I visited Montana, for the first time this past weekend, with my boyfriend to celebrate our anniversary and it was absolutely breathtaking. I did a lot of research about Glacier National Park before our trip, and tried to plan an itinerary to fit in as much as possible in 4 days. The best time to visit the park is typically July-September. July is the warmest month with best weather, but also the most crowded. We went mid September and it was perfect timing with still warm temps during the day and chilly enough at night to have s’mores by the fire. With Covid, the whole East side of the park was unfortunately shut down, but there were so many beautiful views to see on the West side which is where we stayed. Here are a few of my recommendations of how to make the most out of your visit:
WHERE TO STAY:
We stayed at Under Canvas and it was such a unique experience and just a 10min drive from the park! If you’re into camping but don’t want to drag all the gear out there or deal with community showers and sleeping on the ground, glamping might be your thing. This glamping resort had canvas tents fully equipped with the comfiest beds, chairs, a deck, shower, and a toilet. There is no electricity, but they do have solar powered lights and USB battery packs to charge phones. They even had fun events going on each night such as food trucks, live music, campfire stories, and more (but were still great about keeping things social distant during these times of Covid-19). It is a bit pricey to stay here, so a more affordable option would be KOA Campgrounds. They offer small cabins and are located even closer to the park! Only downside is you have to bring your own bedding and use community bathrooms but still a great option! If you’re not wanting to rough it at all, you could look into staying inside the park at Village Inn at Apgar or Lake McDonald Lodge, which have stunning views but do get booked out months in advance.
WHAT TO DO:
I wish we had at least a whole week in Glacier Park because there was SO much to do. Here are some recommendations based on activities we chose:
Even though I’m not much of a hiker, I am a fan of amazing views, so we tried to find hikes that were doable yet still breathtaking. One day we did the St. Mary’s Falls and Virginia Falls trails, which was a total of about 4 miles. We got there around 9:30am and found parking along the road and finished around noon (we stopped a few times for pictures and such). The next day we did the hike to Avalanche Lake which was about 5.5 miles. We got to the trailhead around 8:30am and finished around 11:30am. One very important thing to keep in mind is that to get a parking spot near many of the trails you have to wake up SUPER early. We had wanted to do Logan Pass but didn’t get there in time to find parking in the lot, and heard it actually fills up by 7am (and is about an hour drive up the mountain from the entrance of the park).
Drive on the Going-To-The-Sun-Road:
This road is one of the most famous drives and national U.S. landmark. It stretches 50 miles and has scenic view points and pullouts the whole way up for photo opportunities! It is a two lane highway and reaches 6,646 ft. so if you’re scared of high, windy roads you might want to avoid it. However, this road has the access points to many of the hikes in West Glacier. If you’re visiting Glacier National Park, you most likely will need to get a rental car. We got a Subaru SUV through Thrifty Rentals and it was a great deal! The park typically does have a free shuttle but that is currently closed due to Covid so a car is necessary to get around.
Go to Lake McDonald:
This is one of the most famous photo spots at Glacier Park, known for its clear water, colorful rocks, and mountain views across the huge lake. You can either watch the sunset with a (discrete) bottle of wine on the beach or the sunrise with a coffee or hot cocoa. Both are equally beautiful. You can also rent kayaks, paddle boards, or canoes to take out on the lake!
We splurged and did a “Cowboy Cookout” horseback ride through Swan Mountain Outfitters and loved every minute of it! We had a private tour with a guide who took us through forest trails with views of the mountains. After 2hrs of riding, we were taken to a remote spot around sunset and had a chef cooked campfire dinner with a bottle of wine! It included steak, corn on the cob, beans, salad, and of course, roasting s’mores at the campfire.
WHERE TO EAT:
Being celiac, I was definitely worried about finding gluten free options in/near Glacier Park, but was pleasantly surprised that most places could accommodate my allergy! We did stop by a grocery store to get some essentials for breakfasts and lunches on the go such as bananas, protein bars, bread, deli meat, cheese, and chips. Montana is known for huckleberries, so expect to see huckleberry flavored EVERYTHING! Pies, muffins, pancakes, wine, margaritas, you name it! It’s one of the only places they are naturally grown/sourced so it’s super popular. None of the restaurants we went to were particularly glamorous, but all had yummy food and great gluten free options! We ate one meal at Lazy Bear Cafe, a very casual outdoor dining with the chef, Gene, who grills right in front of you! That is where we found some delicious huckleberry ice cream and cheesecake for dessert. Another dinner we ate at the Phat Wombat food truck which happened to be parked at our Under Canvas campsite for the night. They had delicious, healthy bowls that could be gluten free or even vegan! One morning we were craving a real breakfast and stopped by the Glacier Highland Restaurant for some huckleberry pancakes and an omelette. The last day we grabbed lunch at West Glacier Cafe, which had a taco food truck set up. Some other restaurants to check out would be Eddie’s Cafe or Belton Chalet Grill for a fancier meal.
WHAT TO PACK:
I’m one of those people that starts a packing list in their notes app weeks before a trip to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. Here were a few must-have items (besides the obvious) for a trip to Glacier Park: