Camping in Glacier National Park is more than finding a place to lay your head after a busy day. Finding the camp site that matches your unique vision of the perfect vacation is the stuff memories are made of. And what makes camping in Glacier National Park special is the immense diversity of the camping options that can make that dream true.
So when making our plans for camping in Glacier National Park I spent many, many hours pouring over the options. Let me just say we had an amazing trip and I wish the same for you! To get you started on your campground selection I’m going to share seven things you absolutely must know before you head to Glacier with camping dreams.
#1 Know Your Camping Style
This is what makes choosing a campground difficult. There are so many choices! Do you want a remote drive-up campsite like you’ll find in the North Fork Area, with only a handful of neighbors and the darkest skies you’ve ever seen?
Or do you prefer a community setting like Apgar Village with children laughing and people sharing stories of their day’s adventures? Or were you thinking of a place lakeside where you can step out of your tent in the morning and float off in your kayak?
When camping in Glacier National Park you have all those choices and more! Glacier has 13 unique campgrounds with over 1000 campsites. There’s definitely one that meets your camping style!
There is no “bad” campground in Glacier. You know those ones with people practically on top of each other. So take time to read about each campground and find the one that speaks to your heart. Then make your plan to score a campsite in that special place!
#2 Scoring that Perfect Campsite
Scoring the perfect campsite in Glacier National Park takes a little bit of planning. Basically, the rule is either make a reservation or get to your campground of choice VERY early.
Most of the campsites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance. Five of the campgrounds take reservations: Many Glacier, St. Mary, Fish Creek, Apgar and Sprague Creek. These are bigger campgrounds with the most amenities. They all book up way in advance, especially if you are planning for multiple nights, so reserve early.
If you have a large RV, reservations are critical. The larger spaces are very limited.
A big positive to having a campground reservation
So why would you even go without reservations if campsites are in such demand?
It goes back to that first question of your camping style. Some of the best sites in Glacier National Park in non-reserved campgrounds.
If you have your heart set on a non-reservable campground, the key during peak season is to arrive early. We were in the park at 7am to claim a campsite at Avalanche Campground.
Since most visitors are driving quite a distance to get to Glacier, that means staying somewhere else the first night and then getting up early to claim your desired camping site.
Where should you stay that first night if you don’t have a reservation for camping in Glacier National park?
Try the National Forest. We found a wonderful first come first serve spot for our tent in the nearby Flat Head National Forest along Hungry Horse Road. But caution, we arrived in the middle of the week in late afternoon and got the last spot. I would assume weekends would be a challenge.
Consider making a reservation for the first night in or near the park and then moving. Our friends used the tactic of making a one night reservation at St Mary Campground and then moving to their preferred non reserved campground the next morning.
That same strategy works with many of the private campgrounds outside the park. And several of the nearby National Forest Campgrounds, like Doris Creek, Devil’s Creek and Lost Johnny, take reservations.
#3 RVs and Towed Trailers Can’t Cross the Park
There are only 2 ways to get from the East Side to the West Side of Glacier National Park. Drive the very long route around the Southern Tip of the park. Or cross through the middle of the park on Going to the Sun Road. Because of the narrow road and tight curve, most RVs and towed trailers aren’t allowed on Going to the Sun Road.
So consider which side of the park you want to spend the most time and make that your base camp so you aren’t wasting a lot of time waiting for shuttles to get to the other side.
#4 Amenities Reality Check
Showers are pretty few and far between in Glacier. Even though Rising Sun and Swift Current Inn have token based showers, there are only a handful of shower stalls. Showers are available for registered campers at Apgar, Fish Creek or St Mary Campground. It will be a challenge to get a good hot shower. In our recent stay at Apgar Campground we found no lines for showers if we waited until mid morning, or until after dark.
The larger campgrounds have nice bathrooms with flush toilets and running water. The smaller the campground the more likely it will be old fashioned outhouses. There are no electric or sewer hook ups for your RV. Generator usage is very limited with some campgrounds not allowing at all.
#5 Wildlife is Everywhere!
What could be cooler than watching a moose wander through your campground in the quiet of the afternoon? And what could be scarier than a grizzly digging through your neighbor’s trash at 2 am, just outside your tent?
These things happen every day when camping in Glacier National Park!
The reality of camping in Glacier National Park is that this park is the home to thousands of critters, big and small. Encountering wildlife in their natural habitat is a wonderful experience you will always remember.
But with that comes a responsibility.
I’m a total control freak when it comes to keeping a clean and safe camp. That means all food in hard sided storage, garbage in appropriate camp containers, I wash down the picnic table after every meal, nothing with fragrance in the tent, etc. And we sleep with a can of bear spray right by our heads.
So make sure you keep a clean camp and follow the NPS wildlife safety recommendations. Note of warning, it’s not uncommon for a Glacier campground to revert to hard-sided campers only if bears have been active in the campground. It seems to happen most often in the fall when bears are bulking up for winter and more often on the East Side of the park. Our daughter and her husband ended up sleeping in the car one night because they weren’t allowed to set up a tent due to busy bears. On another September trip, Brad had to move to another campground.
#6 Don’t Plan on S’mores for Dinner
Forest fires in Montana during August are common, so it is unlikely you will be able to burn a campfire during peak visitor season. So make sure you have an alternate method of cooking. At times campgrounds might be closed or roads restricted. Just move on to your plan B!
We had the opportunity to admire the hard work of forest firefighters during our trip which made the small inconveniences like this pretty meaningless.
#7 You Will Never Find a More Peaceful and Beautiful Piece of Earth
Let’s circle back to the real reason to visit Glacier National Park. It’s almost surreal. Everything in this park is beautiful from the scenic drive to the old architecture to the abundant trails into the wild. Camping in Glacier National Park brings you so close to all that beauty that you can taste it! This is the stuff that memories are made of.
Enjoy your trip! Camping in Glacier National Park will create a lifetime of memories. Don’t forget to save this to your Pinterest vacation board so you can easily find again.
Here you’ll find additional information to help you plan your Glacier National Park Itinerary: