Glacier National Park On a Budget
SightsGlacier National Park offers countless spots to enjoy the jaw-dropping natural beauty of the surrounding area. For ideas, check out this guide of things to do in Glacier National Park, or this list of activities in Glacier NP.
For starters, drive or hike along the Going to the Sun Highway where you'll find perfect viewpoints of the park that look over Lake McDonald, Rising Sun, Logan Pass, and the Continental Divide. At Looking Glass Hill Road, there are lovely viewpoints looking over the Lower Two Medicine Lake from the hilltop. A must-see is the Sperry Glacier Overlook, which is accessed by a steep climb from the Sperry Chalet. The climb includes a secluded walk through alpine lakes and meadows up a natural rock stairway where you'll see the Little Matterhorn, Bearhat Mountain, and Mt. Reynolds. After passing by cairns, you'll get to the edge of the overlook to view the magnificent glacier; get there soon though, as scientists expect the glacier to disappear completely by 2030.
Park Areas and NearbyThanks to the Continental Divide, the park is naturally divided into the east and west sides of the park. The eastern side has the most glaciers and hiking trails and tends to be the least crowded. The western side is just as beautiful as the east, although it tends to be the most crowded due to its large number of lodges and lakes. There are a few cities outside the park where you can stock up on food before heading into the park. One such city is Polebridge, a small community that has a bakery and mercantile. Babb is another small community that lies on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and has a few stores and lodging options. West Glacier is the community at the west entrance to the park and has plenty of lodging and restaurant options.
ActivitiesGlacier National Park offers endless outdoor activities to fit every type of adventurer. You can bike along one of the many well maintained trails, go boating or canoeing on the lakes, and camp under the stars. The park also features over 700 miles of hiking trails, including the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail which runs 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico, and diving the park in two. Hiking the Continental Divide trail within the park is about a 10-day trek along the trail; keep in mind that it's not very well maintained so be prepared for the unexpected. If you prefer something less advanced, try the Trail of the Cedars, a partially paved trail that has views of the old growth forest and Avalanche Gorge. Or, wander along the Garden Wall Trail which is perfect for beginners and runs along the Continental Divide, featuring views of the alpine tundra and meadows.
Food and DiningFood within the park is limited to the dining halls at the hotels and the few shops that are scattered around the park. The Granite Park Chalet and the Sperry Chalet are two such dinning halls where you can purchase food. Be advised that these shops and restaurants are often only open from June-October and are not always fully stocked, so be sure to bring plenty of food. The best food options are located outside the park in Babb, Polebridge, and West Glacier where you'll find more restaurants and shops.
TransportationFor a more scenic route, you can take either the Great Northern Rail or Amtrak into the park. There's an east and west train station, with the west station being the most historic of the two and even has a small museum attached to it. You can also fly into the Glacier National Park Airport near Kalispell, Montana and can either drive in or use an airport shuttle to get into the park. No matter how you enter the park, you'll have to pay a small permit fee that is based on how you get in.
Getting around the park is easiest via car, especially with all of the scenic highways there are to explore. If you prefer not to drive, you can take one of the few shuttle bus companies that operate throughout the park. There are two shuttle buses you have to pay for, the Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle and the Jammers bus service. The National Park Service offers a free shuttle service as well, which runs throughout the park.