This park has mesmerized me for quite some time. Pristine blue glacial lakes and water so clear you can’t even decide if it’s actually there. Landscapes I’d never seen before, mountains filled with Bears, furry horned goats and big horn sheep. Not to mention wildflowers abound—heavenly!
After having to cancel more than 5 trips planned for 2020, we decided that we could make the trip to Glacier National Park.
I gathered a book and read it cover to cover planning our trails and sights. I pinned and putted around the National Park website. Unfortunately, I saw that half the park would be closed during our visit. Planning was then revised and trails were changed but we decided that we would see and do what we could.
This trip reminded me of Yosemite. See and do what you can, you cannot predict what Mother Nature will do.
Snow and avalanches blocked the main road (Going-to-the-Sun-Road) to Logan Pass. None the less we made it as far as we possibly could (physically).
Upon arriving, Brad and I were most excited that it was a pleasant 70°. The weather was amazing with highs of 75° and lows of 46°.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of options both in the park and in surrounding towns, depending on your level of desired needs. You can choose anything from Camping – Airbnb, Hotel-Golf Resorts. Because we are traveling during COVID, I opted for a hotel. One that I knew would have higher cleanliness standards. It was 30 minutes from the park but worth it!
In a little town called Whitefish, we stayed at Firebrand located right on the corner of the town center where everything was within walking distance. A quaint and quiet town with nothing but local places to dine and a train station (now a museum); where local produce and craft markets are held in the square weekly.
Whitefish has a 10 pm quiet curfew—something I have never experienced, but at 10 pm nightly a siren goes off (sounds like a tornado siren) for one sound. It’s the most bizarre thing because it seems like it’s only 7 pm with the long Summer daylight. Thankfully we had blackout curtains in the room!
Where to Eat
Trust me when I say that local dining is far better than anything! We ate at one place twice because it was so good. A cute little Italian restaurant called Abruzzo. They make their pasta and pizza dough in house. Abruzzo is located in the town center of Whitefish and you should make reservations if you plan to get a seat. They are a part of a small family of restaurants, you can also dine at it’s sister restaurant Casey’s. Our Hotel also had a dine in option that we tried as well. It was not disappointing either.
May I also suggest eating Huckleberry (everything)?
Huckleberries are a local hot commodity, you can even pick them yourself if you can find them. Inside the park is Huckleberry trail, but be mindful you may have to beat the bears to them! Every little town surrounding Glacier offers something Huckleberry. Try it with everything!
In Hungry House is the famous Huckleberry Patch. They sell all kinds of goods made from hucks including their pie. I had literally anything and everything huckleberry anyone had available: pie, icecream, mud pie, vinaigrette dressing, aioli, mules, lemonade, etc.
There are quite a few places that will offer game meat options if your a big meat eater: elk & bison.
And for your morning go-go juice a.k.a coffee, there are coffee huts literally everywhere! Stop by any of them for your pick me up. There a large chain called Cowgirl Coffee— we didn’t ever try it, but apparently they took off and expanded quickly. Our go-to place: Cimarron Coffee. It’s located on Highway 2 at 10th street. Customer service is superb and the flavor option list is HUGE!
We departed out of Kalispell and hit up a local bakery called Wheat Montana Bakery & Deli. They offer a Huckleberry cinnamon roll. Sadly they’d run out of the huck topping so I was stuck with just a regular roll. But a very cute local bakery to visit if your in Kalispell!
What to Do
Hiking of course!
There are so many trails here in Glacier; all offering beautiful vistas and lake views.
Flathead National Forest neighbors the park and it too has plenty of trails and scenic views!
Because half the park was closed, we had to get a little more creative about our hiking situation. Here are the trails we hiked and what to expect:
Trail of the Cedars
A short loop trail that forks off to Avalanche Lake. Easy and accessible. Arrive early to find parking as this is a very popular hike!
Located on the South side of Glacier, this hike is full of wildflower fields. Find flowers every color of the rainbow. Be prepared for various terrain and slight elevations. I suggest pants for this hike as you will shuffle through crops of large vegetation in many areas. Don’t be surprised by bear in this area or snow as you are still in higher elevations. Make it to the pass and you’ll be able to veer off onto the CDT. Good for Beginner to Intermediate hikers.
This is not for the faint of heart, starting with an uphill climb and lots of elevation gain quickly. Views are rewarding and wildflowers line the trail. Bring your trekking poles for this hike. Remember: What goes up, must come down. Your knees will be jello after this one! You’ll get great views of Glacier with various points including Apgar lookout. Binoculars are quite handy for this trail. It’s located just outside Glacier NP in Flathead National Forest.
Since Going-to-the-Sun-Road was partially closed, we still wanted to see beyond the road closure (which is only accessible by foot or bicycle).
We rented bikes and took to the road. Bikes are typically booked up week(s) in advance. So if you’re planning to bike, plan ahead (we learned this the hard way)! You may want to consider booking bikes from Glacier Outfitters, located in Apgar Village. They are they only bike rental that will allow you to take the bikes even when it is raining.
Kayaking/ Fishing/ Canoeing/ Paddle boarding
Though we didn’t make it onto water, all of these are available options anywhere around Glacier and even outside of the park (Flathead National Forest, Columbia Falls, Whitefish, etc.). Rentals can be found almost anywhere in surrounding areas. Some places may not offer waders for fishing, highly recommend them since waters can be quite fridgid.
Glacier is open on the West side Year round and the main season is open starting in late May/ Early June. Early arrivers will find options of snowshoeing in the park to reach further destinations that are still closed due to snow. June can be unpredictable for weather which can lead to prolonged closures on roads until July. Those who arrive in July will have more options as most of the park has been cleared from snow on the roads but you may find snow still along trails. August is prime for visitation as most of the snow has cleared at lower elevations, fields are bloomed with wild flowers and temperatures have gotten warmer. Just be mindful that crowding is a issue with this park as parking is rather limited in most areas.
Anything can happen in Glacier, avalanches of both snow and rock are common and can shut down roads instantaneously as well as wildlife. Filled to capacity parking will also shut down road access. Get into the park by 7-8 AM at the latest! Road access may not open up until 4 pm, be prepared.
And most importantly, bring/buy bug spray! Mosquitos are annoying during your hikes.
What should you do if roads are closed?
Have a back up plan! Plan several trails you may want to visit. There are trails in the Flathead National Forest next door that are also worth hiking. Travel to the South side of Glacier for more trails, access to the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) and even animal sightings such as Mountain Goats, which can be viewed at Goat Lick. Bears can be sighted almost anywhere as you’re in Bear Country (bring/ buy bear spray)! Bear spray can be rented as well.
Want to see a Glacier? Grinnell Glacier is the most accessible. If access to Many Glacier is closed, you can still get there via the Loop Trail. Can’t get to it from either? You can attempt to trek to Sperry Glacier, though I warn you of this grueling 16 mile hike one way– accessible from Sperry Chalet after snow melt.
Need to see a Lake? McDonald Lake is the most famous and most photographed lake, it is one of the first accessible lakes in the park and is over 7 miles long with various view points around it. Avalanche Lake is also very accessible with a short 4 mile round hike via Trail of the Cedars. If you can reach Logan Pass, hike to Hidden Lake. Swiftcurrent Lake is also a main accessibility lake from Many Glacier. Feeling up for a drive? Head North toward Polebridge and visit Bowman Lake or hike to Kintla Lake or either Quartz lakes.
Want to go international? That’s right, you can visit the Canadian sister park just north of Glacier, Waterton. Be sure to pack your passport for re-entry into the U.S. Access to Waterton is only accessible on the East side of the park and has plenty of amenities on the Canadian side as well!
You won’t get bored at this park. If the views don’t do it for you, there’s plenty of elevation to take your breath away! Be mindful of wildlife in this park as you’re driving through; chipmunks, deer, bears, etc. will cross the road at any given point.
Hope you’ve found this post helpful for your travel to Glacier. You can also check out this book for more information on the park, it’s trails and access to Waterton. Visit nps.org for up to date park information and road closures.
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