Glacier National Park gets nearly 3 million visitors every year, and most of them cram their stay into the three-month window when the main park thoroughfare, Going-to-the-Sun Road, remains open. The result? Urban-scale congestion and lines at trailhead parking lots while drivers wait for spots to open up. Thankfully, there’s a better way to visit Glacier in summer. The park service initiated a free shuttle system in 2007, and Amtrak drops passengers at the park’s front door. Take-home message: You don’t need a car to explore Glacier’s backcountry.
See iconic wildlife and one of the park’s largest alpine lakes on this 20.7-mile traverse across the Continental Divide from Lake McDonald to St. Mary Lake.
Turn-by-turn From the Lake McDonald Lodge shuttle stop, ascend through old-growth along Snyder Creek to a trail junction near mile 1.8. Follow signs for Gunsight Pass to the Sperry Campground tucked beneath 7,450-foot Lincoln Peak at mile 6.7. Spend most of day two above treeline as you cross Lincoln and Gunsight Passes (look for mountain goats) before reaching Gunsight Lake Campground (mile 14.4). Next day, parallel the St. Mary River 7 miles to the shuttle stop above St. Mary Lake. Ride the park shuttle back to Apgar and retrace your steps to the train station in West Glacier.
Get there From Seattle’s King Street Station, take Amtrak’s Empire Builder (starting at $79, 14.5 hrs; daily departures at 4:05 p.m.) to West Glacier. (You can do this trip from any Amtrak-serviced metro area.) Walk 1.2 miles on the entrance road, then follow the Apgar Bike Trail 1.5 miles to the first-come, first-serve campground in Apgar Village. Next day, ride the free park shuttle to Lake McDonald Lodge. Note: Private shuttles also run directly from the train station in West Glacier to Apgar Village and Lake McDonald Lodge (starting at $6).
Permits $7/person per night + $40 application fee for reservations. Park entrance for walk-in visitors is $15.