How to Plan a Trip to Glacier National Park from Seattle by Train
In a remote region of North America, there’s a place where trekking across glaciers and through alpine meadows are a common pastime. A destination where wildlife outnumber people and bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and bears are common sights.
Nearly 9 hours from Seattle, Glacier National Park only seems possible by sacrificing long hours behind the wheel. Many Seattleites and visitors to the Pacific Northwest opt for exploring the Olympic Peninsula or North Cascades instead. However, West Glacier and Whitefish are both a straight shot from the city by train, making the trip both budget-friendly and easier on the environment.
Though taking the train to Glacier may simplify some things, it still requires a lot of planning, from purchasing train tickets to securing campsites. There are also a number of factors to consider to keep the trip affordable, particularly during the summer months.
The Amtrak Empire Builder from Seattle to Glacier operates year-round, with one-way prices available for as low as $50, depending on the date. If your budget allows for a Superliner Roomette – starting at about $200 – it’s worth it for the extra space and included meals. The most common route is from Seattle’s King Street Station to West Glacier Station. However, if you’re traveling in the busy season, taking the train to Whitefish may help you save on accommodations. The train trip is about five hours longer than taking the same route by car, which is why many people opt for the overnight ride. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to plan alternative means of transportation to reach the park.
What to Pack
For backpackers, a lot of your trip should be planned around Apgar, as that’s where you’ll most likely stock up on food and supplies. In addition to packing bear spray, a food storage bag and the usual camping necessities, you’ll want to have an idea of how far you want to go in order to decide how much food and water you’ll need to have on hand.
There are food options at lodges throughout the park, but they often have long lines during peak season and are not as budget-friendly. Water purifiers and lightweight camping stoves are also worth considering for those planning longer trips. Even if you’re planning to “glamp” or stay in a budget hotel, it’s important to carry many of the same essentials for long hikes or bike rides through the wilderness.
Once You Arrive
During the busy season, traffic in Glacier National Park may be enough to make you thankful you took the train. One perk during peak season, however, is the number of shuttles and tours operating throughout the park and surrounding areas, including a free shuttle service that runs the full length of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Another popular pick, the Red Bus Tours operate from early June through late September with departure points at Apgar Visitor Center, Lake McDonald Lodge and several other locations. There are also shuttle services that cart hikers directly from the West Glacier Train Station to Lake McDonald Lodge and the Village Inn.
Biking is another inexpensive option for those who prefer to get a workout in. Rentals are available on the Gateway to Glacier Bike Path, less than a couple miles from the West Glacier entrance. The trail is paved and spans a little more than 10 miles from West Glacier to Hungry Horse, with lots of places to stop and eat along the way.
If you’re staying in Whitefish or the surrounding area, the Glacier Express Shuttle travels back and forth between Whitefish and Apgar. There’s also a 24-hour taxi service that runs year-round throughout Flathead County with pick-up locations at Glacier National Airport and the Amtrak stations in both Whitefish and West Glacier.
Where to Stay
When booking campsites, the most important consideration to make is how you’ll get there. If they aren’t accessible by foot, make sure there’s a shuttle or taxi service that makes stops in an area that’s within walking distance of where you plan to stay. Backcountry permits can be obtained at any of the ranger stations and are $7 or less per night. If you plan on going north of Goat Haunt Ranger Station, you’ll also need to make sure you have your passport handy.
If you prefer not to camp, the Belton Chalet is a convenient option, as it’s located directly across from West Glacier Station. Glacier Guides Lodge, Apgar Village Lodge and Glacier Raft Company’s accommodations are all on the less expensive end, as well as some of the yurts at Glacier Under Canvas. For those visiting in the off-season, be sure to check which lodging is still available.
When to Visit
Glacier National Park experiences some of its most stunning scenery (and lowest prices) during the shoulder seasons. Autumn is ideal for colorful foliage photos and floating on the river, while late Spring is a good fit for avid bikers and those who don’t mind a little snow. Cross-country skiers and snowshoeing enthusiasts should also take advantage of the low prices in January and February.
It’s still possible to visit Glacier from July through September, but you have to be more strategic in order to save. Make sure to book all transportation far in advance and research which campsites allow reservations. Also note that most tours, shuttle services and park lodges don’t operate outside of peak season.
The Yellowstone Loop: 9 Stops You Must Make
If you’re looking to combine a unique road trip with two of America's most epic national parks, look no further than the Yellowstone Loop. While many visitors to Yellowstone National Park fall into a rush-rush routine—flying into Salt Lake City, UT, renting a car, and racing straight to the park—the Yellowstone Loop invites you to slow it down and take a scenic and enjoyable path to the park. It’s the ideal way to experience everything this region has to offer. Here are our favorite nine stops between your arrival in Salt Lake City and the loop up to Yellowstone and back. 1. Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Brigham City, UT Amanda McCadams Detour into the Bear River Wild Bird Refuge for the 12-mile driving tour. This 74,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge is an important resting, feeding, and nesting area for migrating birds. Depending on what time of year you visit, you’ll get to see American avocets, white-faced ibis, Tundra swans, American white pelicans, Snowy plovers, and Black-necked stilts. 2. American West Heritage Center, Logan, UT Photojournalist Amanda McCadams hones her axe-throwing skills. (Courtesy Amanda McCadams) Step back in time 100 years and take your turn at hatchet throwing, spinning wool, or have tea while playing parlor games. This living history museum inspires visitors to learn, live and celebrate what life was like in the Cache Valley between the years of 1820-1920. Spread across nearly 300 acres of open space are a historical farm, pioneer settlements, native American exhibits, a mountain man camp and more. 3. Bluebird Candy Company, Logan, UT Amanda McCadams The Bluebird Candy Company has been creating hand-dipped candies and treats in their factory since 1914. Walk through the door and immediately the sweet smell of chocolate will beg you to start looking for the samples (FYI: they are by the register). After you’ve grabbed a taste, turn your attention to the picture window and watch the chocolates being hand dipped. Their irresistible clusters, caramels, truffles, and chocolates are made using locally sourced ingredients, which don’t have any preservatives or waxes, and their candy centers are made daily. Each are hand dipped then given a unique signature. 4. Lava Hot Springs, ID Amanda McCadams When you are ready to relax, head to the natural thermal springs of Lava Hot Springs. Every day over 2.5 million gallons of natural, chemical-free water courses through five soaking pools before being diverted in the Portneuf River. The pools range in temperature from 102 to 112 and are laden with minerals. And, thank goodness, this mineral water does not contain sulfur, so you won’t have to endure the rotten egg smell while you unwind from being on the road. The springs are open year-round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. 5. Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone, MT Amanda McCadams You might not see a grizzly during your visit to Yellowstone National Park, but you can get up close to one at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, MT, just a short drive from the park’s western entrance. All of the grizzlies, wolves, owls, eagles, and hawks that reside here are unable to survive in the wild, so instead they serve as ambassadors to their wild counterparts. Throughout the day naturalists on staff lead a variety of demonstrations, including how to properly use bear spray (hint: you DON’T spray it on like bug spray) and general bear safety. Kids-only programs include helping a naturalist hide food in the bear habitat, then watching how a bear uses the sense of smell to find food. 6. Yellowstone National Park, WY, MT, ID Amanda McCadams You could spend weeks in Yellowstone National Park and never still see it all. Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Springs, herds of buffalo, are all the high-points you’ll definitely want to see. Our advice here is to drive slowly through the park, take your time and visit during shoulder season (it's also beautiful in winter, though most roads are closed). Following this advice, you’ll see more, the crowds will be smaller, and the cooler temperatures will have the wildlife still at a lower elevations, along the primary roads. 7. Grand Tetons National Park, WY Grand Tetons could be an entire, epic trip all by itself, but if you are thinking of “saving it for another time,” while you focus on Yellowstone it's a good idea to just drive through it on your way back to Salt Lake City. The scenery is breathtaking and it’s no wonder this park is a magnet for photographers, painters and landscape enthusiasts. Along your route you should definitely make a stop where Ansel Adams made his famous “Tetons and Snake River" photograph. There is even a marker there, so you too can test your photography skills and shoot where the master did. 8. Bear Lake, Garden City, UT Amanda McCadams Bear Lake is known as the Caribbean of the Rockies. After seeing the stunning turquoise water and white beaches, you’ll understand why. There is no shortage of recreational activities that happen year-round here. There are thousands of square miles of fun that include beaches, boating, fishing, water sports, hiking, snow skiing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, exploring, history, and so much more. 9. Conestoga Ranch, Garden City, UT Located on 18 acres along the shores of Bear Lake is Conestoga Ranch. This is glamping at its finest. Stay in a modern version of a covered wagon (with a plush king-sized bed and electricity), or a traditional (yet very roomy) tent. Each spot comes with campfire valet service (s’mores kit included) and there is resort-wide wifi. Some tents have their own shower and bathroom facilities, but if yours doesn’t, there are private shower rooms available 24/7 (none of that public bathhouse stuff with a flimsy curtain and lukewarm water). The on-site Campfire Grill restaurant offers upscale yet casual dining and a wine and craft beer list to go along with it.
Want to Visit Every National Park? Mikah Meyer Actually Did It
After three years on the road, a Nebraska man has achieved his dream of visiting all 419 national parks in the U.S. in one trip. Now working as a public speaker, Mikah Meyer (33) has just returned from traveling more than 75,000 miles in a cargo van, which contained a bed and a solar-powered fridge. He was inspired by losing his 58-year-old Lutheran pastor father to cancer when he was 19. “I learned a hard lesson at a young age that we really won’t have all the time we think to pursue our life goals,” he tells Budget Travel's parent company, Lonely Planet. “My dad was a big fan of road trips, so I did my first independent road trip just a few days after his funeral.” National Parks: The Story of a Nation Mikah documented his trip on Instagram, and images and videos show him camping, snorkeling, hiking and posing with landmarks and monuments. National parks are special because they tell the story of a nation, he says, and they are available to everyone. In the age of the smartphone, he loved being able to witness their incredible beauty and majesty in person. “There’s just something special about being awed in a way that no digital medium can capture,” he says. Close Encounters With Wildlife Of all the parks he visited, Mikah was most enchanted by Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. Geese hold symbolic significance in Lutheranism, and while he was there, he had what he describes as It was one of the most “magical and mystical experiences” of his journey, when he met a goose he christened George. “It didn’t hurt that during a four-day, three-night rafting trip down the Green River that travels through the park, I was followed by a wild Canadian goose the whole time,” he says. “This park is special as there are recreational activities like hiking and rafting, incredible vistas along with up-close nature viewing, and it’s full of history due to all the dinosaur bones discovered there.” An Inspirational Solo Odyssey Mikah says that traveling alone can be fun because it gives us opportunities to meet new people and expand our human circle. But traveling alone when you’re trying to set a world record and having to spend most of your free time in libraries on your computer doing logistics, blogging and fundraising is not the same. “Even though I was going to some of the most beautiful places in America, I wished I had someone to share them with,” he says. “Three years is a long time to not get to have a regular beer with a friend, or see family members during normal holiday visits.” The highlight for him was that he actually successfully completed such a behemoth of a road trip. It also taught him the beauty of having a wonderful place to come home to, of seeing family and friends regularly, and being able to be part of a local community. As a gay man, he also loves the idea of being an inspiration to others. “When I started planning this project, I searched for openly gay outdoorsy role models and didn’t find anyone I could look up to,” he says. “Knowing that this journey has provided that for other people has been one of my proudest moments. And accomplishing a feat that no person has ever done before makes me proud to show that not only can gay people be ordinary, but we can also be extraordinary.” “For a kid from Nebraska who thought I might never make it out of my home state, it’s an incredible feeling to know I’ve now seen every corner of the US, and all 419 of our National Park Service sites.” You can check out Mikah’s Instagram page here and his website here.
When it comes to America’s national parks, we wear our heart on our sleeve: For natural beauty, wildlife appreciation, and value, there may be no better vacation choice than, say, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, or the dozens of other national parks that stretch from the Caribbean to the South Pacific and from Maine to Alaska. But there’s something else we wear, not just on our sleeve: Climate-appropriate clothing, which usually means layering and sun-protection. The right apparel is just one of the must-packs for a safe and comfortable visit to a wild and sometimes unpredictable environment. As the summer travel season approaches, we want to share the number-one NPS safety tip all travelers must know, plus 10 essentials to pack to ensure health, safety, comfort, and fun. 1. Follow Park Rules & Ranger Instructions This should go without saying, but the number-one item to pack for a successful national park visit is your common sense. When you visit a national park, it’s vital that you follow all posted rules and directions, and follow any verbal instructions given by park rangers. Often, the rules boil down to staying on the park paths and keeping a safe distance from all wildlife. No problem, right? But, unfortunately, each year park visitors are injured or killed because they wander where they don’t belong or get too close to wild animals. 2. Prepare to Navigate Pack a paper map and compass in addition to your GPS device—not coincidentally, some of the most beautiful places in America are far from Wi-Fi hubs. Review driving and hiking directions in advance, from the comfort of a Wi-Fi-enabled hotel room or rental property, and be prepared to navigate the old-fashioned way when you hit the trails. 3. Protect Yourself From the Sun The sun’s heat and damaging UV rays pose both short- and long-term risks. UV-protective sunglasses, sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and sun-protective shirts and pants will keep you cool and energized on your day hikes, and protect your skin from premature aging and skin cancer. 4. Insulate Even in summer, some national parks become chilly in the evenings and sometimes dangerously cold at elevation. Insulate yourself by packing a jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell, and thermal underwear. 5. Get Illuminated Packing a flashlight, lantern, and headlamp may feel like a throwback, but illumination that doesn’t require an electrical outlet can come in handy for campers, cabin renters, cavern explorers, and just about everybody else from time to time. 6. Bring a First-Aid Kit Sure, you are trying to limit what you have to stuff into your car’s hatch or your checked bag. But a small first-aid kit that can supply antibiotic and bandages while you’re out hiking, padding, or engaging in other summer activities can help keep cuts and scratches from turning into a much bigger deal. 7. Be Ready to Build a Fire This tip applies mostly to campers and those who plan on exploring park backcountry, where waterproof matches, a lighter, and kindling can help with cooking and, in a pinch, staying warm. (If you pack matches and lighters, keep them locked away where kids can't get to them.) 8. Bring a Repair Kit Duct tape, knife, screwdriver, scissors. No, you’re not preparing to appear in an episode of MacGyver. But outdoor activities from camping to kayaking to hiking can sometimes require last-minute repairs to equipment, and most travelers just don’t think of packing these handy tools. 9. Pack Nutritious Snacks The NPS suggests having at least one day’s food on hand in the event of an unforeseen change of plans, which can happen in the blink of an eye thanks to changing weather, wildfires, and flooding. Packing nonperishable foods can be easiest, but do strive for high fiber carbs such as woven wheat crackers, lean proteins such as jerky or cheese sticks, and easy healthy snacks such as trail mix, nuts, and granola bars. 10. Stay Hydrated Water can sometimes seem like an afterthought to travelers who are lucky enough to take access to abundant drinking water for granted at home. But staying hydrated in the wild requires some planning and is crucial to health and safety. In the hot summer sun, you should sip water regularly, not waiting until you feel thirsty. Park rangers suggest a gallon of water per person per day. That’s a lot of water. Campers and backcountry hikers will do well to pack water-treatment supplies and to research nearby bodies of water. (Never drink untreated water in a national park—as clean as the water looks and feels, it may carry bird-borne microbes that can upset your digestive system.) 11. Carry Your Own Emergency Shelter This may not be necessary if you’re planning to hit the park highlights via car or park shuttle, but those going farther afield should carry portable shelter such as a tent, space blanket, tarp, or bivy in the event that they get stuck out in the great outdoors longer than they expected.
Travel News: Outdoorsy Launches Guides for National Park Week
In anticipation of 2019’s National Park Week, launching April 20 with entrance fees waived nationwide, RV rental site Outdoorsy (outdoorsy.com) has introduced digital guides to more than 40 national parks and a thousand state parks across the country. For Park Week inspiration and beyond, here’s where to look for an offbeat experience. The State of Outdoor Affairs National parks might claim most of the attention, but state parks deserve more than a passing mention. And Outdoorsy provides attention a'plenty. From the dramatically named—and deservedly so, given its blazing red-sandstone formations—Valley of Fire just north of Las Vegas to the idyllic waterfalls, caves, and lush plant life in New York’s Watkins Glen to the free-roaming bison of Custer, South Dakota, America’s often-smaller state parks highlight the diversity of our country’s landscape, not to mention its flora and fauna. National Treasures While the big guns like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon will always hold a special place in our hearts, we have plenty of love for the National Park Service’s lesser-known gems as well. In addition to protecting unique areas from human encroachment, the system’s 400-plus sites include historic landmarks and places of cultural significance—think: John F. Kennedy’s birthplace and the library of Frederick Douglass, Native American effigy mounds in Iowa and ancient Pueblo architecture in New Mexico, the birthplace of jazz in New Orleans and nearly 500 miles of planned roadway stretching between the Great Smokies and Shenandoah National Park. Outdoorsy’s picks for under-the-radar destinations include North Cascades and its 300-plus glaciers in Washington State, whale-watching and wolf-spotting in Alaska’s Katmai, and the islands, coral reefs, and marine life of the Dry Tortugas in Florida.