Glacier National Park is bonkers. Nestled in the heartland of God’s County, USA, entering the park is like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. At the bottom you’ll roll into a world of stirring wildlife amidst snow-capped mountains, with the crystal clear waters as the cherry on top of this stunning sundae. And you know what? Spring, yes you heard me right, is the very best time to make the trip to Northwestern Montana and see for yourself. I know what you’re thinking, isn’t Summer the time to go? Well my friend, Summer is beautiful, but let me tell you why it will always be playing second fiddle to Spring.
1. The crowds have yet to come
One of our favorite parts about Montana was the chance to escape the noise and rush of the city for Big Sky Country. When you go in Spring, you will get just that. The rush starts in June, and peaks in July and August. Last year, they broke the visitor record in July, with over 1,000,000 visitors, yikes! For my money, head out in May and be the only ones on the road in the morning.
2. Glacier is the very FIRST International Peace Park
I’m going to be honest with y’all, I’m not really sure what this one means, but it sounds pretty cool. Go USA and Canada! Way to preserve the ‘Crown of the Continent’. I think I speak for all Americans saying that we have to beat Canada at everything, soooorry neighbors, we’re going to preserve our side better than you. When you head to Glacier, represent Uncle Sam and leave it as you left it.
3. The Lakes are made of Glass
In the Summer, the lakes are full of kayaks and paddle boards. Now, we kayak and paddle board with the best of them, those are some damn fine activities. However, even a slight ripple disrupts this view, and we just can’t have that. You can literally do a handstand and not know if you’re looking right-side up, well until you crash back to the ground.
Story Time: After spending some time ‘reflecting’ in front of Lake McDonald, Julie was running back to the van and her Nikes caught a lip. Suddenly she was flying through the air, beautiful snow-capped mountains all around her, fully at peace, only to come crashing down on the Montana pavement and barrel-rolling to a stop in a cloud of dust. Luckily, the only casualties were her phone case and the skin on her thumb and ankle, not to mention her ego. I was like a hyena after a bit of laughing gas of course, rolling on the ground right next to her. I will forever regret not capturing that on camera.
4. Spring is IDEAL biking time
The Going-To-The-Sun-Road is the b-e-a-utiful path that takes you right through the heart of Glacier. In Spring, parts of the road are closed to vehicles. At first, that may give you a frowny-face, until you realize that the road is open to bikes, and there is NOTHING as amazing as biking the Going-To-The-Sun-Road without being worried about tourists driving by. If you enter the park on the west side in Apgar Village, you will pass Glacier Outfitters, the perfect place to rent your bike at a steal [$30 buckaroos for 24 hours!] Once you have your bike you can either start biking from there, drive your bike until the road closure, or take a shuttle up to the closure and begin biking from there. This bike ride is pretty flat and easy for the first ~10 miles where you can take in the beautiful scenery without huffing and puffing. In the middle of the park, you begin your ascent into the mountains and Logan Pass. The ride gets tough, but as long as you take breaks (and who wouldn’t with all that scenery!) it is totally doable. Take your time and take frequent breaks, stop for a quick orange or a snowball fight in 70 degree weather. This was the most without a doubt beautiful bike ride we have EVER done! Not to mention on the way back down you go flying down the mountain side like Wile E Coyote chasing the Road Runner.
5. Hiking is Wide Open
While many hikes are said to be closed in the spring, they aren’t REALLY closed. Just be prepared for a few obstacles and snow-covered trails if you are hiking into higher altitudes. There’s over 700 miles of trails throughout the park so there are plenty of trails to choose from. Our tip: research your trail before hand. If you are gaining lots of altitude then lace up your boots and find a walking stick in the forest. Our favorite high-altitude trail was Avalanche Lake, mainly because of the drop-dead-gorgeous scenery at the top. The hike was over 4 miles each way, but if Zach can make it then, come on, so can you.
If flat trails are right up your alley, then our favorite was the Johns Lake Loop and trail. This was easy to get to, and a nice calm hike through the forest. We even spotted a few deer and a black bear on our hike!
6. Wildlife is Out and About!
Glacier National Park is known for it’s wildlife. We saw a ton of animals: deer, goats, bald eagles, elk, and our favorite bear! The best time to see wildlife is early morning or late evening (dawn/dusk). If you want to see animals, then don’t be ‘those people’ shouting about how during your cribbage game last night you came from behind to win by pegging out on the last hand (who would do that…). Also, it is very important to carry bear spray whenever you are in hiking. Although bears are usually afraid of humans, they are common in the park and you do not want to run into an angry grizzly without some protection. Kind of like you do not want to run into an angry Julie who doesn’t have coffee in the morning. In both situations, make sure you are prepared. Better safe than sorry!
7. The East Side of Glacier
Since the Going-To-The-Sun Road was closed in the middle, the east side is a 2 hour drive around the park. Okay you whiners, it’s just 2 hours, get up early and get your butt over there! The drive makes this part of the park positively tourist-free! The East side, Two Medicine, has a very different feel than the West side, just like Tupac vs Biggie. The east side is higher in elevation so it takes longer for this side to be completely open and accessible. It’s much less busy and there aren’t many options for lodging or restaurants, so pack a lunch or be prepared to have your wife nagging you right around high noon. Our favorite views were Two Medicine and St. Mary’s Lake, and this is also where we spotted a herd of elk!
8. Spring Lodging
We stayed in the most amazing cabin in Columbia Falls. The fact that it isn’t rush season meant that all of the stunning places to stay were open and ready for us! Even gave us a deal when we asked really nicely. We recommend checking out Airbnb or VRBO, or our favorite strategy, asking a local where they would stay.
9. Sunsets… OMG Sunsets
One local shared a secret that at sunset the mountains turn pink in Columbia Falls. You bet we raced to the nearest farm field (which wasn’t far or hard to find) to watch the sun go down that night. The sunset behind the mountains is special. We parked the van on the side of the road, climbed on top, threw on some Kygo bangers, and let the view wash over us.
Stay golden, Glacier. You were an UNBELIEVABLE Spring-time escape. We will absolutely be back, and this time we’ll bring a few friends. Check out our gallery for more pictures of our trip, and if there is anything you want to know about what we did please let us know!
The rest of our photo album from Glacier
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