Theodore Roosevelt National Park put us into hyper-hiking mode, and we were so excited to get to Glacier National Park! Our sincere hope was that we’d arrive late enough in the season that we would miss the crowds but still get great weather for our hikes, but we accidentally scheduled our stay over half of Labor Day weekend. It was mostly ok (J says ok-minus) crowds-wise, and fantastic weather-wise and hiking-wise. We hiked in the park Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and then stayed the heck away on Saturday–and judging from the line of cars waiting to enter the park Saturday and Sunday, that was the right move.
I’m going to split our stay in West Glacier into two posts: this one, about non-Glacier National Park adventures, and a second detailing the hikes we did inside the National Park.
Look at that sausagey girl. Sausagy?
West Glacier is a cute little collection of commercial destinations: a couple restaurants, a few shops, a gas station, a miniature golf course, and not much else. The entrance to Glacier National Park is in spitting distance of town. Having the campground, restaurants, and national park in such close proximity gave our stay in West Glacier a fun summer camp-feel.
Our home base for exploring Glacier National Park was West Glacier RV Park. It’s a big, well-appointed campground very close to the tiny center of West Glacier, with full hookups and good wifi and shooting stars and satellites. We recommend it.
Obviously, we were in West Glacier for hiking in Glacier National Park. But as you may suspect from hearing us complain in past posts: dogs aren’t allowed in Glacier. So we humans hiked around Glacier, and we took Bugsy hiking in the national forest across the highway. Travel tip: anytime you’re near a national park, look for a nearby national forest for dog-friendly hikes. I’ll do a separate post on our Glacier experience; here are the non-national park hikes we did near West Glacier in Flathead National Forest. If it’s not clear here, it will become clear in the next couple posts: we are totally in love with Flathead National Forest.
We recommend driving to the USFS office in Hungry Horse for national forest hiking advice, maps, and trail descriptions. Then cross-reference hikes with AllTrails or whatever internet resources you trust, and if peace and quiet and not getting run over are priorities, be sure to check what other recreation uses are allowed on the trail–some national forest trails allow dirt bikes, ATVs, and mountain bikes. Trails in wilderness areas only allow foot and horse traffic, and so we usually find ourselves in the wilderness.
All three hikes below are less than twenty minutes from West Glacier and are DOG FRIENDLY. Take your bear spray!!!
Stanton Lake is an easy 3.8 mile hike through the woods to a beautiful lake. It’s kid-friendly, so go early if you want to avoid the crowds! And it’s very close to West Glacier. Bugsy and I (J had a work meeting) did this as a quickie dog-diversion before the humans went into the national park and we loved it.
Ousel Peak is listed as a hard 6.6 mile hike. For us, it was closer to 8 miles according to our devices, and it was totally brutal: 3600+ feet gained and then you go straight back down. We were pretty miserable at points but holy cow the views were gorgeous up top. I was especially excited to show Bugsy the distant peaks of Glacier, since she couldn’t actually set foot on them.
This lovely 4-ish mile trail to Skiumah Lake was all ours early in the day! We did pass campers leaving as we hiked up (the lake must be an incredible place to camp!), and more hikers coming up the trail as we descended, but overall it was super quiet. This trail is similar to Stanton Lake but less crowded.
Eating and Drinking
Our first food stop in West Glacier was for burritos from Wandering Gringo, a food truck just outside of town. We drove there (it’s not really walkable from the main drag) expecting to eat at a picnic table with Bugsy, but NO DOGS ALLOWED. We took our burritos to go and they were fine, but come on, you’re a food truck with outdoor seating! And nobody else was there!
West Glacier Cafe, in the middle of the West Glacier hubbub, serves local beer, cider, and liquor drinks, and burger-type food. It’s all carry-out only due to stupid Covid, but outside is a patio full of dog-friendly tables where we enjoyed drinks and snacks and people-watching.
West Glacier has a tiny grocery store, but if you need real groceries, it’s a short drive to Hungry Horse or Columbia Falls. We restocked in Columbia Falls after visiting the USFS office, and picked up healthy bowls for a late lunch from non-dog friendly Backslope Brewing and had a picnic next to the Flathead River while Bugsy swam.
Stay tuned for our tips for handling the crowds (and some pretty pictures) in Glacier National Park!