Glacier National Park- What to Know Before You GO!


this is Steve again and as you know

glacier is my favorite National Park and

I've been to most of them I've produced

several videos on the park including two

90 or so minute travel guides that have

a great amount of detail about specific

parts of the park like the

going-to-the-sun road the parks lodges

and the parks most popular trails I

wrote this video to introduce this

fantastic place to future visitors and

to provide you with the info that you

need to make the most of your trip

especially but not necessarily if you're

a hiker because I think everyone should

experience my favorite Park it has

everything for the person who loves the

outdoors and nature there's a beautiful

Drive mountains lakes streams broad

valleys the first wildlife and of course

glaciers but my favorite part is the

over 700 miles of trails that help you

experience at all you probably know that

I've produced a 90-minute documentary

slash Travel Guide called glacier the

hikers National Park it covers lodging

in the Sun Road and other basics and it

also takes a very detailed look at

several of the parks most popular trails

the park has trails for everyone even if

you're in a wheelchair if you're a

backpacker glacier has great multi-day

backcountry hikes but permits are

required for those and there are a

limited number of backcountry camping

permits most people have heard of the

Appalachian Trail but did you know

there's also a Continental Divide Trail

the 3100 mile trail begins in Mexico and

goes all the way to Glacier National

Park and then on to Canada a few of my

favorite glacier trails are actually

part of this monster trail

I'll show you a hiking plan for a

one-week stay I'll also provide

alternatives because weather bears and

mother nature's other influences don't

really care that you really want to do a

trail on a certain day nature is in

charge here and she's gonna do what she

wants to do regardless of your plans

Fletcher has easy hikes shaded trails

trails and beautiful valleys and of

course some magnificent trails along the

Continental Divide that have amazing

views most of the trails are out and

back but there are also some loop trails

and some one-way trails that require

transportation back to the trailhead

I'll tell you how to arrange for that -

for those of you who are new to the park

first let's say that there are five

general areas plus one that's accessed

through the adjacent companion park in

Canada called Waterton Lakes National

Park the Park Service website created a

trail map for each of these five areas

these maps include data that can be

confusing and frankly a little hard to

figure out but the website also lists

distance and elevation gain information

below the map and the map itself the

trails are listed at the top of each map

along with the net elevation game so

first here's a brief overview of each

area let's start with the Lake McDonald

area this is where most people enter the

park and it can be a bit crowded the

base elevation here is the lowest in the

park and most trails are well below the

six thousand to sixty nine hundred foot

tree line so they're shaded which is

handy on hot days masses fires in 2017

and 2018 burned about thirty thousand

acres in this area the many glacier map

covers trails in the northeast part of

the park which is my favorite

there are flat trails with great views

strenuous Ike's with great views

and my favorite trail which ends at a

glacier the North Fork and goat haunt

map extend to the Canadian border

North Fork area has many remote Finger

Lakes to access via rough gravel roads

don't HOD can only be accessed from a

trail or through Canada the st. mary'

map includes trails along the east side

of the Sun Road and Logan paths

here you'll find easy access to

waterfalls near the Sun Road hikes to

high mountain passes and popular trails

at Logan Pass to medicine is in the

southeast part of the park from the time

the park opened in 1910 until the

going-to-the-sun road was completed in

1932 most park visitors arrived by train

in the nearby town of East Glacier today

too medicine is less crowded than the

other areas of the park which is kind of

odd because it has some amazing trails

so that covers the five Maps but there

are also some great trails in the

adjoining waterton national park so I'll

talk about a couple of these too if

you're not a hiker there's another way

to do a trail by force at the end of the

video I'll list my favorite hikes which

I consider must dues and I'll have a

list of what I would call second-tier

hikes one very important thing we need

to talk about before hitting the trail

is safety including bear safety moose

and goat safety even mountain lion

safety and well my even saw a porcupine

near my swift current cabin once

even if you're not gonna hike a trail

you need to read the parts info on bear

safety for legal reasons I can't really

describe it here all I'm gonna say is

that it's very important for you to know

how to be safe out here I've hiked

hundreds of miles in the park and I've

never seen a bear near me hey bear but I

always follow the rules and rule number

one is make noise I have been close to

goats and moose on trails and even they

can be dangerous so please educate

yourself and maybe buy a can of bear

spray when you get to the park is it's

not allowed on most airlines and I've

got one more housekeeping item before we

start hiking Glacier is a popular park

and at times it can be hard to get

around up to three million people visit

each year and the vast majority do it in

about the three month window when the

going to the Sun Road is open which is

usually in late June or early July

depending on the weather and it usually

closes in mid September to October in

the parks Lodge as well they're not open

year-round either the lodges on the west

side open in mid-may the east side

lodges don't open til a few weeks later

usually in early June and they tend to

close in mid-september which is a couple

of weeks earlier than the west side

lodges to help you get around there is a

form of mass transit the parks website

has a getting around page check it out

at least once before heading here

there's border crossing info typical

driving times from the five park areas

in shuttle and tour information the

shuttle system has its own page and even

if you're planning on driving to

trailheads every day you may feel

differently once you're here so read it

the hiker shuttle is free along the

going-to-the-sun road from Saint Mary to

Logan Pass and on the west side it's

free from Apgar to Logan Pass

the west side shuttles run every 15 of

30 minutes but they only run every 40

minutes from st. Mary express service to

Logan Pass starts at about 7:00 a.m. the

regular surface doesn't begin until 9

a.m. and the last bus leaves Logan Pass

at 7 p.m. and you don't want to miss

that one

of course these times are subject to

change so always check for yourself

and remember that there's no cell

service in the park while there's a

little bit Apgar generally can get it

but the rest of the park you're not

gonna have any connection I've heard

that you can get some coverage if you

have t-mobile near st. Mary's but the

bulk of the park has absolutely no cell

phone coverage and yes there's Wi-Fi in

the Park lodges but it's very slow and

frankly intermittent don't count on it

because of size restrictions on the Sun

Road the shuttles are small and they

only hold 12 to 20 people and they're

often full so you may have to wait for a

second or even a third bus during peak

times and our weights are not unknown

there's another way to get around and

that's with a red bus we have both

shuttles and tours the shuttles tend

operate only when the lodges are open

for a fee of three to ten dollars on the

west side they can take you to and from

the train station or from Apgar to Lake

McDonald on the east side you can take a

red bus from the mini glacier hotel or

the Motor Inn to the st. Mary visitors

center glacier is beautiful maybe too

beautiful overcrowding is now a problem

in the last few years about 3 million

people have visited the park that's up

about 50% from 10 years ago I was here

when Al Gore visited I hiked to Grinnell

glacier with his group and by the early

2000s media reports claimed that all the

glaciers in the park would be gone by


prompting millions to come to see them

before they melted away but 26 of the

glaciers are still here by the way you

still may find a few signs in the park

that claim all the glaciers will be gone

by 2020 they removed a few of them in

2019 but they didn't have enough money

in the budget to remove all of the

inaccurate signs but even though the

glaciers are still here I bet

overcrowding will continue to be an

issue the vast majority of visitors stay

outside the park

meaning they drive in this leads to

traffic jams and full parking lots some

parts of the park are even closed for

hours each day because of overcrowding

before your trip monitor the parks

parking status page in its Road status

page to see where and what time of day

overcrowding starts to shut things down

and consider taking a red bus or hiker

shuttle when you're

in the park if you're lucky enough to

stay in the park check with the hotel

staff or a local ranger station before

leaving for another area road congestion

is also caused by road construction such

delays are common on the son road and

there may be closures at night too in

2020 and 2021 the popular mini glacier

road will be reconstructed and long

delays are expected both in and out of

the area

let's talk about trip planning the plan

is important but keep in mind that

glacier is not a theme park

nature's plans may not coincide with

yours so first plan for flexibility bear

activity can close trails and

campgrounds weather is unpredictable and

can change quickly in the mountains

forest fires can utterly ruin your plans

in recent years my annual trip has been

canceled twice because much of the park

was on fire and smoke from fires even if

there are hundreds of miles away and

make hiking and even breathing difficult

and for some dangerous so when planning

a week to ten day trip I plan for at

least one bad weather day your plans

will also depend on if you're staying on

the east or west side remember it takes

two to three hours to cross the park on

the Sun row keep in mind that those who

are in really good shape but many more

options when it comes to doing trails

I prefer nine to ten day trips but most

people stay for less than a week so the

itinerary I'm about to describe is for a

seven days stay let's say you arrive in

the afternoon so on day one get to know

the area read over the park info they

give you when you enter the park and ask

a ranger or hotel staff if any of the

trails are closed ask where there have

been wildlife sightings then explore

your local area ask other visitors what

they've done that they really enjoy and

take a short walk or hike just to see

how the altitude is affecting you

remember the east side elevation is

about five thousand feet and that's

about two thousand feet higher than it

is on the west side near Lake McDonald

for dinner or perhaps after dinner visit

one of the parks historic hotels even if

you're not staying in many areas have

Ranger Talks each night near a

campground or in a hotel ballroom in

many glacier a ranger sets up a spotting

scope in the swift current parking lot

each evening you may not be lucky enough

to see a bear but there's almost always

something on one of the mountain ridges

and of course you don't have to do all

of these things on the first night

you've got six more whatever you do

don't just hang around in your room it's

far too beautiful out here

rooms are for sleeping and writing in

your journal that's how I get the base

material for these scripts unless I get

to the park really early on day one I

use my first full day in the park day

two to get used to the altitude and

maybe do a short hike but most

importantly that's the day I take a

bunch of pictures drive to going to the

Sun Road or take a bus tour to another

area of the park that you haven't seen

it takes two to three hours to drive the

50 ish mile going to the Sun Road and if

you're lucky enough to get a parking

place at Logan Pass stop and look around

you never know what you might see or

photograph but please remember these are

wild animals don't try to take a selfie

with them if you feel up to it take an

hour or so to hike out to my favorite

lunch spot with it's great view of

heavens peak in the valley below on the

Sun Road when you come to Sun Rift Gorge

stop and take a look at the gorge and

maybe walk down to bearing Falls it's

not far and don't miss one of my

favorite photo ops in the park wild

goose island viewpoint it's just a few

steps from the Sun Road play sure is a

great place for photographers and

instagramers and of course remember that

the east side of the park is lit by the

Sun in the morning and the west side of

the park is lit in the afternoon and

also remember there is no phone service

in most of the park

so instead of just taking a selfie why

not take something that's suitable for

framing by day three it's time to take a

real hike one of my must-do hikes for

first-time visitors who are physically

fit here's a list of my must-do hikes

number one and my favorite hike in

Glacier National Park

it's the Grinnell glacier trail this is

one of the few trails where you can

actually walk up to a glacier number two

on my list is the Highline trail from

Logan Pass and connecting with the Swift

Current Pass trail all the way too many

quai sure now number three is a tie so

I'm kind of cheating here the ptarmigan

tunnel seiyya pass or crypt lake or how

very nice hikes and they're also a

little bit more difficult but there's

also an easy one on my list number four

bullhead Lake so on day three if it's

open I suggest you do the Grinnell

glacier trail first it's my favorite

hike and it's not too difficult it takes

me two and a half to three hours of hard

hiking to get up there I'm taking photos

and videos at many of the beautiful

spots along the way and remember this

one is three miles shorter when you take

the boat for many this is a tough day

but it's one you will never forget day

four if you're tired and sore maybe with

a blister or two you may want a day that

doesn't have quite as much up as the

Grinnell Fletcher trail so the Highline

trail which is up to fifteen point two

miles long might be a good option for it

because it has only about eight hundred

feet up up when you go all the way down

swift current the fifteen point two mile

version from Logan passed a mini glacier

now it takes me about eight hours now

that's too much for you consider just

going down to the loop that's only

twelve miles long and it has only 330

feet of up but you'll need the hiker

shuttle to get back to Logan Pass both

routes go down about 2300 feet and

remember that hiking poles make

descending much easier on the knees if

either of those routes are just too long

for you consider just taking the two to

three hours to go out to my lunch spot

and back it's a great hike and because

it doesn't take that much time you can

do another trail like Hidden Lake

okay now we're at day five after two

relatively hard days I plan for an easy

one and bullhead Lake is perfect it's an

eight mile round trip that feels

relatively flat they say it goes up and

down about 400 feet but really you can't

tell day six well since yesterday was a

pretty easy day it's time for another

tough hike so this would be one of my

number three's the ptarmigan tunnel SIA

past or crypt Lake any of these trails

will make for a very memorable last day

but these hikes should only be done by

people who are in really pretty darn

good shape because these are pretty

tough if that doesn't include you will

consider doing one of my second tier

hikes like iceberg lake

on day seven getaway day get up before

the Sun to see Glacier at daybreak I do

this nearly every day to capture images

and get time-lapse sunrises Glacier

looks incredible at dawn and everyone

should experience this at least once

when they come to pleasure if I don't

have to leave until midday I'll also try

to do a short hike before I leave the

Falls hike from the Sun Road the trail

of the Cedars on the west side or maybe

even a jaunt out to my lunch spot if I

have to cross through the park basically

take in as much as possible you may have

noticed that I haven't said too much

about nighttime activities for me nights

are for contemplation and wonder but I

know that's not for everyone most of the

parks hotels have entertainment at night

and I mentioned the Ranger talks hotels

also offer fine dining and a bar in the

bars unlike your room have a TV

regrettably kids can play online video

games in a lobby at night while the rest

of us take in the incredible ambience of

the place if you are a young couple

remember that the walls in these old

hotels are very thin even in the dark

glacier is amazing this is a great place

for stargazing especially when there's a

new moon the altitude and clear sky

means a city dweller will see more stars

than they've ever seen before you can't

do all the great trails in the park on

one trip in any trail may be closed for

any number of reasons so here's a list

of my top tier must-do hikes to choose

from first of course is the Grinnell

glacier trail the trail of the Cedars is

number 2 followed by the Highline trail

and that means just about any version of

it including my lunch spot the ptarmigan

tunnel seiyya pass bullhead lake

Lake and st. Mary's Falls are all hikes

that you should do at least once but if

any of those trails are closed or if

some of them are just too hard for you

these trails are on my second tier of


iceberg Lake Grinnell Lake I can pass

swift current pass

Dawson pass Virginia Falls Hidden Lake

avalanche lake a bikuni Falls Fisher cap

Lake to see the moose and Sperry Chalet

there are likely plenty of other nice

trails out there that I haven't done and

I hope that you'll tell me about them in

the comments so what do you do if the

weather is bad

well first come prepared bring gore-tex

versions of everything from shoes to

Hatton clothes and hike anyway I'm one

of my first trips to the park I spent

several hours on one rainy day just

hanging out in The Many Glacier Hotel

the ever-changing view of the large

scale windows in the warmth and smells

of the fireplace made for a remarkably

pleasant day well for several hours

anyway and remember the weather can be

quite different on either side of the

park if it's raining on the side you're


check with a ranger or hotel staff to

see where it might not be raining on

more than one occasion I've just driven

to another area and done hikes over

there forest fires are a bigger problem

I cancelled a couple of my recent annual

trips because of large fires late in the

season fire smoke even from distant

fires can make hiking difficult and even

dangerous bear activity can also cause

trails and campgrounds to be closed

remember this is not a theme park mother

nature is not your mom and like your mom

she has no favorites but nature isn't

the only thing that can hurt your trip

glacier has become a victim of its own

success crowds have made travel and

especially parking a big problem and you

can see the parking lot status on the

website and remember you can also find

Road status information on the website

too many cars can cause Rangers to close

road access to popular areas of the park

I think the best way to combat

overcrowding is to start early

but not in the dark by the way bears and

other animals like to drink in the lakes

and streams early in the morning so be

alert and be careful

for many glacier is a once-in-a-lifetime

trip but for me in countless others we

keep coming back because you just can't

do all these trails in one week if

you're not a hiker there's another way

to see glaciers backcountry on horseback

the vendor provides trail rides of

various lengths in several areas of the

park a full-day ride can take you to

cracker lake it's probably the bluest

lake in the park in 2017 a massive

forest fire destroyed the remote Sperry

Chalet it's been rebuilt

instead of taking a very difficult hike

you can once again ride up there

overnight rides are also available

another way to see the park is by boat

tours are available in most areas of the

park and there's one in Waterton Lakes

too I've been on all of them and they're

a nice way to relax after a long hike or

perhaps on a day when you want to let

the blisters heal a bit I hope this

video helps you plan your trip if you

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if you're looking for more information

on Glacier don't forget I have another

90-minute documentary called glacier the

hikers national park it's also available

on my youtube channel thanks for

watching and come on out to Glacier my

favorite National Park and I think

you'll agree this place is special