One of the most beautiful parks we have been to is the “Crown of the Continent.” The nickname came from George Bird Grinnell when he wrote, “Far away in northwestern Montana, hidden from view by clustering mountain-peaks, lies an unmapped corner—the Crown of the Continent.” Grinnel thought the glaciers in the mountains looked like the jewels in the crown, and we did as well. This guide will help you decide what to do for a kid and dog-friendly Glacier National Park visit.
Glacier National National Park is in the Northwest portion of Montana. It’s been a park since 1910 and is one of the oldest in America and the 5th largest in the lower 48, behind Death Valley, Yellowstone, Everglades, and Grand Canyon.
The secret is out on how wonderful Glacier National Park is, and the park has been increasing in popularity. In 2020 because of restrictions with COVID, the park had 1.7 million visitors. However, in 2021 the park had just over 3 million visitors. The reservation pass that we will discuss helps significantly with this high attendance.
As you read through the guide, you will see why Glacier is considered one of the most beautiful destinations in the United States or maybe on Earth. Our first Glacier National Park visit was in Late July/August of 2021. It quickly became a favorite park that year, and we had an epic year. In 2022, we visited again for a short trip on the way to North Dakota.
An important thing to know before your Glacier National Park visit is a vehicle reservation is required for vehicles entering the Going-to-the-Sun Road and the North Fork area. After the end of the season (September 11th, 2022, this year), they remove the restriction for the rest of the season. If you can’t get a pass, you can come to the park before 6 AM or after 4 PM for the Going-to-the-Sun Road and after 6 PM for the North Fork area. In addition to a vehicle reservation, you will still need the National Park pass.
When reading through our guide, remember we live in a 36FT Class A and travel the parks in our Jeep. Some things may be different from the way you travel. There are size restrictions on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Any vehicle over 21 feet or wider than 8 feet is prohibited between Avalanche Creek and Rising Sun. Also, you should be under 10 feet high if you drive west from Logan Pass to the Loop due to rock overhangs. Glacier does have a shuttle system if you are too large.
THE GEOLOGY AND ECOSYSTEM
You will find all the best things in Glacier National Park, including 175 mountains, 762 lakes, 563 streams, 200 waterfalls, and 26 glaciers. We should also say the water you see will be some of the most beautiful blues ever.
The 26 glaciers in the park met the size criteria of 0.1 km² in 2015. A glacier is a mass of ice so big that it flows under its weight, and that threshold is an area of 0.1 km².
You can also see glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park, Wrangle-St. Elias National Park and Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. In the lower 48, you can see glaciers in Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. If you’re in Washington, North Cascades National Park has the highest concentration of glaciers in the lower 48 states. Another bonus about North Cascades is it’s a lot less busy.
If you’re visiting Glacier National Park to see glaciers, you will need to look a little harder. Only a few glaciers can be seen from the road, and others can be seen from hiking. It is easier to see the glaciers after the snow has melted away.
The park sits on the Continental Divide, and you pass the divide while visiting the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
WILDLIFE YOU MAY SEE ON YOUR GLACIER NATIONAL PARK VISIT
We think the big prize in the park is seeing a grizzly bear. We have been lucky enough to see grizzlies on each trip to Glacier National Park and black bear. Great spots to see a bear are at the beginning of the Going-to-the-Sun road near the river (we’ve seen two in that area), North Fork Area, Two Medicine Valley, Saint Mary Valley, Lake McDonald, and Logan Pass Area. Glacier has one of the largest remaining grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states.
You can also see Beaver in the creeks, Pikas, Bighorn Sheep, Elk, Mountain Goats, and bats. You can also rarely see Mountain Lions and lynx.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Glacier’s weather can be very extreme. It was warm during the day when we were here at the end of July and early August. It’s pretty chill in September. We saw a lot of fog on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The fog rolled up the mountain and onto the narrow road while we were on it, with nothing stopping us from falling to our death. HAHA!
The park sits on the Continental Divide, with two types of weather clashing. The warm, wet Pacific air is moving in from the west, and cold, dry Arctic air from the northeast. The weather meets at the Continental Divide—Logan Pass.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
We stayed approximately 20 minutes from Glacier National Park in a boondocking spot. We stayed in the Flathead Nat forest for each of the two years (N48.499303° W114.132744°). The boondocking site is quiet and perfect for exploring Glacier National Park, Flathead, Whitefish, and the surrounding area. Starlink is excellent, and Verizon has some coverage as well.
However, there are campgrounds in the area, and if you plan out a little bit, you shouldn’t have difficulty finding the perfect spot. You can reserve campsites or try one of the first-come, first-served campgrounds in Glacier National Park.
THINGS TO DO IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
In this guide, we have listed more kid-friendly hikes, places we enjoyed a lot, and shorter adventures where we didn’t have to leave our furry friends too long. However, if something mentioned here doesn’t sound challenging enough for you, Glacier National Park has over 1 million acres and 745 miles of maintained hiking trails.
Since there is only one trail in Glacier National Park that allows dogs, we have also listed a few that are right outside the park that allows dogs so that you can enjoy time with them.
On your Glacier National Park visit, we highly recommend checking out the visitor centers. I wish we had room for all-the-things because I could do all the collections. HAHA! Glacier National Park has three visitor centers Apgar (West Glacier Entrance), St. Mary (East Entrance), and Logan Pass (which sits at the Continental Divide at 6,646 feet). The visitor center at Logan Pass is our favorite but also super busy.
Part of the Going-to-the-Sun Road typically closes for the winter around the third Monday of October, but this depends on the weather. The entire road doesn’t open back up until June or even later. In 2022 the road didn’t open until July 13th and will close on September 30.
Can you imagine the feat it took for them to build this road? Check out this black-and-white, silent film of the construction. It’s pretty amazing.
It takes about 3 hours to drive the entire road stopping at pull-outs and enjoying the sights. This adventure is something you can enjoy with your furry pets.
If you plan to take the Going-to-the-Sun road, we highly recommend a location-based audio tour app you download on your phone. It’s called Gypsy Guide. The app is free, and then you pay for the different guides. These are the best, and we highly recommend them!! You download the guides you want so you don’t need service in the park.
The 6,646 feet pass is where the Going-to-the-Sun Road crosses over the Continental Divide. Logan Pass is the highest spot in the park accessible by vehicle. The huge parking lot remains busy throughout the day because of the visitor center and trailheads that start here. If you don’t have your dogs (or if you can take turns with someone), the visitor center is a must here!
West Glacier, Montana, is an adorable town outside Glacier National Park. You will likely drive through West Glacier by going into the park from the west side. The other entrance (Camas) on the west side is by a bumpy dirt road, which we wouldn’t recommend. You will find gifts, snacks, and LOTS of tour guides.
Lake McDonald is 11 miles long and one of the main attractions at Glacier National Park. The water looks like glass, and you will find the most colorful round rocks on the shore. You and your dog can visit parts of the lake if you don’t see a sign saying “no dogs.” We learned some great history about the lake in the Gypsy Guide we mentioned earlier.
To get to Many Glacier, you must go to a separate entrance just west of the town of Babb. This area is the confluence of four significant valleys, two of which contain glaciers. Many Glacier is gorgeous. We have also seen grizzly and black bears in this area.
The Apgar Village
Apgar Bike Trail is the only dog-friendly trail in Glacier National Park on the United States side of the border. It’s a 3.5-mile out-and-back trail near West Glacier.
QUICK THINGS TO DO WITHOUT DOGS
We have two fun trails in Glacier National Park that you can’t do with your dogs. The longest we have left our dogs in the RV is six hours. Now that we have a puppy, the longest has been four hours. Going longer than a few hours is rare. If you can leave your pups safely in a temperature-controlled home, here are a few quick hikes you can do in the park.
Hidden Lake Overlook is a 2.9-mile out-and-back, with about 567 ft elevation gain. You can find this trail at Logan Pass.
A very popular trail but a great little (0.9-mile loop) trail off the Going-to-the-Sun road is Trails of Cedar.
Running Eagle Falls Trail is a quick (0.6-mile loop) trail off Two Medicine Road.
THINGS TO DO OUTSIDE GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
We went on a fantastic Jeep trail south of Kalispell and near Flathead lake. Blacktail Wild Bill Trail. The map below shows us the route we took to enjoy the trail, about 34 miles. Blacktail Wild Bill Trail is a Jeep Badge of Honor trail. Learn more about this program in episode 10.
Stanton Lake is a moderately challenging hike. It’s about 19 minutes from Glacier national park and is 3.8 miles out-and-back. You do hike along Staton Lake.
Another short hike is a 0.9 out-and-back trail over the Hungry Horse Reservoir Dam. It’s 17 minutes from Glacier National Park. We made this into about 1.5 miles by walking past the dam and then back to our car. This dam is cool because it’s one of the tallest concrete arch dams in the United States.
If you’re willing to go a little farther away, 44 minutes, Wayfarers State Park Loop is a 1.8-mile loop trail with the chance of swimming in Flathead lake. Bring your bathing suit this is a great spot to spend the day swimming after the hike.
LISTEN TO THE PODCASTS
You can listen to the first visit to the park in Episode 12 and our 2022 visit in Episode 45.
We hope you enjoy your Glacier National Park visit as much as we did and found this guide helpful. Visiting the parks is a special treat but finding things to do with your beloved pets is the cherry on the top.