Seasons, Fees, Permits & Reservations
Glacier National Park is open all year, but seasonal weather has a strong impact on what services and activities are available to visitors. Snow is a constant consideration for travelers and park rangers alike. But while snowfall does lead to road closures, especially along the alpine sections of Going-to-the-Sun Road, portions of the park’s main thoroughfare remain open year-round.
Popular winter activities include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, while backpacking and hiking are a major draw during the summer. Fall colors set against the park’s dramatic peaks make for excellent photo opportunities.
Standard entrance fees vary by season. Entry for automobiles is $25 in the summer (May 1 – October 31) and $15 in the winter (November 1 – April 30). Single-entry fees for individuals arriving on foot, bike or motorcycle are $12 and $10 in the summer and winter, respectively. The fee is good for seven consecutive days. Check the park’s website for additional information on special rates and fee-free days.
Permits are required for weddings and filming in Glacier National Park. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight stays in the park’s wilderness. Most campgrounds in the park are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, but reservations can be made at Fish Creek, St. Mary and Apgar group campsites.
As far as scenic drives go, a tour of the 50-mile long Going-to-the-Sun Road is Glacier National Park’s prime attraction. It is the only road in America to hold the dual distinction of being both a National Historic Landmark and a National Civil Engineering Landmark. Maintenance on the road is nearly continual, so it is important to check current conditions to account for any construction or weather-related delays.
The views of mountains and valleys from the road are second-to-none, but its narrow sections might make driving it somewhat of an unnerving experience for RV owners. Fortunately, shuttle buses provide an more relaxed, environmentally friendly touring option during summer months. Buses are free and allow visitors to hop on or off anywhere along its route, including the ever-popular idyllic meadows of Logan Pass.
This less-visited part of Glacier National Park is serviced by bumpy dirt roads that can slow down your travel time, but if you’re looking for car-accessible peace and quiet, this is the place to go. The Bowman Lake campground is one of the park’s most remote frontcountry sites, and is a popular spot for fishing and canoeing. Lack of amenities makes for a more self-reliant outdoor experience. The region offers a variety of easy-to-moderate trails to hike but getting to the trailhead is often a trek in its own right.
Carved by glaciers during the last ice age, Lake McDonald sits in a broad, U-shaped valley replete with stunning views of snow-capped mountains and resplendent waterfalls. It’s also home to the historic Lake McDonald Lodge, one of the park’s surviving turn-of-the-century chalets. Built in 1914, the lodge retains a lot of its rustic style, offering lakefront dining and a charming wooden verandah. The Lake McDonald area hosts a variety of ranger-led activities, as well as guided hiking and backpacking trips. Day hikes to Avalanche Lake and along the Trail of Cedars are popular excursions.