Glacier National Park Tip #: Finding Showers
The only negative in my opinion of camping inside the park is the lack of showers.
There are showers available to the public at Rising Sun and Swiftcurrent Campstores for a fee. Rising Sun is near St Marys and Swiftcurrent and is within walking distance from Many Glacier Campground.
The St. Marys and Fish Creek campgrounds have free token operated showers only for guests staying at those campgrounds .
Glacier National Park Tip #: Avalanche Campground
This is a first come first serve campsite and has the benefit of being close to the trailhead of Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake, both of which are good hikes for younger children.
Note that only 50 sites will accommodate vehicle lengths up to 26 feet and that there are fewer ammenities here.
Glacier National Park Tip #: Many Glacier Campground
Half of the campsites at Many Glacier are available for advance reservations through Recreation.gov at least 3 days in advance. The other half are first-come first-serve.
If you like getting off the beaten path and are looking to be closer to some backcountry trails, or are hoping to see a bear, then this is the campground for you.
There are about 600 black and 300 grizzlies in G.N.P and your odds of seeing one are a bit higher on this side.
Trailheads start at a higher elevation than those on the west side of the park, resulting in a shorter ascent to reach scenic vistas.
- Most campsites and driveways are very small and will not accommodate towed units over 21 feet.
- A limited number of sites can accommodate towed units 26 to 30 feet.
- Many campsites will not accommodate camper slide-outs.
Driving Time to Many Glacier from St Marys:
20 miles, 30-40 minutes
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Hungry Horse Dam Visitor Center
Besides being a great free camping spot near Glacier National Park, the reservoir itself has some interesting history and a Visitor Center at the dam.
The Hungry Horse dam has a Visitor Center and Museum which we visited to learn more about the 564-ft structure and how it came to be.
The Dam was completed in 1953 and was the 3rd largest and 2nd tallest concrete dam at the time . It is primarily used for hydro-electric power and flood control in the springtime. When full, the dam can hold bad 1.2 trillion gallons of water in the reservoir that stretches 34 miles long.
Its glory hole emergency spillway is the largest in the world. The glory hole is a unique feature to a handful of dams in the west which allows dam operators to release a lot of water quickly to prevent water from overtopping the dam. We were advised that we would NOT want to be around if this thing had to be used: imagine a firehose 64ft in diameter blasting water out that has just fallen 490 feet!
One of the most interesting things we learned about the Dam was how they cleared the trees behind the dam before it was allowed to fill. They had learned from previous dams that the trees needed to be removed beforehand or else they would be a major problem to clean up once they eventually came loose from the lake floor. Dead branches and rotting trees could float to the surface and clog the dam intakes.
Bureau Of Land Management
The Bureau of Land Management is a government agency that is part of the Department of the Interior. It manages close to 250 million acres of land, mostly in the west, for preservation purposes. A lot of the land is permitted to ranchers for grazing livestock, but there is plenty of space out there where you can camp for free. While there, you might get the unique experience of seeing wild horses and burro.
You can search their interactive map here to find a free camping area that suits your needs. Unfortunately, Google Earth does not highlight BLM areas on the map.
Keep in mind, not all BLM campsites are free. Some may charge a small fee for established and maintained camping areas. You should still be looking for dispersed camping if you dont want to shell out any cash.
Just like national forests and grasslands, the BLM has some simple rules they require dispersed campers to follow:
- Stay Limit There is a 14-day stay limit. After 14 days campers are required to move at least 25 miles from their original campsite if they wish to stay longer. And you are not allowed to return to that area for 28 days.
- Existing Sites They ask that you choose sites and fire rings that have already been established to minimize the impact on the environment.
- Water Sources It is required that you camp at least 200 feet away from any water sources.
- Human Waste Dispose of human waste according to best practices: away from water and in a hole 6-8 or deeper.
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Glacier National Park Tip #: Drive The Going
The drive from Apgar to St Marys is called the Going-to-the-Sun road and it is a must do when you visit Glacier. While you can easily drive your own vehicle, taking the free shuttle allows you to relax and enjoy the views more. .
Note that the section from Avalanche campground to Logan Pass, has vehicle restictions. Your total vehicle length including trailer must be 21 feet or shorter and no wider than 8 feet.
The Going-to-the-Sun road closes in the winter due to snow and typically reopens at the end of June or early July. You can check the road status here.
Without stopping, it will take at least 2 hours to drive the entire 50 miles of the Going-to-the Sun Road. You absolutely must stop and take in the views at Logan Pass!
The Apgar, Logan Pass, and St Marys visitor centers all have restroom facilities, trip planning information, bookstores, drinking water, and exhibits.
There are no gas stations in the park so make sure you fuel up in West Glacier. In addition, the only food options along the drive are at Rising Sun, Lake McDonald Lodge, and Apgar Village. There are many picnic areas along the way, however parking in the midle of the day can be limited.
Keeping Money In Your Pocket
The obvious attraction to camping for free is that you save money! And depending on where you are used to camping, those fees can be pretty steep.
Many private campgrounds charge upwards of $80/night for a site with full hook-ups. And to add to the fees, some even charge extra if you have more than 2 people at the campsite. That can make it especially hard on families.
Even public campgrounds will charge $15-20 per night for a basic tent site without hookups. While it may not seem like that much, add it up over a week of camping and youre looking at quite a bit of money. Especially for folks who are traveling long-term or on a road trip. Night after night of paid campsites can get pricey.
Free camping keeps the money in your pocket so you can splurge on other things like food, activities or gas .
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Best Free Camping Areas By Region
Find the right free camping area for you can be a daunting task when you are just starting out. Especially if you are used to going to paid campgrounds. But it can be well worth the time and energy you spend doing some research.
To get you started, weve got a list of the best established free camping sites in your region. Unfortunately, areas like the northeast, southeast, and midwest do not offer as many options as the western portion of the country.
Cell Service And Data
We keep hearing in the media that smartphone use is an epidemic and people are spending way too much time scrolling on their screens. Hey! Its part of the reason we advocate getting kids outside camping and away from television, video games and other devices.
But smartphones and the internet have become a major part of our world. We use them for communication with others , for directions and maps, for knowledge and research, for documenting and even for things like clocks and flashlights.
Unfortunately, given the remote nature of many free camping areas, cell phone service and cell data are almost non-existent. While the good news is that you will have no choice but to commune with friends, family and nature, the flipside is you need to be more prepared.
Bring maps. Lots of maps. You can get them online , you can get them from local rest areas and welcome centers, and from the rangers office.
Either write down or print out your research on the local area, especially phone numbers for the rangers and local authorities.
Bring a wireless power station and keep it charged. Cell phones tend to run low on battery when they are constantly trying to connect to the nearest cell tower. If you know that the area has poor service, you can either turn your phone off or put it on airplane mode to save the battery until you need it.
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Whitefish Lake State Park
If you want to see a different part of Montana, apart from Glacier Park, Whitefish Lake is the epitome of the Treasure State. Located about 45 minutes from West Glacier, this state park has 25 campsites for both RVs and tents, bathrooms, and picnic areas.
Photo by Troy Smith
The park also has access to Whitefish Lakes swimming area and kayak and paddleboard rental services. For a state park, the other amenities are pretty substantial. The park allows for pets, has bear-resistant food lockers, showers, and firewood for sale. Some of their sites are also ADA accessible.
Less Packing And Unpacking
You may use storage bins, bags or a less organized system of toss-it-and-go. Either way, you have to unpack all of your items at the site and then repack them before leaving if you are tent camping.
This isnt quite as much of an issue if you are staying at the same campsite for a week. But when you are traveling and trying new free camping areas every night, the time can add up.
If you are traveling by RV all of your essential items are packed away neatly inside your vehicle. No need to reorganize and pack every time you move to the next place.
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Glacier National Park Tip #: Go To Logan Pass
Logan Pass is the highest point on the Going-to-the Sun Road at 6,646 feet. Its 32 miles from the west entrance and 18 miles from the east entrance. Finding a parking spot here between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. is very difficult .
Logan Pass is where our favorite hike the Highline Trail begins from. There is another nice, and much shorter/easier hike from here called Hidden Lake Overlook that has gorgeous views and is great for younger kids. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep are often seen from here.
Getting To Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana along the Canadian Border. The park has several entrances along its east and west borders. Glacier can be accessed via US Highway 2, 17, or 89. The closest airport to the park is Glacier Park International Airport located in Kalispell, MT. This airport is 30 miles from the West entrance. Other nearby airports include Missoula International Airport , Great Falls International Airport , and Calgary International Airport .
Amtrak offers rail service to the East Glacier, West Glacier, and Whitefish train depots on the Empire Builder line. Shuttles are offered from the depots to the park. Please call 855-733-4522 for more info.
Glacier National Park has a shuttle bus that travels the Going-to-the-Sun Road and there are several private tour operators who can arrange tours of Glacier.
Estimated Drive Time to Glacier National Park
- Kalispell, Montana 0.75 hours
- Badlands National Park 11.5 hours
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More Affected By The Elements
Same as anywhere else, youll find that tent campers are more affected by the weather and elements than those in a camper or RV. In fact, it is probably one of the main reasons some folks opt for a camper over primitive camping.
Many free camping areas, especially in the western part of the country lack any kind of cover from the sun. That means you, your tent, your car, and your belongings will bake in the middle of the day. You are also less protected from the wind that can knock over tents and spray sand, making for a sleepless night.
Lastly, while you can hold-up in your tent if there is a rainstorm or biting insects in the area, it is quite a bit more comfortable to be in a camper with headroom and a bathroom.
Plan Ahead & Have Fun
Camping is better when things go smoothly. Arrive early in the day or go mid-week . Check the forecast for inclement weather . Make sure you have what you need for the duration of your stay and emergency supplies (inflated spare tire, charged jump-starter, shovel, first-aid kit, etc. See our full boondocking shopping/packing list. Know that cell service is not a given before you head the woods, look up any necessary information and tell a buddy where youre going. If you prepare accordingly, being away from cell coverage is a beautiful thing. The outdoors offers infinite entertainment and the ultimate bonding experience with your crew. So get out there, enjoy the wonders of boondocking, and dont forget to leave Glacier Country even better than you found it!
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Grand Teton National Park
Considered the park with the most stunning vistas, Grand Teton is Wyomings other great wonder. A short drive away is Shoshone National Forest, that hosts gorgeous views of its own and an abundance of wildlife like bighorn sheep, wolves, elk, and grizzlies.
Sleeping On A Regular Mattress
Anyone with the slightest hint of a back problem knows that a good, supportive mattress is essential every night. Its frustrating to wake up with a sore back and neck when you are supposed to be enjoying your getaway.
The best you will usually get with a tent is a blow-up air mattress or a foam sleeping pad. With an RV, it is just like buying a mattress for home. You can invest in something that will keep you comfortable this trip and many more in the future.
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Dispersed Camping Near Park
We will be driving to Glacier the week of July 18th and we are planning to camp at a dispersed site somewhere close to the park . Since we’ll be arriving after a 15hr drive, I’m wondering if anyone can give us a tip as to where to look? In our experience, finding a good site can take another 1-2 hours of looking once we’re in the general area we want to be. We are considering getting a hotel for the first night for that reason, but we’ll have our dog so options will be limited there as well. Any tips are appreciated!
Cadiec, which direction are you traveling from, Boston and the east?
The KOA campgrounds on the east and the west sides are popular and that might get you that first night and then you can look for the free spots. There is a KOA in St. Mary and one near West Glacier. The Mountain Pine Motel in East Glacier village might be an option…Its going to be a super busy time in mid-July so that first nights stay might need a reservation. Also I’m not too sure but there may be some restrictions in the National Forests because of our unusual hot and dry year.
Campers may weigh in.
Best Pet Friendly Hotels in East Glacier Park on …
www.tripadvisor.com East Glacier Park Hotels
Mountain Pine Motel
freecampsites.net Montana Babb
Free camping near Glacier National Park. Use our maps to find camp sites near Glacier National Park and go camping for free.
Edited: 6 years ago
It’s light until 10 pm on the east side of the park.
Camping Near Glacier National Park
There are a number of RV parks and campgrounds in the area surrounding Glacier National Park, including Mountain Meadow RV Park and Cabins, St. Mary KOA, Glacier Peaks RV Park and Campground, West Glacier RV Park and Cabins, West Glacier KOA, and North American RV Park. These campgrounds are close to the park, and some offer extensive amenities, like pools, playgrounds, on-site dining, and more.
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Know Your Vehicles Limits
The deeper you go into public lands, the more rugged the roads. Unpaved, rutted, and narrow are common qualities, so you need to know what your rig can handle. If you have a longer RV or travel trailer , you might not be able to turn around easily. If you have low clearance, take it slow and have a spotter watch your undercarriage. When we hit a tricky spot, we like to scope out the road on foot to see if our vintage camper can handle it. Pro Tip: When youre looking at the various boondocking apps , check the comments section if the road is bad, users will note that and often give tips for the best approach.
Washington Boondocking Choices For Glacier National Park Fs895h Dispersed Site
Management Public Forest Service
The road in is Gravel and .1 miles from a paved road. There are 1-5 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 15 feet. You may stay 16 at Wounded Buck. A short gravel road entrance south of Wounded Buck Creek there are a few dispersed spots including some by the waters edge. Someone had a tent trailer parked in the area but Id be hesitant to bring any rig larger than a van down here.
Its a slightly tight and pitted dirt road, hut the sites right on the flowing creek were great! We setup our tent right next to the creek after checking that we wouldnt be bothering a friendly neighbor downstream. There was a decent stone fire ring, good parking space, and trees for a hammock. 4-5 cars came down the path looking for space after we setup, so this one is probably popular or in demand, but no one took the two smaller upstream sites closer to the road on Sunday night before labor day.
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