Once snow begins to pile up, Going-to-the-Sun Road is plowed as far as Lake McDonald Lodge. With the heavy snow, skiing and snowshoeing opportunities abound near West Glacier, all with a backdrop of the jagged peaks of the Continental Divide.
Visiting Glacier National Park in the winter requires planning ahead for clothing, equipment and food since most park facilities are closed. The Sportsman Ski Haus in Kalispell can take care of all clothing and gear you’ll need for any kind of winter outing. Ski and snowshoe rentals are available.
A hearty Montana breakfast is the best way to start a wintry day in the mountains. Before you leave town, fuel up at Sykes Diner with some corned beef hash or a plate of biscuits and gravy. Top off the tank with Sykes’ famous “10 Cent Cup of Coffee.”
In West Glacier, the park headquarters is open weekdays and is the best source for detailed information on trails and snow conditions. On weekends, go to the Apgar Visitor Center. Information on road and trail status and the availability of ranger-led snow shoe trips is available at Visiting Glacier National Park in Winter.
Gentle terrain and easy access to wonderful winter scenery make the area around Lake McDonald Lodge the most popular ski and snowshoe location in the park. From West Glacier, follow the Going-to- the-Sun Road for eight miles along Lake McDonald, to Lake McDonald Lodge where the winter road closure and parking area are located.
The trip to Sacred Dancing Cascades takes you through a forested valley along McDonald Creek. Just over 5 miles round trip, the trek offers beautiful views of snowy mountain peaks in every direction. Head up the unplowed Sun Road 1.8 miles. Turn left and go a short distance to the bridge over McDonald Creek for a view of McDonald Falls. Once you’ve crossed the bridge, turn right. Travel upstream one mile along the west bank of McDonald Creek to the foot bridge at Sacred Dancing Cascades. The bridge will take you to the unplowed road. Follow the road back to Lake McDonald Lodge.
Keep your binoculars handy, winter can be the best time to see wildlife in Glacier. Moose, elk and deer are easier to spot against a snowy landscape and some more reclusive species wander down to lower elevations. White-tailed ptarmigans and harlequin ducks are a couple of the hearty bird varieties who winter in the park.
If you’re visiting Glacier on a Friday or Saturday, cozy up for dinner at the Historic Belton Chalet, a remarkable old lodge built by the Great Northern Railway in 1910 and located just outside the park entrance. Or back in Kalispell, stop by Brannigan’s Irish Pub for Bangers & Mash, Hand-Made Pasties or Shepherd’s Pie.