2021 Entry tickets: Due to COVID Glacier National Park, or GNP, created reservation entry tickets to manage the traffic coming into the park and hopefully limit the number of people each day. The reservation ticket cost $2 in addition to your $35/car park pass (America the Beautiful passes can be used here). About 75% of tickets are posted months in advance and sell out within minutes. The last 25% are listed 2 days before your date of entry. Believe it or not, these tickets go even faster. They are posted at 10 am EST and sold out by 10:01 am. Silly process if you ask me!
After many website crashes and multiple failed attempts, Joe and I failed miserably at reserving a ticket. Thankfully, there are ways around it, and we had no issues getting into the park. Something that was extremely unclear was where this entry ticket is required. You only need the entry ticket for the Going to the Sun Road entrances (St. Mary entrance on the east side and Lake McDonald on the west side). However, if you enter the park before 6 am or after 5 pm you will have no issues getting in at these entrances. The reservation ticket was not required at Two Medicine, Many Glacier, or Lake Bowman entrances. You DO still need a park pass (we used our America the Beautiful national park pass). This can be used at most National parks in the US. An annual pass costs about $80 and can be found here. Otherwise, you will be paying about $35 dollars per car for one week. You get your money’s worth very quickly with the America the Beautiful annual pass.
East Glacier wasn’t originally in the books for our trip out to Glacier, but boy am I glad we tacked on a few extra days to make time to visit! East Glacier is surrounded by the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, so Airbnb’s and hotels were more limited in comparison to the touristy West Glacier. A few weeks prior to our trip, I was able to book a motel in East Glacier Village outside of the Two Medicine park entrance. There really isn’t much of a town here, no grocery stores, one gas station, a small market, and that’s about it. With that being said, we spent most of our days hiking and driving the Going to the Sun Road that starts at the St. Mary entrance.
I recommend taking the drive an hour north to the Many Glacier entrance and hiking the Grinnell Glacier trail which is about 11.2 miles round trip. You can easily stop early making this hike shorter without missing in on soaking up the amazing views of Swiftcurrent Lake, Lake Josephine, and Grinnell Lake. The trailhead starts at Swiftcurrent Lake and within minutes you reach Lake Josephine. There was still snow covering on part of this trail which made for a scenic alpine hike. After about 2.5 to 3 miles in, you will stumble upon Grinnell Lake. This was easily the most beautiful lake we saw while in Glacier. The water is a shimmering turquoise from the melting glacier above it. There are snow-capped mountains encapsulating the lake on one side and greenery filled with wildflowers on the opposite. Joe and I got to the trailhead around 6am and had the entire hike up to ourselves. Wildlife is abundant here, with frequent runs in to grizzly bears, black bears, and moose. Don’t forget your bear spray! For the non-hikers, there’s the option to hop on a boat across Lake Josephine to shave off 3 miles of your hike.
Hike Recommendations on the East side:
Grinnell Glacier in Many Glacier. 11.2 miles’ round trip. Trailhead coordinates found here
Cracker Lake Trail in Many Glacier. 12.2 miles’ round trip. Trailhead coordinates found here
Iceberg Lake Trail in Many Glacier. 9.3 miles’ roundtrip. Trailhead coordinates found here
Upper Two Medicine in Two Medicine. 11.2 miles. For a shorter hike, you can boat across Two Medicine Lake and cut off anywhere from 4.8 to 6.4 miles. Take a short detour to Twin Falls on your way up to Upper Two Medicine. Trailhead coordinates found here
Highline Trail: Logan Pass to Granite Park Chalet in St. Mary. 14.9 miles. Coordinates found here
West Glacier, surrounded by lively towns and an entrance for the Going to the Sun Road, seems to be the most tourist-filled area of the park. Home to the famous Lake McDonald “Fruity Pebble” lake, this is easily the most trafficked area. Although in my opinion, this is not the best the park has to offer. Besides the overabundance of tourists, other lakes on the park offer everything Lake McDonald offers and more.
For a more desolate GNP experience, follow an old dirt (N Fork Road) road 32 miles north along the Flathead River. Just 22 miles shy of the Canadian border you will stumble upon Polebridge, Montana. Polebridge is home to the Lake Bowman entrance, a significantly less-trafficked area of the park. There are no gas stations here so plan accordingly. Polebridge is home to just a single store and restaurant, the Polebridge Mercantile and Northern Lights Saloon. Make sure to stop and get the famous “Bear Claw” huckleberry pastry when at the Mercantile. This park entrance offers a more private experience. The unfrequented Bowman entrance allowed for awesome fishing and picnic experiences. Non-Montana residents, keep in mind you do not need a fishing license while you are in the park! Due to this area of the park being “untouched”, paved roads do not exist here. Be prepared for miles of bumpy dirt road when entering this area of the park!
Helpful Hint: If you are like Joe & I and had no luck with getting the reservation ticket, have no fear! If you are leaving Polebridge driving towards Lake McDonald, you will stumble across Camas Road. This entrance saves you a chunk of time AND they did not have any rangers checking tickets here (at least not when we were there the end of June 2021). So instead of waking up at the crack of dawn to enter the Going to the Sun Road before 6 am, you can enter at any time from Camas Road.
I highly recommend getting an Airbnb while in Polebridge and stay a few days. The best Airbnb experience I have EVER had was here in Polebridge. We spent 4 days soaking up the mountainous views and glamping here. There are countless unique Airbnb experiences around GNP: log cabins, yurts, RV/campers, and glamping tents to name a few. They go QUICK, so be sure to book the one you want MONTHS in advance. Flathead National Forest backs up to Glacier National park in this area, so another cost-effective option would be to tent camp for free. Camping on BLM land or in National Forests is a great way to save money being that you do not need to pay to use this government-owned land!
Although not my favorite part of the park itself, it is still necessary to explore West Glacier and the surrounding towns of Colombia Falls and Whitefish. West Glacier is home to the adrenaline ran Glacier Raft Company. There’s nothing quite like being out of your element, rafting through the rapids of the Flathead River. I HIGHLY recommend doing the full-day rafting trip. It’s a 6-hour trip, that includes an hour of grilling out steaks, chicken, and veggies over the fire on the riverbank. The 6-hour day flew by, so I can’t imagine how quick the half-day feels which is about 2-3.5 hours. Make sure to complete your Glacier swim team initiation by taking a dip in the water. It was a whopping 47 degrees Fahrenheit when I went in! After an adrenaline-filled day of rafting, wrap up your night by getting a taste of some good ole Montana cowboy culture at the Brash Rodeo in Colombia Falls. This is a memorable experience for ALL ages. Before you leave, make sure to check out Whitefish for some shopping, dining, and drinking!
Hikes on the West side:
Avalanche Lake in the West entrance (I suggest early morning or evening to avoid crowds). 4.5 miles. Trailhead coordinates found here
Numa Ridge Lookout in Bowman Lake. 11.8 miles. Trailhead directions found here
For more popular hikes at Glacier National Park click here
To finally make it to Glacier, felt amazing! I was extremely disappointed when we couldn’t go last year. I hope this post assists others when planning their own trips to GNP. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions!