Glacier isn’t one of those parks where you can check out one thing and call it done. There is so much here to see that many of us here at Glacier Guides and Montana Raft have spent a lifetime exploring Glacier, and we’re not done yet! At any rate, the Continental Divide splits the park geographically, and in other ways, too. No trip is complete without exploring Glacier Park’s east side, including the Two Medicine, St. Mary, Many Glacier, Belly River, and Goat Haunt areas.
Glacier Park’s East Side
Here’s a look at the east side of the park. The west side is not labeled on this map, just the east side. Remember that Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park shares an international border, so some of Glacier Park’s east side is located in Canada, i.e. the Goat Haunt/Waterton area.
The east side tends to be drier, cooler, and windier than the west side. Its base elevation is higher than the west side of the park. Glacier Park’s entire eastern border is shared with the Blackfeet Nation, a First Nations tribe. We like the recent actions by many on social media in photo credits to note that Glacier Park images taken represent the traditional lands of the Amskapi Piikuni, Kootenai, Selis, and Qlispe People. A sense of place enriches every experience.
There are a plethora of uniquely named locales in the area — i.e. Bad Marriage Mountain, Two Oceans Glacier, Cattle Queen Creek — each with an interesting story or person behind it. If you are interested, there are several good books, such as Walter McClintock’s The Old North Trail or Let the Mountains Sing: Place Names of Glacier-Waterton by Jack Holterman. The National Park Service also has a good roundup of Glacier name info here.
Let’s start exploring Glacier Park’s east side by heading down to the Two Medicine / East Glacier area, and working our way north from there. Pack your passport, because we’re going to Canada, too!
Glacier Park’s East Side: Two Medicine / East Glacier Area
Two Medicine is a diamond in the rough! It is beautiful, teeming with cultural considerations, and is typically less crowded than other Glacier valleys with amenities. There are no glaciers left here, which is why the waters are a deeper blue than the rest of the park.
The campground here is large and can accommodate any size camper/RV. It is also nice because it is located next to the lake. Two Med has lots great day hikes, such as Scenic Point, Dawson-Pitamakan, and Aster Falls. There is a Ranger Station for information or permits.
Most people visiting this area stay in East Glacier (about 20 minutes away) at the Glacier Park Lodge. Glacier Park Lodge was one of the first built by the Great Northern Railroad. It is located on the Blackfeet Reservation directly across the street from the train station – wonderful if you are travelling by rail!
Quick Guide to Two Medicine / East Glacier:
Recreation: Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Boat Tours and Rentals, Fishing on your own – Blackfeet Recreation Permit/Fishing License required if you are not in Glacier National Park (this applies throughout the east side)
Lodging: None in Two Med. Several options in East Glacier (Glacier Park Lodge, Backpackers Inn)
Restaurants / Bars: None in Two Med, although there is grab and go food in the Camp Store. Several options in East Glacier – Serrano’s and the Glacier Park Lodge’s bar are recommended.
Laundry: Yes, in town next to the Villager.
Glacier Park’s East Side: Cut Bank
Cut Bank is great if you are looking for some peace and quiet. The road to get to the trailhead is rough, dirt, and typically the last to be plowed in the spring. The campground is primitive – tents and small campers only. There aren’t a lot of trails that leave from this valley, although the Triple Divide Pass trail is one of our favorite, and makes an excellent beginning for a multi-day backpacking trip! We do a lot of that sort of thing, so we go to Cut Bank often.
Restaurants / Bars: None
Glacier Park’s East Side: St. Mary / Rising Sun
Depending on your perspective, St. Mary is either the end or the beginning of the Going-to-the-Sun-Road! St. Mary boasts the largest Visitor’s Center in the park, and an amazing dedicated area for night sky interpretation. (Thanks, Glacier Conservancy!) And by the way, it’s St. Mary, NOT St. Mary’s.
Rising Sun is just a few miles west of St. Mary, on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The St. Mary / Rising Sun area scenery is hard to beat. This is a great place to hike, either day hiking or backpacking. From easy to hard, there are hiking trails that meet almost anyone’s needs. And if you like waterfalls, this is the place to be, especially in June/July when they are running at their fullest.
Although there are two large lakes here, there is not much private boating due to the high winds that frequent the east side. You can, however, take a great tour of St. Mary Lake with our pals at the Glacier Park Boat Co.
There are some amenities inside the park at Rising Sun Motor Inn, as well as in the town of St. Mary. There are also several campgrounds both in and outside the park.
Quick Guide to St. Mary:
Lodging: Rising Sun Motor Inn or in St. Mary. NPS campgrounds at Rising Sun and St. Mary, and more private campgrounds in the town of St. Mary.
Restaurants / Bars: Rising Sun Motor Inn and in the town of St. Mary. Don’t miss the amazing Sunday spread at Johnson’s Cafe, up on the St. Mary hill!
Shopping: Gift shop at Rising Sun and in the town of St. Mary, including a small grocery store.
Laundry: Yes, at the St. Mary Lodge (behind the gas station).
Glacier Park’s East Side: Many Glacier
Mountains. Glaciers. Wildlife. Hiking Trails. Wildflowers. Glacial lakes. Amenities. Many Glacier has it all! It even hosts the most accessible glacier in the park (yes, there are still some left). You can catch the trail for it right from the world famous Many Glacier Hotel.
Many Glacier is also one of the easiest places to see animals. Mountain goats, moose, bighorn sheep, and everybody’s favorite, bears. More than a few of us have seen bears right from the deck of the Many Glacier Hotel, binoculars in one hand, and a cocktail in the other.
For these reasons, along with its jaw dropping beauty, Many Glacier is one of the busiest places in the park. The trails are busy and so are the hotels. If you are looking to get a room here, get on the horn. Dates book up to a year in advance. If you want high-end luxury, this is not it, but the views are priceless.
Quick Guide to Many Glacier:
Shopping: A couple of gift shops as well as a small convenience type store (no gas) in Many Glacier; a general store and gas station in neighboring Babb, Montana.
Laundry: Yes, at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
The Belly River is only for people that motivate to have an “out of car” experience. There are no roads, only hiking trails, and therefore no amenities.
What the Belly River “lacks” in facilities, it makes up for in waterfalls, wildlife, lakes, and amazing views. It is a favorite among backpackers, for obvious reasons, and has great fishing, too. This valley is home to a few of Glacier’s most prominent mountains, including Mt. Cleveland, Mt. Merritt, and Chief Mountain. Belly River links up to the Many Glacier area via the Ptarmigan Tunnel, pictured below.
Quick Guide to the Belly River:
Recreation: Hiking, Backpacking, Horseback Riding (private trips only)
Restaurants / Bars: None.
Glacier Park’s East Side: O Canada! Welcome to Waterton / Goat Haunt
The darling town of Waterton, home of the renowned Prince of Wales Hotel, is the hub of the Canadian side of Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park. You can get there by traveling north from Many Glacier, up Chief Mountain Highway, and entering Canada at Chief Mountain Customs. Be sure to check hours, as this is a seasonal port.
Goat Haunt is located along the border of the United States and Canada. The only way to access this area is from the town of Waterton (inside Canada’s Waterton National Park) via boat (the International) or a 10 mile hike. This region is home to Mt. Cleveland, the tallest mountain in Glacier Park at 10,466 feet. Most people visit Goat Haunt as a day trip, however, for the more adventurous this is the beginning or end of a multi day backpacking trip. There are some nice day hikes from this area, or you can choose to take the boat back with no hiking.
Quick Guide to Waterton/Goat Haunt:
Lodging: Many options in Waterton – check out the historic Prince of Wales Hotel!
Restaurants / Bars: Many options in Waterton. We’re awfully fond of Weiners of Waterton.
Shopping: Several gift shops in Waterton
Transportation: Lake Cruise (the International), Hiking, Backpacking
Glacier Park’s East Side
There’s no best side of Glacier National Park, but this overall area is absolutely worth your time! Like most good things, memorable experiences on the east side taking planning and preparation. We’re always here to lend a hand, and our decades of experience. Let us know if we can help you raft, hike, fish, or bike in Glacier National Park.
p.s. if you’d like to read our advice on Glacier Park’s west side, check out this companion post.
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