Ready for an adventure? If you are among the many wondering where to stay in Glacier National Park, follow along. This is THE post!
I will introduce you to the best spots to stay on the western side of Glacier, on the eastern side of the park, and near Many Glacier. You will also be able to easily decide whether you will stay inside or outside the park.
You will learn about all the various accommodations inside the park for all budgets and also outside – there are plenty of nearby towns and villages. There are lodges, campsites, and hotels – we will go through all of it step-by-step!
In short, the best place for your stay in Glacier National Park is the West Glacier area. There are quite a few accommodations to choose from in this part of the park, plus there’s a Visitors’ Center, a beautiful lake, and a wide range of outdoor activities you can participate in!
Read this post because I carefully compared ALL the options for you so I could present all the best hotels, lodges, and campsites in and around the park.
Just note that accommodations inside the park should be booked as far as a year in advance (we will cover the details in the post as well)!
Watch my video, it will give you a visual explanation of all the areas:
Here’s a map of Glacier National Park and the nearby towns that I’ll go over in this post:
- Where to stay inside the park – Lake McDonald Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel
- Where to stay on a budget – Paddle Ridge, Timbers Motel
- Where to stay on a family trip – Rising Sun Motor Inn, SpringHill Suites by Marriott Kalispell
- Great place for staying close to the park – Great Northern Resort
- Best spots for couples – Many Glacier Hotel, North Forty Resort
- Where to stay for outdoor adventures – Motel Lake McDonald, Lodge at Whitefish Lake
- Great for an overnight stay – Rising Sun Motor Inn, Apgar Village Lodge
- Where to stay in summer – Many Glacier Hotel, North Forty Resort
- Top spot for a winter stay – Lodge at Whitefish Lake, THE INN Bigfork Bay
Should you stay inside or outside Glacier National Park?
Before we dive into the specifics, there’s one question that we need to ask ourselves first! Should you book accommodation inside or outside the park? To help you decide, I created a pros and cons table for both – check them out below!
|Inside the park
|Proximity: staying inside the park means you’ll be close to the main sightsTime-efficient: if you stay inside, you won’t spend much time on transportationBeautiful surroundings: when you stay, you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking nature
|Higher cost: the prices for staying in a lodge within the park start at US$140/night and move upwards. Campgrounds are less expensive but also less comfortableLow value-for-money: even if you pay a significant price for accommodation, you’ll stay in older accommodations with basic amenities
|Outside the park
|More accommodation options: the villages and towns surrounding the park offer more hotels, lodges, and motels for you to choose fromMore affordable: due to the fact that there are more options, the accommodations surrounding the park are more affordable and often offer better amenitiesOther ways to spend your time: when you stay in one of the nearby towns, you’ll have access to other activities, as well as more dining and shopping options
|More time-consuming: driving to and from the park takes time, so you’ll have less time to explore the natural beauty of the parkParking problems: you may have difficulty securing a parking spot when you drive to the park
1. Where to stay inside Glacier National Park
Many people don’t want to miss the experience of staying inside a national park, and indeed, it’s a unique thing that you should try at least once! So, I thought I would make a list of the best Glacier National Park lodging!
Before we dive into the specifics of each accommodation, you should know that there are only 9 lodges within the park, so your options are quite limited. But this also means that the capacity is limited, and the lodges sell out super-quickly, so don’t waste any time – book immediately!
I’ll start by listing all the Glacier National Park lodges before I proceed with my area-by-area recommendations.
- Apgar Village Lodge – West Glacier
- Motel Lake McDonald – West Glacier
- Village Inn at Apgar – West Glacier
- Lake McDonald Lodge – West Glacier
- Rising Sun Motor Inn – St. Mary
- Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins – Many Glacier
- Many Glacier Hotel – Many Glacier
- Sperry Chalet – near West Glacier
- Granite Park Chalet – in the heart of the park, west of the continental divide
NOTE: you may notice that I only recommend 7 lodges in the following sections, although I told you there’s a total of 9 inside the park. The reason for this is the fact that Sperry Chalet and Granite Park Chalet can only be reached by hiking (or on horseback!) and are only available for overnight stays – not the most convenient options, especially if your time in the park is limited.
1.1 West Glacier (inside)
West Glacier is the main entrance on the west side of the park, i.e., the closest entrance when you approach the park from Columbia Falls or Kalispell. The West Glacier portion of the park starts at the west entrance and encompasses the Apgar Village and The Loop trail that goes along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
This part of the park is home to Lake McDonald and Avalanche Lake, and it’s the only area of the park that remains open year-round!
If you choose to stay in West Glacier, check out the following list – it contains the top accommodation options on this side of the park.
- Apgar Village Lodge – guests at the Apgar Village Lodge will enjoy the rustic cabins and motel rooms while admiring the stunning views of Lake McDonald. Prices for one night start at US$130 and range up to US$200+.
- Motel Lake McDonald – on the shore of Lake McDonald, 10 miles (16 km) from the west entrance of Glacier National Park, the Motel Lake McDonald features rustic and comfortable guest rooms. Rates start at US$170/night.
- Village Inn at Apgar – built in 1956 on the shore of Lake McDonald, this motel offers rustic but comfortable rooms. You can choose between standard motel-style rooms and family units, with or without a kitchen. The room rates start at US$240.
- Lake McDonald Lodge – located on the eastern shore of Lake McDonald, the Lake McDonald Lodge was built in 1913 and still retains the beautiful rustic style! There are 82 guest rooms at the Lake McDonald Lodge, with prices starting at US$140 per night.
1.2 East Glacier & St. Mary
East Glacier Park is an area of historical significance within Glacier National Park, situated on the land of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Many people consider East Glacier as the gateway to the park due to its abundant wildlife, Lake Josephine, Logan Pass, and the fact that a good portion of the Going-to-the-Sun Road passes through here.
The St. Mary entrance is located on the eastern edge of the park and marks the end of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Here, you’ll find the St. Mary Visitor Center and St. Mary Lake – one of the park’s top attractions.
If you’re approaching the park from the town of Browning, it’s only logical that you’ll enter the park from the east side. To do this, you need to take Highway 89 from Great Falls and follow the road signs to get to the park.
The only issue is that there’s only one accommodation on this side of the park, so if you really want to stay here, plan your trip well in advance.
- Rising Sun Motor Inn – for those of you who want to be close to the St. Mary entrance, I highly recommend booking your place at the Rising Sun Motor Inn. The inn is near St. Mary Lake, and it has lots of amenities, including an on-site restaurant and rooms with private bathrooms. The prices for a night at the Rising Sun Motor Inn start at US$230.
1.3 Many Glacier
Many Glacier is another east entrance to Glacier National Park, but the same name is also used to designate a large area within the park. The Many Glacier entrance is about 40 minutes north of St. Mary and about 50 minutes from the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
This part of the park is known for its many stunning glacial lakes, numerous hiking trails, and, of course, the famous Many Glacier Hotel.
TIP: one of the best activities in the area is hiking to Cracker Lake – the trail (map) starts just above the Many Glacier Hotel and will lead right to Cracker Lake, one of the most stunning lakes in the park.
- Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins – located 5 miles (8 km) away from the Many Glacier Entrance, the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn has 95 rustic cabins and motel rooms, with prices ranging from US$150 and upwards. The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn has a restaurant on-site and a gift shop where you can buy cool souvenirs for everyone at home!
- Many Glacier Hotel – the Many Glacier Hotel is the largest hotel in the park. The Great Northern Railway built it in 1914/15 on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. This historic hotel has more than 200 guest rooms, 7 family rooms, and 2 suites. Prices start at US$260 per night.
How to book lodges in Glacier National Park
As I already mentioned, the number of lodges within Glacier National Park is limited, and you need to be super quick with your booking. However, when it comes to booking accommodations within the park, there’s one thing that makes the process easier!
All of the lodges within the park (except those 2 chalets I mentioned) are operated by 2 companies. So, if you want to stay in the Apgar Village Lodge or Motel Lake McDonald, you need to make your reservation through the Glacier Park Collection website.
However, if you’re interested in any of the other 5 lodges (Village Inn at Apgar, Lake McDonald Lodge, Rising Sun Motor Inn, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins, and the Many Glacier Hotel), you’ll need to visit the Glacier National Park Lodges site and make your reservation there. The good thing about this is that even if one of the lodges is fully booked, you can see the availability for the rest of the accommodations.
As for when to book, I would suggest at least half a year in advance as a good rule of thumb. So, let’s say you want to visit in May – you’ll have to make your reservation in November of the previous year. And if you want to visit in June or July (high season), you need to book by January at the latest, better before, just to make sure you have the spot!
Just as a precaution, if you’re planning on visiting the park in the upcoming year (2025), I would suggest booking your spot in December of the previous year (2024).
1.4 Glacier National Park Campsites
The number and availability of Glacier National Park hotels are limited, so you might have trouble securing a spot. However, if you want to stay in Glacier National Park, you can always opt for camping. The fees for using any one of these campgrounds range from US$10 to US$23 during the summer season.
But before you decide on this option, you need to know that camping is only allowed in designated areas – you can’t just put up a tent anywhere or park your vehicle and sleep on the side of the road!
Below, I present the best campsites within the park.
- Apgar Campground – with 194 campsites, the Apgar Campground is the largest campsite within Glacier National Park. The campsite welcomes both tent and RV campers and offers restroom facilities. Lake McDonald is just a short walk away, and some of the sites even boast lake views.
- Avalanche Campground – this campground is close to the West Glacier Park entrance, which is one of the reasons why it’s so popular with campers. There are plenty of hiking trails in the surrounding area, and one of the best spots is Avalanche Lake.
- St. Mary Campground – the campground is situated near the St. Mary Visitor Center, Going-to-the-Sun Road, and St. Mary Lake. RVs and tent campers can stay in the campsite for up to 14 days and have access to potable water and restroom facilities.
- Kintla Lake – the campsite at Kintla Lake is the most remote campground in the park. Located in North Fork, the uppermost northwest part of the park, it’s accessible only by a private vehicle via a dirt road and caters to tent campers only.
How to book campsites in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park has 13 front country campgrounds, so you have plenty of other choices besides the ones recommended above. To help you discover all the camping options, I list all of them below – both the ones that require a reservation and those that operate on a ‘first-come, first-served’ system.
Reservation Campgrounds in Glacier National Park
- Apgar Campground
- Avalanche Campground
- Fish Creek Campground
- Many Glacier Campground
- St. Mary Campground
- Sprague Creek Campground
- Two Medicine Campground
First-Come, First-Served Campgrounds in Glacier National Park
- Bowman Lake Campground
- Cut Bank Campground
- Kintla Lake Campground
- Logging Creek Campground
- Quartz Creek Campground
- Rising Sun Campground
Sprague Creek Campground, Fish Creek Campground and the Many Glacier Campground are great camping options. However, all of these are reservation campgrounds, and since they’re extremely popular, you need to be very quick to make a reservation.
So, if you want to stay at any of these campsites, you need to make your booking at least 6 months in advance. For example, reservations for the 2024 summer season become available at the start of the year, in January, on the Recreation.gov website. Be quick to secure your spot as soon as the reservations become available – sometimes, they sell out within 20 to 30 minutes of opening!
If you’re not so lucky to secure a spot at one of the popular campgrounds (or you just want to avoid the hassle), you can always plan a trip to one of the ‘First-Come, First-Served’ campgrounds. We already mentioned the Kintla Lake campground, but Bowman Lake Campground and Rising Sun Campground are also good choices.
You can find the location of all the Glacier National Park campgrounds on the NPS website. And you should be aware that you can’t just camp anywhere – camping is only allowed on designated grounds and during the camping season!
2. Where to stay outside Glacier National Park
Now that we’ve covered all the most popular spots and best hotels for a stay in Glacier National Park, it’s time to move outside the park’s borders and dive into the best towns where you can stay near Glacier National Park.
Where to stay outside – near the West or the East entrance of the park?
Well, there are significantly more accommodation options around the West side of the park, and there are a lot more budget-friendly options. Plus, approaching the park from the west side is more convenient, especially if you’re only staying for a night or two.
However, the East entrance of the park provides better access to the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but there are fewer places to stay around this side of the park, and the accommodations may be pricier.
PRO TIP: Why settle on one, though? If you have 3 or more days to explore Glacier National, I suggest you stay around East Glacier for 2 nights. You can get to know the East Glacier part of the park and the neighboring Many Glacier, and then you can spend your last night somewhere around West Glacier and explore that area.
2.1 Where to stay near West Glacier (outside)
As you know by now, the western side of the park is the more popular one. So, even if you’re staying outside the park, it’s likely that you’ll want to stay somewhere near the West Entrance so you can approach the perk from this side. Luckily, there are plenty of towns and accommodations on this side of the park.
2.1.1 West Glacier (outside)
West Glacier is a small village located just outside the park and along the U.S. Route 2 highway. The village is just 2.4 miles (3.8 km) away from the official park entrance, meaning you can walk from the village center to the entrance in 20 minutes!
The main highlight of the village is that it borders the Glacier National Park – but there’s not much else to do here. However, there are quite a few inns and lodges in and around the village, making it the perfect destination if you want to stay outside the park but still super close to it.
- West Glacier Village ($$$$) – The West Glacier Village is the go-to accommodation on the west side of the park. In the village, you can book a spot in the RV park or rent a cabin with a kitchen, a standard bathroom, and a comfortable living area. Renting an RV costs US$95/night, while a cabin will cost you US$230/night and upwards, depending on when you’re staying.
- Great Northern Resort ($$$) – located near the train station, this resort has an on-site restaurant and offers various outdoor activities, from whitewater rafting to fly fishing on the river. The prices for a lodge room in the resort start at US$250 per night, while the prices for a cabin start at US$279/night and range up to US$400.
- Glacier Guides Lodge ($$) – conveniently located, close to the airport and the train station, the lodge allows you to stay in a room within the lodge or rent one of the guest houses managed by Glacier Guides.
- Paddle Ridge ($) – this cozy chalet has rooms and cottages for rent, an on-site outdoor store, and a fly shop. Activities such as horseback riding, fishing, and river tours are also available, but there are other amenities like free parking and Wi-Fi.
2.1.2 Columbia Falls
Are you looking for an authentic Montana experience during your holiday to Glacier National Park? Well, look no further – I’ve found the perfect town! Columbia Falls is conveniently located 15 miles (24 km) south of the main West Glacier entrance to the park.
Here, you can enjoy the famous Montana hospitality in all the local pubs and restaurants. There’s nothing better than a hot, delicious meal and a good drink after a day of hiking in Glacier National Park!
The town offers a wide range of attractions for all types of travelers, from the cool Big Sky Waterpark that will be the trip highlight for the kids to all the outdoor activities like snowmobiling and ziplining, which I’m sure will excite everyone! I also recommend paying a visit to the Montana Vortex and House of Mystery to experience some cool optical illusions.
Since the town offers easy access to the Glacier’s west entrance, all the hotels and lodges here will sell out very quickly. So definitely book your accommodation in advance, especially if you’re planning to stay at one of the most romantic hotels for couples in Montana.
- North Forty Resort ($$$) – Enjoy your stay in the cabins, which have family rooms and a hot tub and are equipped with a kitchenette and seating area. The resort also offers different activities off-site, like horseback riding!
- Cedar Creek Lodge ($$) – Wake up and enjoy a free breakfast at this Glacier lodge that has an indoor pool and a private bathroom
- Wonderstone at Glacier ($) – A modern accommodation that has spacious rooms, air conditioning, and a picnic area
2.1.3 Whitefish – best for outdoor activities in Glacier County
Located 25 miles (40 km) southwest of the west entrance and featuring amazing views of the Rocky Mountains and Whitefish Lake, this town is a paradise for those who love to try every possible outdoor activity!
Glacier National Park is home to 762 lakes. Out of all of these lakes, only 131 are named, while the rest are not.
You’ll have lots of things to try out before your trip to Glacier National Park! Many mountain biking trails are located in the hills surrounding the town, plus a few bike rental stores and tours. Downtown Whitefish is where you’ll find all the restaurants, plus a handful of hotels.
Golf lovers will love the Whitefish Lake Golf Club, where, between golf courses, they can enjoy a delicious meal at the on-site Whitefish Lake Restaurant. It’s also a good idea to visit during winter and go skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
What did I tell you? There’s never a dull moment in this exciting town, whether it’s summer or winter! Plus, there are plenty of good accommodations to choose from!
- Lodge at Whitefish Lake ($$$) – Located within walking distance from Whitefish Lake, the accommodation offers a free airport shuttle service, 2 pools, a spa center, and an award-winning restaurant serving delicious meals!
- Kandahar Lodge ($$) – Enjoy the mountain views from the outdoor hot tub of this Glacier lodge can be used as a ski-in ski-out spot in winter
- The Pine Lodge ($) – Hit the pool and enjoy the sun on the terrace of this cozy lodge that offers breakfast
Whitefish is an excellent destination for camping, so besides recommending the best hotels and lodges, I suggest 2 amazing campsites:
- Clydesdale Outpost – this is one of the most unique places to stay in Whitefish. A boutique guest ranch where you can rent a cozy cabin, ride one of the award-winning Clydesdale horses, and shop at the on-site general store.
- BaseGlamp – if you want camping with a touch of luxury, then the BaseCamp glamping experience is the perfect choice for you. The camp is situated on an eco-friendly vacation rental site and consists of 12 domes with luxury amenities.
Located 30 miles (50 km) south of the park’s west entrance, this town lives up to its name and will cast such a big spell on you that you won’t want to leave! Home to quite a few forests and wild animals and surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, Kalispell is one of the best places to stay near West Glacier.
Kalispell offers a wide range of activities and numerous natural spots that you can explore! And if you enjoy spending time outdoors, I highly recommend visiting Joshua Tree National Park – it’s definitely one of the must-visit parks in the whole US!
Before you hurry to West Glacier to visit the Glacier National Park, take a couple of days to explore Kalispell. Downtown Kalispell is a nice place to get to know the history of the town and visit some museums, like the Conrad Mansion Museum. That shouldn’t take so long, though. I know you’ll be super excited to check out the park!
During your stay in Kalispell, I suggest booking one of the following hotels:
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Kalispell ($$$) – This Marriott hotel offers 3-star accommodation with amenities like free bikes, a fitness center, and a ski pass sales point. Enjoy free Wi-Fi, mini-golf, and an indoor pool, or just lounge by the fire pit.
- Glacier International Lodge ($$) – All guest rooms at this lodge have mountain views, and there’s also a terrace and a hot tub.
- My Place Hotel ($) – The hotel rooms are spacious, clean, and family-friendly, the property is non-smoking, and there’s an on-site minimarket and snack bar
This town is located 40 miles (65 km) south of the West Entrance at the park and is a paradise for anyone who wants to spend as much time in nature as possible!
Situated near Flathead Lake and surrounded by other rivers, Bigfork offers some pretty iconic scenery that you won’t forget anytime soon! Besides Flathead Lake, you should definitely visit Echo Lake during your stay in Bigfork.
And hold your excitement about Glacier National Park because guess what? We’ve got a super cool state park right in this town! Wayfarers State Park is perfect for hiking, and you can watch the best sunsets on Flathead Lake from the park.
But there’s more – right near Bigfork, you’ll find the Flathead National Forest, another beautiful spot where you can enjoy the wilderness, hike, and do other cool activities like camping or skiing!
The Flathead Lake Brewing Co. will be waiting for you at the end of a full day of exploring Bigfork’s top spots, so don’t forget to have a beer and mingle with the locals. You’ll find mostly inns and apartments here, so let’s see which are the best ones!
- THE INN Bigfork Bay ($$$) – Enjoy all the cool water sports activities at this inn located near the river! The accommodation has a big garden and a little terrace with a jacuzzi, a bar, and a picnic area. The lodge rooms have air-conditioning, a flat-screen TV with streaming services, and a private bathroom stocked with toiletries.
- The Islander Inn ($$) – The island-themed suites and bungalows have air conditioning and free Wi-Fi, while the on-site restaurant offers waterfront dining.
- Timbers Motel ($) – You can book one of the pet-friendly rooms, bring your dog, and make use of the outdoor entertainment area
NOTE: if you want to stay at one of the dude ranches near Glacier National, one of the best ones is right near Bigfork. The Flathead Lake Lodge is a family-oriented, all-inclusive dude ranch that offers a wide range of activities like horseback riding, charter lake fishing, laser tag, and much, much more!
Coram is a small town situated south of the West Glacier entrance. The town is 7.9 miles (almost 13 km) away from Glacier National Park and offers a few good accommodation options.
Seeing as Coram is one of the smallest towns near the park, it doesn’t have much else to offer. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t any other activities to keep you engaged during your stay here.
The Amazing Fun Center is a great amusement park with mini golf, go-karts, a maze, and much more – a great idea if you’re on a family trip. The Glacier Highline is another great spot to spend your time. This is a high ropes course that will certainly keep you and the kids entertained for the entire day.
And finally, if you’re on an adults-only trip, you shouldn’t miss out on the Glacier Distilling Company and their amazing small-batch whiskey.
So, if any of this sounds appealing to you, consider booking one of the accommodations recommended below.
- The Ridge At Glacier ($$$) – each of these luxury cabins has a balcony and offers marvelous mountain views. You can choose between 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom cabins, all of which are air-conditioned and have access to free Wi-Fi.
- Under Canvas Glacier ($$) – if you want to go back in time, you can do so in this electricity-free accommodation. These upscale safari tents have a king-sized bed, and some even have a seating area and private bathrooms.
- Glacier Homestead ($) – a holiday park where you can stay in a cozy chalet and get access to free parking, barbecue facilities, and Wi-Fi. The park overlooks a lovely garden, and there are few hiking opportunities nearby.
2.2 Where to Stay on the East side of the park (outside)
If you prefer to approach the park from the east, you have a few options for staying nearby. Although there aren’t as many towns and accommodation options on this side of the park, you can still secure your stay if you plan your trip in advance.
Staying on the east side of the park is a good idea if you want to avoid crowds; the west side is more popular, and there are more people staying here, so naturally, it’s crowded. Not only will you have more peace of mind, but you can also enjoy better views from this side of the park – the scenery on the east side is spectacular!
While you’re staying here, you’ll also have quick and easy access to many points of interest, including St. Mary Lake and Many Glacier.
2.2.1 East Glacier Park
The village of East Glacier Park is located right on the edge of the park and the Two Medicine entrance. Here, in the village, you’ll find quite a few lodges and motels but not much else to occupy your time. Luckily, the park is just minutes away, so you can start exploring as soon as you wake up!
- Glacier Park Lodge ($$$) – situated on the southeast corner of the park, this hotel was established in 1913, and it was the first hotel that was built by the Great Northern Railway. You can enjoy the amazing mountain views, breathe in the fresh mountain air, and relax in front of the large stone fireplace.
- Mountain Pine Motel ($$) – set in a lush pine forest, this motel complex is a few minutes away from the Two Medicine entrance, as well as super close to various restaurants and shops. All rooms have private bathrooms and flat-screen TVs with over 100 channels, plus there’s in-room Wi-Fi access.
- Brownies Hostel and Bakery ($) – if you’re looking for affordable lodging in East Glacier, this hostel is the perfect choice. You can book a private room or a bed in shared lodgings, use the property’s front porch to admire the views of the mountains, and grab a bite to eat at the Brownies Bakery on-site.
2.2.2 St. Mary (outside)
The village of St. Mary is right outside the park, at the St. Mary entrance to the park, marking the end of the Going-to-the-Sun road. There are a couple of accommodation options here, so take your pick from my recommendations below.
- St. Mary Village ($$$) – at the St. Mary Village, you can choose from a variety of lodging options. You can book a room at the main lodge or book one of the tiny homes. Better yet, you can stay in an original cabin from the 1930s.
- The Cottages at Glacier ($$) – right above St. Mary Village, these cottages have 2 or 3 bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a living area, and best of all, a spacious deck from where you can admire the view.
- The Red Eagle Motel ($) – this quiet and comfortable motel is only a 10-minute walk away from the east entrance to the park and boasts some spectacular mountain views. You can book a room, an entire room, or even if you want something even more budget-friendly, you can book a spot in the RV Park.
|👑 Luxury price:
|📍 Best area:
|🛎️ Best luxury hotel:
|Village Inn at Apgar
|🧳 Best mid-range hotel:
|Motel Lake McDonald
|👛 Best budget hotel:
|Apgar Village Lodge
5 Things to know before you visit Glacier National Park
Before I wrap up this article, I wanted to give you some practical information for your visit to Glacier National. The following 5 sections contain practical tips that will help you plan a worry-free trip to this stunning park.
The history of Glacier National Park goes way back, and scientists have found evidence of humans inhabiting Glacier National Park more than 10,000 years ago.
1. Getting to and around the park
Getting around a national park can be quite difficult, but I’m here to give you a hand and some helpful advice for your trip to Glacier National Park!
The first leg of your trip is getting to Glacier National Park. Depending on where you’re based, there are a couple of ways to do this.
People coming from neighboring states, or even Canada, often choose to drive to Glacier National Park. There are several routes you can use to get to the park, but U.S. Highway 2 is the main road leading to GNP because it allows access to both the East entrance and the West entrance of the park.
If you’re coming from afar, flying is the best (and fastest) option. The closest airport to the park is Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell. However, if you fly to Kalispell, I recommend renting a car for convenience and flexibility when exploring the park.
Glacier National Park occupies a vast area of land, and without a car, you won’t be able to see much of the park, so I highly recommend renting a car before you start your adventure. Another reason for driving on your trip to Glacier National Park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a scenic mountain road that starts at West Glacier, goes over the Logan Pass (the highest point on the route – 6646 ft/2025 m), and ends at St. Mary, i.e., the eastern edge of the park.
NOTE: Going-to-the-Sun Road is not open year-round except near the West entrance. If you want to drive the length of this scenic drive, keep in mind that the route opens in late June and remains open until the middle of October.
2. Entering the park
Once you get to the park, you will certainly be eager to start exploring as soon as possible. However, to get the most out of your stay in Glacier National Park, you should definitely have a plan for where to start.
First things first – the park pass. Regardless of when you’re visiting, you need to have a valid pass to enter the park, even when the entrance stations aren’t staffed. The best way to go about this is to buy the park pass online and keep a digital version of it on your phone.
Another thing you should know about Glacier National Park tickets is that there are several different types, so you can purchase yours depending on how you plan to explore the park. But there’s an even better option – the America the Beautiful pass, which costs US$80 and grants you access to all national parks in the country.
You should consider this type of pass if you plan on exploring other parks. Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the US, and if you still haven’t visited, be sure to check our post on the top spots for staying in Yosemite.
3. Exploring the park
After you get your pass, pick a starting point. The park has 7 entry points, but the most popular park entrance is the one in West Glacier. This entrance is on the west side of the park and is the only one that’s open 24/7 and throughout the year, but it also provides untethered access to many points of interest.
As soon as you go through Glacier’s west entrance, you’ll come across the Apgar Visitor Center, which provides plenty of useful information, and the Apgar Village.
Visitors who enter the park from the west side will be able to see Lake McDonald, the largest glacial lake in GNP, and the Lake McDonald Lodge, one of the first lodges in the park.
Glacier National Park was first established as a park in 1910, and ever since, the park has been re-established under several different names. The park’s current name is Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, established in 1995.
The most popular alternative to the West Glacier entrance is the St. Mary entrance on the east side of the park, where the main point of interest is Saint Mary Lake, the 2nd largest glacial lake in GNP.
NOTE: Before you start your adventure, keep in mind that you will need to make a vehicle reservation for the Going-to-the-Sun Road (if entering from the west side), the North Fork, and Many Glacier. If you want to visit any of these 3 locations between 6 am to 3 pm, you’ll need separate vehicle reservations in addition to having a valid park pass.
4. The best time to visit Glacier National Park
I know you’re eager to start looking at hotel rooms and booking your stay as soon as possible. But before you do that, you need to decide when you’ll be visiting.
The most important thing you should know is that most hotels and lodges in GNP aren’t open throughout the year. In fact, they usually open in late May or early June and remain open until mid-September. The same is true for most of the campsites within the park, so if you want to stay inside the park, summer is your only option.
I would advise you to visit towards the end of the summer season, from mid-September to early October. The park is not as crowded, and you might get a better deal on hotels. Plus, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is still open during this period, so you can enjoy the scenic drive without worrying about the busy road.
Of course, you can always visit in summer, during the high season, in the months of July and August. But keep in mind that the park will be crowded and accommodations more expensive. And if you’re planning to visit during winter, I suggest staying in Whitefish – great skiing opportunities!
5. Other practical information for visiting Glacier National Park
Before I wrap up this post, I wanted to share some bits of information I believe will be useful on your visit to Glacier National Park.
- Unpredictable weather: the weather in the park is inconsistent, so even if you’re visiting during summer, be sure to bring some warm clothes as nights tend to get cold.
- Visitors’ Centers: there are 3 visitors’ centers – Apgar Visitor Center, St. Mary Visitor Center, and Logan Pass Visitor Center, which can help you plan your trip.
- Cell & Wi-Fi signal: the Apgar and St. Mary visitors’ centers provide Wi-Fi access, while the cell signal is limited and can only support phone calls and texts, not data usage.
- Driving: there are no fueling stations in the park, so if you want to drive the length of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, be sure to have a full tank before you start the trip. Also, staying within the park is a good idea if you want to spend less time driving to/from the park.
- Safety measures: avoid getting wet, stay on designated trails, hike in groups, and carry bear spray.
- Get an early start: people start exploring the park somewhere around 9 pm, and the roads and trails get crowded quickly. To avoid the crowds, I suggest you start early when the sun is just starting to rise – you’ll have the park all to yourself.
These are just some of the things you should know before your trip, but the Plan Your Visit site offers more in-depth information on various aspects of exploring and staying in Glacier National Park.
FAQs about where to stay in Glacier National Park
🏛️ What town should I stay in when visiting Glacier National Park?
The best town to stay in near Glacier National Park is Columbia Falls. It’s the closest town to the park and offers many exciting activities and amazing hotels like North Forty Resort.
🍃 What is the best time of year to visit Glacier National Park?
The best time of the year for a visit to Glacier National Park is summer, from early June through mid-September.
📅 How many days do you need in Glacier National Park?
To see all the big attractions in the park and try the different activities, I recommend spending between 3 and 4 days in Glacier National Park.
❓ Is it better to stay in Whitefish vs Kalispell?
The 2 towns are a bit different; if you’re looking to spend most of your time doing outdoor activities, then I recommend staying in Whitefish, but if you’re traveling with family, I recommend staying in Kalispell.
🚗 Can you sleep in your car in Glacier National Park?
You can sleep in your car in Glacier Park, but only at one of the designated campgrounds. You’re not allowed to sleep in your vehicle at parking lots and trailheads.
🏞️ Where to stay in or near Glacier National Park?
🛣️ How far is Kalispell from Glacier National Park?
Kalispell is 34 miles (55 km) away from West Glacier, the park’s main entrance on the west side, or a 45-minute drive from the town to the park entrance.
🛬 What is the closest airport to Glacier National Park?
The closest airport to Glacier National Park is Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell, 30 miles (48 km) from the park’s West entrance.
⛺ Can you camp anywhere in Glacier National Park?
No, you’re not allowed to camp anywhere in Glacier National Park. You can camp only at designated campgrounds, most of which cater to both tent and RV campers. There’s a total of 13 campgrounds within the park, so you have plenty of choices.
🚘 Do you need a car to get around Glacier National Park?
Yes, you’ll need a car to explore Glacier National Park, especially if you want to make the scenic drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
What a fun adventure! I hope this post helped you decide where to stay in Glacier National Park and whether you should stay near the west or east entrance.
There are so many accommodation options in this post, but here are my top 2 favorite ones:
- Apgar Village Lodge – right on Lake McDonald, perfect for swimming and kayaking
- Many Glacier Hotel – a historic hotel with rustic, cozy rooms
Once you decide which accommodation you want, make sure you book it in advance to get the best deals!
That’s it from my side! Have fun in Glacier National Park!
I want to hear all about your trip, so leave me a comment below, and I’ll make sure to answer!
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