A visit to Glacier National Park is not complete just by touring the Going To The Sun Road we described earlier, which you can read by clicking here. While that is a sight to behold, to see the park in all it’s glory, you have to get to the outlying areas and even visit some of the surrounding cities.
I never really thought about Montana as being a beautiful state. Man, was I naive. After spending a month workamping at an RV resort just outside of Glacier National park, I felt I could live there permanently.
With such a big area to cover, let’s give this some rhyme and reason and start in west end of the park and head east. We’ll save the surrounding cities for the end.
West Glacier is a small town on the western end of the park and serves as one of the main entrances. Be sure to capture proof you were at the park by getting a picture by the welcome sign.
The town itself has a few restaurants, some lodging, and even a golf course. This is a great stop either on your way in or out of the park.
There is also the Alberta Visitor Center, which is great stop if you plan on venturing up to Glacier’s sister park Waterton Lakes.
For more information on West Glacier, check out their website at www.glaciermt.com/West-Glacier.
When coming in through West Glacier, make a left once you hit the Apgar Village, rather than going right toward the Going To The Sun Road. About 25 miles later, you’ll hit the small town of Polebridge and by small, I mean a single mercantile store. It’s technically outside of the park, but still definitely worth visiting.
The Polebridge Mercantile is the reason to visit as it is the same building that has been serving customers for over a hundred years. They are known for their bakery, which I can attest, is delicious.
The Mercantile sells just about everything from clothes to groceries to toiletries. They even sell gas, which I highly advise against since it was over $6 a gallon when we visited! Their explanation: “It’s rather expensive to truck gasoline all the way up here.”
For more information on the “Merc”, check out their website at www.polebridgemerc.com.
If you continue through Polebridge, you’ll re-enter the park. Soon you’ll see a sign for Lake Bowman. It’s about 6 miles to get to the lake, but it’s the longest 6 miles you’ll ever drive. The road is a mix of gravel, dirt and large rocks. It’s about a lane and a half wide, so if you see an oncoming car, one of you will have to pull as far over to the side as you can for the other to pass.
Forty-five minutes later you’ll get to the lake and it will take your breath away. A very peaceful lake surrounded by gigantic mountains. It’s a great place to have a picnic, go for a (chilly) swim, or even take your sailboat out, as we saw on the day we visited.
Jumping over to the east end, you’ll be able to see a few very cool areas of Glacier National Park.
East Glacier is just off Highway 2 on the eastern end of the park. Here you’ll also find some restaurants and one of the biggest and most beautiful lodges I’ve ever seen, the Glacier Park Lodge. Unfortunately, East Glacier doesn’t offer a very easy way into the park. You can get to Two Medicine from here, however.
Two Medicine offers a campground, boat launch, and camp store. We ventured here to do the Aster Park hike. This hike was moderately difficult with some elevation coming into play. The Aster Park Overlook gave a great view of Two Medicine Lake.
The Many Glacier entrance is north of St. Mary’s in which you follow a beautiful rushing river to the park gate. Many Glacier Hotel sits at the top of a hill overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake and looks to be a resort straight out of a magazine.
Many Glacier also has a campground, restaurant and supply store. It is also home to several trailheads. We ventured on the 7-mile round trip hike to Grinnell Lake and loved the long easy hike. It was very flat, which made it enjoyable for all of us. Grinnell Lake was another sight to behold and was the perfect place for our mid-hike picnic.
For more information on this hike and other great hikes in Glacier with kids, check out the website by clicking here.
If you’re feeling up to it, definitely check out the Grinnell Glacier trail as it leads right up to the glacier itself. This has much more elevation and a adds a few more miles to the hike, so we chose to forgo this one for now.
After all this hiking in Many Glacier, we built up quite an appetite. We ate dinner at Nell’s, which is in the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and it was rather good food and very reasonably priced.
Being so close to the Canadian border, we could’t resist getting our international experience in, so we had to visit Glacier’s sister park Waterton Lakes National Park.
It’s about a three-hour drive from West Glacier to get there, but I say it’s totally worth it. About 10 minutes into the park, we saw two black bears, several deer, and a couple of mountain goats running down the road.
We did a couple of hikes in Waterton and the views were just spectacular. The first hike was rather strenuous as it ascended over 730 feet in only 1.8 miles. The view at the top was just amazing and we enjoyed just looking out over the park.
The second hike was one of the funnest we’ve done as a family. The trail is called Red Rock Canyon and the trail is only about .7 miles around the rim of the canyon. We skipped the rim and climbed down into the canyon and did a fantastic creek walk!
The water was freezing, but after a few minutes, my numb feet felt no pain. The kids had a blast on this hike and I felt like I was in The Goonies.
Where To Stay
Since it’s a National Park, you have tons of options on places to stay outside the park. Everything ranging from tent campsites to beautiful lodges.
During our stay, we were at the Timber Wolf Resort, which is 9 miles east of the park in Hungry Horse, Montana. This is a great campground that has several big-rig friendly RV sites, primitive tent camp sites, rustic backpacker cabins (no linens or electricity), family friendly cabins and 2 bed and breakfast rooms. We really enjoyed our stay there and the close proximity of the park.
Check out their website for more info on Timber Wolf www.timberwolfresort.com.
Surrounding Places to Visit
Columbia Falls is a smallish town just to the west of West Glacier on Highway 2. It’s small enough where traffic isn’t really a problem, but big enough where they have several stores to let you restock what you need. Everything from groceries to auto parts, you’ll find what you need there.
They also have a couple of great stops for local brews: coffee and beer. Montana Coffee Traders (www.coffeetraders.com) and Backslope Brewing (www.backslopebrewing.com) a couple great options to check out in Columbia Falls.
Whitefish is another close town that is really neat. It’s definitely a boutique kind of place with tons of unique shops and restaurants that line the downtown streets. It is also home to a concert or festival pretty much every weekend in the summer. We spent quite a bit of time at the City Beach on Whitefish Lake enjoying the hot Montana sun and even renting some kayaks to explore the lake.
In the winter it turns into a ski town. Whitefish Mountain Resort is just north of town and has some huge slopes! The resort sits on Big Mountain, which gives you an idea of the size.
In summer, Whitefish Mountain Resort is home to a ropes course, scenic chair lifts up the mountain, some gnarly mountain biking, and a really fun luge sled ride. Check out our visit to Whitefish Mountain Resort www.crazyfamilyadventure.com/whitefish-mountain-resort-summer-activities.
Kalispell is probably the biggest city near Glacier National Park. There are all the big name stores there like Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, etc. It’s about 40 minutes from the park and will have everything you need and more.
Glacier National Park has become on of our favorite National Parks in the U.S. These surrounding areas definitely add to the beauty of Glacier and are definitely must-see stops.