When visiting Glacier National Park, the biggest decision many travelers face is which side of the park to stay on, West or East. Each region of Glacier Park is unique with plenty of activities on both sides, this article will cover some of those sights and activities.
Glacier National Park exceeds 1 million acres therefore traveling from one side to the other side can take anywhere from 1 to 3½ hours. If you’re looking at doing an all day activity, for example, hiking 12 miles or more, you will want to either get a very early start to your day or stay relatively close to the activity’s location.
The main attraction in Glacier National Park is the Going-To-The-Sun Road. The Sun Road is 50 miles long from West Glacier on the West Side to Saint Mary on the East Side. The West Side encompasses 35 miles of this Road and will provide you with the more scenic and picturesque drive. Along this section of the Sun Road, you will get views of Lake McDonald, Bird Woman Falls, the Weeping Wall, the Triple Arches, the West Side Tunnel (a uniquely designed tunnel), and Logan Creek and McDonald Creek Valleys.
You will get wonderful views of many mountain peaks that include Heaven’s Peak, Stanton Mtn, Bearhat Mtn, Haystack Butte, Mt Oberlin, Mt Cannon and the Continental Divide ridge which contains Mt Gould, Bishops Cap, Pollock Mtn, and more. Access to one of the most popular trails in Glacier Park, the Trail of the Cedars/Avalanche Lake Trail, is from this section of the Sun Road. The Trail of the Cedars portion of this hike is barrier free.
The easiest access to both chalets in Glacier Park – Granite Park Chalet and Sperry Chalet – is also provided from this section of the Sun Road. Plus, you’ll have more choices for horseback riding in Glacier Park on this West side section of the Sun Road, including and all day ride to Sperry Chalet.
The most remote region of Glacier Park accessible by vehicle is on the West Side – about an hours drive from Smoky Bear Ranch. This region contains two gorgeous glacial finger lakes, Bowman Lake and Kintla Lake. While driving to this region, you’ll enjoy views of several glaciers located in the Livingston Range in Glacier Park.
While hiking the trails along either Bowman Lake or Kintla Lake, you get fabulous views of the mountain peaks and glaciers across these lakes. One of our favorite hikes is a loop trail traveling into the Quartz Creek & Quartz Lake valley. The hike up to Numa Lookout will give you great views of Bowman Lake and it’s surrounding peaks. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds along the Sun Road, this is the region of Glacier Park to visit (it’s our our favorite region of the Park).
If you’re looking for activities other than hiking, you’ll find many on the West side. All of the land outside Glacier Park on the West Side is either privately owned or Flathead National Forest Service land. This has encouraged development of many different and exciting activities.
In the Flathead National Forest, there are many challenging and scenic hikes. You can visit some very pretty and pristine mountain lakes, and quite often have them all to yourself. Hungry Horse Dam, a 564 foot high dam and the first dam on the Columbia River system, is easily accessed on this side. Access to Bob Marshall Wilderness, where you can really escape civilization, is also on the West Side. The Jewel Basin Hiking Area, a very rugged mountainous region, is located in the Flathead National Forest. Or, you can drive to the top of Desert Mountain and enjoy stunning views of Lake McDonald, the North Fork River drainage, and the Flathead Valley area.
Whitewater rafting is a very popular activity. All four of the rafting companies are located in the West Glacier vicinity. They all raft the Middle Fork of the Flathead River which forms the southwestern border of Glacier Park. These companies also offer float and guided fishing trips on the North Fork of the Flathead River which forms the western boundary of Glacier Park.
There are some excellent golf courses located in the vicinities on the West Side including Glacier View Golf Course, located right in West Glacier. You will also find golf courses in Columbia Falls, Whitefish, Kalispell, and Bigfork. A few of these golf courses are designed by PGA professionals and subsequently challenging.
Other exciting activities offered on the West side include; waterslides, go carts, bumper boats, zip lines, a human maze, and more. You will find something fun to do for every member of the family on the West Side.
Fifteen miles of the Going-To-The-Sun Road is located on the East Side of Glacier Park. The most noted views on this section of the Sun Road are Jackson Glacier and Saint Mary Lake with Wild Goose Island. Some of the mountain peaks you’ll see from this section of the Road are Going-To-The-Sun Mtn, Heavy Runner Mtn, Piegan Mtn, Mahtotopa Mtn, plus several others. The trailhead for the Saint Mary Falls/Virginia Falls, a popular Glacier Park trail, is on this section of the Road.
There are two other regions of Glacier Park on the East Side – Many Glacier region and Two Medicine region. The Many Glacier region is a fairly popular region of Glacier Park. You can take a guided boat tour on Swiftcurrent Lake which continues on Lake Josephine and a short guided hike into Grinnell Lake. Two popular hikes in this region are the Grinnell Glacier trail and the Iceberg Lake trail. A less traveled trail in this region, but along small lakes and waterfalls, is the first 4 miles of the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail into Bullhead Lake.
The Two Medicine region is vertical real estate, and will be a bit less populated. Our favorite adventure in this region is the guided boat tour on Two Medicine Lake with a short guided hike into Twin Falls. The barrier free trail to Running Eagle Falls (formerly Trick Falls) is also in this region of Glacier Park. Even though this region of Glacier Park is on the East Side, it is just as easy and quick to access from Smoky Bear Ranch as it is from either Saint Mary or Many Glacier regions.
All of the land outside of Glacier Park on the East Side is the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. This tribe has not always encouraged the private development of activities, one of the few activities outside the Park on the East Side is a golf course in East Glacier.
West Side Versus East Side (Summary)
When traveling to a place you’re unfamiliar with, it’s hard to know the complete layout, and what to expect. We chose to live and develop our lodging facility on the West Side versus East Side of Glacier National Park to provide a quiet, pristine environment for guests but still be close enough to the activities. If you’re looking for a variety of activities for family members of all ages, the West Side of Glacier Park will keep you entertained for days.
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