2 E., (P.O. Box 310), West Glacier, MT 59936 (tel. 406/888-5756; www.glacierassociation.org).
For up-to-date information on park activities, check in at visitor centers at Apgar, Logan Pass, and St. Mary; Travel Alberta staffs a center at West Glacier. St. Mary is open from mid-June through mid-October; Logan Pass, from mid-June through late September; and Apgar, from May through October (and weekends during the winter). Park information is also available from the Two Medicine, Polebridge, and Many Glacier ranger stations or from park headquarters.
Fees & Permits
A vehicle pass good for 7 days costs $25; an individual pass for walk-ins, bicycle riders, and motorcyclists, also good for 7 days, is $12. In winter, the fees drop to $15 and free, respectively. An annual park pass costs $35. Visitors to Waterton Lakes National Park (which is located in Canada) pay a separate entrance fee.
Camping fees are $10 to $23 per night at the park's drive-in campgrounds. Shared hiker-biker sites run $5 to $8 per person.
If you plan to backpack overnight, you'll need a backcountry permit before your trip.
Avoiding the Crowds
The simplest way to leave the crowds behind is to avoid visiting the park in its peak season, from mid-June to Labor Day. July is the busiest month. Late September and October, when fall colors light up the park, are excellent months to visit. A highlight is the display the larch trees put on throughout the western portions of the park. Entire hillsides turn bright yellow, fading to a dull orange glow as October wanes.
If visiting in the off season isn't possible, consider the following: Find a trail head that is equidistant from two major points, and head for the woods. Because most people congregate in proximity to the major hotels, this strategy should gain you a measure of solitude. If you must drive, to make the trip more enjoyable (and traffic-free), journey across the Going-to-the-Sun Road before 8:30am; you'll be astounded at the masterful job Mother Nature does of painting her mountains. You can always see more wildlife in the early morning (or just before dark) than at other times.
Seasons & Climate
Glacier is magnificent at any time of the year, but some roads are closed and park access is limited in the winter. By far the most popular time to visit is during the summer, when Going-to-the-Sun Road is fully open; in summer, sunrise is around 5am and sunset is nearly 10pm, so you have plenty of time for exploring. Spring and fall are equally magnificent, with budding wildflowers and variegated leaves and trees, but these sights can be viewed only from the park's outer boundaries and a limited stretch of the scenic highway.
In winter, Glacier shuts itself off from much of the motorized world. Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is generally fully open only from mid-June to mid-September, is usually plowed from West Glacier to the head of Lake McDonald. U.S. 89 provides access to the St. Mary area. The North Fork Road from Columbia Falls is open for winter travel to North Fork and the Polebridge Ranger Station. Temperatures sometimes drop to -30°F (-34°C), so appropriate dress is essential.
The best picnicking spot on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is at Sun Point, which is also the trail head for the 1.6-mile round-trip to Baring Falls, a trail that follows the shoreline of the lake. From the picnic area, the views across the lake to the mountains are unrivaled. Even better: Be there at sunrise.
Picture This: Glacier Park Photo Tips
The adventurous shutterbug will find that the best photo ops occur early in the morning. Near bodies of water, the sunrise provides a multitude of oranges, blues, and yellows. Then, as the earth warms, lakes are transformed to fog-covered valleys, creating a mystical photographic opportunity.
One of the most picturesque spots is the west end of St. Mary Lake; not only does sunrise paint the lake orange and yellow, but it also paints the mountains red and orange. A close runner-up is the view west from an overlook across St. Mary Lake to Wild Goose Island in the foreground and the peaks and glaciers at the west end of the lake. Logan Pass, when it's carpeted with wildflowers, is breathtaking.
Late-day photos of the Garden Wall from west of Logan Pass are also very dramatic.