Outdoorist Guide to Glacier National Park

I spent a week in Glacier National Park–my first time there–and just, whoa. Montana has a reputation for being one of the last wild frontiers, and this parcel of public land is a true testament to that. My experience felt particularly charmed. It was a multi-sport trip, rewarded with huckleberry treats, and made even more special by my boyfriend’s park ranger sister, who knew everything about the area.

We backpacked out to Cracker Lake in Many Glacier, where we spilled ourselves over easy trails and windy ridges and past a grizzly mama + her cub to camp lakeside below a cirque. When we woke up–in a storm–we were greeted with a rainbow that stretched from one end of the lake to the other. We rode bikes up Going to the Sun Road before it opened up to cars, and I slowly pedaled my way through my longest and hardest ride ever. We paddled on Lake Macdonald–which the natives called “The Place Where They Dance”, which is a much more suitable name if you ask me–and camped + paddled at Tally Lake (not in the park). We hiked trails. While Brody and his sister rode Going to the Sun Road again, I explored creekside wonderlands and lounged next to gushing rivers while writing poems in my notebook. I became a Glacier Junior Ranger. We drank huckleberry lemonade and huckleberry iced tea and huckleberry soda. I ate a lot of cinnamon rolls. I said hello to grizzlies, black bears, beavers, caterpillars, mountain goats, songbirds, and one black slug.

Glacier National Park was so enchanting, we extended our trip.

When I got home, my padrino (that’s godfather in spanish) reached out that he too was planning a trip out to Glacier, and asked if I had any advice. I ended up sending him a pretty long e-mail, and realized that maybe my readers would benefit from all the beta too. So, here you go:

A (Very) Brief Guide to Glacier National Park:

  • First of all, you have to drive up Going To The Sun Road. I rode my bike up it (40 miles total, about 3500 feet of elevation gains) this weekend while it was still closed to cars, and it was amazing. They say you should plan 2-3 hours to drive the road.

  • Want to learn more about the native history of the land we now call Glacier National Park? (You should.) This site has a great dive into the original names and historical significance of many places in the park.
  • If you drive Going To The Sun Road and start from West Glacier, you’ll end up in St. Mary, and then you should go check out Many Glacier as well. We went backpacking to Cracker Lake (6 miles each way) and saw a grizzly + her cub right by camp.
  • If you spend a lot of time in the backcountry, consider getting a can of bear spray. You can rent them from the ranger stations now. If you don’t get spray, just make sure to travel in groups and make lots of noise when you come around blind corners. If you see a bear, keep a big distance and make lots of noise to scare it off. We saw 7 bears and had no problems with ’em.

  • Definitely plan to rent kayaks and paddle on Lake MacDonald. The MacDonald lodge is beautiful too, not sure how expensive it is to stay there though. There’s a historic boat that does sunset tours of the lake from the lodge. Note: If you bring your own watercraft, you’ll have to get it inspected by rangers before putting it in the water. It only takes a few minutes, but make sure your kayak/canoe/whatever is clean and free of any leaves or debris.
  • If you need to camp, anywhere in the park is stunning, but Fish Creek seemed to be pretty prime. There’s also a campground near Avalanche that was right on the water and I saw lots of friendly deer wandering through when I spent a few hours there.
  • Eat huckleberry everything. There’s huckleberry pie, huckleberry ice cream, and really delicious huckleberry lemonade that’s not to be missed. You can get huckleberry ice cream in the park and eat it at the lake right at Apgar Village.
  • This is a great article with a list of things to do in Glacier. The Red Bus tours are legendary and historic. We didn’t take one since my boyfriend’s sister is a park ranger there (talk about the ultimate hook up!) but they seem like a blast if you’re into tours.
  • You’re right by Canada, so consider bringing passports if you guys want to visit the Canadian side of the park.
  • If you want to do some shopping and soak up a bit of the local culture, downtown Whitefish (only like 30 minutes away) is a cool little town with great local stores and lots of walking around to do.
  • I loved coffee + baked goods from Montana Coffee Traders in Columbia Falls, which is the closest town to West Glacier. If you’re there in time for breakfast, Uptown Hearth is an awesome community kitchen restaurant. The breakfast pudding is to die for.

Got questions about Glacier National Park or adventuring around Montana? Leave ’em in the comments!

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3 thoughts on “Outdoorist Guide to Glacier National Park

  1. Anna says:

    I’m so glad you got to experience Glacier! It was my first National Park and is still my favorite. Thanks for sharing your experience, I’m glad you loved the park!

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