Glacier is a place with so many activities, gorgeous views around LITERALLY every corner, and more wildlife than you can imagine. Exploring this park was full of so many surprises and stories; I can’t recommend this park enough!
Going to the Sun Road
This road itself is something to experience! As you drive through this road make sure to take your time, and give yourself the time to explore roadside vistas, waterfalls, and any other surprises you may come across (bears). Also be sure to fill up on gas before heading on this road! There are obviously no gas stations in the park and you want to be prepared to explore without worry.
Glacier is a phenomenal place to visit, which means that pretty much EVERYONE wants to come here. While this is awesome, it also makes finding campsites difficult sometimes.
There are many campgrounds throughout the park and only a few are reservable ahead of time. The campgrounds you can reserve in advance are Fish Creek, St. Mary, and some in Many Glacier and Apgar. If you do go this route then you need to book them as soon as you can (but no more than 6 months out).
The rest of the sites are walk-ins. If you are planning to do a walk-in then you need to be prepared to be at the campground very early in the morning to grab a site as soon as someone else leaves. During high season it can be very hard to find a site and you may find yourself circling campgrounds for a few hours until someone leaves and opens a site.
This campground was absolutely incredible. After driving into the park late we checked the parks website and found that most campgrounds were full or filling up so we decided to head farther north to Bowman Lake, and we were so thankful we did. This campground is off of Going to the Sun Road, which made it less populated and more intimate. We enjoyed this lake with very few other people around and really fell in love with this location. If you don’t mind driving out of the way then I highly recommend this campground! Be prepared for a rougher, dirtier, and unpaved road, so you may want to have a vehicle with higher clearance.
Located along Going to the Sun Road, this campground is walk-ins only and it is tucked in the old growth forest and surrounded by cedar and hemlock trees. This campground is often less popular than some others on this road, although it still books up very quickly. There are also a few hikes that leave from this campground, which is a nice addition.
This area is a dream and it is a plus that it is one of the less visited areas. Its on the southeast side of the park and is a little out of the way, although it used to be one of the most visited parts before Going to the Sun Road opened. At this campground you can do boat tours on the lake, theres a high chance to see many moose and bears, the campground has a nice cafe and camping store, and there are also many hiking trails that leave from here. We loved spending time at this campground.
This section could go on for almost forever because there are so many amazing and breathtaking hikes here! It is hard to find a hike you won’t like, so I will just give you a few of my favorites.
Hidden Lake Overlook – 2.7 miles RT, easy
If you are looking for breathtaking panoramic views, a good warm-up hike, and a high chance of seeing wildlife then this is a great hike for you! This begins from Logans Pass Visitor Center and has little elevation gain. Logans Pass is always insanely busy, so get there early or be prepared to circle the parking lot looking for a spot. When we were visiting (July) there was still some snow on the trail, so you may have to walk up and through short snow fields, but it was nothing too difficult.
St. Mary Falls – 1.7 miles RT, easy
This is a waterfall has beautiful icy blue water from the glaciers. The bridge crossing the waterway is new and adds to the faraway view of the falls. There is very limited parking here so expect to have to wait for a spot or come early in the morning. If you enjoy this waterfall and have time, I recommend continuing down the trail towards Virginia Falls.
Virginia Falls – 3.6 miles RT, easy
After passing the St. Mary Falls you continue down the same trail. Between St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls there are two unnamed waterfalls so be sure to continue hiking until you come upon Virginia Falls. This beautiful waterfall is multi-tiered and drops about 50 feet. You will most likely get misted with water if you approach the falls, so this is a fun hike to do on a hotter summer day.
Running Eagle Falls – .6 mile RT, easy, wheelchair accessible
Located close to the Two Medicine area is this short but scenic hike to Running Eagle Falls. This trail is also one of the two wheelchair accessible trails in the park. The nickname for this falls is “Trick Falls” because if you get up close you can see that there are actually two waterfalls that are combined. This is a great hike if you have a short amount of time or are looking for a less intense but still gorgeous hike.
Backpacking in Glacier
We were lucky to obtain a permit and be able to backpack for a large portion of our trip! One of the main things to remember about Glacier is that it is popular and everything is in high demand. If you want a permit then you need to be proactive about reserving it months in advance, or if you are doing a walk-in then you should be at the ranger station very early in the morning.
We reserved a permit in advance and once we arrived we discovered that the area we were backpacking in was closed due to high bear activity. This happens semi-often, so we adjusted our trip. We ended up being able to grab a walk-in permit at the Two Medicine ranger station and we were SO HAPPY with our trail.
Be prepared for bears and wildlife; carry bear spray, have bells, and make lots of noise and use your bear calls. We saw 4 bears total, saw lots of fresh bear poop, and heard of many other hikers seeing bears and their cubs.
Another important note about Glacier is that EVERYTHING is beautiful, so there is really no wrong trail to take.
Backpacking Dawson and Pitamakan Pass Loop –
21.5 miles RT, strenuous
The route we ended up doing was in the Two Medicine area. This trail could be done as a day hike, but it would be an extremely difficult day hike (17.5 without extra campground mileage). It is obviously hard as a backpacking trip as well, because of the extra weight but doing it as a backpacking trip gives you more time on the trail, the ability to explore side trails, and allows you to enjoy this area fully.
You begin at the North Shore Trailhead, which is located in the Two Medicine Campground. Head towards Upper Two Medicine Lake, this was where our permit allowed us to camp the first night. This is about 4.7 miles on the first day and it is relatively flat, so it is a great way to warm up for the rest of the trip. You will be going clockwise on the loop, and it takes you around Two Medicine Lake and gives gorgeous views of the mountains and surrounding area.
We saw a moose on this portion of the trail. He was standing directly on the side of the trail and had no cares of what we were doing. Be aware of your surroundings and know that moose can be more dangerous and aggressive than any bear. Thankfully, this moose was indifferent to us and we ended up following him along the trail (at a safe and far distance) for about 30 minutes when he finally exited the trail and disappeared into the woods. There is also a small waterfall along this trail, Twin Falls, and you can take a short detour to see it.
The campground is right on Upper Two Medicine Lake and has only a handful of sites. There are bear lockers to put your food and anything with a scent in, theres a set eating area, and a compost toilet. We fell in love with this camping area. We met a nice couple and we enjoyed watching the sunset over the lake. Be prepared for lots of bugs and flies! We visited during July and the bugs were horrendous.
The next day you wake up and head out towards Old Man Lake. This is about 10.3 miles, not including any side trails such as No Name Lake. This is the hardest section of the route and includes both Dawson and Pitamakan Pass. During this section you rise about 2000 feet in 2 miles, so it is decently strenuous. It is also extremely exposed and you will get a lot of sun.
This trail follows the spine of the mountains; giving you phenomenal views down both sides. Depending on when you go during the year you may hit snow. We saw a large group of big horn sheep, many marmots, squirrels, mountain goats, moose, and a black bear on this section. Keep your eyes open!
You also get to cross the continental divide on this section, get to see glaciers, snowy mountain peaks, and look down on the lakes below. For about a mile you will be on Upper Pitamakan Pass. This part of the trail is a narrow trail with a drop off on one side, so be aware and mindful as your cross this phenomenal section.
Carry PLENTY of water. This is a dry and hot section so fill and be aware of yourself and your team.
Once you come down from the ridge line you will drop into the valley and head towards Old Man Lake. This was our second nights stop and we also enjoyed this campground. The walk from our site to the lake was farther than at Upper Two Medicine Lake, and this lake was harder to relax around because it has less of a beach, but it was beautiful nonetheless, and we saw a moose hanging around the lake.
The third day was our last day on this trail. This section was about 6.4 miles and is relatively moderate and of course, still phenomenal. You turn right and head back towards North Shore Trailhead and Two Medicine Campground, and this completes the loop. This loop is considered one of the most incredible hikes in the park and is something that I HIGHLY recommend.
Tips for hiking/backpacking
- Carry PLENTY of water.
- Be prepared for bears and more wildlife than you are used to.
- Bring sunscreen. You may have a lot of exposure and backpacking with a sunburn is no fun.
- Bring extra food! You will be working hard and need the energy to push through this tough hike.
- Have the best trip of your life!
Other activities in the park
Our last two days were spent exploring the park in other ways and we also decided to rent an airbnb after many days in our tent. We reserved an adorable yurt that was right outside the park. It was very primitive and perfect for our needs. We also checked out the Glacier Distilling Company, which was a really fun and unique experience. It is also located right next to Josephines Bar & Kitchen which is AMAZING.
We also rented Kayaks at Lake McDonald and took a few hours and experienced Glacier from the water. This was an awesome experience and we enjoyed getting off our legs and paddling around.
Two Medicine Lake also has a boat tour that they offer; which gives great information and a fun way to explore the lake. It was perfect for a rainy day activity.
We decided to spend our last day in the park horseback riding through Glacier. We did not have a ton of time, so we did a 3 hour long tour. This tour was fun and once again, provided a new way to see the park. It is not my normal choice of activity, but I was glad I got out of my comfort zone.
This park is full of so many wonders and activities, so be open and have fun exploring!
I remind you to respect the parks, the employees, and the animals. Don’t feed wildlife, leave no trace, and use common sense when in nature.