Getting to Glacier National Park by Train, Plane, Car and Foot

By train

If you have the extra time and want to see more of the country, the train is a good option for traveling to Glacier National Park. Since much of the early development of the park was led by the Great Northern Rail company, the railroad is an integrated part of the park’s history (and vice versa). Amtrak‘s Empire Builder train service runs from Seattle and Portland through northern Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to Chicago. The Empire Builder westbound train arrives in the evening while the eastbound train arrives in the morning daily at the three stations serving the park. Travellers should arrange accommodations or waiting time accordingly.

  • West Glacier Park Station (Amtrak station code: WGL) – This historic railroad depot has a small historical museum but no ticketing office or automated ticketing machines. Hwy 2 and Going-to-the-Sun Rd., West Glacier, Montana
  • East Glacier Park Station (Amtrak station code: GPK) – This station is open from May 1 through October 1.400 Highway 49 North, East Glacier Park. (After October 1 and prior to May 1, Amtrak trains stop at Browning instead of Glacier Park. Browning is not a staffed station.)

Buses can take you inside the park from West and East Glacier Park:

  • Red Bus Tours, ☏ +1-855-733-4522. It offers a shuttle between West Glacier, Village Inn at Apgar and Lake McDonald Lodge. Reservations are required due to limited space. The fare is $6 between the Amtrak station and the Village Inn and $10 between the Amtrak station and Lake McDonald Lodge. 
  • Glacier Park Inc., ☏ +1 406-892-2525 (U.S.), +1 403-236-3400 (Canada). Offers shuttle buses between Glacier Park Lodge near the East Glacier Park Amtrak station to Two Medicine, Cut Bank Creek, Saint Mary Lodge, Saint Mary Visitor Center, Many Glacier Hotel, Swiftcurrent Chief Mountain Customs and Prince of Wales Hotel. Fees vary from $15 to $75 depending on how far you want to travel. The fee to enter the park is not included in the bus fee; you’ll need to pay extra to enter the park. You will need to make a reservation if you want the bus to drop and pick you up at Saint Mary Visitor Center. The bus to Cut Bank Creek stops 5 miles away from the campgrounds and trailhead on route 89 and Cut Bank Creek Road. You will need to hike the 5 miles to Cut Bank. 

In addition, trains will stop at the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex Station, by request. The train does not wait longer than 10 minutes, therefore passengers should be ready to board immediately upon the trains arrival.

The train ride from Seattle and Portland is overnight and arrives in Glacier National Park in the morning; the train from Chicago arrives in the evening. The seats’ ample legroom and lack of seat belts make them far superior to their airplane counterparts, and in combination with the train’s Sightseer Lounge Car and reasonably-priced dining car contribute to a relatively comfortable journey.

A full-service Amtrak terminal (and one of their busiest) is available at Whitefish, west of West Glacier, and north of Kalispell. The station at East Glacier is also staffed May 1-October 1.

By plane

Visitors to the park may fly to Glacier Park International Airport near Kalispell, Montana (FCA IATA) (25 mi/40 km from West Glacier). It’s possible to rent cars at the airport or take a shuttle (inquire first before making reservation to a particular airport if you do not wish to drive). Also, the destination of Missoula, Montana (MSO IATA) is possible, though an additional 120 miles (190 km) must be driven. If you live near Los Angeles, San Francisco or Phoenix, there are non-stop flights to Missoula, so, unlike Kalispell, you won’t have to connect.

At Glacier Park Airport, U.S. Airlines and their connection cities include Allegiant Air (Las Vegas); Delta Air Lines (Atlanta (seasonal), Minneapolis, Salt Lake City); United Airlines (Chicago, and San Francisco—summer weekends only and Denver); and American Airlines/Alaska Airlines via Horizon Airlines (Seattle).

Those already residing in the Inland Northwest have very few options besides driving or taking Amtrak. Airline service from Spokane (the largest city in the region) to Calgary and Kalispell has been suspended. To fly, you must go through Seattle on Horizon air, then on to Kalispell, It’s quite costly (relative to the direct distance) to backtrack like that.

Alberta Canada has Calgary International Airport (YYC IATA), 4½ hours north of Glacier National Park. YYC offer nonstop seasonal and year-round flights from Europe (Amsterdam, Glasgow, Frankfurt, London, Manchester, Munich, Paris, Zurich), Asia (Tokyo & Seoul) with Air Transat, British Airways, Air Canada and the major USA carriers. Car rentals are available or a one way airport “charter” van shuttle service with Airport Shuttle Express of Calgary to Glacier National Park, MT and Calgary, Banff or Lake Louise. If needed, be sure you have a multiple-entry visa for Canada (if flying out from there), and a U.S. visa as well.

By car

From the east: Take I-90 freeway to about 8 miles west of Missoula, then exit at US Hwy 93 north (Exit #96). In Kalispell, turn right at US Hwy 2 East (Idaho St.) From there it’s 32 miles to the West Glacier entrance. Or, if you’re approaching from North Dakota on US 2, it’s a straight shot to Glacier Park. Heading west on I-94 across North Dakota, the shortest route to Glacier is exiting at Glendive to Montana Highway 200s to Circle, then north on Montana 13 to east of Wolf Point, then west on Montana 25 to Wolf Point, then US 2 to Glacier Park.

If coming from the south (Great Falls) or East (Havre) and your destination first is Waterton Lakes National Park, the fastest way is taking US 2 to Cut Bank, and then going north on Montana secondary 213 to Del Bonita, where it becomes Alberta Highway 62. At the “town” of Del Bonita, Alberta (2 miles from the border) turn west on Alberta secondary 501 and go to Cardston, and then directly to Waterton Lakes on Alberta Highway 5. This is significantly faster than US 2/89 via Browning.

For East Glacier there are various routes including the I-15 Fwy (see From the South below). However, from the freeways, East Glacier via West Glacier is about the same time and distance. The best route for those wanting to avoid Montana’s freeways and save over 250 miles is to follow I-94 just inside Montana from North Dakota and exit #211. State Hwy 200S becomes 200 (no turns) and later becomes shared with US Hwy 87. On the west side of Great Falls where the highway merges into the freeway, take I-15 North for 12 miles and Exit #290 in Vaughn. On US Hwy 89 go 105 miles to Browning in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. At the museum, turn left and take US Hwy 2 into East Glacier. (If using I-90 you can join this route via Billings. Follow State Hwy 3 at Exit #450, which is later shared with US 12 & 191. Turn left at the end of the highway at “Eddies Corner” and follow as above going to Great Falls.)

Don’t underestimate the huge size of the state of Montana (550 mi/880 km wide). Glacier Park is closer to Seattle than it is to far eastern Montana.

From the west: Take I-90 freeway to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (Exit #12, turn left) on to US Hwy 95. Where US Hwy 2 and 95 split north of Bonners Ferry, turn right to get US Hwy 2. From there, it’s 167 miles to the West Glacier entrance. Don’t forget to set clocks an hour ahead when entering Montana.

A slightly more ambitious (though fully paved) short cut is to stay on the I-90 freeway up to St. Regis, Montana (Exit #33). Then turn left on State Hwy 135 and go 21.6 miles, left on State Hwy 200 for 8.3 miles, right on State Hwy 28 for 46.7 miles, and left on US Hwy 93 in Elmo on Flathead Lake. In Kalispell, turn right at US Hwy 2 East (Idaho St.) This is a very scenic route along the Clark Fork River and Flathead Lake (which both contain all the waters of Glacier Park west of the Continental Divide) with farmlands in between. However, gas (petrol) and other services are limited between the freeway and Elmo.

Using Hwy 200 east from Sandpoint, Idaho is not recommended, as all north-south connections with US Hwy 2 in between Libby and Kalispell are not paved! There’s just no quick and easy way to get through the Cabinet Mountains beyond 15–20 miles from the Idaho border.

From the north (Canada): If first visiting Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, take Canada Hwy 2 south to the junction of the Crowsnest Hwy 3. Then go west (towards BC) 43 km and turn left at Pincher Station on Canada Hwy 6 for another 50 km. Turn right at the junction of Hwy 5 to enter the park. Upon leaving to get to Glacier, make two right turns just after exiting the park, and follow Canada Hwy 6 for 22 km to the U.S. border. This becomes State Hwy 17; turn right in 23 km onto US Hwy 89. The first park entrance is Many Glacier in 7 km (just after Babb).

The international border is closed overnight between Waterton and Glacier, so via Cardston is only way in (see below). Bring US/Canadian passport, passport card or enhanced driver’s license. If bypassing Waterton, take Canada Hwy 2 south to Cardston and cross the U.S. border. This becomes US Hwy 89. The first park entrance is Many Glacier 17 km from the border.

From the south: Take freeway I-15 North to Shelby, Montana (Exit #363) and turn left onto US Hwy 2. From there it’s 70 miles to East Glacier. A short cut would be to exit I-15 in Vaughn, Montana (Exit #290) and take US Hwy 89 to Browning in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. At the museum, turn left and take US Hwy 2 to East Glacier.

For West Glacier, transfer to I-90 West from I-15 (Exit #121) just before Butte, Montana and see From the East above.

By foot

The Continental Divide Trail, a 3,100-mile United States National Scenic Trail, has its northern trailhead in Swiftcurrent Campground, accessible by car from Babb on Glacier Route Three. An alternate route starts from the Apikuni Trailhead, also along Glacier Route Three. This trail exits the park at Marias Pass to the south and runs south along the Continental Divide to Mexico.

Fly, Drive, or Trek to Yellowstone National Park

By Plane

The principal airport serving Yellowstone is Jackson Hole Airport (JAC IATA), in Grand Teton National Park, near Jackson, and the largest airport in Wyoming. United and Delta serve Jackson Hole year-round, from Denver and Salt Lake City respectively. These airlines plus American and Frontier provide seasonal flights from those cities and eight others across the US.

Other airports with commercial services are at:

  • Billings (Montana) (BIL IATA). From numerous cities.
  • Bozeman (Montana) (BZN IATA). From eight cities year round and more seasonally.
  • Cody (Wyoming) (COD IATA), Yellowstone Regional Airport. From Salt Lake City and Denver.
  • Idaho Falls (Idaho) (IDA IATA). From six cities.
  • Salt Lake City (Utah) (SLC IATA). A bit of a long drive (~6 hours) away, but still the closest major airport to the park, with flights from major cities throughout the country, as well as limited international flights.
  • West Yellowstone (Montana) (WYS IATA). From Salt Lake City, Jun–Sep only.

By Car

The park has 5 entrances. The nearest cities to each entrance are given.

  • 1 North – Accessed from Gardiner (Montana) via US Route 89, 56 mi (90 km) from Livingston. This entrance is open all year and leads to the park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs, 5 mi (8.0 km) inside the park boundary. The iconic Roosevelt Arch is at this entrance.
  • 2 Northeast – Accessed from Silver Gate and Cooke City via US Route 212 (Beartooth Highway). The entrance and road to Cooke City are open all year, but Route 212 past Cooke City is closed in winter (mid-October to late May).
  • 3 East – Accessed from Cody, 53 mi (85 km), via US Route 14/16/20. This entrance is closed in winter (early November to early May).
  • 4 South – Accessed from Grand Teton National Park via US Route 89/191/287. This entrance is closed in winter (early November to mid-May).
  • 5 West – Accessed from West Yellowstone via US Route 20/191/287, 60 mi (97 km) from Ashton, Idaho. This entrance is closed in winter (early November to late April).

By Foot

There are an extensive number of trails entering the park on all sides including the 3100-mile-long (5000 km) Continental Divide Trail.