Imagine lying on your back in a meadow, surrounded by towering mountains and a sky full of stars. The Milky Way stretches across the horizon, and planets twinkle in the darkness. You can hear the sound of a stream nearby, and the only other sound is the occasional chirping of a bird. You feel small and insignificant in the vastness of the universe, but also connected to something much bigger than yourself.
This is what stargazing in Glacier National Park is all about. The park is located in a remote area with very little light pollution, which means that the stars are incredibly bright. Visitors can see everything from the Milky Way to planets and galaxies.
There are a variety of ways to stargaze in the park. You can go on a ranger-led program, set up a telescope in your campsite, or simply find a dark spot to lie back and look up. No matter how you choose to stargaze, you’re sure to be amazed by the beauty of the night sky at Glacier National Park. Here’s a guide to the logistics of planning your own Glacier National Park stargazing trip.
In this post, I promote traveling to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla, Ktunaxa ɁamakɁis, Niitsítpiis-stahkoii ᖹᐟᒧᐧᐨᑯᐧ ᓴᐦᖾᐟ (Blackfoot / Niitsítapi ᖹᐟᒧᐧᒣᑯ) peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in April 2023, and was updated most recently in February 2024.
How to Get to Glacier National Park
Before you can embark on your Glacier stargazing adventure, you’ll need to know how to get to the park. Located in the northwest corner of Montana, Glacier National Park can be accessed by car, plane, or train.
- By car: To access the Lake McDonald area, Park Headquarters, the Apgar Visitor Center, and Going-to-the-Sun Road from the west, take Highway 2 east to the town of West Glacier, approximately 33 miles from Kalispell. From the east, you can reach all three east-side entrances by taking Highway 89 north from Great Falls through the town of Browning, approximately 125 miles, and following signs from there. The St. Mary Entrance is the eastern entry point of Going-to-the-Sun Road and provides access to the St. Mary Visitor Center.
- By Air: Glacier Park International Airport is located near Kalispell, approximately 30 miles west of the West Entrance. Missoula International Airport is located approximately 150 miles south of the West Entrance. Great Falls International Airport is located between 130 miles and 165 miles east of the St. Mary, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier Entrances.
- By Train: Amtrak’s historic Empire Builder train line stops year-round at West Glacier (Belton) and the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, and seasonally at East Glacier Park. In the summer, Glacier National Park Lodges provide a shuttle (for a fee) that transports West Glacier Amtrak passengers between the train depot, Apgar Village, and the Lake McDonald Lodge. Reservations are required.
Where to Go Stargazing in Glacier National Park
Glacier has some insanely good stargazing spots – most are best reached by car if you have one. Here are some of the top locations to experience the wonders of the cosmos, though you can certainly discover others for yourself while visiting.
This iconic scenic road spans 50 miles across the park and offers breathtaking views of the mountains, valleys, and glaciers during the day. But, once the night comes, the road becomes a stargazing paradise. With minimal light pollution and expansive vistas, Going-to-the-Sun Road is a perfect spot to set up your telescope and marvel at the Milky Way stretching across the sky.
As the largest lake in Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald is a popular destination for stargazing. The lake’s clear waters reflect the stars, creating a stunning background for your photos. Find a quiet spot along the lake’s shoreline, lay out a blanket, and enjoy the celestial show unfolding above your head.
Perched at the summit of the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, Logan Pass takes you closer to the stars. The thin air and dark skies make for exceptional stargazing opportunities. Bundle up and bring your telescope to spot constellations in this stunning alpine setting.
St. Mary Observatory
For a more structured stargazing experience, head to the St. Mary Observatory on the east side. The observatory is operated by the Glacier National Park Conservancy and hosts regular stargazing programs led by knowledgeable astronomers. With powerful telescopes and expert guidance, you’ll have an unparalleled opportunity to observe the wonders of the night sky up close.
Bowman & Kintla Lakes
Adventurous ones will have quite a spectacle in Bowman and Kintla Lakes. These two lakes sit in a rather remote portion of the park, close to the Canada–United States border. Needless to say, their isolation is ideal to enjoy the universe in all its glory. Set up camp and gaze up at the stars.
Where to Stay Near Glacier National Park
When planning your Glacier Stargazing adventure, you also have to figure out where you’re going to spend the nights – I know mainly outside watching the stars! But you’ll have to sleet at some point. Here are a couple of accommodation alternatives depending on your needs.
Hotels near Glacier National Park
If you’re not the adventurous type, there are numerous hotels near Glacier National Park where you stay during your visit.
- Many Glacier Hotel: Located inside the park in the Many Glacier area, this historic hotel is very close to most of the trailheads on the east side. It offers stunning views of Swiftcurrent Lake and the surrounding mountains. It’s known for its Swiss chalet-style architecture and offers a range of amenities including dining options, boat rentals, and guided tours.
- Lake McDonald Lodge: Also located inside the park, Lake McDonald Lodge sits on the shores of Lake McDonald. You can stay in one of their historic cabins or modern lodge rooms. The shuttle bus stop is opposite to the lodge for easy commuting inside the national park. It has a lakeside restaurant, gift shop, and boat rentals for guests to enjoy.
- Glacier Park Lodge: Located in the east part of the park, this lodge offers a classic Western experience – the lobby is a stunningly classic “lodge” with huge pine tree trunks as support columns. Oh, and it has the oldest grass-green golf course in Montana!
- Apgar Village Lodge: The lovely cabins are perfect for a stay on the west side of Glacier. You are a quick 5 min or less walk to Lake McDonald (some have water and or creek views). It’s also very close to Eddie’s Cafe for dining, and many coffee shops, gift shops, and other amenities.
I also covered some of my favorite places to stay near Glacier National Park over on my travel blog, if you need more options.
Camping in Glacier National Park
Camping in Glacier National Park is a great way to experience the alpine setting. There are 13 front country campgrounds, and each campground varies in use.
First-come, first-served campgrounds:
- Bowman Lake Campground: Located in the North Fork area of the park, this campground is close to the shore of Bowman Lake and campsites are nestled under trees for shade and some privacy. If peace and quiet is what you’re after, then Bowman Lake Campground is for you.
- Cut Bank Campground: The Cut Bank campground is located on the east side of the park. It’s one of the smallest – only 14 sites. You’ll find many trailheads near the campground for day hiking.
- Kintla Lake Campground: In the park’s most remote frontcountry, Kintla Lake Campground is in the uppermost northwest section. It’s very isolated and rarely gets filled with fellow travelers.
- Logging Creek Campground: This is also one of the smaller campgrounds, with only 7 sites. As the name suggests, the campground is close to the trailhead to Logging Lake.
- Quartz Creek Campground: This campground is kept in primitive status all season. It is perfect for those who want the wilderness experience.
- Rising Sun Campground: Located just west of St. Mary, this campground is perfect to access many day hikes located east of Logan Pass.
- St. Mary Campground: This is the largest campground on the east side of the park. It’s a great alternative if you want to take advantage of the activities at the St. Mary Visitor Center
- Apgar Campground: The largest campground in the park, it has 194 sites. It is close to the Apgar Amphitheater and many trails are located within a short drive of the campground.
- Sprague Creek Campground: A small campground located on the northeast shore of Lake McDonald. It’s great if you want quick access to the Going-to-the-Sun Road. There are 25 sites in this campground.
- Avalanche Creek Campground: Avalanche Campground is located in one of the most popular sections of Glacier National Park west of the Continental Divide.
- Two Medicine Lake Campground: Located 13 miles from East Glacier, this campground has 100 sites. It’s popular for its access to hiking opportunities and for offering tons of boat and Red Bus tours.
- Fish Creek Campground: This is the second largest campground, with 178 sites. Most people come here to camp near the shores of Lake McDonald.
- Many Glacier Campground: One of the most popular campgrounds, it only has 13 sites. This campground is known for the amount of wildlife you can spot. So bring your binoculars!
What to See & Do During the Day in Glacier National Park
Sure, you know what you’ll be doing at night – but what will keep you entertained during the day? Below you’ll find all the activities you can do to complement your Glacier stargazing adventure.
- Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road: This iconic scenic drive is a must-do in Glacier National Park. The 50-mile road spans the park from east to west, taking you through stunning alpine scenery, including glaciers, waterfalls, and breathtaking vistas. Be sure to stop at Logan Pass Visitor Center, which offers stunning panoramic views of the park.
- Hiking: Glacier National Park has over 700 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging treks. Some popular trails include Avalanche Lake, Grinnell Glacier, Hidden Lake Overlook, and Highline Trail.
- Boat Tours: Take a scenic boat tour on one of the park’s pristine lakes, such as Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, or St. Mary. These guided tours offer a unique perspective of the park’s beauty and provide opportunities to spot wildlife and learn about the park’s natural and cultural history.
- Wildlife Watching: Glacier National Park is home to diverse wildlife, including grizzly bears, black bears, moose, elk, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep. Keep your eyes peeled for these majestic creatures as you explore the park.
- Ranger-led Programs: Join one of the many ranger-led programs offered in the park, such as guided hikes, talks, and campfire programs. These programs provide insights into the park’s natural and cultural history and are a great way to enhance your visit.
- Scenic Overlooks: Glacier National Park is dotted with numerous scenic overlooks that offer stunning vistas of the surrounding landscapes. Some popular viewpoints include Avalanche Creek, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier. Don’t forget your camera to capture the breathtaking scenery.
- Picnicking: There are plenty of scenic picnic spots throughout the park, where you can enjoy a leisurely meal amidst the stunning natural beauty. Many picnic areas are located near lakes, rivers, and meadows, providing serene settings for relaxation and unwinding.
- Visitor Centers and Museums: Glacier National Park has several visitor centers and museums that offer exhibits and information about the park’s geology, ecology, and cultural history. The Apgar Visitor Center, Logan Pass Visitor Center, and Many Glacier Hotel are worth a visit to enrich your understanding of the park.
- Biking: Biking is a popular activity in Glacier National Park, with several roads and trails designated for biking. You can rent bikes at Apgar Village and explore the park on two wheels, taking in the scenic beauty at your own pace.
- Horseback Riding: For a unique and adventurous way to explore the park, consider taking a guided horseback ride. Riding through Glacier National Park’s majestic landscapes on horseback is an unforgettable experience that allows you to immerse yourself in nature.
This just scratches the surface of things to do in Glacier National Park, so be sure to do additional research to fill your days with as much as possible.
Other FAQ About Stargazing in Glacier National Park
Have more questions about your Glacier National Park stargazing trip? Below I’ve written a section tackling the most common questions stargazers have when visiting this stunning park.
Is Glacier National Park open at night?
Yes, Glacier National Park is open 24 hours a day. However, always remember to check the park’s website for up-to-date information on night-time access and closures, as well as whether you need reservations.
When is the best time to go stargazing in Glacier?
The best time to go stargazing in Glacier National Park is during the late summer and early fall months, from August to October, when the skies tend to be clearer and there is less light pollution. I visited in June, and the skies were choked with wildfire smoke making stargazing pretty much impossible – sad for many reasons!
Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing in Glacier? When?
Yes! You can see the Milky Way while stargazing in Glacier National Park. The best time to see the Milky Way in Glacier National Park is during the new moon phase, when the sky is darkest, typically around mid to late August.
Are there guided night tours in Glacier?
Yes, Glacier National Park offers guided night tours for stargazing and other nocturnal activities. These guided tours are typically led by park rangers who provide information about the night sky, astronomy, and the park’s natural history. These tours may require advance reservations and additional fees.
Is there a dark sky festival in Glacier?
Glacier National Park hosts a series of stargazing events throughout the year. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t organize a Dark Sky Festival; if this changes in the future, I’ll be sure to update this post.
Can you see the northern lights in Glacier?
You might have seen the photo at the top of this post and wondered if it was fake. It’s not!
Perhaps surprisingly, you can spot the northern lights in Glacier National Park – it’s far enough north to see the aurora when the solar activity is particularly strong (as it has been lately!). Bowman and Kintla Lakes are prime spots to watch the northern lights.
Have any other questions about planning a Glacier National Park stargazing trip? Let me know in the comments!