As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s a good idea to try to get an early start to your day in the national park. We were in Montana about mid-July and at the time, sunrise was a around 6 am and sunset a little past 9 pm. This gives you a lot of daylight to work with.
We ended up leaving our hotel closer to around 7 am and drove over to the west entrance to Glacier National Park, starting at the Apgar Visitor Center. There are three visitor centers in the park in total. Apgar is the West Glacier entrance, Logan Pass Visitor Center is somewhere in the middle of the park and St. Mary Visitor Center is on the east side of the park. The road in between Apgar and St. Mary is called the Going-to-the-Sun Road and is really the main highlight of the park.
If you are starting from West Glacier, like we were, there is a small village before you reach the Apgar Visitor Center where there are some small stores, markets, etc. to stock up of goods before heading into the park. At the visitor center, one of the park rangers went over a map with us, highlighting different places we should consider stopping while driving on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
We chose to drive ourselves but you can also take the free park shuttles or book a tour. There’s one particular tour company that seemed very popular as you could see their iconic red buses all over the park. You can find more information on their tours here.
Some quick information about Going-to-the-Sun Road. It’s 50 miles long and if you never stopped it would probably take about 2 hours. It usually opens around late June or early July and closes around mid to late October. There are various places to stop including campgrounds and the visitor centers but there are also areas on the side of the road to pull over for pictures or small lots for more popular scenery or hiking trails. You can find more information, including road closures, here.
Also, keep in mind this is all in Glacier National Park so you will need a park pass for access. These passes are per vehicle and not per person. My parents typically buy an annual national parks pass since they tend to visit multiple parks in a year. This allows them access to any U.S. National Park for a whole year. When considering an annual pass, there are also certain discounts such as the Senior Lifetime Pass or free annual passes for U.S. military, etc. You can take a look here to see if you qualify for any. You don’t have to buy them ahead of time as they are available at the parks.
However, if you do not need an annual pass for all national parks, the current summer pricing as of July 2019 is $35 per car for a 7 day permit or $20 for a single entry pass. I highly recommend you purchase a 7 day permit at the minimum since you may want to enter the park more than once in order to see everything. For more information on park entrance fees, you can check here.
Now, I realize this has already been a lot of information and I haven’t even touched on the places we saw but let me preface one last thing before continuing. I went on this trip with my parents who are not able to do a lot of hiking especially anything that has steep trails or stairs so we primarily drove and parked and took really short easy trails. Therefore, I do not have a lot of information or pictures on many of the trails in the park.
Now back to our actual day. Like I mentioned, we started at the Apgar Visitor Center and from there the road basically follows Lake McDonald until a little past Lake McDonald Lodge. We stopped briefly here and walked up to the lake and took pictures. There are some dining options here though I’m not sure they were open when we arrived in the morning and restrooms. However, we only made a brief stop here. It did look like a lot of people were starting the red bus tours here so I guess you could drive here, park and take the red bus for your tour.
Heading a little more up the road, we stopped by the Sacred Dancing Cascade area. Then continued on the Loop which we discovered was mostly hiking trails so we instead continued onwards.
From there, heading towards Logan’s Pass, we saw a lot of what I call mini waterfalls from the glaciers melting, the glaciers themselves, wildflowers and in general just beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, when we reached Logan’s Pass, the parking lot was already full. I’ve heard there are a lot of great trails here as it’s the highest point on the Going-to-the-Sun Road but you have to get here super early or be very lucky to get a spot.
Since we couldn’t park at Logan’s Pass, we continued on to the part of the road following St. Mary River. There are a couple overlooks along the way and an area with a boat ramp where I believe you could take a scenic cruise but we did not.
A little before we hit the east end of the road, we had a bear encounter with a golden baby bear! It was only a brief glimpse and I did not get the best photo.
After that we reached the St. Mary Visitor Center and exited the Going-to-the-Sun Road and the park.
We decided to head north on the US-89 and tried to go visit another part of the park called Many Glaciers but when we go to that park entrance, they were temporarily closed since there was no available parking. You had to have a reservation for the lodging options up there in order to get in. They did say they may reopen in the next hour to three hours but we decided to skip it for now and try again tomorrow at an earlier time.
Instead, we got back on the US-89 and headed south, past the St. Mary area, down to the Two Medicine part of the park. On the drive down, we even saw horses walking on the side of the road.
Luckily the Two Medicine entrance was open and on the road to Two Medicine Lake we saw a LOT of cyclists. They were also a lot of them congregated by the picnic area at the lake taking a break from their long ride.
On the way to the lake we stopped by the Running Eagle Falls trail. This is a VERY easy trail only 0.6 miles roundtrip with little elevation gain that leads to the falls, also nicknamed “Trick Falls” because it is actually two waterfalls in the same location.
By the lake, there are a few trails but we just walked along the lake a bit and stopped by the gift shop and used the restrooms. They do sell hot food in the shop so it’s a good place to stop for some food. We brought a lot of chips, nuts and jerky though so we just had that throughout the day as our mid-day meal.
After Two Medicine, we headed back to our hotel via the US-2 which borders the southside of Glacier National Park. It is probably longer distance wise but is a much smoother drive with the twists and turns and also the higher speed limit means you’re going much faster.
Back near the hotel, we ate at Kobe Steakhouse and Sushi for dinner. You had the option for sitting at a teppanyaki table for both teppanyaki and sushi or at a regular table for just sushi. We sat on the sushi-only side and ordered a variety of rolls and sashimi which were just okay.
Also, just a random tip, Glacier National Park does have webcams for certain locations so you could take a peek at how busy the parks are especially the parking. You can find the webcam links here.
This post is part of a series:
- Glacier National Park, Montana & Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada: Day One
- Glacier National Park, Montana & Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada: Day Two
- Glacier National Park, Montana & Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada: Day Three
- Calgary, Alberta
- Banff National Park, Alberta and Yoho National Park, British Columbia: Day One
- Banff National Park, Alberta and Yoho National Park, British Columbia: Day Two
- Kootenay National Park, British Columbia
- Last Day in Montana