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Why Go To Glacier National Park

Named for the remnants of glaciers from the ice age, Glacier National Park is located on the border of Canada and the United States and is often called the "Crown of the Continent" since it sits at the headwaters of the streams that flow into the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay. A favorite among hikers, the park features a variety of trails for all skill levels, ranging from the easy Trail of the Cedars to the challenging Grinnell Glacier. What's more, the park boasts more than 700 lakes, numerous waterfalls and two mountain ranges, spread across more than 1 million acres that shelter an array of wildlife. 

Aside from its breathtaking geological features, it's also home to a fair amount of history. The Going-to-the-Sun Road – a scenic, 52-mile drive through the park – is a National Historic Landmark and an engineering marvel that offers spectacular views, as well as access to popular hiking trails. Plus, many of the park's lodges, chalets and hotels were constructed by the Great Northern Railway in the early 20th century and are on the National Register of Historic Places. Care to visit a UNESCO World Heritage site? You'll find that here, too: the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.


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Glacier National Park Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit Glacier National Park is in July and August. This is the peak season for visitors, with daytime temperatures averaging in the 70s and cool nights that can drop into the 40s (pack layers, as well as a good rain jacket). You may even see snow in June and July in the higher elevations; the east side of the park tends to be cooler and windier than the west side. The east side is also drier, while the valleys in the west see most of the rainfall. Although lodging rates and entrance fees will be higher during peak season, most facilities will be open and the complimentary shuttle service will be running. You'll also experience fewer road and trail closures than in the fall, winter and spring months. The park is open 365 days a year.

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What You Need to Know

  • Pack smart for hiking Essential items for the trail include warm clothing, appropriate footwear, water, snacks and bear spray, which is sold at the park's camp stores or online.
  • Stay away from wildlife Do not approach bears, mountain lions or any wild animals. Report bear or mountain lion sightings to the nearest ranger, visitor center or by calling the park hotline.
  • Check for closures Roads, visitor centers and entire portions of the park often close during the winter season or during inclement weather, so check the park website before you head out.
  • Fill up the tank Gas is not available anywhere in the park, or along the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road . However, you will find stations in towns just outside the park.

How to Save Money in Glacier National Park

  • Visit in the offseason Lodging prices and park entrance fees are at their highest during the peak summer season. Plan a winter trip (November to April) for the lowest rates.
  • Take advantage of fee-free days The National Park Service waives admission fees on select holidays and national park celebrations (such as the first day of National Park Week). Check the NPS website to see if any align with your trip.
  • Rough it Campsite fees cost as little as $5 and up to $23 for full-service campgrounds – a fraction of the price of lodges and hotels. Glacier National Park offers 13 drive-in campgrounds, five camp stores and a variety of backcountry campsites.

What to Eat

The developed areas of the park – Lake McDonald, Apgar, Many Glacier and Rising Sun – offer lodging and dining options, but visitors should always pack a cooler with food and drinks, as these are not necessarily accessible from many of the park's roads and trails. Also note that restaurants are only open during peak season from late June through Labor Day. 

Eddie's Café & Mercantile at Apgar offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as an ice cream shop and a gift shop with camp supplies and souvenirs. The menu features American classics like fried chicken, alongside some regional favorites including buffalo burgers, and the patio overlooks Lake McDonald. The Lake McDonald Lodge features three dining options: Russell's Fireside Dining Room offers breakfast, lunch and dinner and both Lucke's Lounge and Jammer Joe's Grill & Pizzeria serve lunch and dinner. If you want to eat like a local, try the bison meatloaf at Russell's accompanied by a Montana craft brew. Lucke's also offers a bison burger, in addition to a traditional menu of soups, salads and sandwiches, while Jammer Joe's is a kid favorite, serving up pizza, sandwiches, soups, salads and an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. 

The Ptarmigan Dining Room at Many Glacier Hotel doesn't take reservations, but it's worth the wait to dine on locally sourced ingredients served in a continental fine dining style, set off by the panoramic lake views. The menu features bison tenderloin and Montana smoked trout, as well as classics like seared duck breast and grass-fed beef. The hotel's Swiss Lounge offers light fare from lunch to late night: think Montana-style bar food from bison chili to elk sandwiches. At the Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins, Two Dog Flats Grill dishes out American comfort food.

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As with most national parks, your primary safety concern has less to do with threats from your fellow travelers and more to do with the elements and wildlife. 

Unless you're near a lodge or visitor center, you'll find very few facilities in the park. Always carry plenty of food and water with you if you're hiking, and plan to fill up the gas tank before you enter the park (there are no gas stations located within the park). You'll also want to carry a map (which you can find at any one of the park's visitor centers), as you cannot rely on cell service within the park. 

Unless you are very familiar with the area, never hike or camp alone. Speaking of hiking, stay alert to avoid steep terrain and be especially careful near any of the park's lakes or streams. According to the National Park Service, water is the No. 1 cause of fatalities in the park. Wildlife, especially bears and mountain lions, can be another safety concern. Never approach animals, make plenty of noise when hiking, carry bear spray and secure your food and garbage. For more information on safety tips, consult the NPS website.

Getting Around Glacier National Park

The best way to get around Glacier National Park is by car or by using one of the park's shuttle services. If you're arriving by car, Highway 2 runs along the southern edge of the park, while Highway 89 offers access on the east side. Glacier Park International Airport (FCA), located half an hour from the park and about 10 miles northeast of the city of Kalispell, is serviced by Delta, United, Alaska and Allegiant airlines and offers rental cars from several major companies. There is also one taxi company available at the airport, Glacier Taxi.


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Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park, is the major hub of activity on the west side.

Jeff R Clow/Getty Images

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