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Planning a Trip to Glacier National Park: Everything You Need to Know and Where to Stay

Planning a Trip to Glacier National Park: Everything You Need to Know and Where to Stay

Visiting Glacier National Park is always fun and beautiful. It’s one of the most interesting National Parks in the West, and is easy to get to from the main interstate across the USA: I-90. We have lots of great, useful tips for planning a trip to Glacier National Park since we’ve been no fewer than 10 times. In addition to our favorite hikes in Glacier and where to stay near the park, we have easy things to do around the area and from Bozeman to Glacier NP.

Whether it’s your first visit to Glacier National Park for hiking or it’s an annual trip for your family, there are lots of ways to explore and enjoy this Rocky Mountain gem. Here we’re breaking down how to plan a trip to Glacier National Park, where to stay both inside and outside the park, and some important things you need to know before visiting. If you have additional questions or want to share your own recommendations for planning a Glacier NP trip, please leave a comment or send us a note. We have years of experience in Glacier National Park and Montana in general and are always happy to share more.

Taylor Family at Glacier National Park Entrance Sign West Glacier Montana 2

Planning a Trip to Glacier National Park: the Travel

So where is Glacier National Park? A lot of people pair a visit to Glacier National Park in Montana with a road trip through the Canadian Rockies. This is because you can head south after visiting Banff and Lake Louise, or after a day or two in Calgary, and then just pop into Waterton Lakes Canadian National Park. Waterton and Glacier share a border, so visiting both parks is actually a wonderful way to see two very different parts of the Rocky Mountains.

Yes, Glacier National Park is indeed in northern Montana and shares about 40 miles of its northern border with British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. You will need a passport if you plan on crossing the border on either the west or east side of Glacier National Park, even if it’s just for the day and even if you plan to only visit the Waterton Lakes National Park, despite it being an International Peace Park. If you’re planning a trip to Glacier NP, you can easily expand on it to head up into Canada.

When you look at a topographic or raised map of the USA, to find Glacier National Park find the band of the Rocky Mountains that stretch from Alaska all the way down to Mexico. Glacier is located almost exactly at the halfway point of the mountain range. Interestingly enough, the peaks of Glacier National Park are significantly shorter than those just to the south in Colorado. It’s mountainous and marvelous though!

Map of Missoula Montana

What Cities is Glacier NP Close To

If you’re trying to plan a city break or want to stay in a city instead of more rustic or rural lodging at Glacier National Park, the closest options are Kalispell on the west side or Helena on the east side. These are both rather small cities, but they’re each unique and have lots of restaurants and hotel options. Missoula is bigger and is about two hours south of Glacier NP. We love visiting Missoula, MT and recommend it as its own part of the trip.

If you’re planning on exploring a bit of the area around Glacier National Park, Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Whitefish are all significant towns with lots to do and places to stay. Glacier Country is much more than just the National Park, even though for us it really is the highlight.

Taylor Family at Postcard Mural Street Art Missoula Montana 1

Airports Near Glacier Country, Montana

If you’re planning a trip to Glacier starting with a flight, the closest airport to Glacier National park is in Kalispell, MT, Glacier Park International Airport (FCA). The following airlines fly into FCA:

  • Alaska Airlines – daily service from SEA, PDX, LAX and SAN
  • American Airlines – seasonal service from DFW, ORD and LGA
  • United Airlines – daily service from DEN; seasonal service from ORD, SFO, LAX and IAH
  • Delta Airlines – daily service from SLC and MSP
  • Allegiant Air – twice weekly service from LAS and PHX; seasonal from OAK and LAX
  • Sun Country Air – seasonal twice weekly service from MSP

You’ll find most major car rentals at each of these airports. We tend to go with Hertz because they have the fastest pickup and return service (we’re Hertz Gold), and when time is tight, it makes a difference. I love being able to pick up our rental car and drive off to Glacier National Park with minimal hassle. FCA also has Avis, Budget, National and Alamo at the airport.

You can also easily fly into Missoula, Montana (2 hours south) or Bozeman (5 hours east).

Taylor Family at Missoula Airport Montana 1

How to Get to Glacier from Bozeman MT

Because we visit Yellowstone National Park more often than Glacier, we tend to be coming from the Bozeman, Montana area before (or we head there after) driving to northern Montana. It’s an easy drive from Bozeman to Glacier National Park, covering some beautiful landscapes. The drive from Bozeman takes about 5 hours to the St Mary, Two Medicine or West Glacier entrance, and then add 20 minutes for Many Glacier.

The drive from Bozeman to West Glacier, which is the most popular entrance to Glacier National Park, is my favorite approach because much of the drive goes along the Flathead River. This amps you up for your arrival since it’s so picturesque. If you happen to be visiting the Glacier region in fall, some of the best fall colors are in this scenic corridor on the way from Bozeman to West Glacier.

Taylor Family and Fall colors on Bear Creek Flathead National Forest Montana 1

Distance from Glacier to Yellowstone National Park

It’s such a natural vacation plan to combine visits to both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, and it’s not difficult. You will have a long day’s drive between the two parks though. Whichever spot you exit Yellowstone or Glacier, you’ll have just over 6 hours of a drive to the other park, to any entrance.

There are lots of fun stops to make though, and to break up the distance if you like, you can easily spend a night in Bozeman or Livingston, Montana. I also love Pray, MT for a night before entering Yellowstone through the Gardiner entrance. 

If you’re planning on driving from Glacier to Yellowstone and entering through Big Sky and the West Yellowstone entrance, this only takes a little longer and gives you the chance to see a different side of Montana. We have had great visits to Big Sky over the years and really enjoy the Gallatin River Valley in the summer. Ooh! A great stop between Glacier NP and Yellowstone if you’re heading to the West Yellowstone entrance is Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park!

Full Taylor Family at Cody Entrance Sign at Yellowstone National Park Wyoming 2

Taking Amtrak to Glacier National Park: the Empire Builder

I know what you’re thinking: “Does Amtrak drop you off IN Glacier National Park?” No, but the Amtrak station is just outside the West Glacier Entrance. If you’re taking the train to Glacier National Park you can either check into your lodging outside the park (most have shuttles) or you can pick up a rental car in West Glacier. There is a Hertz Car Rental office in West Glacier, so that makes it easy.

Tip: the Belton Chalet is one of the original Great Northern Railway hotels and is directly across from the Amtrak station. It’s vintage, beautiful and perfect for starting your Glacier trip on the right foot.

Another option when you’re visiting Glacier National Park by riding Amtrak on the Empire Builder route is to get off in Whitefish, Montana. I love this town, and it has some great restaurants, museums, and wonderful parks. There are Hertz Car Rental, Dollar and Budget Rent-a-Car here, so you have more options. Hertz is located at the train station, making it the easiest option.

You can also take Amtrak to East Glacier where you’ll find the Glacier Park Lodge. I love this historic lodge, and while you may not have a car rental option here, you’ll be able to do the vintage red Glacier National Park tour buses to see the sights or be dropped at hiking spots in Glacier.

Note: you can get to Glacier NP on the Amtrak Empire Builder route from either the Seattle/Portland side or the Chicago/Minneapolis side. The ride from Seattle is the shortest of the Empire Builder legs, but planning a trip to Glacier via train is a beautiful idea from either direction.

Amtrak Empire Builder arriving in West Glacier MT fall colors 1

Planning Your Lodging at Glacier National Park

One reason I really enjoy writing about the hotels and lodges we stay at is because your accommodations really can have an impact on how a trip goes, and lodging at Glacier National Park is the perfect example of this. When you’re considering where to stay in or at Glacier, you will have options ranging from upscale cabins to National Park lodges, camping or even vintage roadside motels. We’ve got all the information about where to stay when you’re planning a trip to Glacier National Park here!

If you want to do a quick search to see both the lodging options at Glacier National Park as well as vacation rentals, check out the map below.

National Park Lodges within the Park Boundary

Yes! There is lodging in Glacier National Park, and it’s pretty cool. The two lodges in the park are the Lake McDonald Lodge and the Many Glacier Hotel. These are both wonderfully vintage and well maintained, making for truly unique Glacier National Park lodge experiences. They’re very similar to the Old Faithful Inn at the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone or the Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier National Park.

TIP: the lodges and inns inside the park book out almost fully a year in advance. As soon as you start planning a trip to Glacier, check to see what lodging in the park is actually available. You may have to adjust your plans and hopes if you’re planning less than a year out.

Book the Many Glacier Hotel hereBook the Lake McDonald Lodge here

The Lake McDonald Lodge was built in 1913 right on the shore of Lake McDonald. Its beautiful decks, grounds and lobby make it the perfect lodging in Glacier National Park. No, this isn’t one of the railway hotels, but was built independently. It’s got lodge rooms, cabins and several restaurants and tourist services located on the property. The Lake McDonald Lodge is open May to September.

Exterior of Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park Montana

The Many Glacier Hotel was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914. It’s a gorgeous, Swiss-style five-story hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake in the Many Glacier area of the park. It has an awesome deck looking out into the park and a sprawling lobby to relax in. Also, the Ptarmigan Dining Room is a fantastic restaurant that’s open to the public, and it’s a nice end to a day of hiking. The Many Glacier Hotel is open May to September.

Many Glacier Hotel and Swiftcurrent Lake Glacier National Park Montana 12

There are three other lodging options within the boundary of Glacier National Park: the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn (Many Glacier), Rising Sun Motor Inn (St Mary) and Apgar Village Inn (West Glacier). While each of these properties has a fun history dating to the mid-1900s road trip culture, they aren’t as fancy and chic as the Swiss-style grand hotels.

Like the bigger National Park lodges, these smaller hotels operates seasonally. While the Rising Sun and Swiftcurrent Motor Inns both operate June through September, the Village Inn at Apgar tends to open in May and close in September.

Exterior of Swiftcurrent Motor Inn Many Glacier National Park Montana 1

Unique Lodging Near Glacier NPS

There are some really cool places to stay just outside of Glacier National Park too. There are a few of the vintage railway hotels that are just an interesting and unique as the Lake McDonald Lodge or Many Glacier Hotel. Whether you’re looking for newer lodges or historic buildings, here’s what you’ll find.

The first pick for unique lodging outside Glacier National Park is the Belton Chalet. This is one of the original railway hotels (built in 1910) and still has a great vintage feel. It’s been very well maintained over the years and very much feels unchanged. We loved the unique, rustic vibe and with shuffleboard and a piano in the lobby, it’s very welcoming. Book the Belton Chalet here!

Taylor Family at Belton Chalet Railway Hotel West Glacier National Park Montana 3

The Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier is delightful. It’s not as fancy as the Many Glacier Hotel, but it’s got a lot of character and history. We usually stop in here during the summer for some down time between hiking. We haven’t stayed here, but we visit each time we’re in the area. A wonderful offering at the Glacier Park Lodge making it great for families are the MANY different room layouts, including family rooms with several beds. The cost for a family room is much less than booking two rooms, and is one of the better deals for lodging at Glacier National Park. Book the Glacier Park Lodge here!

Lobby of Glacier Park Lodge East Glacier National Park Montana 1

Glacier National Park Camping Options

I know that camping isn’t for everyone, but some of our best trips to Glacier have been camping trips. We love getting to sleep outdoors and rough it a bit. Our kids really enjoy camping in Glacier National Park because we always end up having wonderful wildlife experiences near our campsite. I like camping in Glacier because it’s the best way to be close to the hiking. You can just wake up and not even look at your car to head up into the mountains.

With that, we’ve picked our favorite places to camp in Glacier National Park as well as a few recommendations for outside the park. There are many options, so as long as you’re visiting from May to September you should have plenty of choices.

Taylor Family Camping at Many Glacier Campground Glacier National Park Montana 1

Campgrounds IN Glacier’s Boundaries

It’s tough to choose my favorite campground in Glacier National Park, but I think it’s Many Glacier. We once were stuck here for four days while the rest of the park was closed due to forest fires. Our other favorite campground in Glacier NP is the Avalanche Campground near Lake McDonald. Both of these spot serve as great home bases for hiking and exploring the nearby area. I’ve been camping in Glacier National Park for 30 years, so I can say with confidence that these two are my favorites. Two Medicine’s campground is fantastic and is my third favorite, as it’s just off the lake and there is always wildlife in the campground.

There are other campground options within Glacier National Park too, both with facilities and primitive. We are big car-campers, meaning that we don’t do backcountry camping and like to have access to facilities (running water and bathrooms), so here are the camping options in Glacier National Park if you want to rough it, but not TOO rough:

Taylor Family camping at Avalanche Creek Campground Glacier National Park Montana 1
  • Apgar – convenient location with lots of services
  • Fish Creek – very quiet, nice location, mosquitoes
  • Sprague Creek – good location for hikes, too close to Going to the Sun Road
  • Avalanche Creek – great location for hiking, pretty quiet considering how popular it is
  • Rising Sun – I do like camping here because of the facilities and nearby hikes **Showers!
  • St Mary – nice campground, but rather exposed as it’s on the east side with short trees; great Glacier NP campground with kids
  • Two Medicine – I really like camping here because the Two Medicine area itself is FULL of wildlife and great hiking; the campground is rather exposed, but still very nice
  • Many Glacier – My favorite campground in Glacier National Park, have camped here many times and even though it’s inconvenient to most parts of the park, it’s still my favorite place to be based.

Camping in Glacier NP is a really special experience that we enjoy as a family. Just remember that once in the park, services and supplies are limited, so do your shopping ahead of time. Apgar Village, Rising Sun and the Two Medicine General Store have supplies, but they’re limited. Speaking of limited, if you plan on camping in Glacier National Park make your reservation as soon as you know what your plan is, because they can fill up fast!

Ground Squirrel at Sprague Creek Campground Glacier National Park Montana 1

Glacier NP Camping Reservations

Camping in Glacier has become increasingly popular in recent years. I’m thankful for the reservation system! You can reserve campsites for visits from May to September, reserving no more than 6 months in advance. There’s always a chance that you can just happen into a campground and find a site, but during peak summer travel that’s very unlikely.

For camping reservations in Glacier National Park, you need to go through All the non-primitive campgrounds in the park go through the reservation platform EXCEPT for Rising Sun campground, which is first-come-first-served. We’ve never been successful getting a site at Rising Sun, but still use their facilities for showers when we camp in Glacier NP.

Chris Taylor and LittleMan setting up Camping

Camping Near Glacier National Park

If you are looking for camping NEAR Glacier NP, you’re in luck, because there are all sorts of options. We like to camp at state park campgrounds, because they have standard campground amenities (nice bathrooms, good water options). National Forest campgrounds are usually very nice with large campsites and running water, but they tend to be more primitive and usually have pit toilets instead of standard bathrooms, and they don’t offer showers.

For camping options near Glacier National Park, here are our top picks for good location paired with amenities that lighten up the “roughing it” side of camping:

Clearly there are lots of choices. Depending on your camping style, gear and time of year, you can choose how close you want to be to Glacier NP and how developed of a campground you want. We like KOAs because they are so consistent, despite being very developed.

West Glacier KOA Campground West Glacier Montana 1

FAQ: Planning a Trip to Glacier National Park

Before we dive into the random questions about Glacier National Park, be sure to check out our other Glacier articles:

Now, frequently asked questions about Glacier National Park! We have answers since we’ve been so many times.

When is the best time to visit Glacier National Park?
Answer: The best time to visit is during the summer months, typically from late June to mid-September when the weather is the most pleasant, and most park facilities and roads are open. I think visiting Glacier in fall is the prettiest and there are far fewer people, but most services are closed and Going to the Sun Road may be closed.

Are there entrance fees to enter the park, and if so, how much are they?
Answer: Yes, there are entrance fees. The entrance fee for a private vehicle is $35 for a seven-day pass (2023). However, fees can change, so it’s a good idea to check the National Park Service website for the most up-to-date fee information. We use our America the Beautiful Pass (National Park Pass) so that covers us in any park.

What are the must-see attractions and hiking trails in Glacier National Park?
Answer: Be sure to check out our other articles, but in the meantime some must-see attractions include Going to the Sun Road, Logan Pass (mountain goats!), and Lake McDonald. Popular hikes include the Highline Trail (difficult), Hidden Lake Overlook (medium), and Grinnell Glacier (intense and amazing!). Make sure to check for trail conditions and bear safety information. Bear spray is STRONGLY recommended if you’re doing some of the less traveled trails or in the fall.

How can I get to Glacier National Park, and what are the nearest airports?
Answer: The closest major airport is Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell, Montana. You can also drive to the park from various nearby cities such as Missoula and Great Falls.

Are there any accommodations available within the park, and should I make reservations in advance?
Answer: This is answered above in detail, but yes, there are campgrounds and lodges within the park. It’s highly recommended to make reservations well in advance, especially during the peak summer season when the park is most crowded.

What wildlife can I expect to see in Glacier National Park?
Answer: You may encounter wildlife like grizzly bears, black bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and moose. Be sure to practice wildlife safety and maintain a safe distance. Wildlife is just that, WILD, so you may encounter an animal that seems tame, but they aren’t.

Do I need a permit for backcountry camping, and how can I obtain one?
Answer: Yes, a backcountry camping permit is required. You can obtain permits at park visitor centers or ranger stations (seasonally open), and reservations are recommended, especially during the busy season. The rangers can tell you just how busy certain popular backcountry areas are, and sometimes you may be limited to day hikes vs overnight camping in the backcountry.

Are there any visitor centers with maps and information in the park?
Answer: Yes, there are three visitor centers in Glacier National Park: Apgar Visitor Center (West Glacier), St. Mary Visitor Center (east side), and Logan Pass (middle of the park, summer only) where you can get maps, information, and updates on park conditions.

What are the safety considerations when hiking and exploring the park?
Answer: Safety is crucial even though it may seem like there are a lot of people hiking in Glacier National Park. Be prepared for rapidly changing weather, carry bear spray, hike with a group, stay on marked trails, and follow all park regulations for your safety and the preservation of the park. Seriously, follow the posted rules and warnings, because we’ve seen a LOT of wildlife and had trail issues in the park. Safety is so important here.

What is the current status of the park’s glaciers, and can I still see active glaciers?
Answer: Glacier National Park is experiencing significant glacier retreat due to climate change. While there are still glaciers in the park, they are much smaller than in the past. Some can still be seen from the road, but to access them, you may need to hike to higher elevations. In 2023 many of the exhibits about the glaciers were updated as they used to say that all of the glaciers in the park would be extinct by 2020, but there are still quite a few left.

I hope you’re excited to visit Glacier National Park. It’s one of our favorite places to explore and it never gets old. If you have any questions or want to provide your own recommendations and tips, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to share more and help others plan awesome travels!

Planning a trip to Glacier National Park can be easy if you understand the basics of the park. We have all the tips and simple information for having a great visit to Montana's Glacier NP.