When visiting Glacier National Park, it’s always difficult to determine which side of Glacier Park to stay on, west or east. Each region of Glacier Park is unique and there is plenty of activities on both sides to provide you with something to do for many days. This article will cover some of the sights and activities on each side of the Park giving you a comparison of Glacier National Park’s West Side versus East Side.
Glacier National Park is over 1 million acres therefore traveling from one side to the other side can take anywhere from 1 hour up to 3½ hours. If you’re looking at doing an all day activity, i.e. 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 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 has 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 to 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, 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 the two chalets in Glacier Park, Granite Park Chalet and Sperry Chalet, comes from this section of the Sun Road. Plus you’ll have more choices for a horseback ride in Glacier Park on this West Side section of the Sun Road to include an all day horseback trip 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 get views of several of the 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. And 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 is also our favorite region of the Park.
If you’re looking for activities other than those in Glacier Park, you’ll find those activities 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 types of exciting activities.
In the Flathead National Forest, there are many challenging and scenic hikes. You can visit some very pretty, pristine mountain lakes and 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 the Bob Marshall Wilderness, where you can really escape civilization, is on the West Side. And 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 obtain 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. There’s Glacier View Golf Course located right in West Glacier. You will also find golf courses in Columbia Falls, Whitefish, Kalispell, and Bigfork. Some of these golf courses are challenging and designed by PGA professionals.
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 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 is 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, and 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 a vertical real estate area of the Park. This region of Glacier Park will be a bit less populated and 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 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 invited or encouraged the private development of activities so 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 layout of that area. 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 to enjoy the activities this beautiful area has to offer. If you’re looking for a variety of activities for family members of all ages, the West Side of Glacier Park will provide that for you.