a VirtualTourist member
We're planning a trip to Glacier National Park for sometime in early fall. Ideally, we wanted to go from October 11th-20th, but apparently some roads are closed and not all of the park is accessible at this time. Can anyone confirm if this is true? We may end up moving it back a month to mid September, but we're overwhelmed with questions on where to stay and what to see.... We'll be flying into Kalispell, but beyond that we have no idea yet. We will be renting a self catering accommodation, so we are interested in hotels, lodges and condo resorts. Obviously, we want to be fairly close to the park and see and do as much as we possibly can in our time there. Since the park is so large and we are unfamiliar with the area, can you guys give me suggestions on where a good "hub" would be for us to stay? We have looked into the flathead lake region as we'd love to have a cabin on the water, but it seems as though this may be a bit far from the park. What do you guys think is the best section of the park to be near (East, West, South?) and what are some good choices for us to look into? As I mentioned, we want a private cabin or house in a beautiful setting, close to the park and with amenities near. Also, any advice/suggestions on what to see and do while we're there will be very much appreciated!
First off - yes, the end of October is cutting it close. The 'main' attraction is Going to The Sun road, which basically cuts the park straight up the middle. The highest point is Logan Pass, in between Lake McDonald and St Mary Lake - and is closed most of the year (literally 15 or more feet of snow). I've seen the road closed from Avalanche Lake (only a couple miles in) up as early as October. This will SEVERELY limit what you can see of the park.
Most people enter the park through West Glacier (the Lake McDonald side) which is about a 45 minute drive from Kalispell. Flathead Lake is another 20 to 30 minute drive south depending on where you stay.
Now -- what there is to do here around September is entirely dependent on what you guys are into. Are you looking for hiking, rafting, and other outdoor activities? Because there really is not much else going on around here. If you are planning on really exploring the park, I would recommend staying in the park itself. If you want a REAL backcountry experience, stay at Sperry Chalet (http://www.sperrychalet.com/). Note that it only runs until September 8th. If you want a moderate backcountry experience - rent a forest service cabin. They run anywhere from $25 to $50 a night- I recommend Schnaus Cabin if you can get it. Great little cabin, kerosene lamp lit, wood heated (split your own), amazing view of the backside of Glacier Park (recreation.gov/camping/Schna...">recreation.gov/camping/Schna...). Book in advance -- and it's about an hour and twenty away from Kalispell but there is sort of a back entrance to the park right close by (plus you can usually get in for free from there).
You can also stay at one of the many lodge/cabin complexes in West Glacier (there is a great one right my Lake McDonald with private cabins right along the mouth of the river leaving the lake). If you'd rather stay outside of the park, the best lodges are in Whitefish (north of Kalispell) and Bigfork (south of Kalispell, on Flathead lake). Kalispell doesn't have any 'lodges' or cabins (although the historic Kalispell Grand Hotel on main street is pretty nice and old timey).
As for the park itself, there are endless options. In West Glacier you have anything from Avalanche Lake (easy hike) to McDonald Lookout (pretty tough) and anywhere in between for hiking. In East Glacier (about an hour and forty) you have great options like Ptarmigan Tunnel (moderate) to Mount Siyeh (hard), and then in between at the Two Medicine entrance you've got my personal favorite, the Dawson Pitamakan loop (about 20 miles - but even as a Montana resident I was FLOORED by the unbelievable, New Zealand-esque vistas and amazing scenery -- but this is a HARD hike, be ready).
There's plenty to see and do from the road if you're not hikers, but as I said (and I hate to say it) by mid September you are running a pretty good risk of much of the roads being closed. That's the big problem, there's no way to know until it gets close whether it's going to be open or not. It's entirely weather dependent and varies substantially year to year. If you have any specific questions for someone who lives in Kalispell, feel free to PM me.