Plan My Glacier National Park Trip - Winter

Lake McDonald Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald Glacier National Park

Winter In Glacier National Park

It’s winter time. There’s nothing to do in the park…That, my friend, is hearsay. So, from your trusted Glacier National Park guides since 1983, here’s “Plan My Glacier National Park Trip – Winter” for a fun, 2-day snowy adventure that is sure to be nothing short of spectacular.

What’s Open In Glacier In The Winter

Let us start off by saying, there is a whole other level of beauty in Glacier in the winter. There’s just something about waking up to see snowy mountains in the brisk morning air. Or watching the alpenglow along the Lake McDonald skyline in the early evening light. It’s a much quieter and more peaceful way to experience Glacier if you’re up for the challenge.

Whether you’re into snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or short, scenic hikes (don’t forget the Yak Traks!), there is so much to choose from. Open trails around Lake McDonald include Apgar Lookout, McDonald Falls, Avalanche Picnic area and Sacred Dancing Cascade. Around Polebridge you can explore Big Prairie, Covey Meadow, Lone Pine Prairie or Bowman Lake.

Need a place to rent some skis or snowshoes? We know of a few in the Flathead Valley.

Sportman’s Ski Haus (Locations in Kalispell and Whitefish)

Glacier Nordic Club

Glacier Cyclery & Nordic

Winter Weather In Glacier National Park

The weather in the winter usually lands in the mid-teens-30 degrees, with extremes going in either direction. Recreating in the winter also comes with it’s challenges. When you go out in Glacier, be prepared to be outside for a few hours at a time and dress for the temperature. Wool socks, insulated long underwear made of polyester or other sweat and wet blocking materials. Stay away from cotton — if you can help it — as it tends to hold on to moisture, lose it’s insulating properties and in the long run, make you more cold as you sweat or become more wet from outside elements. We also want to stress not to push yourself, know your boundaries and check the weather before heading out so you know how to best prepare.

Here are some easy links to look at before heading out on your adventure. Also, take a look at the average temperatures for Glacier National Park below for a better idea and what to expect.

West Glacier Forecast, East Glacier Forecast, Polebridge Forecast, Glacier Webcams

Day 1 Winter Glacier National Park Itinerary: Strap On Those Skis (Or Snowshoes!)

With so many trails to choose from, it’s hard to go wrong, but let’s start in West Glacier. Head on up to the road closure and parking area near Lake McDonald Lodge. This will be the warm up, and an nice journey to McDonald Falls, 4 miles round trip. Head up an unplowed road for almost 2 miles. Turn left and go a short distance to the bridge over McDonald Creek for an amazing upstream view of McDonald Falls. Not quite done yet? Want to take it a bit further? Continue across the bridge at McDonald Creek, turn right and ski upstream one mile along McDonald Creek towards Sacred Dancing Cascade. Cross the footbridge over the creek and head back down the unplowed road towards Lake McDonald Lodge.

Before you leave West Glacier, stop by Apgar for some spectacular views of Lake McDonald and prominent Glacier peaks. The mountains during this time of year are moody, foggy and jaw dropping with their snow-capped peaks.

On your journey out of the park, stop by Glacier Distilling Company for a bit of spirit tasting and amazing atmosphere. They’ve got everything in the realm of small batch whiskey and fine spirits. While you’re there, get a taste of Montana with the Fireweed Bourbon –made with a cherry brandy distilled from Flathead Lake Cherries– or try the Huckleberry Gin, made from local spruce tips and sweetened with wild, handpicked huckleberries. Check their winter hours and regulations here so you don’t miss out!

Day 2 Winter Glacier National Park Itinerary: Destination Polebridge!

Access to this area in the winter is through county road 486 from Columbia Falls, MT. It’s important to note that this road is infrequently plowed in the winter and visitors should check on local road conditions prior to the journey. Parking is on the east side of the North Fork Bridge at the Polebridge Ranger Station.

For day 2, let’s jump right into a bigger journey to Bowman Lake, about 12 miles round trip. The 1988 burn on this trail makes for big, spectacular views. During icy conditions be careful on hills. It’s always ok to take off your skis and walk, or side step down. We do suggest that this trail is for those intermediate-advanced Nordic skiers. Once you arrive, sit, relax, sip on some coffee or water and enjoy your trail snacks–you’ve made it, time to take a load off and enjoy the mountains.

If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there are shorter trails to choose from. Like the 3-mile loop Covey Meadow trail or Lone Pine Prairie, a 6-mile trip. All of these trails provide great views and amazing winter recreating in Glacier.

For more details on how to get to each trail and for maps, visit NPS Glacier Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing.

I know what you’re thinking. “All this sounds great, but where do we stay in the winter?” Great question!

A featured entrée at Three Forks Grille in Columbia Falls, MT. Photo courtesy Three Forks Grille

Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls is a National Parks Service lodge, but not IN Glacier, so it’s open year-round. The rooms are so cozy, it’s the perfect place to warm back up and it’s located about 20 minutes from West Glacier. It’s the perfect place to rest your head after your big, two-day, winter voyage. It’s a stones throw from downtown Columbia Falls where you can dive into a delicious dinner from Three Forks Grille, located on Nucleus Avenue. They have daily specials and an ever rotating menu to choose from. Take a look at their current menu here.

Other great lodging options in the area include North Forty Resort, The Isaak Walton Inn — where you can stay in a train caboose and do more Nordic skiing on their groomed trails– or Good Medicine Lodge in Whitefish.

*A word to the wise, Glacier Guides and Montana Raft does not lead winter trips, these are solo excursions, should you decide to embark. We recommend looking into the weather well ahead of time, planning clothing and transportation appropriately and knowing your skill level when considering cross country skiing, snowshoeing or hiking in winter conditions.*

For something a bit more low key, take a scenic chair ride up to the top of Whitefish Mountain Resort for epic views into Glacier National Park.

Love Glacier National Park, Want To Come Back And Need Help With A Summer Itinerary?

No problem, we’ve got you covered! From rafting, hiking, fishing, biking, lodging, equipment rentals, shuttles, and more – we can help. Check out our website or use the form below to ask us for help planning your adventures.

p.s. we’ve written lots of Glacier itineraries over the years — so many ideas for you here! You can subscribe to our blog here.

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