Updated on June 8, 2020 by Asher Fergusson
No matter what you’re looking for on your trip, using this Glacier packing list will ensure you’re prepared. Scroll down for tips on what to bring, what to leave at home, what to wear at Glacier NP, and some tips about visiting the park.
What to Pack for Glacier NP – 17 Essentials
The weather in Glacier Park can be unpredictable, and the spring months especially tend to bring rain. You should always be prepared for it to be wet, and this travel umbrella will take up minimal space in your pack. It’ll be a lifesaver on rainy days – or even sunny ones, since you’ll be desperate for shade above the treeline.
Some of Glacier’s campgrounds have electrical hookups and a couple visitor centers have charging stations, but you’ll have a tough time finding an outlet in the park otherwise. Bring a portable charger,and you’ll be able to keep everything from your phone to your speakers charged and trail-ready. This one weighs a miniscule five ounces, so you’ll barely feel it in your pack.
An organized pack makes for a happy traveler, and there’s no easier way to stay organized than by using packing cubes. If you haven’t used packing cubes before, you’ll be surprised by what a difference they make. This set of five includes three different sized cubes, plus two laundry bags to keep your dirty clothes separated.
Glacier is a very safe national park, but you should always come prepared, especially if you go hiking in the backcountry. This emergency bracelet features a firestarter, a whistle, a small knife, and a compass, along with 12 feet of paracord. Even better, it comes in a pack of two, so you can give one to your hiking buddy.
A towel is one of the essential things to take to Glacier, especially if you’re camping, but beware of regular bath towels. They’re super bulky, take ages to dry, and quickly start to smell. Fortunately, a microfiber towel will dry out easily, makingthem perfect to use after a swim in one of Glacier’s alpine lakes or a shower at one of the main campgrounds. These towels come in a variety of sizes, but even the larger versions weigh less than half a pound.
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On average, hikers need one liter of drinking water for every two hours of hiking, and even more if it’s especially hot out. But it’s a nuisance to be constantly stopping to dig into your bag and look for a water bottle. Bring a Camelbak reservoir instead, which makes it easier to drink enough water, and you’ll stay hydrated for the whole day.
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7. Neck Wallet
Don’t feel like carrying a pack, but need to bring a few essential items? A neck wallet is the perfect solution. And worn under your shirt, it’s almost invisible. It’s also a great way to keep items like your phone and money close at hand without needing to dig through your whole bag.
Injuries can happen, especially in the outdoors, so a First-Aid kit is one of the most important things to bring to Glacier, or any national park. This kit contains all the essentials, like bandages, gauze, medical tape, and a set of tweezers. Just make sure you know how to patch up simple injuries before you head out, or having the kit won’t do you much good.
Hand sanitizer is a necessity everywhere these days, but it’s especially important out on the trail or camping in the backcountry, where running water could be miles away. This variety is moisturizing, so feel free to use it as much as needed.
You shouldn’t need to bring all that many things on the trail, but once you’ve gathered together your phone, snacks, water, and camera, you’ll still need something to carry it all in. That’s why a comfortable daypack should be one of your top Glacier packing essentials. This one will hold 35 liters of gear, but it folds down to the size of a water bottle when not in use.
11. Insect repellent
Glacier’s relatively cool temperatures help keep the bugs at bay, but there are more than enough of them to necessitate bringing a bottle of insect repellant. They tend to be worse at lower elevations on the western side of the park, but you can encounter mosquitoes and other bugs anywhere around Glacier. Many types of repellent are effective, but this eucalyptus-based one is safer for your skin and better for the environment, too.
12. Travel Insurance
Exploring a national park is usually a safe adventure, but anything can happen, especially in the backcountry. World Nomads is the best insurance for Glacier because they cover just about every activity under the sun, from scuba diving to cross-country skiing. In addition to medical coverage, World Nomads will have your back when it comes to things like last-minute changes, rental car accidents, and stolen gear.
One sarong can take the place of many other Glacier Park essentials–like a picnic blanket, swimsuit cover-up, andlightweight scarf, just to name a few. This one is made from rayon, which is tough enough to stand up to the rigors of being outdoors while still looking great. Plus, unlike many of the items it can replace, a sarong takes up very little space and weighs almost nothing.
Drinking water is available at Glacier’s visitor centers and at the bigger campgrounds. But if you head into the backcountry, you’ll need to collect your own water – and it’ll need to be filtered. A LifeStraw bottle makes it convenient to filter water as you drink it, and thecharcoal filter removes over 99.9% of bacteria and parasites. Plus, filtering adds no chemicals to your drinking water, and it doesn’tcreate an awful taste like purification tablets.
Electrolytes are key whether you’re traveling or not! Especially if you’re headed somewhere hot or plan to do a lot of physical activity, you’ll need to make sure your body is properly hydrated at all times. Adding some of these electrolytes to your drinking water will help kill a hangover, too!
A good tent is critical to an enjoyable camping experience. You don’t want it to collapse on you in the middle of the night, blow away when you get out to make breakfast, or let any water in if it rains. Pro tip: a tent with sufficient space will keep everyone in a better mood, so get one that’s bigger than you think you need.
17. Deodorant wipes
Other Glacier National Park packing list items not to forget
Waterproof phone case
Insulated water bottle
Feminine hygiene products
What to Wear at Glacier National Park
To choose the best clothes for Glacier, you’ll need to consider a few things, namely what time of year you plan to visit, what you want to do in the park, and whether or not you’ll be camping. But regardless of those factors, the easiest way to stay comfortable in the park is by dressing in layers and choosing breathable and quick-drying fabrics when possible. Your Glacier wardrobe should also generally be made up of casual clothes, including items like hiking pants, activewear, wool base layer bottoms, and tank tops or T-shirts. And don’t forget to pack your swimsuit! If you’re camping in the park or visiting outside the summer months, you’ll also need some warmer clothes, like a sweatshirt and a waterproof outer layer.
When it comes to the best shoes for Glacier, comfort is the most important factor. You’ll probably be doing a lot of walking in the park, so make sure your feet are happy in your hiking shoes or boots, and bring along some sandals for the rest of the time.
The vast majority of visitors to Glacier come in the summer months, when temperatures are the warmest, rain and snow are unlikely, and all of the park’s amenitiesare fully open. However, it is possible to visit all year round, including in the winter. Regardless of when you come, choosing weather-appropriate clothing for Glacier is critical.
SPRING in Glacier – March, April, May:
During the spring, there’s typically still snow on the ground in Glacier, and average lows are below freezing. That means you should plan on wearing long pants and bringing warm layers. These are also the rainiest months of the year, so a rain jacket and waterproof shoes are vital. Make sure your daypack is waterproof as well.
SUMMER in Glacier – June, July, August:
Summer is the only time Glacier is warm – and even then,the averagehighs are just around 70 and lows are in the 40s. The weather is also unpredictable, and rain is still possible in the summer. While you can generally wear things like shorts and T-shirts during the day, especially in July and August, warmer layers are crucial for the evenings. If you’re camping, make sure you have something warm and comfortable to sleep in.
FALL in Glacier – September, October, November:
While September still brings some nice days, temperatures drop off considerably by October. If you visit Glacier in the fall, you’ll need to pack warm clothes, including long pants, a coat, and insulated shoes or boots.
WINTER in Glacier – December, January, February:
Winter in Glacier is an entirely different experience, with below-freezing temperatures and abundant snowfall. But it’s also a magical time to visit if you’re prepared. The ideal Glacier wardrobe during this time of year includes three layers: a sweat-wicking base layer, an insulating mid-layer, and a wind- and water-proof outer layer. Sturdy snow boots are the only feasible footwear for Glacier in the winter, and don’t forget a warm hat and gloves.
Hiking – Hiking is easily the most popular activity in Glacier, so you’ll definitely want clothes you can hit the trail in. Breathable fabrics are the most comfortable, and long pants will protect your legs against the brush. Comfortable hiking shoes or boots are also critical, and make sure you have time to break them in before your trip.
Camping – If you’re camping in Glacier, warm clothes for the evening and warm pajamas are essential. Fabrics that dry out quickly will also be the most comfortable when you’re staying in a tent.
Kayaking & SUP – Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are both popular activities on Glacier’s lakes. The most comfortable thing to wear out on the water is activewear made of quick-drying fabrics, along with sturdy sandals like Chacos.
XC skiing & Snowshoeing – Winter sports like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in Glacier require heavy-duty winter clothes. In addition to warm base and mid-layers, you’ll want to wear snow pants, a winter coat, and a warm hat and gloves. A gaiter or neck warmer is also a good idea.
What NOT to Bring to Glacier
3) DON’T BRING: Heavy backpacking gear. If you’re taking a backcountry trip in Glacier, the weight of your pack is critical. If your tent, sleeping bag, or camp stove are on the bulky side, switch them out for a lightweight option.
5) DON’T TAKE: Lots of clothes. Almost everyone packs too many clothes when they travel, so try to resist this temptation. Only bring the items you’re sure to wear, and pare down your wardrobe as much as possible.
4) DON’T PACK: A bath towel. Regular towels are bulky, and they take forever to dry. Stick to a thin camp towel instead, which will take up less space and dry much faster.
6) DON’T PACK: A bunch of books. Physical books are heavy and take up a lot of space in your luggage, so bring a Kindle or some other type of e-reader instead.
1. When is Glacier Park open?
While the vast majority of Glacier’s tourists come in the summer, the park is open year-round. However, the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road is only open from approximately late-June to October, depending on the year’s snowfall. Some campgrounds are also closed during the off-season, while others have limited amenities. Don’t be too discouraged by the closures, though. Glacier is magical when it’s covered in snow, and you can hike or cross-country ski for hours without seeing another person. Park admission and campground fees are also reduced from November to April.
2. What is the best time of year to visit Glacier?
The best time of year to go to Glacier depends on the type of experience you’re hoping to have. With warm weather and low rainfall, July and August are the most popular months to visit. While this is the most pleasant time for hiking and camping, the trails and campgrounds are packed, and the traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road can come to a standstill. But during the shoulder months of June and September, the weather is still mostly bearable and crowds are nearly non-existent. Just make sure to bring a warm sleeping bag if you’re planning to camp.
3. How can I get to Glacier?
The most convenient way to reach Glacier is by flying into Glacier International Airport in Kalispell, which is thirty miles from the park’s western entrance. Or if you’re a fan of train travel, Amtrak’s Empire Builder runs along the park’s southern borderand has stations near the towns of West Glacier and East Glacier. Running between Chicago and Seattle/Portland, it’s one of the most scenic train routes in the country, and a shuttle bus connects the train station to the park.
4. What rules and regulations does Glacier have?
The rules at Glacier Park are similar to those in most other national parks, and are aimed at keeping visitors safe and preserving the park’s wildlife and environment. These are some of the main rules to keep in mind:
- Camp only at designated campsites
- Stay 100 yards from bears and wolves
- Stay 25 yards from all other wildlife
- Do not feed the animals
- Use an established fire ring (only where campfires are permitted)
- Lock up food and scented items
- Don’t remove anything from the park
- Don’t build any structures (including rock cairns)
- Stay on the trail while hiking
- Use toilet facilities whenever possible
- Do not litter (not even food scraps)
5. Are there bears in the park?
Outside of Alaska, Glacier has one of the country’s highest concentrations of grizzly bears, and that’s to say nothing of the even more common black bears. Safety always needs to be on your mind when hiking or camping in bear country. You should carry (and know how to use) bear spray, and make plenty of noise while on the trail. If you’re camping, lock up all food and scented items in your car or in the provided “bear lockers.” It’s also crucial to be aware of your surroundings. Far too many visitors keep their eyes glued to the ground to watch for rocks and tree roots, oblivious to bears that could be a short distance away.
6. What are the best hikes in Glacier?
With so many mind-blowing landscapes to explore, you really can’t go wrong when it comes to choosing a trail. But one of the best is Grinnell Glacier in the Many Glacier area of the park; a six-mile trek along a cliff face is rewarded with views of one the park’s most spectacular ice fields. For something a little easier, there’s Hidden Lake Overlook, just behind the Logan Pass visitor center. It’s only a couple miles long with relatively little elevation gain, but it’s one of the best trails for spotting mountain goats. Or to get away from the summer crowds, head to the Two Medicine area in the park’s southeast corner. There, you’ll find another of the best hikes, the moderately difficult nine-mile trail to Twin Falls.
7. What are the top things to do in Glacier?
Glacier has so many amazing activities that it can be hard to fit them all into one trip. Hiking is the most obvious, with over 734 miles of trail to explore. You canrent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and even powerboats at Lake McDonald, or take a swim in its crystal-clear waters. Thrillseekers can also hop on a rafting trip in West Glacier, running through the Class III and IV rapids on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
Driving Going-to-the-Sun Road is another of the park’s most iconic activities. Or if you’d prefer not to drive yourself, you can take the Red Bus tour and ride around in a restored bus built in the 1930s. You can even get a bird’s-eye view of the park by taking a helicopter tour with one of the operators in West Glacier. And don’t miss Glacier’s famed Native America Speaks program; every night during the summer, members of a nearby tribe give presentations on the history and culture of the area.
8. Where can I stay around Glacier?
There are three lodges within the park (Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, and Glacier Park Lodge), all providing comfortable accommodations close to the outdoor activities. The park also has 13 main campgrounds (all accessible by vehicle), as well as over 200 backcountry campsites. Outside the park, there are dozens of hotels and hundreds of vacation rentals around the towns of Whitefish, Kalispell, and Columbia Falls.
9. What amenities do the campgrounds have?
The 13 main campgrounds in the park offer a range of amenities. The bigger campgrounds like St. Mary provide showers and potable water, while smaller ones like Logging Creek have only vault toilets. Larger campgrounds are also more likely to offer ranger-led activities, including hikes and educational programs, during the summer.
Glacier’s many backcountry campsites have minimal amenities, usually only vault toilets. In the backcountry, you’ll also need to collect and purify your own drinking water.
10. How can I save money in Glacier?
Your time inside the park should be fairly inexpensive, as most activities are free and the campgrounds just cost around $20 per night. If you’re not camping, it’s much more affordable to stay outside the park, particularly in Kalispell or Columbia Falls. These towns are also cheaper than nearby Whitefish for stocking up on supplies. While many visitors rent a car at the airport, you can also cut your expenses by exploring the park without one. Shuttles connect the airport and train stations to the park, and a free bus crosses the entire park on Going-to-the-Sun Road.
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