Last week I was too busy to create a new post because I was having the TIME OF MY LIFE in Glacier National Park. I don’t know if words can really describe how beautiful Montana was or how amazing this trip was. But you know me, I’m going to try anyway. Today I am giving you the run-down on my solo trip to Glacier National Park, so you can plan yours too. Hurry up, what are you waiting for!?
This post is divided into two sections: Pre-Park Stuff- accommodation, things to do in the area outside the park, and info on rides, and Visiting Glacier, which has info on entry fees, hiking and precautions to take while visiting. Enjoy!
Why a solo trip to Glacier National Park?
Glacier had been on my radar for years, a recommendation by an old regular patron back in my bartending days. And ever since my airline started flying to Montana, just a couple years ago, it has been creeping up toward the top of my list. One of my absolute besties is getting married next month and she had some of the same ideas as I did. She chose Montana for her bachelorette party, and I said sign me the F up! knowing I’d be hanging with eight other girls and that the weekend was about the bride and definitely not all about me, I decided to tack a few extra days onto the beginning of the trip. Time to explore the park solo, make sure I got in some good hiking, and would be able to see everything I wanted to see. Basically, I wanted to make the most of my time in Montana.
This might end up being my move for all future group trips. I love traveling with friends—and when you have friends as cool and travel-loving as mine, it’s easy to do. But there are always some things I miss on trips. An attraction you get overruled on. A shorter stay than you’d like. A vegan restaurant you were dying to try but couldn’t sell the group on. And don’t even get me started on pre-dawn adventures. Listen, my friends are the best (in general and especially in travel) but even with the best travel buddies you still can get caught up doing what the group wants and miss something you wanted to see or experience. Planning a couple extra days allows you to do all that fun group stuff. Not miss out on the beer-through-the-nose moments that become inside jokes and travel memories. Not have to convince anyone why your idea is a good one. Not have to compromise. Just stay a few days and do the things you want to do by yourself. Simple. You’re not being held back, nor are you inconveniencing anyone else.
Because of how my work schedule looked for the month, it was more convenient for me to do my solo days first. It would probably have been great to get an overview with all my new friends before getting into the serious hikes, but the trip was so awesome, fun, joy-inducing, PERFECT that I wouldn’t change a thing.
Also, if you are one of those people who has been considering trying solo travel but are hesitant, a half-group and half-solo trip is the perfect way to get your feet wet. In this case, meet up with friends first, get comfy in that new place and then stay a few days by yourself after. You will have eased into travel by then and will have come across things along the way you’d be interested in going back to. Maybe do it in Montana and Glacier National Park!
Solo tripping in Montana
Summer is a busy time of year at Glacier National Park. Accommodation can be quite expensive, and I was looking for something…not that. I’ve got weddings to travel to, a bachelorette weekend to attend, concerts coming up, and all the normal expenses of life. I was not trying to be a baller on my solo trip to Glacier. I booked a private room in a house in Browning, MT because of its proximity to the park (25 minutes from Park entrance, the listing said.) but ended up canceling the reservation and opting for something in Bigfork. Now that I have driven through Browning, and have stayed where I stayed, I’m very happy with my decision. Browning is worth a visit, being home to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, but it’s less lively than the area I stayed. And less beautiful.
Instead of the room in the house, I went glamping! I stayed in the cutest little camper in Flathead Lake Resort, on the northeastern tip of Flathead Lake. The resort is a camping resort, so don’t get any notions of palm trees and fruity cocktails. Think, instead, of a mix of cabins, campers/trailers, and tents. I had just enough privacy in my little camper, but neighbors nearby so that I never felt scared. If you’re looking for real solitude this might not be the place for you. But as a solo female traveler it was perfect. Also, if you’re looking for a party atmosphere, you may want to look elsewhere. Quiet hours were 9pm-9am. Glorious, if you ask me! A private beach at the end of the road is reserved for the shareholders at the resort, and staying in my Airbnb gave me access, too. To clear up any confusion (so you’re not caught off guard like me) the beaches at Flathead Lake are composed of smooth, multicolored stones. This is NOT a sandy affair. The water is incredibly clear, and it was neat seeing all the different colors of rock shining below the surface of the water. The water temperature was cool, but nothing like a New England beach day. Refreshing, but comfortable.
My little camper was the bees’ knees. It had electricity, but was a “dry” camper, meaning no running water. It had a kitchen that at one time must have functioned, but now the stove, fridge, and sink are disabled. There was a bucket in what used to be the refrigerator, which I put ice and perishables in. Since it still closed tight, my items kept pretty cool with just one bag of ice. Of course, if I had a cooler, I could have had more perishable items, but it was a short trip, so I just had some snacks and seltzers. A kettle was provided and some super-delicious local instant coffee. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I’m tellin’ ya, that Montana instant hit the spot. I know what you must be thinking: If there’s no running water, then where did you…
my cute ass little glamper
and the cute deer who hung around outside it
Yep, you’re right. There was no bathroom in the camper. Fret not, there was no shitting in the woods. The bathroom building was just across the way, a two-minute walk if you’re really moseying. There were two individual bathrooms that each held a sink, shower, and toilet. Not a big room with a ton of stalls, like I’ve seen at other campgrounds in the past. I used the same bathroom the entire time, and surprisingly never had to wait for someone to exit and never found someone waiting in line when I left. It felt like a private bathroom, which made the experience a lot more comfortable. I read on Airbnb that the restrooms had been remodeled recently, and indeed they were very clean. The first night of my stay I was a bit nervous walking in the dark toward the little building. Scared of animals or bugs or murderers, I suppose. But by the end of the trip, I didn’t think twice about it. The bed was a dense sleeping pad, not a regular mattress, but somehow it was SO freaking comfortable. I slept like a baby the entire time.
I enjoyed my stay so much that I got up extra early on checkout day, giving myself time for a leisurely coffee, one last visit to the lake, and some downtime in my camper before I had to pack up and say goodbye. 10/10 recommend for a solo traveler.
If this sounds like something you’d be into, then check out the Airbnb listing for my little camper HERE.
Things to keep in mind when booking your accommodation
-West Glacier Entrance is the most popular entrance of the park. It is closer to Bigfork and Whitefish than East Glacier.
-There is a shuttle to the Park from Whitefish, Kalispell, and Columbia Falls. If you are not planning to have a car, plan to stay inside the park or in one of these towns.
-Ubers & Lyfts are available from the airport but are NOT reliably available from other places. Don’t rely on rideshare for transportation unless you are staying in Whitefish or Kalispell and have some time to spare waiting.
Taking a dip in Flathead Lake on a very smoky Monday.
My lodging was about an hour from the West Glacier Park entrance and 2.5 hours from the East entrance. There are a million places to stay that are closer to the park or even inside of it, but for what I was doing this stay was perfect. Technically, it was in Woods Bay, Montana. But Bigfork is the closest town with shops and restaurants and things to do.
Bigfork is a little mountain town with lots of down-home charm. There isn’t a ton to do, but it is a great base for a low-key solo trip to Montana. I was lucky enough to arrive on a Monday, and I got to catch the Bigfork Village Market—an event with food trucks and live music by the river. I ordered some green curry dish from a local vendor, the proceeds of which benefitted charities in the area, sat in a lawn chair in the grass, and watched a two-person band with the other folks in town. It was really, really nice.
Seeing live music, even outside, is such a treat after the year we’ve just had.
There are a few restaurants and bars down on the lake near where I stayed. The Raven is a little bar right on the water. I didn’t get to catch any sweet views from its back deck because I popped in after dark for a burger and sweet potato fries, but I did get to see another band. This one was so good that I stayed long after the last fry was eaten, until the set was finished and finished and finished a third time. (They must have been having fun because they just kept going.) If you get a chance, check out Jeff Crosby or Jeff Crosby & the Refugees wherever you get music for a great Montana solo trip soundtrack!
Consider checking out Browning, MT to get in some local culture. Home to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, there you can check out the Blackfeet Heritage Center & Art Gallery and the Museum of the Plains Indian. Just south of where I stayed, the southern part of Flathead Lake, and the land surrounding, comprises the Flathead Reservation. This is home to the Salish and Kootenai Tribes. I tried to make my way to the Three Chiefs Cultural Center (formerly called The People’s Center) in St. Ignatius, but somehow got lost. Twice. I cannot give a real recommendation, but I think it is worth making the trip to get into some local, native culture. Just try setting up your GPS before you lose service!
For more ways to support native peoples while traveling, check out this post.
Make sure you eat some local fare, and I’m talking huckleberries specifically! Huckleberries are super popular in the area, you can get ice cream, pie, pancakes, even coffee in this berry flavor. There are a few stores dedicated to all things huckleberry outside the park, and you can find huckleberry items on many of the restaurant menus in town. Get there early, though, every restaurant I went to had sold out of huckleberry pancakes before I arrived. I got the best huckleberry ice cream inside the West Glacier park entrance at a little cafe just to the left.
huckleberry ice cream
huckleberry cheese danish
Do You Need a Car?
I’m going to strongly recommend that you rent a car for your solo trip to Glacier National Park. Rent one on a trip with friends—even better, they can help you pay for it.
Because rental cars are SoOo expensive right now, I decided not to book one for my four solo days in Glacier National Park. I read that there were shuttles to and from the Park and figured I would just plan to take those.
Well, in true Toni fashion, I did not get all the information in my half-assed planning and found out the day before my trip that in fact there is not a shuttle from Bigfork to Glacier. Oops. I considered changing my accommodation in order to take advantage of the very cheap shuttles ($3 a ride, if I’m not mistaken) but ultimately decided to get a car instead. I was SO glad I ended up doing that.
The option for a shuttle is great if you are someone who doesn’t drive. And fewer individual cars on the road means less pollution and emissions. But, y’all, visiting a national park is just not the same without wheels. Having the freedom to start and end my day whenever I felt like it, go at my own pace, make all the stops I wanted, and pack plenty of layers and snacks for the day made the trip WAY better. I got to bask in the solitude instead of sharing rides and I got the luxury of planning as I went, rather than making an itinerary in advance. Plus, I always had a window seat. Paying the steep price for a rental car for your solo trip to Glacier National Park is going to be worth it IMO.
If you are going carless to Glacier, here is some info on the shuttles:
Visiting Glacier National Park
Out in the wild, witnessing the divine,
you realize just how small you are.
Admission Fees & Tickets
Every visitor to Glacier National Park must secure a visitor’s pass. It costs $20 per person and grants you entry for seven consecutive days.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is the main road that connects West and East Glacier. In order to drive on this road, you will need to purchase a separate pass for $2 per vehicle. It is not the expense that makes this tricky, it is the availability of passes. They sell out months in advance. The Park makes a select number of passes available 48 hours in advance, so if you do not have a pass already, then plan to be on your computer two days before your visit, at 8am MST, logged in and ready to buy your passes.
It is difficult to plan a trip to Glacier National Park without driving on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. There are things you can do in both West and East Glacier that do not require driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but Many of the popular hikes and “main attractions” are along this road. And driving around the entire park instead of through it is a HUGE time expense.
But if you don’t have tickets, do not fret! There is a loophole. The entry reservation is only required from 6am-5pm. That seems like the whole day, but in the summertime the sun does not set in Glacier until about 8:30 pm. I did not have a Going-to-the-Sun Road reservation during my solo trip, but was still able to get some solid hiking and sight-seeing in. Grinnell Glacier is one of the few that does not require entry on the GttS Road. The next day, when I wanted to hike Avalanche Lake, I simply entered the Park at 5pm and made my way over. A lot of people do this, so there was a line at the entry point, but it was so worth going. There was still a lot of activity on the trail and it did not get dark until I was safely back in my car, driving home to my glamper.
For everything you need to know about admission fees & tickets to Glacier National Park, click here:
Before setting off for my solo trip to Glacier National Park I was given a lot of warnings. “You need to watch out for grizzly bears” “The hikes to the glaciers are really long and strenuous.” “I wouldn’t go by myself if I were you.”
Typical stuff you get used to hearing as a solo female traveler.
Still, some of this advice coming from other female hikers made me a bit apprehensive. I pushed on, as one does when they are an adventure-loving bad bitch, but I proceeded with caution.
I hiked the Grinnell Glacier and Avalanche Lake trails, two of the most popular hikes in Glacier National Park. Some people groan at the words “most popular”, wanting more of an alone in nature feel. But as a solo female traveler, one of my rules of hiking solo is that I do it on popular trails. More people on the trail means more helping hands if you get in trouble, and I am all about that risk mitigation. Plus, they’re the most popular for a reason!
While we’re talking risk mitigation: Bear spray. They tell you to carry it while hiking, and so I bought one and carried it. Thankfully, I did not end up using my bear spray, but the $60 spent would have been WELL worth it if I did have to. You can purchase bear spray at the visitors’ centers in the Park.
In addition to going to popular, well-traveled trails, I also tried to stay close to other humans while I was out hiking. Following behind, hoping their voices would scare off any bears before I approached. The biggest reason for bear-human incidents occurring in Glacier National Park is surprised bears. One way to avoid this is to announce your presence—make noise. When you’re solo hiking in Glacier, out on the trail, you should be calling out, especially before rounding corners. “Hey bear!”, I called over and over anytime I was alone. It felt silly, but if I got mauled by a grizzly bear because I was too embarrassed to call “Hey bear” into the abyss, then my priorities are pretty upside down.
The trail to Grinnell glacier is an 11.2-mile hike that will take 5-6 hours, or more depending on fitness and how many gorgeous photos you stop to take. The views all the way up are stunning, and you’ll find yourself wondering if you’ve somehow skipped away to a foreign land.
Avalanche Lake is a shorter 5-mile hike on the Going-To-the-Sun Road that runs through the park connecting East and West Glacier. It took about 2.5 hours, including time hanging out and taking in the scenery of Avalanche Lake. Though it is rated moderate, this hike can be done by people of any age or fitness level. And the reward at the end is so, so worth it.
It is a good reminder, being a small dot on a big mountain, seeing jewel-like turquoise waters, cool fog and alpine breeze filling your nostrils. Your stuff is important to you—your job, your things, relationships. Of course, it is all important. But out in the wild, witnessing the divine, you realize just how small you are. And your problems too. You see how much this world does not revolve around you. But rejoice that you have a place in it.
The vastness can make you cry, can catch your breath. Can make you feel insignificant, a little boat alone at sea. But you’re a part of it, and it a part of you. We are all connected, mountain, sea and man. We are all divine
I’m not religious, but being in nature, high in the mountains, comes very close to that. In fact, I think a lot of solo travel has this effect for me. This good, solid, reminding nudge—laced with wonder. And if you ask me, Glacier National Park is as good a church as any to spend a few days in.
Can't compete with this natural turquoise beauty!
Other Things to Note:
-There was a fire event while I was in Bigfork & Glacier. The smoke was pretty terrible and, as such, no campfires were permitted. Be sure to check conditions before loading up on firewood.
-Weather in the park, especially at high altitudes, can change quickly. Dress in layers and bring more than you think you need. I ended up purchasing gloves, a fleece, and warmer socks while in the park. Waterproof gear is essential!
-The Park is open to human visitors but is the home of many animals and plants. Don’t be a dick to wildlife. Take your picture from afar and move it along.
My solo trip to Glacier National Park was one of my favorite trips to date. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Being alone did not make this trip scary or unsafe. Instead, it allowed me to take in my surroundings with little distraction. To enjoy the sounds of nature, listen more and talk less. It was better for it. I knew that once my solo trip was up, I would get all the friend time one could handle at the bachelorette party. So I really leaned in to the quiet aloneness. I let the wonder wash over me and had the best trip ever.
Glacier National Park is a great place for solo travelers. Take precautions. Be aware of your surroundings. And just do it. You’ll be great. And even better.
Happy trip planning, y’all!
Hey you! Yes, you!
Hi. I’m Toni, and I run the show here at A Wheel in the Sky. I hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you liked what you read and are interested in more travel tips and flight attendant secrets, then please consider subscribing! You can get all the juicy stories, adventure inspo, and pro tips sent directly to your inbox. We really appreciate it!
I’ll be publishing more detailed posts about my hikes to Grinnell Glacier and Avalanche Lake, but if you’d like to read more about other awesome hikes, then check these out:
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