Nestled on the west side of Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful hikes in the country: Avalanche Lake, sitting pretty at an elevation of 3,905 feet.
This Montana park draws over two million visitors a year, most of them being hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Avalanche Lake is known for its impressive beauty and is rated one of the top attractions in the whole park. It’s a must-see when you are visiting Glacier National Park.
Keep reading to find out what you need to know about the Avalanche Lake hike before you go!
PLANNING YOUR AVALANCHE LAKE HIKE AT-A-GLANCE:Mileage: 5.9 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 757 feet
Getting Around: Most poeple who travel to Glacier National Park use a car, whether that's their own personal car or a rental from a nearby airport. There is also a shuttle that stops at Avalanche, you can read more here.
Gear: Be prepared for all manner of weather on this hike! You'll want layers that can adjust to variable temperatures, waterproof layers (like this rain jacket), proper hiking boots (I love my Ahnu boots), and you'll probably want some trekking poles to help you on the descent.
Need To Know: If you plan to visit multiple national parks in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will save you a bundle! It costs $80 for an annual pass (for an entire vehicle traveling together) to all US national parks and federally managed site.
You also need a separate ticket to access Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is different than your general entry into Glacier National Park.
How To Get to Avalanche Lake
Note: Access to Avalanche Lake is only possible via Going-to-the-Sun Road via the West Entrance of the park, which requires a separate ticket to enter.
Once you enter the park, you will drive towards Apgar Campground. You will begin to see signs for Going-to-the-Sun-Road. Make a right onto Going-to-the-Sun-Road and begin your drive towards the trailhead.
You will first pass Lake McDonald on your left. Once you get to the end of Lake McDonald, you will be a little over nine miles from the trailhead.
You will then see signs for Avalanche Lake. Keep in mind, the main parking area holds about ten cars and is normally full, unless you get lucky and see a hiker leaving the parking lot.
It is recommended to loop around and wait for someone to leave if there is no availability. Popular times are 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM, and 12:00 PM.
There is additional parking about a half-mile north of the trailhead where another five to ten cars can be parked.
You can walk the road back to the trailhead if you find a spot there. This will add mileage to your trip, but it is well worth it once you see the beauty of the lake.
Keep in mind the reservation system is currently in place at Glacier National Park. You will not be able to access this trailhead unless you have a Going-to-the-Sun-Road entry ticket.
History of Avalanche Lake
You are probably wondering how Avalanche Lake got its name… well, you’re looking at it!
The lake’s turquoise blue waters are due to the abundance of avalanches that fall down the Sperry Glacier, the mountain that sits behind the lake.
Avalanche Lake got its name in 1895 from Dr. Lyman Sperry, who is the namesake of Sperry Glacier. The glacier itself provides the water for the lake, from its constant avalanches.
Dr. Lyman was in awe of how many avalanches he witnessed during his short time visiting the lake — hence its name.
Avalanche Lake is also unique because it is one of the few lakes of its size that still has fish in it! It is rare to have fish in the area due to its size and elevation. Yellowstone cutthroat trout are the most popular fish found here in the lake.
The lake itself is a mile and a half long with a depth of 54 feet in some sections, which is an impressive depth for its relatively smaller size.
The Avalanche Lake Hike: Step by Step
Hiking to Avalanche Lake via the Trail of the Cedars is an unforgettable trek! The reason it is so distinctive is that it is two top-rated hikes in one.
First, you will begin your hike at the start of Trail of the Cedars, which is 0.9 miles long.
This hike starts you out in a wooded forest filled with green trees and mossy rocks. There is a wooden boardwalk that goes through the woodland which you will follow along.
Wildlife such as deer and moose walk the trail freely here and are commonly spotted. The sound of flowing rivers will surround you. Small cascading waterfalls line the trail.
You will even pass over a wooden bridge that provides astonishing views of the bright blue waterfalls!
This part of the hike is for all skill levels and is even wheelchair-friendly due to the boardwalk.
The trail lives up to its name: you will be surrounded by enormous cedar trees throughout your whole walk! The Trail of the Cedars hike is recommended on very sunny or hot days due to the amount of shade the cedars provide.
Halfway through the Trail of the Cedars is the start of the Avalanche Lake Trail. Avalanche Lake is two miles from Trail of the Cedars, with an additional two miles back.
This makes the hike in total around 5.9 miles with a 757-foot elevation gain, since you only do half of the Trail of Cedars’ length. This trail is rated as moderate and can be quite the workout, especially on hot summer days.
As soon as you follow the signs to the left on Trail of the Cedars, you will begin your ascent to Avalanche Lake.
The first part of the hike is completely uphill on a dirt trail. There are large wooden steps built into the trail in certain sections, making it an intense workout!
Stop and enjoy the views during this uphill battle whenever you need to catch your breath. You will be surrounded by icy blue rivers and vibrant green mossy trees. It is a very peaceful hike with background sounds of birds chirping and running water over the rocks!
Once you get about a mile and a half up, the trail begins to level out, making the last half mile pure excitement. You will continue your way through the trees until you spot a crystal blue image in the distance, peeking through the trees.
Another wooden boardwalk appears and you will follow that to the lake. The trees will part and the incredible Avalanche Lake will sit before you: a tranquil oasis of clear water merging with turquoise blue water.
The stunning mountains behind the lake showcase rivers flowing down the sides. A lush green forest fills the surrounding areas. When the sun hits just right, you can see the snow still sitting on the top of the peak. It’s an absolutely scenic and beautiful visual.
Most hikers spend their day here on the sandy beaches of Avalanche Lake. Visitors take off their shoes and soak their feet in the cold glacier water.
Some even become brave enough to swim in it, which is allowed but not commonly seen due to how cold the water is, even in the heart of the summer!
It is recommended to bring lunch and a small blanket to sit on, as this is a remarkable spot to have a bucket list picnic. Hikers lounge out on the beach and enjoy the views.
The hike can be crowded, but there is enough room for everyone to have their space at the beach.
If you want a less crowded area, continue on the boardwalk for ten minutes to reach the other side of the lake. This side is rumored to be just as beautiful with fewer people around!
If you are lucky enough, you can even find your own secluded beach on this side. A lot of people think that the main entrance is the only stop off of the lake, but the trail continues all the way around. I would recommend spending some time at both beaches for optimal views.
When you are ready, begin your descent back down another two miles following the same route you used earlier. The wooden steps are high in some parts, making it a bit strenuous on the knees.
If you have knee issues, plan on bringing a brace or using a walking stick for the hike back down.
Once you reach the bottom of Avalanche Lake Trailhead, you will continue on the Trail of the Cedars to the left. This will eventually loop the Trail of the Cedars trail and provide some new scenery.
The trail ends in half of a mile and brings you back out to the parking lot where you started.
Final Things to Know About the Avalanche Lake Hike
Due to its popularity, this hike to Avalanche Lake can get very crowded!
Just take your time and use hiker etiquette. If you’re descending the trail, step aside and give space to the people climbing up.
Also do not go off-trail and be respectful of the marked trail signs…. yes, even (and especially) for photos!
If you encounter wildlife, give them enough space and do not approach. Glacier National Park is grizzly bear country, so always be bear aware. You may want to bring bear spray or bear bells.
The hike itself can take anywhere from two to three hours depending on your level of fitness. Add on an additional two hours to spend at the lake. Plan for a total of five hours to fully enjoy this gorgeous day hike!
Remember to pack a delicious lunch and yummy snacks to eat at the top. Most importantly, bring extra water. It may be cooler at the lake with a slight breeze but your body needs additional water for those hot summer days.
If you don’t want to bring a lot of water, you may want to bring a filtering water bottle like the Grayl so you can fill up on delicious glacier water that is filtered so as to be safe to drink!
There is a reason why Glacier National Park has gained so much popularity over the past three years. Avalanche Lake shows the secret as to why: a mix between glaciers, waterfalls, and a lush forest makes the beauty surreal.
After driving all over this park, the Avalanche Lake hike took my breath away the most, becoming one of my favorite hikes of all time.
If you have one day or five hours in this park, drop everything else and hike the famous Avalanche Lake: a view that is often only seen on computer screensavers will come to life before your eyes.
Lace up your hiking boots and visit this Montana hotspot — Avalanche Lake is waiting for you to visit!
With over 734 miles of scenic hiking trails, Glacier National Park has a wealth of hiking to explore.
There’s a trail for every experience level and age group from a family-friendly boardwalk hike around the massive old-growth cedars near Lake McDonald to challenging mountain passes that offer rewarding views of the pristine landscape below.
Pack your backpack, grab your camera, and don’t forget the bear spray. These are the best day hikes in Glacier National Park you won’t want to miss!
Best Hikes in Glacier National Park
Mileage: 10 miles or 7 miles using the boat shuttle
Elevation Gain: 1,600 feet
The Many Glacier Valley in Glacier National Park is a true hiking paradise. One of the most commonly suggested hikes in this area is to see Grinnell Glacier. There are at least 35 named glaciers in the park, and Grinnell is one of the most accessible.
Now, let’s talk about how to get there…
From the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead, hike along the north shores of Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. The mountain views from this section of the trail are beautiful!
The trail doesn’t begin to gain much elevation until you have passed the lakes. The last 3 miles are fairly steep, but at least there are plenty of wildflowers to occupy your attention as you climb. Seeing a glacier up close is worth the effort!
If you’re short on time or can’t manage a 10-mile hike, you can shave off 3 miles from the trek by using the park shuttle boats. Taking the shuttle boats costs a small fee and may require advanced registration. The boats can be used to shuttle across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.
Grinnell Glacier Alternative: Grinnell Lake Trail
Mileage: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,600 feet
The trail to Grinnell Glacier can hold snow for much longer than the lake trail below.
If hiking through snowfields on a steep trail sounds uncomfortable, you can still enjoy a nice view of Grinnell Glacier from a lower elevation at Grinnell Lake.
Hikers can also use the boat shuttle to eliminate a few hiking miles.
St. Mary and Virginia Falls
Mileage: 3 miles
Elevation Gain: 450 feet
Hiking in Glacier National Park isn’t complete without a trip to St. Mary and Virginia Falls!
At the western end of St. Mary Lake, there is trailhead parking for the falls. You can also use the shuttle bus to get to this scenic waterfall trail.
Once you’re at the trailhead, hike downhill toward the St. Mary River. You will mostly be hiking through a historic burn area, which has beautiful wildflowers every spring.
Soon after you reach the river, you will come across St. Mary Falls. Take the bridge across St. Mary River to continue on your way toward Virginia Falls.
You can continue hiking on what is now the Continental Divide Trail for as long as you’d like, or flip around and head back to the trailhead.
Mileage: 4.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 750 feet
Early in the springtime, many of the park roads are still closed for snow removal. Avalanche Lake is one of the first alpine lake trails to become accessible as the roads reopen!
From the Trail of Cedars Trailhead, follow signs to the Avalanche Lake Trail. The trail climbs steadily uphill while paralleling the icy blue waters of Avalanche Creek.
For a more secluded experience, continue 0.7 miles to the other end of the lake. It’s arguably a better view than the main beach!
Trail of Cedars
Mileage: 1 mile
Elevation Gain: 50 feet
The Trail of Cedars can be wandered before or after visiting Avalanche Lake.
The area includes boardwalks that weave through the impressive cedar trees.
There are plenty of interesting interpretive displays to read through and if you look carefully you may be able to spot the resident deer roaming around. This is a great place to wander with young or new hikers!
Mileage: 4 miles
Elevation Gain: 285 feet
Head to the end of the road in the Many Glacier Valley to access this scenic waterfall. Park at the Swiftcurrent Trailhead and follow the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail.
You will come to the cascading waterfall after about 2 miles of hiking. Many small side trails wander around the falls offering different viewpoints.
If you were hoping to spot a moose during your trip to Glacier National Park, this is your best bet! Moose frequent the wetland area about 1.5 miles into the trail.
No luck? Take the short detour to Fishercap Lake and scan the shoreline. The best times to spot moose are in the mornings and evenings.
The first best part of this hike is the waterfall, but the second-best is that it ends close to the general store, which sells huckleberry ice cream!
Mileage: 14 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,766 feet
Often considered the most challenging day hike in Glacier National Park, the trail to Swiftcurrent Pass is full of outstanding views, alpine meadows, emerald lakes, and wildlife. If you are rugged enough to take on this trail, you won’t be disappointed by the beauty it holds!
As you would if you were hiking to Redrock Falls, park at the Swiftcurrent Trailhead and follow the appropriately named trail. You will get to see Redrock Falls, Redrock Lake, and Bullhead Lake along the way. Both lakes offer great views and provide excellent habitat for moose!
Soon after Bullhead Lake, you will begin your ascent up toward the pass. Make your climb up the many switchbacks for an excellent view of the valley below. The trail is pretty narrow and steep in some spots, which doesn’t pair particularly well with a fear of heights.
Mileage: 9.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,450 feet
Begin your trek to Iceberg Lake from the Iceberg Ptarmigan Trailhead, which is nearby the trailhead used to access Redrock Falls and Swiftcurrent Pass.
From the trailhead, follow signs to stay on the Iceberg Ptarmigan Trail. Soon after you reach Ptarmigan Fall, you will arrive at a junction. Here, you will veer left and follow the Iceberg Trail.
Your efforts will be rewarded with an epic view of the emerald blue lake and floating ice chunks. The lake is surrounded by 2,000’ tall cliffs that are frequented by mountain goats.
In addition to the goats and bighorn sheep you will probably see, keep an eye out for moose, bear, and deer. This trail is a wildlife photographer’s dream!
Mileage: 15 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,578 feet
Due to the long mileage and difficulty of this scenic hiking trail, it is often done as an overnight backpacking trip. Although challenging, seasoned hikers could make this particular trek in a single day.
For those wishing to embark on a multi-day adventure, the Highline Trailhead is the starting point for endless miles of exploring, including a popular route that traverses most of the park.
Park at the Logan Pass Parking Area or take the shuttle bus to access the trailhead. You’ll want to get on the trail early! Follow signs to Highline Trail and begin your steady climb up. This scenic trail will bring you along the garden wall followed by an opportunity to detour to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. Adding the detour to Grinnell Glacier makes the total distance closer to 17 miles.
Continuing on, you will eventually reach the Granite Park Chalet, which historically provided accommodations for visitors to Glacier National Park. Now, it is a National Historic Landmark and a comfortable backcountry camp for backpackers.
After taking in the view at the chalet, head back the way you came toward Logan Pass. Keep an eye out for wildlife, there are many reports of hikers encountering grizzly bear and mountain goats!
This trail is very exposed, and anyone with a sensitivity to heights is encouraged to seek other options.
Upper McDonald Creek Trail
Mileage: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 278 feet
Hikers of all levels will love this scenic creek-side trail. Beginning from the Upper McDonald Creek Trailhead, which is only a short drive past Lake McDonald.
The trail starts by wandering through an old-growth forest. This section of trail is a common place to spot grazing mule deer. As you continue, you will encounter the glacial-blue Upper McDonald Creek.
This is an out and back trail, so continue as far as you feel comfortable before turning around and heading back toward the trailhead.
Florence Falls Trail
Mileage: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,174 feet
This is just one of the many spectacular waterfalls in Glacier National Park. Begin this out and back hike at the Jackson Glacier Overlook, where there is a good amount of parking available.
Along the way, you’ll pass Deadwood Falls. This 10’ falls may be stout, but it’s quite loud as it spills into Reynolds Creek. The main event is further down the trail.
Florence Falls is a tower of cascading falls. Each cascade ranged in height from 30 to 50 feet! Bear frequent this trail in the springtime because of the abundance of cow parsnip that grows in the area.
Be bear-aware anytime you are hiking in Glacier National Park!
With a host of mountain trails, trout streams, and downtown art scenes, a Montana road trip should be next up on your USA bucket list.
The state is home to several national parks, including Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and Glacier National Park.
This road trip also offers drivable access to the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park in neighboring Wyoming should you want to extend your trip to be both a Montana and Wyoming road trip!
Are you ready for one of the best road trips in the USA? Let’s get going: here’s all you need to know to plan the best Montana road trip.
PLANNING FOR MONTANA AT A GLANCE:When to Go: There is no doubt you can visit Montana any time of the year but if your road trip involves visiting Glacier National Park (which it should as it's one of the state's highlights), then the best time to visit is in summer. This is because most roads and lodges in Glacier National Park close in winter due to snow and it doesn't make sense to visit Montana and skip GNP.
Where to Stay: For this itinerary, you'll have sleepovers in Billings, Bozeman, Bigsky& Yellowstone, Missoula, and Whitefish & Glacier National Park.
For your first sleepover in Billings, I recommend staying at Northern Hotel, a charming historic hotel with a touch of luxury. And while in Bozeman, I recommend staying at Kimpton Armory Hotel, a chic boutique hotel.
Missoula might not be a popular overnight stay area but if it makes sense for your road trip, then you can spend the night at Blossom’s Bed & Breakfast.
And for your adventures in Whitefish & Glacier National Park, I recommend staying at The FarmHouse Inn, a quaint B&B or Firebrand Hotel if you want to stay in the middle of everything.
How to Get Around: You're definitely going to need a car while road tripping Montana otherwise you'll have to spend a lot of money on private tours. In that case, you can compare car rentals and prices from here if you don't know where to rent one from. Alternately, you can rent an RV or campervan via RVShare and save on accommodations.
Best Activities: Don't want to drive or plan? Booking a few different activities can help you eliminate the need for driving around. You can book a Bighorn Canyon cruise, whitewater rafting experience, or river floating experience in Glacier National Park, or this 2-day Yellowstone guided tour if you choose to extend your Montana road trip to Wyoming.
3 Things Not to Forget to Pack: A sturdy pair of hiking boots will serve you well -- I love my Ahnu boots. A dual purpose phone mount and chargerwill come in very handy and you'll be happy to have a roadside emergency kit should your car break down while road tripping.
This Montana road trip is designed for people who don’t mind a few longer days of driving, but are truly all about the sights and hikes that this beautiful state has to offer!
Personally, I don’t like staying in a new place every single night, so I try to break the itinerary up a bit so that you have a few multi-night stays — typically 2 nights, occasionally 1 night or 3 nights in the case of Glacier National Park and Whitefish at the end.
Breaking up this Montana road trip with longer overnight stays in a place helps you get to really know each destination on this trip rather than just passing through in a car as fast as possible and ticking off the “main sights”, as many other road trips have you do!
I want this road trip through Montana (and Wyoming, if you wish!) to mix as much sightseeing as possible with a leisurely pace… so you don’t end up needing a vacation from your vacation!
There are a few places on this Montana road trip where you can “choose your own adventure” so to speak. When you stay in Big Sky, I give you the option to make a side trip to Yellowstone National Park. And of course, you could also visit Grand Teton National Park while you’re in Yellowstone, and extend the stay a little there, making this more of a 2 week Montana road trip than a 10 day one.
However, since you probably got here by searching for “Montana road trip”, this post is going to focus on the best places to stop on a road trip through Montana. However, I will note when a quick side trip or detour into another state would be a good idea, in case you are hoping to visit a bit of Wyoming as well on this road trip!
The Best Time of Year for a Montana Road Trip
Let me start off by saying that while the best time to visit Montana is really any time, the best time to road trip Montana is a little different: especially if you have Glacier National Park on your Montana itinerary!
While of course, you can visit Glacier National Park in the winter (and it’s beautiful and worthwhile!), many of the roads are closed which makes the whole ‘road tripping’ part a little more complicated.
Due to the high elevation of Glacier National Park (the highest part of the park, Logan Pass, is located at 6,646 feet above sea level!) and northern location near the border of Canada, heavy snow sets in rather early in Glacier National Park.
As a result, this road trip through Montana is at its best in the middle of the summer: think July or August.
This is when you’ll enjoy the best weather with a limited impact of snow (though a few trails in Glacier National Park may still have some patches of snow — it is Glacier National Park, after all!).
Early September is also a good time to visit Montana. There is no fixed date to when the roads and lodges close, but the later you get into September, the more you risk not being able to see as much of the park as you wish.
So, for that reason, I’d say late August is perhaps the best time to start this 10 day Montana road trip: that way, you end up in Glacier National Park right at the beginning of September, with little chance of closures interrupting your road trip plan.
Flying Into Montana
Flights are typically best through Billings or Bozeman. However, Missoula and Kalispell are worth looking into.
Booking one-way flights from different cities versus a roundtrip might make sense if you need to save some time on the road. The state is large and there is a lot of ground to cover!
Year-round flights into Billings are offered from larger hubs including Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Las Vegas, Dallas and Phoenix.
Chances are you one layover away from the start of your trip. Seasonal direct flights are also available from Chicago and LAX.
We’ll assume you are flying into Billings for this Montana road trip itinerary as it is the most common arrival hub, but you may need to reorganize this itinerary if that is not the case.
Luckily, this Montana road trip goes in a circle once you leave Billings, so it’s pretty easy to adapt to your needs if your flight booking means you need to rejig the itinerary.
If you’re not flying into Billings, you may decide to skip it, as it’s a bit out of the way compared to the rest of the itinerary, and spend more time along the loop we detail in days 3-8 of these 10 days in Montana itinerary.
Renting a Car
If you’re flying into Montana for a road trip, you’re definitely going to need a car!
The best prices can be found by picking up and dropping off at the same pickup point, which will likely be Billings.
Keep in mind, though, that this means a 6-hour straight drive from the last point on this 10 day Montana road trip itinerary, Glacier National Park, back to Billings.
If that sounds tiring to you, you may want to look into one-way rentals between Billings and Kalispell, the nearest airport to Glacier National Park. It will almost certainly cost more, but it may be a whole lot more convenient.
Not sure where to get the best deal on your rental? I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on RentalCars as the best site to rent with in the USA – it searches dozens of rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare car rentals for your trip here!
Montana Road Trip Map
Day 1-2 of Your Montana Road Trip: Billings
Welcome to Billings!
Since you’ll be driving a lot on this Montana road trip itinerary, we’ll get you out onto the hiking trails to stretch your legs as much as possible between each Montana road trip stop.
Take a Hike
From Billings, several day hikes are within a quick drive from downtown. Moderate hikes include Phipps Park and Skyline Trails — pick one or the other to start your Montana itinerary.
The Skyline Trail
If you want to hit the trails pretty much as soon as you hit the road, about a 5-7 minute drive west from Billings Logan airport is the Skyline Trail. It is an easy 1.7-mile loop around the ridge of Zimmerman Park.
With sweeping views of the city below (and Bighorn, Pryor, and Beartooth Mountains in the distance) it’s a quick way to get your directional bearings before further exploring Billings. The trail is rated as easy, but take good hiking shoes and be prepared for a slight scramble.
City partnerships are currently in the fundraising process to build out a paved multi-use Skyline Trail extending for 7 miles between Zimmerman and Swords Parks.
Check in on the trail status before your trip, as you might be able to tack on a longer bike ride as trail sections are completed!
The Phipps Park Trail
Clocking in at a slightly longer 2.5-mile loop, Phipps Park Trail is located farther west from town and offers similar views of Billings. The trailhead parking is just past the Yellowstone Country Club off Rimrock Road and about 20 minutes or 10 miles from downtown.
Most of the trail’s 450 foot elevation gain is tackled in the first mile, and the shared trail is also good for running and mountain biking. If walking, plan for about 1.5 hours.
For longer, more difficult hikes head to Bighorn Canyon for the day. Located 1.5 hours from Billings, the national recreation area is a great spot for hiking around, or watersports on, Bighorn Lake.
The lake extends nearly 60 miles from Montana into Wyoming with the majority of the area in the Bighorn Canyon. The area is vast, over 70,000 acres, so checking in at the Fort Smith Visitor Center will give you the best information for the day.
One of the best ways to explore Bighorn Canyon without the hike is by taking a two-hour scenic boat tour of the canyon, learning about America’s third-largest canyon and its importance to the Native American people who have lived in this area for centuries, narrated by an expert guide.
You can also try your hand at fly fishing below the Yellowtail Dam or hit trail sections like Sullivan’s Knob Trail (easy at 0.8 miles), Upper Layout Creek (moderate at 1.8 mile), or Medicine Creek and South Pasture Loop (hard at 11.6 miles).
Check Into Your Hotel
Since this Montana road trip itinerary places you in Billings overnight, we recommend you check into the Northern Hotel.
Dubbed as “unpretentious historic luxury”, the Northern’s renovated guest rooms feature warm, contemporary interiors, and a central location to the best drink and fare downtown.
Though the hotel’s restaurants serve up good food, plan to branch out and explore for dinner instead — the dining scene in Billings is too good to miss!
Look for a location a few blocks north or south of W. Main Street. The neighborhoods here have a quaint, just-off-campus feel, with a short walk to the center of all Bozeman action.
Stroll the Downtown
In fact, just strolling through the downtown and near campus neighborhoods is well worth it, especially with a cup of coffee.
Go-to coffee shops are Wild Joe’s Coffee or Treeline Roasting Room. Lean towards Wild Joe’s if you need some food alongside your latte.
Hit the Trails with a Picnic Lunch
There are several hiking options near town, primarily to the north in the foothills of the Gallatin National Forest or south towards Big Sky.
Whichever direction you head, grab a lunch to go from the Bozeman Co-op. The local co-op grocer is near the above coffee stops on W. Main.
The Storm Castle Peak Trail
Storm Castle Peak Trail is located 25 miles south of Bozeman, with access from the Gallatin Road. This is the road that eventually leads into Big Sky so the peak hike is an easy stop on the way out of town.
Storm Castle is 4.6-mile out-and-back trail that rewards hikers with worthy views. Be prepared for an elevation gain of just under 2,000 feet, but with several accommodating and manageable switchbacks.
Bozeman Creek Trail
Also due south of Bozeman (but not on the way to Big Sky) is Bozeman Creek Trail. The 16-mile out-and-back trail is moderately rated with a turnaround point at Mystic Lake in the Custer Gallatin National Forest.
Elevation gain totals nearly 1,800 feet, and it is a popular dog-friendly trail. Despite the noted elevation gain, most visitors report the hike feels a bit steeper. Time your trip during wildflower season for the best experience!
Drinking Horse Mountain Trail & M Trail
If wide open mountain meadow trails are more your cup of tea, plan to hike north of town off Highway 86.
There are two trailheads on U.S. Forest Service land near Drinking Horse Mountain. The first, Drinking Horse Mountain Trail, is a short, but steep, 2.1-mile loop best tackled from May through September. Most hikers suggest going counterclockwise.
The second trailhead, located just across Highway 86, is for M Trail, a slightly shorter moderate climb with less elevation gain and views of the valley, city, and mountains to the south.
Enjoy the Culture
Circle back to Bozeman post-hike for music, arts, and dinner. Once again, downtown on W. Main Street is where you should start and stick around.
Several galleries are located on W. Main or one block off, between S. Rouse and N. 3rd Avenue including Visions West Contemporary, Altitude Gallery, and Thomas Nygard Gallery.
Keep an eye out for dinner spots while you gallery hop. South 9th Bistro and Dave’s Sushi are two of the author’s favorites.
Listen to Live Music
There will likely be a live-music option following dinner if you continue your exploration of W. Main Street. Try Haufbrau House, Rialto, and Live from the Divide (Northeast of Main on Peach Street) for current shows.
One great benefit of a college town is there is likely a good music option regardless of the night of the week!
Day 4-6 of Your Montana Road Trip: Big Sky & Yellowstone
Your next Montana road trip stop, Big Sky, is an hour south of Bozeman along the stunning Gallatin River.
The wide-open views surrounding Bozeman quickly narrow to continuous steep-sided gorge which winds for about 30 miles along Gallatin Road.
There are several U.S. Forest Service designated camping sites, as well as turnoffs for perfect fly fishing spots, if you wish to extend your trip up Gallatin Road awhile longer.
Big Sky, MT comprises of a base village called Town Center and an upper mountain village connected by a steep 8 mile stretch of road.
In-town transportation is easy as the community boasts a reliable public bus route, complete with bike racks. Be sure to check the current schedule as route times change between seasons.
Relying on bus transportation makes it easy to get into town or up to the resort village and puts less pressure on deciding beforehand which part of town to stay.
The majority of restaurants and shops, including flyfishing and mountain biking outfitters, are located in Town Center. Particularly during summer months, not much will be open at the upper mountain village.
Go for a Mountain Bike Ride
Big Sky is the best spot on this Montana road trip for mountain biking at any experience level!
For beginners to intermediate bikers, check out the Mountain to Meadows Trail. The entrance begins at the resort base (upper mountain) near the Ramcharger Chairlift.
A short 10-minute uphill climb is rewarded with a downhill trail for the remainder of the 5-mile ride. The trail averages 7% grade with a max 35% grade.
The trail ends right behind Gallatin Alpine Sports in Town Center which happens to offer very reasonable daily and weekly bike rentals!
Soothe Your Muscles
New mountain bikers will soon realize a host of ignored muscle groups are used during a ride.
If a yoga session or massage is in order stop, by Santosha Wellness Center in Town Center.
The studio offers a host of vinyasa and ashtanga classes as well as massage methods ranging from Swedish to Cranio-Sacral to Reflexology.
Grab a Bite to Eat
By now you’ve probably worked up quite an appetite — luckily, several delicious eateries can also be found in Town Center.
Favorites include Lotus Pad (Thai), Pinky G’s (Pizzeria), Hungry Moose (Market and Deli), and Blue Moon Bakery.
Hit the Hiking Trails
Apart from a range of mountain biking trails, Big Sky is also host to several fabulous hiking trails. Two popular outings are Beehive Basin and Cinnamon Mountain.
Beehive Basin clocks in at 7.1 miles out-and-back and has great views of Lone Mountain (which towers over Big Sky resort).
It includes stops at alpine lakes before the return trek to a convenient parking lot.
Cinnamon Mountain is a moderate 8-mile out-and-back trail through a denser pine forest.
Both trails can be muddy after heavy rains and also hold snow in shadier spots, so plan around the weather.
Both hikes entail a consistent, steady climb and easy descent, so they’re great for less experienced hikers.
Take a Day Trip to Yellowstone
If time for a detour is allotted, a good Montana road trip addition is a drive to Yellowstone National Park.
It’s a one-hour drive from Big Sky to West Yellowstone, which you can use as a jumping-off point for all Yellowstone adventures.
Important Note: If you are visiting Yellowstone in winter, road access is seriously restricted, so you will have to plan for snowcoach transport. Learn more on my guide to visiting Yellowstone in winter.
Day 7 of Your Montana Road Trip: Missoula
From Big Sky, continue your road trip in Montana towards Missoula.
On this particular Montana road trip itinerary, the city is the ideal afternoon stopping point before heading north to Whitefish and Glacier National Park.
You can stop just for lunch if you’re short on time, but we recommend staying the night.
Missoula is home to the University of Montana and, because of the connection, has a vibrant near-campus Main Street similar to that in Bozeman.
Grab a Lunch or a Hike
Take in a long lunch downtown or pack a to-go snack for a quick hike before continuing on to Whitefish.
If you choose the quick hike option, check out Hellgate Ridgeline on Mount Sentinel. The brief 3-mile out-and-back trail features views of the city, valley, and river.
With a trailhead conveniently located near the campus and downtown, the hike can be easily paired with a quick lunch.
The hike is steep and strenuous but not long. Make it up to the “M”, a student-built Missoula landmark since 1908, or continue on for even better views.
Enjoy the Downtown
Missoula’s downtown district follows the Clark Fork River and is teaming with unique restaurant options.
Many include outdoor seating with views of the riverfront. Hob Nob, Bernice’s Bakery, Tamarack Brewing, Scotty’s Table, Catalyst Café, and Biga Pizza should spark your interest.
While downtown, stretch your legs at Caras Park before getting back on I-90.
The park overlooks Brenan’s Wave, Missoula’s manmade wave installation in the Clark Fork River. It is an entertaining spot to watch surfers and kayakers take on a brief rapid.
Day 8-10 of Your Montana Road Trip: Whitefish & Glacier National Park
From Missoula, Whitefish and Glacier National Park are next up on this Montana itinerary, located within a 2.5-3 hour drive through the Flathead National Forest. Much of the drive is uneventful until reaching the shores of Flathead Lake.
The lake spans 27 miles and Highway 35, which follows the lake’s eastern shore, passes several privately-owned cherry orchards.
Many of the orchards operate roadside cherry stands during high season which lasts from June through August.
Check Into Your Whitefish Digs
Whitefish is just 30 minutes north of Flathead Lake and your home base for all activities in and around Glacier National Park.
Whitefish is similar to Big Sky in that, while it may be more widely known for its ski resort and winter activities, the area doesn’t lack for summer fun. The town itself is about a 15-minute drive from the resort by way of Whitefish Lake.
On Lupfer Avenue, The FarmHouse Inn is a quaint B&B comprised of two guest rooms. One sleeps four and the other sleeps two.
It is centrally located and the onsite bakery and café churn out local farm to table meals and Czech pastries. This is your spot for gluten-free options and fresh-pressed juices. Hotel guests can also enjoy the backyard fire pit on cooler evenings.
The Firebrand Hotel sits right in the mix of downtown nightlife on the corner of E. Second Street and Spokane Avenue. The hotel’s vibe mixes urban sophistication with a node to Montana’s rugged Northwest.
Amenities include a rooftop patio and spa along with bicycle rentals in the summer months. The hotel also includes shuttle transportation to Amtrak and their sister property, the Lodge at Whitefish Lake.
There are several great breakfast, lunch, and dinner options in Whitefish.
Local favorites include Wasabi Sushi Bar, Jersey Boys Pizzeria, Tupelo Grille, and Amazing Crepes.
Head to Glacier National Park
Whether staying lakeside or in town, access to Glacier National Park is an easy 35 minute drive to the Apgar Visitor Center.
Visitors are encouraged to avoid traffic and minimize impact to our collective natural resources by utilizing the park’s free shuttle service.
Shuttles leave every 15 to 30 minutes from the Apgar Visitor Center and take visitors to all of the best park sites.
Shuttle stops from the Apgar side include Apgar Village, Center, and Campground, Sprague Creek Campground, Lake McDonald Lodge, Avalanche Creek, The Loop, and Logan Pass which serves as the transfer to the east side of the park.
Go for an Adventurous – or Leisurely! – Rafting Trip
One of the most popular things to do in Glacier National Park in summer is to take a rafting trip on the scenic Middle Fork Flathead, which has fun whitewater rafting that’s perfect for rafters looking for an easy to moderate level (class II and III) experience.
Of course, whitewater rafting isn’t for everyone, and if you’re in the mood for more sightseeing and relaxing rather than adrenaline-pumping, a lovely float trip on a calmer stretch of the Flathead River is a perfect option for you!
This is better suited for families of all ages, as whitewater rafting can be a little scary for younger kids.
Glacier National Park has 734 miles of hiking trails and something for all hiking levels, including day and overnight hikes.
Note that overnight hikes require reservations and park permits. Popular day hikes include the Highline Trail (11.4 miles), Avalanche Lake (4.6 miles) and Pitamakan Pass (15.4 miles).
The Highline Trail
The Highline Trail features views of Logan Pass and includes some technical areas of hiking, some which come with the safety of a cable railing.
Highline is one of the best hikes for catching a variety of scenery as you will see alpine meadows, creeks, avalanche ridges, and portions of the Livingston Range. The hike can be made shorter by stopping at Haystack Butte.
However, hikers should press on for views of the Grinnell Glacier. The overlook area for the glacier sits on the Continental Divide. If you chose to bypass the park shuttle, you can still access the trailhead from the Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot.
The Avalanche Lake Trail
Avalanche Lake Trail is a shorter hike with equally breathtaking views. The trail follows Avalanche Creek until meeting with the alpine lake.
Views of waterfalls at the lake’s far end can be seen from the trail. The total elevation gain is an easy 600 feet.
The Pitamaken Pass Trail
If you want to take on a longer hike, shoot for Pitamaken Pass Trail. The hike swaps between forested and meadow trails while passing by Oldman Lake, Sky Lake Waterfall, and finally Cut Bank Basin’s alpine lakes.
You might even come upon bighorn sheep at higher elevations, especially nearing Bighorn Basin. The total elevation gain is a stout 3,300ft.
Trailhead access begins at the campground at Two Medicine by Pray Lake and is preferred as a counterclockwise route.
Grab A Set of Wheels
Another popular way to explore Glacier National Park is by bicycle.
Parking is available at Glacier Guides in West Glacier, MT where bike rentals are available.
From there, a 1.5 mile downhill trail takes you to the Apagar Visitor Center where trails continue within the park’s boundary. Access to the park via bicycle is also half the cost of standard admission, so it’s good for cost-conscious travelers!
Feeling a little intimidated to try biking in Glacier National Park all by yourself? This 6-hour guided cycling tour is a great way to see the park by bike without the stress of self-guiding.
There are several hiking options outside the park boundary and closer to Whitefish.
Many of the best can be accessed in Whitefish Lake State Park near the Whitefish Mountain Resort base.
If you visit during the summer season, you might be able to jump on the gondola for a one-way trip.
From the resort base, try Journey Mountain (2.8 miles), Big Mountain via Summit Trail (16.1 miles), Danny on National Recreation Trail (7.2 miles), or Gray Wolf Ski Trail (17.9 miles).
Ending Your Montana Road Trip Itinerary: Kalispell or Back to Billings
While some of the more frequent and better-priced flights are found out of Billings and Bozeman, it’s worth checking options in and out of Kalispell.
The city and airport are just 22 minutes south of Whitefish, and you can often find cheap connections to Salt Lake City.
Do a bit of research on one-way rental prices, consider the time (it’s a 6-hour drive back to Billings!), and check the best ways to get to and from Montana.
While we have covered some of the best places the state has to offer, Montana offers still offers so much to explore!
How to Extend This Montana Road Trip
Of course, there are several ways to extend this Montana road trip in order to see even more of this gorgeous part of the United States!
The most natural addition to this Montana road trip is spending a few days exploring Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.
From Big Sky, you can easily head down south to Yellowstone and spend some time in the park. I have a two day Yellowstone itinerary which you can simply insert into this Montana road trip itinerary between days 6 & 7!
If you want to extend your Wyoming explorations even further, overnight (or stay a couple days) in the Jackson Hole area, which is one of the prettiest parts of Wyoming and a perfect midway point between Yellowstone and your next stop, Grand Teton National Park.
I also have a two day Grand Teton National Park itinerary, which you can add after Yellowstone, before heading back up to Missoula. Just note that you may want to stop in Big Sky again on the way up, or you’ll be in for a long driving day (6 hours point-to-point without stopping, traveling via Idaho).
10 Day Montana Road Trip Itinerary at a Glance
Day 1: Fly into Billings
Day 2: Billings
Day 3: Bozeman
Day 4: Bozeman
Day 5: Big Sky
Day 6: Big Sky (optional Yellowstone Day trip)
Day 7: Missoula
Day 8: Whitefish & Glacier NP
Day 9: Glacier NP
Day 10: Fly out of Kalispell or drive back to Billings
2 Week Montana and Wyoming Road Trip at a Glance
Day 1: Fly into Billings
Day 2: Billings
Day 3: Bozeman
Day 4: Bozeman
Day 5: Big Sky
Day 6: Yellowstone NP
Day 7: Yellowstone NP
Day 8: Grand Teton NP
Day 9: Grand Teton NP
Day 10: Missoula
Day 11: Whitefish & Glacier NP
Day 12: Glacier NP
Day 13: Glacier NP
Day 14: Fly from Kalispell or return your car in Billings
Of course, it’s pretty hard to connect your phone and charge it and do all sorts of other necessary 21st-century things without USB cords.
Bring 1 or 2 more than you need, it’s always a good idea!
The Anker external battery pack is a travel must. While you can charge your phone while driving, you may want to charge other devices — a camera, a drone, portable speakers, an e-reader — as well.
Or if you notice your battery is running low while you’re out hiking or sightseeing, you can just start charging right away without having to return to your car. It holds several charges on a single battery pack and will last days at a time.
Face mask, alcohol wipes & sanitizing gel
When in places where distancing is not possible, you will need to wear a face mask to keep yourself and fellow humans safe.
Bring multiple cloth face masks and circulate them, allowing face masks ample time in the sun when possible (such as leaving them on your dashboard) or washing them in between uses in order to sanitize the masks.
You should also bring alcohol wipes or sanitizing gel in case you aren’t close to a place where you can wash your hands.
Long hikes, lack of schedule, random meal times, salty snacks, sunny days, hangovers from wine nights after driving duty is done: there are many reasons it’s easy to get dehydrated while road tripping.
I always pack some rehydration packets with me on my travels as I’m prone to getting dehydrated and getting headaches, and they’re a lifesaver. I recommend these ones.
Camera & extra batteries
For all my years of running this travel blog, I’ve relied on my Sony A6000 to take nearly-professional quality images. I don’t sell my photography, but I do love having wonderfully preserved memories, and this camera is the perfect middle-ground above a smartphone yet below the 5-figure kits that most photographers give.
Whatever camera you choose, be sure to have plenty of extra batteries and the battery charger as well — plus extra memory cards! I rely exclusively on 64GB Sandisk memory cards.
Clothing & Hiking Essentials
When road tripping, think loose clothing that’s easily breathable which transition from car to outside easily.
For women, I suggest the following at a minimum for car/outdoor comfort:
yoga pants or leggings
You’ll also want to bring layers like a jacket for any needed warmth, depending on the temperatures you expect on your Montana road trip.
I included this separately from the comfortable clothes section because I wanted to highlight and underline how important a good rain jacket is. Rain is inevitable at times, so might as well dress for it!
I love the Marmot PreCip rain jacket (there’s a women’s version and a men’s version). I used mine for years biking in all sorts of rainy NYC weather and it always kept me dry without making me too hot and uncomfortable like some other rain jackets can, due to the zippered armpits which provide ventilation. This is key if you plan to do anything active on your Montana itinerary like hiking while it’s raining.
Proper Hiking Boots & Trekking Poles
This Montana road trip includes a ton of hiking opportunities, and you’ll definitely be happy with yourself for bringing along a pair of hiking boots!
If you’re doing some harder hikes, you may also want to bring a pair of collapsible trekking poles with you!
Water Bottle with Filter
You always end up needing lots of water when you hike!
You can either carry liters upon liters of water, which can be heavy, or you can pack a backup water bottle and use your water bottle with a filter to refill anywhere along the trail — streams, rivers, springs, anywhere!
I use the Grayl for its ease of use and to reduce my plastic footprint: I love mine and highly recommend it!
Day packs are essential when hiking or leaving the car for a bit to do some sightseeing and needing to bring essentials like bug spray, sunglasses, water, and sunscreen with you.
This Osprey day pack is the perfect size and it’s designed by a company that specializes in ergonomic solutions for backpackers, so you know it’ll be comfortable.
Don’t forget travel insurance! Travel insurance coverage helps you recoup your losses in case of emergency, accident, illness, or theft. I’ve relied on World Nomads for my travel insurance coverage for four years with no complaints, and I’m a happy paying customer. I recommend them highly to fellow travelers!
Towering peaks, lush meadows, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife sightings await visitors in Glacier National Park no matter the time of year.
A well-known piece of the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park is home to over 700 miles of hiking trails, making it a paradise for outdoor adventures!
In the summertime, grizzly bear can be spotted grazing in the meadows and the tall peaks of the Northern Rocky Mountains reflect in the icy blue waters of Lake McDonald. The highest peaks in Glacier can hold deep snow all summer long depending on the year, but many of the hiking trails are accessible without snowpack between June and September.
Glacier National Park quickly begins to transform into a winter wonderland come late fall. Although the backcountry in Glacier National Park is more accessible during the warm season, there is still much to explore and see once the snow begins to fall.
However, a winter vacation to Glacier National Park still requires some forethought and planning due to challenges that snow and closures present. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Glacier National Park in winter!
Glacier National Park Winter Road Conditions
The stretch of road between the Lake McDonald Lodge and St. Mary Entrance is closed throughout the wintertime. When the road closes is entirely dependent on weather and road conditions.
The Going-to-the-Sun road reopens again once the national park operators can plow the alpine section of road clear of snow and it is deemed safe for private vehicle traffic. Due to the somewhat unpredictable mountain weather, there are no set opening or closing dates.
This road is considered one of the best scenic drives in the USA, but in the wintertime, it is socked in under many feet of snow with even deeper snowdrifts!
Once spring approaches, the road sees various stages of reopening. Be sure to call ahead for an accurate and updated road conditions report.
West Entrance to Lake McDonald Lodge
This is the only section of road that stays open year-round, weather permitting. This ten-mile stretch of road from the West Entrance to the Lake McDonald Lodge is plowed throughout the winter to allow for private vehicle traffic.
Just beyond the Lake McDonald Lodge, the road is gated to prevent further travel.
Many Glacier Road
The road to the Many Glacier Hotel is closed between November and April due to impassable winter road conditions. Folks who wish to explore this section of the park in the snow must either snowshoe or ski down the road.
Two Medicine Road
This road also goes unplowed during the wintertime and is considered closed once the snow is impassable. Call to talk to a ranger at Glacier National Park for current road conditions.
Inside North Fork Road
The Inside North Fork Road travels the western boundary of Glacier National Park leading travelers towards the Canadian Border. During the summer, the road is bumpy and is best taken at a leisurely pace. Once the snow begins to pile up, the road closes to private vehicle traffic.
The Camas Road, which connects West Glacier to Polebridge closes due to impassable snow conditions. However, it does transition into a fun scenic snowshoe trail once the snow is deep enough.
Winter Weather in Glacier National Park
Winter in Glacier National Park can be summed up in a word: cold. I mean, the word ‘glacier’ in the name should be a hint!
Here is the average temperatures for winter months in Glacier National Park (which I’ll call November through March)
November: Average highs of 33° F and average lows of 21° F, with approximately 19 days of rain or snow.
December: Average highs of 27° F and average lows of 14° F, with approximately 19 days of rain or snow.
January: Average highs of 30° F and average lows of 17° F, with approximately 19 days of rain or snow.
February: Average highs of 32° F and average lows of 14° F, with approximately 16 days of rain or snow.
March: Average highs of 39° F and average lows of 20° F, with approximately 18 days of rain or snow.
Winter Hours of Operation and Facilities in Glacier NP
Although recreation in Glacier National Park is technically open year-round, some of the facilities undergo reduced hours of operation or close completely come wintertime.
However, note that restrooms and potable water are available at the Apgar Visitor Center year-round.
If you are planning to visit Glacier National Park during the off-season, which is between late September and early May, you will want to be aware of these changes to facility operations:
Apgar Visitor Center: Closed during the winter. Outdoor informational exhibits are open year-round.
Logan Pass Visitor Center: Closed during the winter.
St. Mary Visitor Center: Closed during the winter.
Apgar Village Camp Store: Open intermittently throughout winter.
Backcountry Permit Offices: Call to assure staffing.
Note: All in-park lodging is closed during the wintertime, so you will want to stay in a nearby town, like West Glacier, Hungry Horse, or Whitefish.
Since Glacier National Park is home to such a rugged winter environment, it is a good idea to begin your trip by calling ahead to talk with a park ranger.
Where to Stay near Glacier National Park in Winter
Since you can’t actually stay in the park in the winter, you’ll have to stay nearby. Luckily, there are plenty of great options: these ones are all in Whitefish, which has the most options in terms of accommodations, but you can also look at West Glacier, Hungry Horse, or Kalispell.
Lodge at Whitefish Lake: This cozy 4-star lodge boasts a beautiful location, an on-site spa, cozy rooms, and an award-winning restaurant — what else could you want when visiting Glacier in winter? The Spa is a great place to relax after a day recreating in Glacier National Park, with massages, facials, treatments, a steam room, a hot tub, a relaxation room, and more in their wellness center! >> Book your stay the Lodge at Whitefish Lake here
The Firebrand: This chic boutique hotel is one of Whitefish’s newest offerings, and it’s a great place with tons of personality. Amenities include a fitness center, ski storage and ski pass sales, and on-site restaurants and bars. Cozy robes and luxe en-suite bathrooms make each room feel spa-perfect. >> Book a stay at the Firebrand here
Grouse Mountain Lodge: This cozy lodge is no-frills, but it’s a lovely place to stay in the winter when all you want is a roaring fireplace, lovely log cabin vibes, and snow-covered scenery! It has some great amenities including an outdoor firepit and hot tub as well as an indoor pool and a Finnish-style dry sauna.
Winter Camping in Glacier National Park
Many national park travelers like to camp during their outdoor adventures. Glacier National Park is home to thirteen front-country campgrounds, which are spread throughout the one million acre park!
During the busy season between May and most of September, many of the popular campgrounds are on an online reservation system and are full each night.
Out of the thirteen front-country campgrounds, Apgar Campground on Lake McDonald is the only one that stays open year-round.
The campground sees reduced site availability and primitive camping only during the cold season. Primitive camping in Glacier National Park means there are vault toilets open, but no potable water available.
Luckily, if you are unable to snag a site inside the park, there are plenty of camping opportunities and lodging accommodations ranging in levels of luxury nearby in West Glacier and Hungry Horse.
Winter Safety in Glacier National Park
When your body temperature falls to dangerously cool levels, you begin to experience hypothermia. Wet clothes combined with freezing outside temperatures can create a high-risk environment.
To avoid hypothermia, the park service recommends wearing non-cotton clothing and doing everything possible to avoid submerging yourself in water.
According to the National Park Service, water is the number one cause of fatality in Glacier. If you are recreating near water, avoid walking on slippery rocks and crossing over moving water on thin snowbridges.
Trails covered in a fresh layer of snow can become difficult to follow. As you snowshoe, ski, or hike along, pay close attention to trail markers and junctions signs. Cell phone coverage is spotty to nonexistent in most areas of Glacier National Park. If you do become lost, stay where you are, and wait for rescue.
Always pack a map with navigation tools, and remember to tell someone where you are going before departing for the trail. If you are unsure of your abilities, always go with companions.
The deep powdery snow combined with the steep mountain terrain in Glacier National Park is the perfect formula for avalanches.
If you plan to recreate in the backcountry during the winter season, you should be professionally trained in avalanche safety and know how to use the appropriate safety gear.
The thin layers of snow and ice covering water, crevasses, or massive snow caves can be difficult to detect. The fragile ice can give way to your body weight and leave you victim to the hazards below.
Before recreating on glaciers, in snowfields, or near bodies of water in the winter, be sure to talk to a park ranger about snowbridge safety.
Glacier National Park is home to diverse and magnificent wildlife. Although there will be many great opportunities to view wildlife, always make sure you are doing so safely. If it is a hoofed animal, such as moose, elk, sheep, and goats, keep back 75 feet. For grizzly and black bears, always try to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet.
Although bear hibernate in the wintertime, Glacier National Park is still grizzly country. Carry bear spray and follow appropriate bear aware protocol while recreating.
Things to Do in Glacier National Park in Winter
Go for a Scenic Drive
As you have learned, many of the roads in Glacier National Park shut down due to impassable snow in the wintertime. However, there is still enough roadway open to private vehicle traffic for a fun drive through the snowy mountains!
The section of road between the West Entrance and the Lake McDonald Lodge remains open year-round due to the exceptional plow operators. The 10-mile stretch of road winds along the scenic and picturesque shore of Lake McDonald.
Although you may not get to see the lake’s colorful rock shores in the wintertime, you can still appreciate the towering peaks, such as Stanton Mountain, McPartland Mountain, and Heavens Peak, in the background.
This drive is perfect for photographers hoping to capture the beauty of Glacier National Park’s front country. As you drive along, use the frequent turnouts to access the lake’s shore and capture every accessible angle.
It is common to spot whitetail deer roaming along the roadway, but keep an eye out for other wildlife like moose, elk, fox, and coyote.
The bear may be fast asleep during your visit, but if you’re coming during the late fall or early spring, it is possible to spot bear grazing along the shore.
Go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing
Winter is the dominant season in Glacier National Park and all of northern Montana, since all the other seasons are so short-lived!
To make the best of the snowy months and continue exploring, strap on a pair of snowshoes or cross country skis.
The Apgar Village has a variety of ski and snowshoe trails for everyone to enjoy. For a short 3-mile outing, consider exploring the Lower McDonald Creek Trail.
Those who are looking for something a little longer in the Apgar Village area might like the 6-mile round trip trail to Rocky Point, which offers multiple viewpoints featuring Lake McDonald and surrounding peaks!
Take a scenic snowmobile ride
For those looking for a little high-octane adventure, rent a snowmobile and explore the backcountry areas around Glacier National Park for yourself.
While snowmobiling is not permitted within the park itself, you can snowmobile just outside of the park’s limits. Snowmobiling is one of the most popular winter activities for visitors to Northern Montana, with snowmobile tours departing from common bases like Whitefish and West Glacier.
I recommend traveling with Action Rentals, who offer independent and guided snowmobile rentals departing from Whitefish, MT.
Waterproof Parka: In the snow of Glacier in winter, you’ll want a really warm winter jacket, like this ultra-insulated North Face parka. I admit it’s a bit pricy, but it comes with a guarantee that it’ll last a lifetime.. and I tested this guarantee by sending in a zipper to be fixed which got damaged after 4 years of abuse wearing it every winter day to cycle 15 miles — my jacket came back like new and better than ever.
I’ve had my North Face parka for literally 10 years, and it’s held up from winters biking through New York City to multiple trips north of the Arctic Circle in places like Tromso and Abisko. It’ll serve you well in Glacier in winter!
Waterproof Pants: If you’re cross-country skiing or snowboarding or doing some winter hiking, you’ll absolutely want waterproof pants. Jeans put you at risk of hypothermia if you get wet, so avoid at all costs.
Snow Boots: Since you’ll likely be trudging through quite deep snow both in Glacier National Park and wherever you set up your base, you’ll absolutely need proper snow boots for a trip to Glacier in winter. I love these stylish and warm Sorel boots for women, which are waterproof and warm but also have plenty of traction. For added steadiness on your feet, throw on some Yaktrax to the bottom for grip on icy surfaces and pathways. These are a godsend (they saved me from eating it many times when I was in Tromso!)
Warm Leggings: There are two choices when it comes to a cozy base layer for your bottom half: fleece-lined for people with sensitive skin like me, and merino wool for people who don’t find wool itchy like I do. I own several pairs of these fleece-lined leggings in a variety of colors (I have black, gray, and maroon). Be sure to wear waterproof layers over this if you’ll be out in the snow, though! For people who like wool, merino wool leggings are the way to go – the absolute warmest you can get. However, it’s too much wool for me to handle, but I have particularly sensitive skin.
Fleece-Lined Knit Hat: If you enjoy fashion, winter can be a bit of a drag because you basically commit to one jacket (typically in a neutral color) for an entire season. I absolutely live for livening up my look with tons of different colors of knit hats. I have one in virtually every color, but I love red and yellow best for the best ‘pop’ of color against the snow. Since I have so many hats, I don’t really have anything special: just a snug knit hat lined in fleece and with a pompom that does absolutely nothing to add warmth but I love them anyway.
Thermal Top Layer: Again, what kind of thermal you go for will definitely depend on whether or not you have any skin sensitivities and if you can handle wool. I hate wool on anything but socks, so instead, I go for thin performance thermals like this Heat Plus layer from 32 Degrees. However, if you’re a fan of wool, a merino wool base layer will keep you insanely warm. Better yet, wool doesn’t trap odors the same way other materials do, meaning you can re-wear it several times before your under-layers will need to be washed — great for people who pack light!
An Enormous Scarf: I go for big, warm, and infinite-style scarfs. I tend to opt for bright, bold colors to liven up my look. I love these ones — they’re cheap and feel cashmere-soft, but they aren’t pricy like it.
Touchscreen Friendly Gloves: You’ll likely want to have your hands out of your pockets at times when you’re navigating on Google Maps, looking up something you’ve bookmarked (maybe this blog?), etc.! Most gloves these days tend to be touchscreen-friendly, but check before you buy. These gloves are cute, smartphone-compatible, and inexpensive.
Waterproof Gloves: You’ll also want to layer waterproof gloves over your touchscreen gloves if you’re snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, or anything where you are out and about in the snow and need your hands out for balance or gripping poles, etc.
Headlamp (and Extra Batteries): Glacier National Park in winter can get dark early — and quickly! — due to the early sunset time that naturally occurs in winter… plus the mountains making it get dark long before that! Bring a headlamp in case any outdoor excursions take longer than expected. You don’t want to get lost after dark in the snow. This Petzl headlamp is highly-rated and affordable.
Waterproof Backpack: You’ll want to keep your belongings dry, especially if you’re doing long treks on cross-country skis or snowshoes in the snow or freezing rain. Bring a waterproof backpack — you won’t regret it, especially if you’re carrying pricy camera equipment.
Snowshoes (optional): Many trails in Glacier National Park in winter will require proper snowshoes (different than snow boots — these allow you to ‘float’ on top of snow instead of sinking through it!) as well as trekking poles if you want to do some winter exploring. You can also rent them, but they’re pretty cheap to buy and will last you for future winter trips, so I recommend investing in them if you are a fan of snow travel.
Camera: You’ll want a camera to capture all that Glacier National Park winter beauty. I use and love my Sony A6000! It’s mirrorless, so it’s lightweight and perfect for a high-quality camera that won’t weigh you down. Be sure to bring a handful of extra batteries! Trust me, I’ve learned from many an experience in the cold photographing the Northern Lights that batteries burn out sooo much faster in the cold.
Battery Pack: Going off of what I said above, extend that to your phone as well! Cold weather depletes cell phone batteries extra quickly, so if you’re using your cell phone as your primary camera and navigation device (and who doesn’t these days?) you’ll absolutely want the ability to power up without a wall outlet while you’re out enjoying nature. I rely on an Anker battery pack to keep all my devices charged in the cold — and as a blogger who takes frequent winter trips to the Arctic and beyond with way more gear than a normal person needs, it’s served me very well!
Snowy mountains, steamy rivers, breathtaking landscape, and a variety of memorable wintertime adventures are waiting for you in the charming mountain town of Big Sky, Montana.
Well-known as a popular ski destination during the winter, a fly fishing paradise in the summertime, and a gateway to Yellowstone National Park all year round, Big Sky, Montana is hiding some other exciting activities we think you’ll love!
Plus, it’s still a bit of a hidden gem in the US, as most travelers end up flocking to Yellowstone, Glacier, or Jackson instead, leaving Big Sky blissfully free of mass tourism.
From delicious meals served on a snowy mountain-side and shopping in the Town Center to riding the slopes at Big Sky Resort and snowshoeing in the forest, Big Sky in winter has something for everyone to enjoy.
Things to Do in Big Sky in Winter
Hike to a Frozen Waterfall
One of the most popular waterfall hikes in Big Sky transforms into a dazzling frozen wall of ice once the cold weather moves in.
The Ousel Falls Trailhead is minutes from the Big Sky Town Center and offers ample parking spaces. From the parking area, follow the trail down toward the river. In the wintertime, the snow can become packed down and slick, so spikes are a great idea to keep you from slipping and sliding down the trail!
The trail is 1.6 miles round trip and offers scenic views of the South and West Forks of the Gallatin River. With only 400 ft of elevation gain, this trail is perfect for families and folks who are new to hiking! Before the waterfall, you will pass tall cliffs that often support gorgeous ice caves. Crossing the river to the caves is extremely dangerous, and staying on the maintained trail is encouraged!
Once you arrive at Ousel Falls, there is a picnic area and a couple of different viewpoints to observe the frozen falls from. It’s not uncommon to spot ice climbers making their way up the ice and guides leading new climbers on their first outing.
If you’re interested in getting on the ice with a professional guide, Montana Alpine Guides can take you out for a safe and exhilarating day of climbing!
Go Shopping in the Town Center
The shopping scene in Big Sky’s Town Center grows larger every year! Begin your tour of the downtown stores in the Town Center Plaza and make your way down Town Center Ave. toward Fire Pit Park. Along the way you’ll find:
Shop Sky Boutique’s exquisite hand-selected apparel, fine jewelry, and accessories! Need help putting a stylish outfit together for a night out in Big Sky? Look no further than Sky Boutique!
The Black Diamond Store
Head to Big Sky Resort in style! The Black Diamond Store has everything from professional ski gear to comfortable everyday apparel.
East Slope Outdoors
Remember your trip to Big Sky with a commemorative tee-shirt. East Slope Outdoors has a wide selection of graphic shirts everyone will love as well as ski apparel to keep you warm on the slopes.
You can always find the latest mountain town apparel and accessories at Montana Supply! It’s also the perfect place to find a thoughtful gift for a loved one or a special something for yourself.
From western style hats to cowgirl boots, Rhinestone Cowgirl is the perfect place to explore true Montana fashion. If you’re looking for western apparel for men, Antlers Clothing Co, in Fire Pit Park, is your next stop!
Snowshoe or Cross Country Ski on Big Sky’s Community Trails
The Big Sky Community Organization looks after Big Sky’s love of outdoor recreation and open space with trails and parks that all are welcome to enjoy!
Wintertime visitors can purchase a map of all of the town trails at the Big Sky and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Information Center or one of the many local retail stores.
A few trails you might enjoy on cross country skis or snowshoes are:
South Fork Loop
This easy 1-mile loop is groomed in the wintertime and is a perfect place for beginners to learn on snowshoes and cross country skis.
The trail weaves through the forest and hugs the South Fork of the Gallatin River for soothing sounds of rushing water.
Uplands and Hummocks Trails
Just past the South Fork Loop Trailhead, there is a small parking area for the Uplands and Hummocks Trails.
Due to some steep hills, both of these trails care challenging on cross country skis, but they are great for a moderately challenging snowshoe outing.
The Uplands Loop travels up above the Big Sky Town Center for picturesque views of Lone Peak and the Madison Range. The trail travels through the forest for about 2 miles before looping back to the parking area.
If you’re looking to add a little more mileage, continue onto the Hummocks Trail, which is 3 miles round trip with a couple of scenic viewpoints to stop at along the way.
Have a Marvelous Dinner Experience
A dinner experience in Big Sky reaches way beyond live music and dancing! During the winter, a few venues host intimate and fun events that are perfect for romantic evenings or special occasions.
Reservations are required for both excursions.
Montana Dinner Yurt
Meet your chariots, two big red snowcats named Rosie and Ginger. Climb aboard while choosing to ride on the open deck up top or inside the cab. Blankets are provided, but guests are encouraged to wear warm winter clothing!
Your snowcat will then bring you up the mountain at Big Sky Resort to a secluded yurt, where you will spend the evening. Greeted by live music and friendly staff, you will be seated family-style around the cozy dining room.
In addition to outstanding food and a soothing atmosphere, the Montana Dinner Yurt offers sledding and a bonfire. When your bellies are full, you’ll head back down the mountain on the snowcats with your new friends and memories to last a lifetime.
Sleigh Ride Dinner at Lone Mountain Ranch
By horse-drawn sleigh, dinner guests are transported to a rustic cabin, which is illuminated by an oil lantern. The magical ride takes you through the snowy forest under the big Montana night sky. At the dinner cabin, live music and a western atmosphere set the tone for your family-style prime rib feast.
With a rich history and as an icon of Big Sky for over 100 years, Lone Mountain Ranch is a destination within a destination. Locals and visitors alike enjoy coming to Lone Mountain Ranch to dine at Horn and Cantle, sip signature cocktails at The Saloon, and explore the beautifully groomed trails on cross country skis or snowshoes.
Explore Big Sky Resort
A winter trip to Big Sky isn’t complete without spending a day at Big Sky Resort. Boasting endless terrain for skiing and riding, Big Sky Resort is on every powder hound’s bucket list.
There are trails from beginner level to expert, with plenty of open space to learn and explore. Ski the trails from The Tram or the famous high-speed Ramcharger 8, which seats eight passengers comfortably with a protective face shield and luxurious heated seats!
For the non-skiers visiting Big Sky Resort, there are lots of activities to choose from! The adventurous type might enjoy a snowy zip line excursion, while the puzzle whizzes will love the resort’s challenging escape rooms. If you need a day to relax and unwind, book a soothing massage at Solace Spa.
After the last lift, skiers and non-skiers reunite for Après in the Mountain Village. Fuel up after a fun-filled day at one of the many dining options at Vista Hall, and then pop into Westward Social for a craft cocktail and live music!
If you’d prefer to head off-mountain for refreshments, Copper, inside the Wilson Hotel, has a phenomenal happy hour which runs from 4 pm – 6 pm daily!
Go ice skating in town
When the sun goes down, the lights come on over the Big Sky Town Center’s Skating Rink. Locals and visitors lace up their skates and glide around the glistening ice.
A romantic activity paired well with a hot to-go drink or a fun night out with the family, the skating rink welcomes all to join during open skate hours!
Traveling without ice skates? That’s not a problem!
Ice skates are available for rent at East Slope Outdoors for a small fee.
Go for a snowmobile in Gallatin National Forest
While you’re visiting Big Sky country in the wintertime, you have to get out and ride the powder on a snowmobile. Big Sky is nestled right inside Gallatin National Forest, which offers an exciting variety of terrain to explore on sleds!
Guided tours aren’t just for first-timers! Booking a snowmobile trip with a professional guide not only keeps you safe on the rugged mountain terrain, but it also allows you to experience the absolute best trails – that are often lesser-known.
Canyon Adventures, an outfitter in Big Sky, is famous for its witty and knowledgeable guides. If you’d like to schedule a trip or rent snowmobiles, do so well in advance of your visit to assure availability.
Folks come to experience Bozeman, Montana for its unbeatable access to outdoor recreation, diverse dining scene, rich history, and fun downtown area.
Bozeman is the kind of place where visitors and locals alike spend all day outdoors and evenings hanging out at one of the many local Montana breweries.
Bozeman is home to a more relaxed way of life where people you’ve never met make eye contact and say, “Hello!” as they walk by. There’s so much to discover in this small mountain town with a fun Western personality.
Here are some of the best things to do in Bozeman, Montana, on your upcoming trip!
Explore the Dining Scene
Bozeman is filled with amazing locally-owned restaurants serving up tasty dishes, unlike anywhere else. Since there are so many restaurants to choose from, we’ve narrowed it down to a few you absolutely must try!
South 9th Bistro
Special occasion or just craving some out of this world Steak au Poivre? South 9th Bistro is always hosting a can’t-miss dining experience. From the friendly staff to the cozy layout that makes you feel at home, this Bozeman restaurant has the food and environment to impress.
Everyone wants to know about the best breakfast spot in town. Nova is arguably that! A full selection of caffeinated beverages, fresh juices, and a trendy menu that still includes the classics.
Backcountry Burger Bar
Keepin’ it casual! Happy hour at Backcountry Burger Bar is a must for anyone visiting Bozeman. Conveniently located in the downtown area, this restaurant is home to the best burger in town!
Enjoy a Night Out
Get out on the town and explore Bozeman’s fun nightlife. Downtown stays awake all night with live music, drink specials, and swing-dancing!
There are many fun venues to check out, but these are a few of our favorites:
Bozeman Taproom & Spirits
The Taproom is Bozeman’s favorite rooftop bar. With a casual atmosphere, great views, and a full-service bar, the Taproom is a perfect stop after a day outdoors or exploring the town.
Feeling a little fancy this evening? Head over to Plonk for wine, cocktails, craft beers, and an atmosphere that will make you feel like a VIP.
Whiskey connoisseurs will fall in love with the Copper Restaurant and Whiskey Bar. Their selection of whiskey options span from Bozeman’s own local distilleries to globally recognized brands. This is the perfect place to try your first Montana Mule.
Taste the Taps on a Bozeman Brew Tour
If you didn’t already know, Bozeman’s craft brew scene is flowing with variety. There are so many breweries to choose from, each with their own unique flavors and atmosphere.
Looking for a little more guidance? Take an afternoon tour with locally owned Tour de Foam’s professionally guided trip!
Itching to get a taste of a few of the area’s very best breweries on your own? Here are our top three favorites with beer recommendations:
MAP Brewery: Midus Crush IPA
Bridger Brewing: Mad Mile Cream Ale
Outlaw Brewery: Passive Aggressive Pale Ale
Take a Hike in Bozeman
Getting outdoors is the Bozeman way of life.
There are seemingly endless miles of hiking trails ranging from mellow strolls through relaxed terrain to intense multi-day backcountry missions.
Lace up your boots and check out some of the area’s best hiking trails to see what all the hype is about.
A popular local favorite is a 1.6-mile loop that’s fit for anyone. Follow the tight switchbacks, which take you to the giant M that stands proudly over Bozeman and radiates Montana State University pride. (Go Cats!)
There are a couple of ways to reach the M ranging from easy to moderate in difficulty.
Petes Hill and Burke Park
Catch the sunset over the Bridger Range from the top of Petes Hill.
Take in the mountain views from one of the many conveniently located park benches or bring a blanket to sprawl out on the grass.
Note: must love dogs to hang out here.
This one is for the peak baggers out there.
Although challenging, this 4.5-mile round trip hike to the top of Sacagawea Peak, the tallest peak in the Bridger Range, offers rewarding views of the surrounding area from 9,650 ft. The mountain goats like this hike, so keep your eyes peeled!
Learn the Local History
The Gallatin Valley is full of rich and interesting history.
From the original Native American tribes that called the valley home to its colonization in the 1860s led by frontiersman, John Bozeman, this area has a fascinating story to tell.
You can learn about some chapters of Bozeman area history by visiting the Museum of the Rockies and Missouri Headwaters State Park.
Museum of the Rockies
Did you know that the Museum of the Rockies boasts the largest collection of dinosaur fossils in North America and that they have all been collected from Montana and surrounding states?
In addition to their complete dinosaur exhibit, the Museum of the Rockies also has local history displays, a never-disappointing rotating exhibit, and a planetarium.
Missouri Headwaters State Park
Only a short drive from Bozeman, this state park is where the Gallatin, Madison, and Jefferson Rivers converge to form the Mighty Mo.
This Historic Landmark is also the sight of one of the many camps that Lewis and Clark used during their famous expedition.
There’s plenty of history and scenic trails to explore here!
Spend Some Time by the River
Bozeman is in proximity to the Yellowstone, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers. All three of these well-known rivers offer great opportunities for on-water recreation!
The Gallatin River is the closest to Bozeman, but access to both the Yellowstone and Madison is less than an hour’s drive away.
Hot summer days in the valley are perfect for lazy river tubing down the Madison.
You can buy your own tubes or rent them from Madison River Tubing Company.
Try your hand at fly fishing
Home to one of the scenes in A River Runs Through It with Brad Pitt, the Gallatin River offers a world-class fishing experience!
Anglers from around the world come to fish these Blue Ribbon fisheries.
Go out on your own or book an experienced guide to show you the ropes and get you hooked on some beautiful native trout.
Go whitewater rafting
Experience one of the three nearby rivers at highwater for an exciting whitewater adventure!
With Montana Whitewater’s experienced guides, you can run the Mad Mile, a rowdy section of Class III-IV rapids on the Gallatin, the Kitchen Sink, an intense Class IV rapid on the Madison, or the Yankee Jim Canyon, on the Yellowstone right near the boundary of Yellowstone National Park.
Enjoy Some Winter Adventures
Bozeman is, without a doubt, a 4-season destination. If you plan to visit in mid-winter, expect snow and a lot of it!
With powder days galore, there’s no wonder why so many skiers and snowboarders rank Bozeman high on the list of must-visit winter destinations.
Conveniently located between two top-rated ski areas, Bridger Bowl and Big Sky Resort, there’s a lot of skiable terrain to cover!
No interest in the downhill shredding? Not a problem. There are still tons of fun outdoor things to do in Bozeman for non-skiers!
Some fun suggestions are Nordic skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, ice skating, snowmobiling, and dog sledding. Gear rentals and experienced guides are abundant and easy to find in this outdoor paradise!
Downtown Bozeman is the perfect place to find locally made art, practical outdoor clothing, and fun home decorations.
By walking up and down W Main Street, you’re sure to find a storefront that catches your eye!
Some of everyone’s favorites are Heyday, Cactus Records, Montana Gift Corral, and Chalet Sports.
Check Out the Weekly Events
This mountain town keeps things lively in the summer with a schedule of fun and diverse events.
There are a few that reoccur multiple times throughout the warm season to keep everyone coming back for more.
Enjoy Music on Main
Main Street shuts down on Thursday evenings throughout the summer, allowing locals and visitors alike to roam the street freely to shop, eat, and drink, all while listening to live music.
Don’t be shy! Dancing in front of the stage is highly encouraged.
Shop at the Weekly Farmers Market
Join local artisans for the summer farmers market, which happens every Tuesday in Lindley Park.
The Bozeman Farmers Market is the perfect place to socialize while supporting local businesses.
Take an Art Walk
The art scene in Bozeman is flourishing!
On the 2nd Friday of every month, galleries open their doors to all art lovers.
Enjoy live music dispersed throughout Main Street and a chance to discover amazing pieces of unique artwork.
Take a Soak
Hot springs are a popular attraction in Bozeman! There are three highly recommended hot springs in and around the area that are fun for all ages.
How does it work? The natural mineral water from the ground is harnessed and released into soakable pools for anyone to enjoy.
If you’re in Bozeman and want to check out a hot spring head over to Bozeman Hot Springs, Chico Hot Springs, or Norris Hot Springs for a little self-care and relaxation!
There are so many exciting things to do in Bozeman, from exploring the outdoors to immersing yourself in the lively downtown scene. This fun-filled mountain town is sure to impress every visitor!
There’s a place where mountains disappear into alpine lakes, wildlife roams free and abundant, and breathtaking views await around every turn. Welcome to Glacier National Park!
Part of the world’s first international peace park, Glacier NP is located in northern Montana and is seamed to Waterton Lakes National Park at the border of Canada and the USA.
Many of the roads in this mountainous paradise are only open from July – October due to snowpack. It’s important to plan your trip accordingly and check on road conditions if you wish to see all the park’s driving attractions. Even in mid-summer, be prepared for chilly weather and the possible snow flurry that can catch many visitors by surprise!
Glacier National Park is home to many species of animals, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, glacial blue creeks, and scenic roads that wrap around the mountainsides for some of the best views in the country. There’s no wonder why it’s on so many traveler’s bucket-lists!
PLANNING FOR GLACIER AT A GLANCE:When to Go: There is no doubt that Glacier National park is impressive all year round but most of its beautiful driving roads are only open from July to October due to snowpack. This means that summer is the best time to visit Glacier National park, but keep in mind that it's also its peak season so you'll need to go early to bit the crowds.
Where to Stay: Glacier National park has several in-park lodges to stay at. Many Glacier Hotel for stunning mountainous views, Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins for budget and mid-range travelers, Lake McDonald Lodge for amazing lake views and if you prefer camping, Fish Creek Campground is a great option! But these book up pretty fast so you'll need to book like 6 months in advance.
If you're unable to find a spot in any of the accommodations inside the park, you can still stay at one of these East Glacier Cottages, St. Mary Lodge & Resort for a luxurious stay, or Mountain Pine Motel for budget travelers.
And if you're unable to get accommodation on the East side, you can opt to stay on the West side of the park. In that case, I recommend Glacier Outdoor Center(stunning chalet), Great Northern Resort (Lodge) for mid-range travelers, or Wonderstone at Glacier for a luxurious stay in Columbia Falls. And for a homey feel, I suggest staying at this cozy and luxurious cabin.
How to Get Around: A car is crucial for Glacier National Park! There are shuttle services within the park but I don't advise relying on them as they can be slow, crowded and they don't go to some areas within the park that are interesting to see. If you're renting a car, compare car rentals and prices from here. Alternately, you can rent an RV or campervan via RVShare and save on accommodations.
3 Things Not to Forget to Pack: Binoculars are key for spotting wildlife like bears, elk, moose, and bison-- I suggest these Nikon binoculars. For hikes, you'll want a sturdy pair of hiking boots -- I love my Ahnu boots -- and some bear spray for safety reasons.
Know Before You Go: If you plan to visit multiple national parks in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will save you a bundle! It costs $80 for an annual pass (for an entire vehicle traveling together) to all US national parks and federally managed sites.
Renting a Car for Glacier National Park
If you’re visiting Glacier National Park in your vehicle, you can skip to the next section.
If you’re flying into Glacier, Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell is the closest airport to fly into as it offers the easiest access. If your trip also involves visiting both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National parks, you may want to look into flying into Bozeman.
Not sure where to get the best deal on your rental? I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on RentalCars.com as the best car rental search aggregator – it sifts through dozens of trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for your car rental here!
What to Pack for2 Days inGlacier National Park
I have an article about what to pack for a road trip here, but for a quick rundown, here are the essentials to pack for a 2 day Glacier National Park itinerary.
Travel Guides: I have included everything that I think will be useful in this Glacier National Park itinerary but sometimes guides offer a lot more information than I can fit in one article. Together with my personal experience and this best of Glacier National park guide, you will be guaranteed an amazing time in the park.
Layered Clothing: Being on a high elevation, Glacier National park gets chilly even in the summer months, especially at night so plan accordingly!
For summer or early fall, you’ll want at least 2 shirts (synthetic or wool, long and/or short sleeve depending on the season), 2 pairs of leggings or pants, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 fleece outer layer, a waterproof jacket, a beanie, gloves, and3 pairs of socks.
Comfortable Footwear: The best way to enjoy Glacier National park is by hiking so it’s important that you pack a sturdy and comfortable pair of hiking boots. I love my Ahnu Sugarpine boots for women, and for men, I suggest the KEEN Durand boot.
Sunscreen: With several mountains exceeding an elevation of 10,000 feet, you can be sure that you’ll get sunburned even on cloudy days if you don’t wear sunscreen — believe me, I learned this the hard way. Now that I know better, I always carry this chemical-free organic sunscreen
Sunhat: I recommend a lightweight but packable hat like this one that has a strap on to prevent it from being blown away by the outbursts of wind. And you can even wear it on your back if you get tired of wearing it on your head.
Day pack: A lightweight daypack is very essential when hiking the beautiful trails of Glacier National Park to put all your day hiking essentials in a place that can easily be accessed even when walking! I like this inexpensive and lightweight Osprey day pack. The best part is that it has mesh panels on the back to allow for airflow.
Snacks: Though none of the Glacier National Park trails are extreme, I recommend having some snacks in your daypack should you get hungry and don’t want to waste time sitting down to have a big lunch.
I suggest you make or pick up a picnic lunch before you make your way to the park. Alternatively, you can pack a number of snacks like protein bars (I love CLIF bars), nuts, or other high-density snacks that give you a lot of caloric energy for their weight!
Camera: I can never go anywhere without my Sony A6000 — I love it! It’s mirrorless, lightweight, and perfect for capturing good-quality photos of the amazing wildlife of Glacier National Park. Unlike a D-SLR, it won’t weigh you down but since it’s just the body, I suggest bringing a zoom lens for wildlife and a wide-angle lens for landscapes.
First aid kit: Don’t let things like blisters or scrapes ruin your Glacier trip! I recommend putting a first aid kit like this HART Weekend First Aid kit in your day bag. It’s lightweight, but if you ever need it, you’ll be so glad to have it.
Headlamp (and extra batteries): I recommend bringing a headlamp like this Petzl headlamp if you plan on going for a sunrise or sunset hiking.
Water filter bottle: While there are water fountains and bottle filling stations in Glacier, I still suggest having a water bottle with a filter so you can fill up anywhere there’s a water source — like all the beautiful alpine lakes around you!
There is a variety of water filtration systems but I personally have and love the GRAYL Geopress, which makes filtering water from any source easy. It’s compact and easy to use and filters out 99.99% of microplastics, viruses, bacteria, and other nasty particles, making water instantly safe to drink without plastic waste.
Bug Spray: Keep away those little monsters by packing and using this bug spray.
Where to StayinGlacier National Park
There are a number of options for where to stay in Glacier National Park, both inside and outside the park but the former requires booking way in advance — more than 6 months before your trip. Below are some of the places to stay both inside and outside the park.
In- Park Accommodations
CLASSIC LODGE| If you’re all about beautiful views, then I recommend staying at Many Glacier Hotel. This lakefront hotel is perfectly located to give you outstanding mountainous views with just a peep in the window or its balcony.
It has exposed wooden beams and a large fireplace in its dining area adding to its already impressive features.
BUDGET INN | Located along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins offers both cabins and guestrooms perfect for budget travelers. The rooms are super clean with large windows that offer amazing views.
Though everyone would want to stay inside the park, it’s just not possible all the time as it requires a lot of planning and a booking of over 6 months in advance.
If you find yourself in that situation, you can still enjoy Glacier National Park by staying outside the park in either East Glacier or West Glacier. Both towns are near the park so accessibility with not be an issue.
You can also find accommodation in Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, or even Coram but East Glacier and West Glacier offer much more possibilities in terms of activities and accessibility.
East Glacier Accommodations
COTTAGE | If you’re looking for both mountainous and lake views, then I suggest staying at this beautiful cottage.
With a private bathroom and a tub, a well-equipped kitchen, and a large outdoor deck with a grill, this cottage will take your experience at Glacier to the next level.
The cottage has 2 bedrooms but the convertible sofa in the living room adds an extra sleeping space for a big group! And let’s not forget the fireplace in the living — perfect to cozy up on those chilly nights.
BUDGET | Exceptional, clean, and great location are some of the qualities that describe Mountain Pine Motel. This little motel is owned by a family that has poured their hearts into making it a comfortable place to stay at.
Each room has a private bathroom, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a comfortable bed that will help you save some money without sacrificing comfort.
BOUTIQUE | Located near the entrance of the park and Going to the Sun Road, Great Northern Resort (Lodge) is the perfect place for travelers who want a taste of luxury with a mid-range budget.
This charming and rustic cabin features exposed wooden beams that bring out the beauty of its interior, large bedrooms, big bathrooms, a sports court, a natural pool, and a lovely garden to walk around. There might not be TVs in the rooms but who needs a TV with all the stunning views outside.
CABIN | Staying at Glacier Outdoor Center is the closest you can ever get to getting a comfortable and amazing stay on a budget! It might not be much of a budget but it’s a steal for what you’ll get at that rate.
The cabin features a large deck that overlooks the beautiful mountains, a fully furnished kitchen, a large living area with an open concept, and a cozy interior with a brand new look that will make you feel right at home — everything in this cabin will make you want to extend your stay.
Your adventure in Glacier begins on the eastern side of the park in Many Glacier, which boasts the “best” mountain views. The Many Glacier Road runs just north of the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. With all there is to see on this less commonly explored route, it is well worth exploring for a full day.
From the small town on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation, Babb, head towards the Many Glacier Entrance to begin your Glacier National Park adventure!
Ask any park employee or former visitor what their favorite area of Glacier National Park is, and the answer will likely be Many Glacier.
The first few miles of road are pretty socked in with vegetation, but drive cautiously because this is a popular area for wildlife crossings! Watch as the landscape begins to reveal itself.
Now, this is where it starts to get really good. Get your camera ready!
As you near the lake, the sky-scraping mountains of the Lewis Range begin to come into view to the west. Trumpeter Swan can occasionally be spotted swimming along the shores in the fall and spring.
As you continue on the Many Glacier Road, there are lots of scenic turnouts providing photogenic views of the rocky peaks. Keep on the road toward the Many Glacier Hotel.
There, you’ll head over to the docks and hop on a boat shuttle to get to your first hike of the day, Grinnell Lake! There is a small fee for taking the shuttle and one transfer is required to reach the trailhead.
Although hikers can forgo the boat shuttle and hike from the hotel area, this convenient and scenic fairy shaves 5 miles off the round-trip distance making the total excursion a manageable 3 miles. Expect to take about 2-3 hours with a 20-minute boat shuttle, great for those who have a limited amount of time.
When you land at the final dock, follow the signs toward the Grinnell Lake Trail.
After about 1/2 mile you’ll be met by a suspension bridge that extends over the glacial blue stream. Just before crossing the bridge, check out the side trail (to the left) that will take you to a beautiful hidden waterfall. It’s worth the very short uphill climb for the view that awaits!
Back on the main route, cross the bridge one hiker at a time.
Just a little bit farther and… there it is! The magnificent Grinnell Lake with Grinnell Glacier nestled in the nearby peak in the background. A great spot for a group photo and a snack break. There are no bad views here!
On the way back to the Many Glacier Hotel, you can take the shuttle boat again or opt to hike around the lake adding some extra miles and opportunities to see wildlife. The choice is yours, but plan accordingly because there is much to see here if you can’t tell already!
Many Glacier Hotel
That hike was something else, and now your legs deserve a little break.
Relax in the comfy chairs along the hotel’s deck and lawn while you hydrate and have a bite to eat.
We know this is the exact view you have been dreaming of!
When you’ve taken plenty of photos and are ready to depart the Many Glacier Hotel, continue on the main road toward Swiftcurrent. Watch for Bighorn Sheep along the roadway!
At the end of the road, you’ll find a campground, general store, dining options, and a visitor center. Redrock Falls is accessed via the Swiftcurrent Pass Trailhead, which is near the campground.
This trail is famous for its moose sightings and, like all other areas of the park, sees the occasional bear. This easy 3.5-mile out-and-back trail has very little elevation gain and is good for all abilities. Huckleberry ice cream waits for you at the general store!
That’s all for today! Spend tonight in one of the conveniently located campgrounds or lodging accommodations. Rest up, refuel, and get ready for another exciting day in Glacier National Park.
Day 2 of Your Glacier National Park Road Trip
Wasn’t the Many Glacier area of the park beautiful? You may feel like there’s no way it can get any better, but it’s about to!
Today you’ll be exploring the well known scenic drive, the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This route stretches 50 miles East to West across the park, and is often snowed in until July!
Since we’re still on the eastern side of the park, today will begin from the St. Mary Entrance. As you drive alongside St. Mary Lake, you will pass by several scenic turnouts.
Take the time to pull off the main road and enjoy the mountain views!
Our first official stop of the day is going to be at Rising Sun. Here you will find the easy 1/2 mile out and back trail that brings you along the rocky shore of St. Mary Lake.
This is the perfect morning walk for uninterrupted views of the dramatic peaks on the far side of the lake.
Sun Point Nature Trail
Take in your last bit of the beautiful St. Mary Lake with another easy hike on the 1.7 mile out and back Sun Point Nature Trail. With epic views and frequent wildlife sightings, this is one you just can’t miss.
If you want to cover a little more distance than what we have planned, a visit to St. Mary and Virginia Falls will add on a few miles. We still have quite a bit of ground left to cover today, so plan accordingly!
Welcome to the highest point on the Going-to-the-Sun Road at 6,646 feet!
You’ll have the perfect view of the towering Clements and Reynolds Mountains in the Lewis Range! Take your binoculars out and see if you can spot any bighorn sheep roaming in the scree fields.
Bird Woman Falls Overlook
Continuing on the main road, it’s all downhill from here, elevation wise!
Not far after the famous flows of the Weeping Wall, the overlook for Bird Woman Falls is a must-see attraction on the right side of the road. You will find varying information on the actual height of this waterfall.
The signs at the overlook list 492 feet, while the World Waterfall Database says the falls is 960 feet. Go see for yourself! Which measurement do you think is correct?
Trail of Cedars Nature Trail and Avalanche Lake
Enter the magical forest of giant old-growth cedars! Some of these massive trees tower over 80 feet tall. The trees are easily accessed via the Trail of Cedars Nature Trail right near the Avalanche Creek Picnic Area. The boardwalk trail weaves through the trees offering appearances by the icy blue waters of Avalanche Creek.
That was a beautiful scenic drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but by now you’re probably ready to get a good hike in to really stretch out your legs. From the Trail of Cedars, follow signs to the Avalanche Lake Trail.
This 5.7-mile out-and-back trail is a moderate hike along Avalanche Creek and leads up to astonishing views of Avalanche Lake. The trail is nicely shaded for most of the way, which makes it perfect for warmer mid-afternoon hikes in the summertime.
The famous rainbow-colored rocks of the Lake McDonald shores wait for you at the end of the Going-to-the-Sun road. You may have seen photos of the shores sprinkled over social media, but now you get to see the real thing, no filter needed! Some of the best places to view the lake are the Sprague Creek Picnic Area and the Apgar Village Area.
A perfect way to end your Glacier National Park road trip. This is where we leave you to find your next adventure in the little town of West Glacier. Happy trails!
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