‘It seems to me Montana is a great splash of grandeur. The scale is huge but not overpowering. The land is rich with grass and color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda.’-John Steinbeck
Glacier National Park is widely viewed as on of the most beautiful places in the United States and it is stunning. If you want to experience tall mountains and valleys carved by ancient glaciers without needing a passport (if you’re an American), it is perfect! I am very grateful to have visited both Fiordland National Park (New Zealand) and Banff and Jasper National Parks (Canada-future posts) so Glacier wasn’t as jaw dropping and I am aware of the privilege I have in saying this. I will also say that your Glacier experience is very much dependent on the time of year that you go.
First, you need to plan way ahead. I booked my camp spot (Many Glacier) in March, the day they opened reservations on recreation.gov…my trip was end of June. You need to book the moment they go on sale or you won’t get a spot. Also, there are required reservations to fully access the Sun Road, deemed one of the most beautiful roads in the world. I wouldn’t know because I couldn’t access the whole thing. I did not win the lottery with multiple attempts. It turned out to be a moot point as the road wasn’t open and wouldn’t open until mid-July. If you are there when it is open and you didn’t win the lottery, all is not lost. You can access after 4 pm and before 6 am. However, they are currently (Sumer 2022-) doing construction on the road and it closes at 10 pm, so check when you go to see if there are road closures. If you book a boat tour on Lake McDonald or St. Mary’s, you will get a ticket for that day. Or, you can book one of the campgrounds on the Sun Road but again, road construction so it may be very noisy. They also received a lot of snow, and late, when I arrived so the road was not open. I hear its nice but…
The other issue with the Sun Road being closed AND that I did not win the lottery is to get from West Glacier to East Glacier you need to go the long way around…its about two hours one way. It is a beautiful drive and I much prefer East Glacier (where my campsite was) so I think it is worth it. I will be doing separate posts on East Glacier so stay tuned! The nice things about driving the long way around is you can see where the mountains end and the prairie begins. The landscape variations is quite stark. You also cross the Continental Divide, which is always cool!
I was not able to see very much of Lake McDonald as the Sun Road was closed. It was pretty but the lakes of East Glacier were prettier. I also went after Glacier experienced massive flooding (not quite as severe as the images out of Yellowstone from the same system) but several popular trails of West Glacier were washed out. In addition, other trails had a lot of snow due to late storms so I was pretty limited to the hiking I was able to do.
In addition to Mother Nature (although the weather while I was there was great), it was bear season! There were lots of bear sightings (I saw a Grizzly) so you MUST (!!!!) have bear spray on you at all times. I also had a small airhorn my dad sent me. I had my bear spray on my pack and carried the airhorn in my had. I also tried to walk loudly as I was by myself. Some people had little bells on their shoes, although I’ve heard mixed opinions on if the bells deter anything.
The town of by the West Glacier entrance had a lot more to offer than the East entrance. You can also get gas, expensive gas, but, when the road is open, make sure you have a full tank!
West Glacier is by far more popular but stay tuned as to why you should focus your energy, especially if the Sun Road is closed, on East Glacier…you won’t regret it!