Visiting Glacier Mountain National Park During the Pandemic is different than any other time. I would love to give you a few suggestions we used during our recent visit.
We had 2 full days in the park. We actually took 4 days for this trip, but as it was a 9-hour drive. The first and last days were in the car mostly.
Things to know before going
First, here are a few things to know. Some of these are the same year to year, but some also apply specifically to visiting Glacier Mountain National Park in 2020.
- Masks are required in the few visitors centers and in the locals stores surrounding the park. Make sure to have your's.
- The shuttles are not running, so parking is horrendous. We hiked early morning and in the evening to avoid the bulk of the crowds.
- The East side of Glacier is closed this season- this includes the Many Glacier area, Two Medicine and anything East of Rising Sun. For an updated list of closures, check the Park's page.
- Logan's pass visitor's center is open, but with limited entry. You may need to wait in line to get in. The Apgar visitor's center is not open, but they have a tent set up with a few things for sale there. Same situation as Logan's pass, with limited visitor's inside. There are plenty of very helpful Park Ranger onsite though. We got a lot of great info from them.
- This is a National Park with wild animals and high elevation. Some of the trails you may have on your list may be closed because of bear activity or even too much snow fall. Be prepared to be flexible.
- Speaking of bears. This is bear country. Make sure and bring bear spray if you are planning on hiking at all. It is cheaper to purchase before you come. While we didn't see any bears while hiking, we saw plenty of fresh scat, so they are everywhere.
The classic pose in front of the park sign. We just had to, right??
Our schedule for the 2 days we were there was this- hiking early (like really early), driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, spending time in higher elevation, do lunch. Then we would head back to the campsite for naps, showers, and dinner. In the evening we ended the day with the sunset over Lake McDonald and swimming. It worked for us and you might want to consider it. We felt like it was the best way to avoid the worst of the crowds.
We tent camped at Glacier Campground. They have RV sites and cabins as well. It was perfect for us and so close to the park. Wherever you decide to stay, make reservations early!
Here is our basic itinerary for the days we had in Glacier. As mentioned above, we knew there was limited parking, so we decided which hikes we wanted to see and both days we hit those first. I had really (like really, really) wanted to hike Highline, but it was closed because of too much snow and dangerous conditions. So, the first day we decided to do the Trail of Cedars and Avalanche Lake trail.
Trail of the Cedars
When I say we arrived early, I mean early. We were in the park by 6 am. Parking at Trail of the Cedars was already filling up, and there were 2 left after we got parked. I know, it's crazy.
You can park further down the road and walk in, if this is your only option, take it. Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche are connected, so if you are able, do both!
If you are looking for an easy trail, Trail of the Cedars is an easy trail to navigate, Avalanche Trail is a harder, but still a pretty easy trail with views you don't want to miss!
Trail of the Cedars is a level boardwalk hike. It is about 1 mile all the way around. It is just gorgeous and so peaceful. We were fortunate to have very little company the whole time we were in the forest. It was such a sweet relief and exactly what I needed.
The falls are so pretty too, I mean just look at this!!
Now, onto the Avalanche trail. It is a 5.7 in and out trail. The end view of avalanche lake is so worth it! Look at the view below!
This area was one of my youngest son's favorite areas of the trip. He loved exploring over the fallen logs. It was also peaceful and quiet here for quite a while before it started to get busy.
After the morning hike, we headed to higher ground- the Going-to-the-sun road. Let me just say a few things about this road. If you have anxiety and a fear of heights, this road is a killer. My hands were cramped by the time I got to Logan's pass.
My son got a photo of me driving (below). You can see I was right up on the steering wheel, driving with both hands and my whole body was totally stiff. 🙂 I thought I was going to die!
If you don't have anxiety or a fear of heights, you will probably love this road, just like my family did.
It was really hard to get a good photo of the drop-offs, but trust me, they are pretty substantial.
The views were definitely worth my near-death experience on the drive up though. It was gorgeous!! Look at these views across the continental divide! Logan's pass was right about 6600 feet. So not the highest place we have been for sure, but some really great drop-offs!
Logan's Pass and Overlook Trail
We hit Logan's pass with the intention of hiking the Hidden Lake trail. Unfortunately, it was closed because of bear activity, so we hiked the overlook trail instead. This is a beautiful trail covered in wildflowers and so many beautiful views.
A good portion of the trail was covered in snow, which made me grateful for my new hiking shoes with awesome grip! The boys slipped and slid the whole way up and down, which wasn't a bad thing in their minds.
There were several groups of mountain goats playing right alongside the trail, completely oblivious to the people hiking around them. It was really pretty cute!
Just a reminder in case you have not been around much wildlife before. Be respectful, keep your distance, and be mindful of where they are at!
The photo below shows the lake from the overlook. Just beautiful, right? If I was a better writer I am sure I could think of a more appropriate way to describe it, but I couldn't!
After lunch, we decided to hit one last trail for the day. We were looking for one with a lot less traffic as it was mid-day by this point. Peigan Pass seemed like the perfect one. It starts along Siyeh Creek and has amazing views.
The trail is covered with wildflowers too. So pretty. On this trail, we saw several piles of fresh bear scat. They were in the area for sure, but we didn't see any.
After a few miles in we made a unanimous decision to head back to the campsite for a little rest. We had logged 10 miles so far, and that felt like enough for one day.
After a lovely nap and dinner of campfire nachos. Check the list at the bottom of the page for all my dutch oven meal recommendations.
Lake Mcdonald is just as beautiful as the photos you see online. The lake is covered in these beautiful, colorful smooth rocks.
Our boys love skipping the perfectly smooth rocks. I discovered that while I used to be really good at rock skipping, apparently that is a skill you can lose after becoming a boring parent. My boys beat me every single time.
It was a really warm day when we were there. Although the water was cold, it wasn't freezing. The first night the boys didn't jump in, but the second they did.
The clouds were so pretty and the sunset breathtaking.
After the lake, we decided to head back up the road to try and get a little astrophotography. This was my first time trying. We parked in the parking area of the Loop trail. This was also the night the Neowise Comet was in sight. You can see it in the lower left-hand corner.
Here is a shot of the Milky Way too. Again, not perfect, but I know what I did wrong and I am excited to try again. I think I'm hooked!
Day 2- Mary's Fall Hike
The next morning the first hike on the schedule was Mary's Fall hike. I have to say this was our favorite area we visited. There are several falls all very close to each other to visit and we loved them all!
On this easy trail, you will get St Mary's Falls, Bering Falls, and Virginia Falls. I would recommend hiking to all if you are physically able. They are all beautiful and unique.
Our day started off a little overcast and the clouds just added to the beauty of the hike. This trail didn't fill up as quickly as the other but was still pretty full by the time we got there at 7 am. Again, visiting Glacier Mountain National Park in 2020 is different than other years.
We were all a little tired on this hike from the late night the night before.
Within a few minutes, look at what was just off the trail? She was beautiful and hardly noticed we were there. She was perfectly content grazing in this area while we watched. Again, be mindful and respectful of wildlife and keep your distance.
Just up the road was her pretty little fawn. We weren't sure what to do. She was on the trail and as you can see, there wasn't a way for us to move and let her pass. Instead, she stayed in front of us for a few hundred yards. Don't worry, she eventually darted past and back to momma.
The first falls on the trail. Isn't it so picturesque?
There are a few little streams to cross. Some with bridges, with stones like the one shown below.
I guess this one was Bering falls. This was my favorite. There was plenty of room to climb around on these falls and explore.
We had this falls all to ourselves for quite a while. By the time we hiked back out, it was packed with other people. That is another great reason to start early!
Last was Virginia Falls. These were beautiful too. There is also a pit toilet here. Although if I am being perfectly honest, if I needed to go, I would either hold it or use the woods. That pit bathroom was pretty bad.
We decided to drive to the end of where the road goes- Rising Sun. An iconic view in Glacier is this goose island. We had to stop to grab a photo. I am glad we did as it is such a great view.
North Fork Area
After this, we decided to head to the North Fork area of Glacier. From what I had read most people said it was remote, roads were bad and there was nothing to see. We felt differently.
I loved this area! While part of the road is gravel, it is still really well maintained. The views are stunning and I thought it was a nice way to take a break from crowds. Also, I would love to stay out here next time we come as well. We just booked way too late, so we were limited.
The photo below shows a typical area of the road. See, not bad at all, right?
Now, if you travel to the North Fork area, you HAVE to go to Polebridge. It is a tiny little town with a great bakery at the Polebridge Mercantile.
They are famous for their huckleberry bear claws. I say they are worth the drive. I think I might have liked the huckleberry macaroons better though! They have a large grassy area and tables for picnicking if you want. There are also volleyball courts too. It is just a fun area.
We headed back to the campsite for naps, showers, and another awesome dutch oven meal.
We ended the day at Lake McDonald again. Another amazing sunset.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Glacier Mountain National Park During Pandemic
So, here are my final thoughts on visiting Glacier during quarantine. Yes, things are different than the normal year. No, the shuttles and tours aren't running. Is there still plenty to see and do? Without a doubt, yes.
The area is just spectacular! My best recommendation is to keep checking for closures, be flexible and get out early or late. All of those things helped this be a really great experience for our family and the reprieve we were looking for!