Wonderlands do exist. Glacier is certainly one of them. Steeply carved verdant valleys capped with stark icy peaks only give a hint of the treasures within the park. There are many alpine lakes, some impressively large and others unbelievably luminous. Not to mention the 25 or so ice sheets – or glaciers.
Most of the world hasn’t seen glaciers since the Pleistocene Epoch (the previous ice age). The park is located in one of eight states that have icy remnants of that chilly era. Unfortunately these gems are retreating faster than scientists predicted. There’s no certain “end-date,” but many estimate Glacier will be “glacier-less” within the century. We highly recommend taking time to see these impressive ice sheets, considering you may not have another chance. No glacier is incredibly accessible, but below we highlight ways to visit. We also urge you to visit aware of the probable disappearance of glaciers and make considerate actions in an effort to preserve what’s left.
More on Retreating Glaciers by the USGS
Attractions & Exploration
- Highline Loop – begin at Logan Pass (hike downhill) or The Loop Trailhead (hike uphill) and traverse the Continental Divide for 12 challenging but rewarding miles. Visit Grinnell Glacier via a short side trail along the way. Catch the shuttle to return to the Pass.
- Grinnell Lake – the lake is accessible by trail (4 mi.). Alternatively, shuttle boats launching from Swiftcurrent Lake will take you to the far end of Lake Josephine. From there the trail is gentle and toilets are available a short way from the boat dock. Popular for wildlife viewing.
- Lake McDonald & St. Mary Lake – two of the largest lakes in the park, they offer swimming, boating, fishing, and more. Both host activities, offer concessions, visitor stations, and camping.
- Waterton Lakes National Park – grab your passport to visit the Canadian half of the park. It’s often much less crowded and offers a slightly different experience.
Camping & Lodging
|West Glacier KOA||$72 and up||>20 mi||full services||✔|
- Summer/Autumn – Despite most of the campgrounds and amenities resting at about 3,500 ft above sea level, the peaks reside around 10,000 ft in elevation. This means the park is practically snowed in by mid-late autumn, and only barley thawed by late May. However, summer and early autumn offer wonderful tempuratures and a range of activities.
- This park is best seen outside of a vehicle. The land is wild and largely inaccessible to any but those on foot/horseback. The park famously draws hikers and backpackers. We recommend spending time on the trail.
- Weather changes very quickly in alpine environments. Be prepared for rain, hail, and snow, even in the warmest months.
- Plenty of wildlife calls Glacier home. We are visitors. Be respectful and cautious, especially of bears. Glacier has a large population of Grizzlies: dangerous, aggressive predators. Ask a ranger how to avoid unfavorable encounters.
- Summer months are busy! Plan ahead and expect large crowds.
- Glacier is open year round and a popular destination for off-season adventure. Heavy snow makes it a popular place for back-country and nordic skiing and snowshoeing.