When visiting Kalispell, you’ll definitely want to explore Glacier National Park. From downtown, it’s a beautiful 32-mile scenic drive to the west entrance of park with plenty of tempting stops along the way — family attractions, out-of the-way eateries, wildlife viewing areas and amazing vistas. Once in the Park, you can easily take in popular activities like the hike to Avalanche Lake, a paddle across Lake McDonald or a Red Bus Tour to Logan Pass and beyond — and get back to town in plenty of time for a nice dinner or splashing in the hotel pool.
The park is open year-round. In fact the fall, winter and spring are known as the secret seasons to locals and frequent visitors. The slower pace enables you to enjoy the special wonders of the park such as spectacular fall colors, cross-country skiing or snow shoeing in the quiet of winter and a bicycle ride on the famed Going To The Sun highway in the spring before open for vehicle traffic. Whatever the season Glacier National Park will be a trip of a lifetime.
BONUS: A COOL DEAL FOR KIDS
During the 2015–2016 school year and extending through the summer, fourth graders from across the United States can get into Glacier National Park for free — and bring their families too! That’s just one benefit of the Every Kid In a Park program, launched this year by the White House and a coalition of government agencies to help ensure that America’s youth can experience first-hand the most beautiful places across our nation. Complementing that program, the National Park Foundation is offering travel assistance and other support for families in need through its Open OutDoors for Kids program.
Day-venturing in Glacier
ACTIVITIES YOU’LL LOVE
Winter Activities — Winter in the park is beautiful, imagine yourself cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on the Going-to-the-Sun road (closed to vehicle traffic) feeling like you have a national park all to yourself. Several ski trails are recommended.
Red Bus Tours — Take a Red Bus tour over historic Going-to-the-Sun Road and see breathtaking natural wonders. The best part? You’re not driving so you can keep your eyes on the scenery rather than the road.
Naturalist Tours — See the park through the eyes of a ranger or naturalist. Tours are available through the park staff and private outfitters.
St. Mary’s Lake Cruise — Climb aboard a beautiful wood motorboat and tour scenic St. Mary’s Lake. If you’ve only seen it in photos, you haven’t seen it. Boat tours are also available on Lake McDonald, Two Medicine, Swiftcurrent and Lake Josephine.
The Logan Pass Visitor Center — This recently renovated center at the top of Logan Pass marks the high point of Going-to-the-Sun Road. The bookstore is filled with great reads on Glacier and there are several boardwalk trails near by. Also a sure bet for mountain goat viewing.
Lunch on the Deck at Lake McDonald Lodge — Great food and an even better view. The perfect place to reflect on your time in the park or get fueled up for your next hike.
Whitewater Float on the Middle Fork — The Middle Fork makes up the southern boundary of the park. And it’s a the perfect mix of deep emerald slicks and tumbling rapids. We suggest a guide, they’re easy to book in advance or just pick one in the West Glacier area.
Cinnamon Roll at Polebridge — No kidding. It’s a bit of a rough drive up to Polebridge, but the general store’s bakery is worth it. So is the scenery. From here you can access Bowman and Kintla lakes by car, where the fjord-like views will leave you awestruck.
Glacier Institute Class – Of Bears and Berries or Wildflower Wanderings are just a couple of the courses offered by the Glacier Institute, a park partner dedicated to offering exciting outdoor educational experiences for children and adults.
Crown of the Continent – Uncover the sights, sounds, experiences and authentic character of our one-of-a-kind region by visiting the Crown of the Continent Geotourism website. Find great local places to eat, unique events to attend and learn how to engage in local topics and communities. You can pick up your free Geotourism MapGuide at the Kalispell Visitor Information Center.
THINGS YOU’LL NEED
Your itinerary will dictate much of what you need for a day-venture in Glacier. Still, there are a few musts. For clothing, dress in layers and be sure to have a rain jacket handy. The weather can change quickly in the mountains and can vary from one elevation to the next. We like good, all-around trail shoes or boots. During midsummer, we suggest having bug spray handy. For gear, we carry a camera, binoculars, daypack, water bottle, trail map and identification guides for plants and animals.
SEASONS YOU’LL ENJOY
Every season in the park has its own glory. Summer is the high season. From late June through early September most everything in the park is open, including the restaurants, attractions, activities and Going-to-the-Sun Road. Temperatures vary but a typical day is between 75˚ and 80˚ F and there’s plenty of sun.
Fall is a time of transition for Glacier, and it is spectacular. The tamaracks turn gold in late September/early October. Wildlife is active and generally easier to spot as the leaves fall. High temperatures start off in the 70s but by mid- to late-October are more likely to be in the 40s and 50s. As for what’s open, that changes, too. In most years, park roads are accessible through mid-October, however, a big snow can cause temporary closures.
Winter is pure solitude. There are no snowmobiles allowed in Glacier, no snow coaches either. The only way to get around is by cross-country ski and snowshoe. It can be truly magical under a falling snow or making fresh tracks along McDonald Creek.
Spring is another transitional time, a time when much of the park’s power is on display. In the spring, the snow melts and the rivers swell, making it a great time for whitewater enthusiasts. It’s also a fantastic time to see wildlife with newborn elk, deer and bears wandering the lower elevations.
ROUTE YOU’LL TAKE
From Kalispell drive north and east on Highway 2 toward West Glacier to the west entrance to the park. Drive time is about 45 minutes.