Glacier National Park Travel Tips

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can I go to Glacier in May?

Yes but you probably shouldn’t.  Winter there may be worse than you’re used to.  The higher elevation trails may not be free of snow until mid or late July.  The lodges aren’t open either.  Pretty much no chance that Going to the Sun Road will be open.

I’m going to Glacier in June.  Will Going to the Sun Road be pretty then?

In early June, you may never know because it may not be open.  Pretty good chance of driving it in late June.  If it’s open, it’s spectacular even on a bad day.

What kind of clothes do I need?

Kind of hard to tell.  You can run into cold weather there nearly any time of year.  It was hot when were there in July but it didn’t have to be.  We built a wardrobe of layered clothes.  Including fleece and rain gear.  Those clothes allow you to add or remove layers as you go through the day.  They also are usually quick dry.  We washed clothes in the room and got them dry in an hour or two.  This isn’t something you have to have but it helped.  We also get other use out of the layers.  In my opinion, you also need good hiking boots.  Make sure they fit and don’t bump your toes as you walk down hill.  I’m sure there were people hiking with us in jeans/shorts, t-shirts and sneakers too.

Should I stay in the East side or the West side of the park?

No good answer here.  I strongly prefer the East side.  Beautiful, rugged scenery.  The west side is beautiful but didn’t feel the same to me.  If you are a hiker, I definitely suggest the East Side.

Many Glacier Hotel gets awful reviews.  Why would I want to stay there?

You would stay there for the magnificent views and the proximity to hiking trails.  Enjoying the fire in that beautiful lobby would be a nice start to the day.  Did I mention views?  We didn’t stay there but I would if Swiftcurrent wasn’t available.  I think you should stay near the things you want to be involved in.

How scary is Going to the Sun road to Drive?

Not as bad as you might expect.  There’s a short, rock wall along the outer lane of the road.  It looked like it would keep you safe without much problem.  When going east to west down the mountain, the rock wall can be intimidating.  Don’t get distracted and you’ll be OK.  When the Red Bus goes by, remember the driver is highly trained.

Swiftcurrent Motor Inn looks pretty dumpy and most seem to not like it?  Should I avoid it?

No.  The rooms are fine.  Not special but fine.  The setting is wonderful.  I had absolutely no complaints.  The restaurant wasn’t great either but we never left hungry.  We met a lot of nice people there as well.

Do I have to hike to enjoy Glacier?

No but you’ll likely enjoy it more if you get out some.  There are easy hikes around.  Starting at Swiftcurrent, the Red Rock Falls is pretty flat and very pretty.  There’s so much that you can’t see from the road.  If you can’t hike at all, it’s still very pretty to drive through and look around.

Are there easy hikes in the park?

There’s a few and they are quite nice.  Here’s a sampling

Trail                   Location                   OneWay    Elev ^

Avalanche Lake          Near Lake McDonald               2 miles         500’

Trail of the Cedars     Near Lake McDonald               .25         Wheel Chair OK

Grinnell Lake             Swiftcurrent                           3.4              60^

Red Rock Falls           Swiftcurrent                           3.5              --

I’m sure there’re others as well.  I estimated the distance to Red Rock Falls but it’s pretty flat.  Grinnell Lake can be .9 miles if you take the boat from Many Glacier.

Hidden Lake Overlook is a very nice trail at Logan Pass.  I think its about 1.5 miles each way and on a boardwalk.  It isn’t flat but isn’t too bad either. 

What’s the big deal about the Park Café?

Pie.  Excellent homemade pie.  We broke down and got pie after breakfast.  Food was OK too.  We drove past it the day we moved to Lake McDonald and stopped in.  Actually, stopping was part of the plan.

Do I need hiking (trekking) poles?

No, but they help.  The narrower the trail the better the more they help.  If you stumble, they help you catch yourself.  Going up hill, they sometimes allow you to use your arms to help your legs as you step up or over things.  My wife claimed she wouldn’t have gotten up to Grinnell Glacier without them.  They helped in the snow too.

How does wildlife here compare to Yellowstone?

I suppose the wildlife is similar but to me it felt more up close and personal.  What we saw in Yellowstone was from in or near the car.  What we saw in Glacier was mostly from a trail.  Having the mountain goat herd walk past us on the Hidden Lake Overlook trail was very cool.  Seeing the grizzly cub and then seeing the top of Mom’s head was kind of intimidating.  You can probably do the same at Yellowstone but we didn’t.

Do any of the trails close in the summer?

Yes.  Primarily due to bear activity.  Iceberg Lake trail was never open when we were there.  I think there were large huckleberry bushes near the trail and the bears were feasting.  The rangers closed it.  You have to remember that you’re in the bear’s territory.  You just need to know what some of your options are.

Should I be worried about the bears?

Yes.  Worried but not scared.  Pay attention to what the rangers and others tell you about making noise.  Let them know you’re coming.  Hike in groups or 4 or 5.  Talk to the rangers.  Read the literature.  Don’t try to intimidate the bear. 

Should I bring a camera?

You’re kidding, right?  Bring the best one you have.  The opportunities here are special.

Will I need a zoom lens?

If you can get one at all.  Even if it's a good lens on a point and shoot camera.  Some of the wildlife is too far away to get a good picture without one.  If you don’t have a zoom, take the picture anyway. 

Will I be able to watch Desperate Housewives in the park?

Nope.  No TV.  No phones.  I wouldn’t count on the cell phone either. 

Will the bugs eat me alive?

The Black Flies might try.  We got bit a few times.  When we put the Deep Woods Off on, they stayed away.

Can I see a real glacier?

Only if you hurry.  The closest one is Grinnell Glacier.  The hike to get to it is beautiful.  You won’t be impressed by the glacier when you get there because its melting at a furious rate.  There’s others you can see but someone will have to tell you whether it’s a glacier or a snow field.