Glacier National Park, Part 2: Where to Stay

East Glacier was just as beautiful as west.  We were amazed every where we looked.

Glacier National Park has multiple entrances.  When planning your trip, have some activities in mind so you can determine accommodations based on proximity to those excursions.  Once you have scoped out activities, you have one big question to ask next!  Where should you stay at Glacier?

We rented a cabin through VRBO in Polebridge on the west side of Glacier.  It was the perfect place to explore this area!

Glacier National Park:  Where to Stay

When planning our trip, my in laws were a huge help and the main planners.  Our family in Montana took their knowledge of the area and determined things that would be good points to explore.  First, we wanted to travel across the Sun Road.  Hiking was also on the list of things to do.  And we were willing to entertain a variety of lodging options.  Our brother in law likes the Polebridge area.  We started our trip here.

Cabin rentals are available at the Polebridge Mercantile.

Let's talk accommodations.  There are quite a few options in Glacier and the surrounding areas.  It all comes down to level of comfort and overall expectations.  You can choose to:
  • Rent cabins through VRBO or Air BnB
  • Tent Camp
  • Bring or rent an RV
  • Stay at a lodge or hotel
  • Stay at hostels
  • Rent a Forest Service Cabin
  • Find a glamping tent or dome
Whew!  That's a lot of options.  But, that is part of the fun.  I love all of the ways to explore a new place.  If you are up to it, I encourage travelers to get creative and do something fun and new!

There is no wrong way to explore Glacier, but the options can be overwhelming.  Bears are also a consideration for these areas.  This is why we chose to stay in a cabin while in Polebridge.  Bears are a real thing.  If you think tent camping is easy and cheap, think bears before you rush out and hit the woods.  I feel the same way about bears as I do about snakes. I'm good never seeing one up close and personal!  

Our cabin at Polebridge area out back with a fire pit where we enjoyed smores one night!

It probably sounds overly cautious, but I would not recommend tent camping inside Glacier unless you know what you are doing.  Why?  You can't have anything scented in a tent.  I would forget this rule in 5 minutes and wake up dead because of lotion or some dumb cosmetic that I own.  Just being honest here.  Plus, our brother in law explained to us that you should cook and eat a certain distance (about 100 feet) away from where you sleep.  Again, a lot of work for me to remember all of that.  And, finally, someone in my crew would take a snack into a tent and make us a midnight snack for a bear.  So many reasons to say no in a remote area for us.  I'm not saying you can't tent camp, but think it through.  And ask yourself, do you know what you are doing?  I can answer that question for myself.  No.  A hard no! This is why hard sided accommodation options are safer for us.  

Our original plan was to start out in the Polebridge area and explore the west side of the park.  We would use the west side entrance to travel across the Sun Road to St. Mary's.  This would give us access to the east side of the park before traveling home.  This plan would allow us access to some beautiful hikes on the west side of Glacier as well as a boat tour on Lake McDonald.  

The Polebridge Mercantile is known for its pastries.  It is worth the stop for the huckleberry bear claw for sure.

West Glacier

The west side of Glacier is much more remote and provides for more rustic accommodations.  I loved this part of our trip.  If you are staying near or in Polebridge, you have some of the following options.
  1. You can rent a cabin and stay at the Polebridge Mercantile.    It's fun and casual and laid back there.  This option also provides for easy access to their mercantile, saloon and food truck for dining options.  You could enjoy the low key vibe of this area with quite a few options for fun and activities right there on the property.  
  2. Rent a cabin through VRBO or AirBnb.  We stayed in a cabin selected by my in-laws that was great.  We were just a couple of miles from the Polebridge Mercantile but in a remote spot that was wonderfully off grid!
  3. The Lake McDonald Lodge is a beautiful property offering cabins and rooms in the lodge.  This location provides the amenities of home and access to Lake McDonald, the Sun Road, and wonderful nearby hiking trails.  Plus, there are dining options onsite and all of the traditional hotel options for a comfortable stay.
  4. West Glacier KOA has both RV, tent sites and cabins.  
  5. Forest Service Cabins are another choice for visitors.  These are primitive yet enclosed.  This was actually at the top of our list, but these book up fast and are hard to get!  Forest service cabins typically do not have electricity or running water.  But, these properties are well maintained and safe.  
Our cabin at Polebridge had a generator to run the water pump and for electric service when needed.

Propane lights where available throughout the cabin for light at night as needed.  But there were lots of windows in the cabin that allowed for plenty of natural light during the daylight hours.

Electricity, Wi-Fi and cell service are all limited within Glacier.  We did not have electricity at the cabin where we stayed.  There was a generator that we could use as needed.  We used it to run the water pump to take showers and wash dishes.  There were propane lights inside the cabin that were also used as needed.  These were much like our Coleman camping lamp but mounted on the walls.  Plus, the fridge ran on propane.  With limited resources, its an opportunity to live simply and slow down.  I enjoyed the opportunity to disconnect from my phone.  The cabin was very comfortable and large.  It gave us everything we needed to enjoy meals together, visit, and rest at the end of the day.  

When staying on the west side of Glacier outside of the park, check to see what modern conveniences are available.  If you are not keen on lack of electricity or running water, I would recommend staying at one of the lodges inside of the park or surrounding areas.  This will give you a traditional hotel experience.  

Pay phones are available for use at Lake McDonald Lodge since there is no cell service there.

The Lake McDonald Lodge is a beautiful property.

The Lake McDonald Lodge has a chalet feel to it and is wonderfully landscaped.

The rustic look of the lodge with the beautiful hanging baskets and flowers made the property stunning.

Inside of the lodge there were wonderful lamps with native d├ęcor.

However, even at the Lake McDonald Lodge there was no cell service and pay phones are available for use.  If you feel like you need to connect with friends or family at home, purchase some prepaid phone cards and use the pay phones as needed.  It was freeing and refreshing to just hit pause and live in the moment.  So, embrace it if you can.  This is the best way to enjoy Glacier without so many outside distractions.

After our three night stay at Polebridge, we planned to travel across the Sun Road to East Glacier and tent camp before returning home.  I'll talk about this further in next week's post.  Sadly, the Sun Road was still closed in July when we visited due to snow and putting up the guard rails again.  So, we changed a few plans as we went.  
Our tent camping spot in St. Mary's was perfect, and we all had a great time.

East Glacier

The opposite side of Glacier can be accessed by traveling across the Sun Road.  You can also travel around the long way if the Sun Road is closed or if you don't have a pass.  East Glacier seemed to have a lot more amenities and access to conveniences.  If you want to be in a less remote location, East Glacier might be the best place to start and/or stay.  

We stayed at the Johnson's of St. Mary campground and tent camped for a night.  This is a beautiful campground that is well maintained and clean.  They have hot showers, picnic tables, laundry facilities, fire wood and a restaurant on site.  One thing that I had never experienced at a campground was tokens for the showers.  When we checked in, they provided us with a token per person.  Additional tokens could be purchased at the camp store.  Each token provided you with 6 minutes of hot water in the shower.  I felt like this was plenty to time to take a nice shower.  But, it was definitely a different experience.  

The tent sites were grassy and large.  I thought this was one of the nicest tent camping spots that we have ever seen.

There were also horses roaming around the campground.  We woke up to hear them outside of our tent while staying there.

You can bring your own RV to camp here if you prefer.  You could also rent an RV through Outdoorsy.  There were quite a few RV's in the campground, and the sites for RV's were plenty large with full hook ups.  One day we would like to take a cross country trip in our RV, and this place would be on our list of places to stay.

You may wonder why we tent camped in east Glacier and not west since I wrote so much about bears previously in this post.   This area is more populated.  We didn't think there was as much caution for bears where we were camping in St. Mary's.  If you have camped in St. Mary's and seen bears, feel free to leave a comment, but it was a decision we could live with.  And, no one died or saw a bear.  

There are also other campgrounds and accommodations in this area.  
  1. East Glacier KOA has tent and RV sites plus cabin rentals.
  2. You could also check out accommodations like St. Mary's Village.
These are not the only options in this area for lodging.  But, these were some of the larger spots in St. Mary's.  Johnsons of St. Mary's sat up on a hill and had lovely views of the surrounding valleys and mountains.  The KOA in East Glacier sits down in a valley off the main road.  I don't think you would have a bad view any where you stayed on this side of the park.  

Considerations for Lodging and Accommodations

We camp a good bit and are accustomed to cooking our own meals and making things simple when we travel.  If you are staying on the west side of Glacier, I would recommend planning for your meals and do some cooking or sandwiches, etc.  If you are staying at a lodge like the McDonald Lake Lodge, this is less necessary.  In the remote locations, there are less options.  Food is expensive.  We packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit for the days that we were hiking and ate on the trail.  We cooked a couple of nights at our cabin.  We also had left overs and bean burgers at our tent site.  If you are particular about what you drink, I would also suggest bringing this along with you.  

I didn't feel like there were a ton of things that we needed or lacked where we were staying at either site.  We were busy hiking, spending time with our family and just taking it all in.  It was fun to just be with little to no schedule.  We took in the local treats and activities, and it was fantastic.  

The more flexible you are as a traveler, the more options you will have for accommodations at Glacier. Be open minded, but do consider that you can get so far out of your comfort zone that it isn't fun at all.  There is a place for everyone to enjoy the beauty of Glacier, and I hope this has helped you to map out some places to stay if you are planning a trip.  In case you missed last week, be sure to go back and check out my first post in this series.  

Until next time...happy camping! 

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  1. We took our RV this summer. We stayed three nights at east glacier KOA and three nights at the west glacier KOA. We had a great experience at both. We drove our tow vehicle to trailheads and Polebridge. I fully agree with tip to get the pastries at the Polebridge Mercantile!

    1. That sounds amazing! I wish we could have taken our RV. Maybe when we retire we can do that, but I'm so glad we didn't wait and did this trip. I was a bucket list journey for sure. Thank you for sharing!


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