How to Plan a Glacier National Park Camping Trip
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National Parks

How to Plan a Glacier National Park Camping Trip

The best campsites—and when and how to snag them.

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Impossibly pointy peaks, sapphire lakes, alpine meadows dotted with puffy white beargrass blossoms: The mountain paradise you drew with crayons as a kid really exists at Glacier National Park. Straddling the Continental Divide in northwest Montana, Glacier is the crown jewel in an unbroken chain of wilderness stretching hundreds of miles in either direction. Here, grizzly bears, wolverines, and mountain goats make their homes, and glaciers still cling to the highest summits, on lands to which the Blackfeet, Selis, Qlispe, and Ksanka tribes have ancestral ties. 

Several historic lodges operate inside park borders—like the stately lakeside Many Glacier Hotel–but there’s no question that camping is the way to go if you’re after full immersion in some of the most beautiful alpine terrain on the planet. Here's everything you need to know to about Glacier National Park camping, from permit rules to the best campsites—whether you’re a car camper, seeking backcountry zones, or more of the glamping type.

What to know before you go

Glacier National Park encompasses part of the northern Rocky Mountain ecosystem, a rugged landscape of rivers, forests, meadows, and tundra ranging from about 3,000 to more than 10,000 feet in elevation. Conditions vary widely by altitude, and while it may be summer in the valleys, snow clings to the high country well into July. Glacier is fairly compact and can be toured in a day, but you’ll have a better experience if you choose your campground based on proximity to one area you want to explore in more detail—that way, you can hike, paddle, take a boat tour, or fish without spending most of your time in the car. Most people fly into Kalispell (30 minutes away) or Missoula (2.5 hours away) and rent a car, but you can also take the Amtrak Empire Builder train to either side of the park and rely on shuttles from there.

Glacier National Park recently instituted a vehicle reservation system to enter the park during peak hours in the busy summer season. You don’t need a vehicle pass if you have campground reservations, but if you’re planning to sleep in one of the first-come, first-served campgrounds here, you will. Glacier releases a portion of the vehicle passes several months in advance and another portion 24 hours ahead of time via Even if you strike out on getting these coveted passes, you can still enter the park before 6 a.m. or after 3 p.m. any day without one.

Glacier houses a healthy population of grizzly and black bears, so carefully following bear-country camping protocol is essential. Keep all food, cooking gear, dishes, and scented items (like toiletries) secured in a bear locker or hard-sided vehicle unless you’re actively using them, and don’t leave trash lying around. Have bear spray, an ultrastrong version of pepper spray that’s highly effective at deterring bears, at the ready in camp and on the trails, should you have an encounter.

Bowman Lake Campground in the park’s northwestern corner is a prime location for water sports like paddle boarding on the glittering, 8-mile-long lake.

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When to go camping in Glacier National Park

Glacier’s camping season varies by location, but is generally in full swing between mid-May and mid-September. It should come as no surprise that the high-summer months of July and August bring the warmest weather (and the highest demand). Cold temperatures, especially at night, and even snow are possible in May, June, September, and October. June can be a camping sweet spot: It’s a bit less crowded, and around the summer solstice, light lingers well past 10 p.m. September and October sometimes bring beautiful weather, and many park campgrounds remain open in primitive status (read: no running water or flush toilets) through October. Be aware that wildfire season across the West usually peaks in late summer and early fall, so there’s a risk of smoke settling across the park at that time. Two park campgrounds, Apgar and St. Mary, remain open year-round for intrepid winter campers.

How to book a campsite in the park

Only 4 of Glacier’s 13 frontcountry campgrounds allow walk-ups, so you’ll want reservations unless you’re the gambling type. The park opens up most campsite bookings on a rolling basis, six months in advance, on, and they go very quickly. But starting in 2023, a portion of sites will be held until four days before a trip—a boon for spontaneous travelers. Backpackers need a permit for wilderness camping, the lion’s share of which are released on on March 15 for that year’s backpacking season. The park reserves 30 percent of backcountry permits for walk-ups with same-day or day-before pickup.

The best Glacier National Park campgrounds

Whether your tastes run to lakeside tent sites, luxe glamping domes, or backcountry chalets, Glacier’s camping options have you covered.

Drive-up campgrounds

Glacier’s developed campgrounds range from small, far-flung outposts beyond the reach of large RVs to mini-villages with standard amenities. Some even offer luxuries like showers and ranger-led campfire talks, but you won’t find RV hookups or laundry anywhere in the park. If you prefer a more rustic experience (and don’t mind a vault toilet), head for Bowman Lake Campground ($15 per night) in the park’s far northwestern corner. With only 48 sites and a primo location near the shore of a glittering, 8-mile-long lake, this is unplugged camping at its best. Hiking trails lead from the campground to some of Glacier’s most stunning wilderness zones, and kayakers and canoers can paddle deep into the park. Bowman Lake is first-come, first-served, so you’ll need a vehicle entry permit for the North Fork area to try for a site. If you’d rather have access to a bathroom with actual plumbing, Many Glacier Campground ($23 per night) and Two Medicine Campground ($20 per night) are two of the most sought-after spots in the park. No mystery why: Both are on Glacier’s dramatic east side, sit near gorgeous lakes ringed by jagged peaks, and let you walk out of your tent onto life-list hiking trails. Many Glacier even has coin-operated showers.

RV campers (and tenters) looking for full-service sites should head to Lake Five Resort ($80-$121 per night for RV sites, $65-$76 per night for tent sites), a waterfront compound in West Glacier, a couple of miles from the park’s west entrance. The resort has been catering to guests for a century, and today’s visitors enjoy full RV hookups, communal showers, laundry, and a swimming beach. 

The route to Gunsight Lake and Gunsight Pass is a classic, leading to Glacier National Park camping sites beside a cobalt lake.

Jake Pfaffenroth/Getty

Backcountry sites

If you think Glacier is gorgeous from the road, wait until you get into the backcountry. With 1 million acres of gobsmackingly lovely terrain and more than 700 miles of maintained trails on which to explore it, the park attracts backpackers the world over. The traverse to Gunsight Lake and Gunsight Pass is a classic, leading to tent sites tucked into the trees alongside a cobalt lake. Then hike up Gunsight Pass for see-forever views before dropping down to Lake Ellen Wilson and following a valley west to Lake McDonald (take the park’s free bus to the beginning trailhead and you won’t have to worry about shuttling cars). The hike to Hole-in-the-Wall in the park’s northwest corner drops you into some of Glacier’s most incredible alpine scenery, starring fields of wildflowers, two mountain passes, and glacier-carved summits wherever you turn. The park even offers a chance to combine the beauty of wilderness with the comforts of civilization at one-of-a-kind Sperry Chalet ($273 per night for the first person, $182 per night each additional guest; includes three meals) a historic, hike-in mountain resort with rustic private rooms and an elegant restaurant (great for anyone nervous about camping in grizzly habitat). 


Explore rugged mountains by day, burrow under a down comforter by night at one of the Glacier area’s top glamping resorts. Wander Camp’s Glacier location ($164-$184 per night) sits by a private pond in Coram, a 12-minute drive to the park’s west entrance. With its 200-square-foot canvas tents outfitted with king or twin beds, a shared bathroom/shower house, and a communal campfire ringed with picnic tables, Wander Camp is comfortable but not fussy. Otherwise, bunk in a space-age geodesic dome (extensive window panels, woodstoves, and en-suite bathrooms included) at BaseGlamp ($220-$280 per night), located north of Whitefish and about 45 minutes from Glacier. 

For hotels, rentals, and more, check out our complete guide on where to stay near Glacier National Park.