4 Places to Visit Without a Glacier National Park Vehicle Registration
Like numerous other national parks, Glacier National Park has implemented a vehicle registration process to limit the number of vehicles that can access the busiest parts of the park during the busy summer tourist season. In 2022, this means that a vehicle registration is required to drive both the Going-to-the-Sun Road and to access the North Fork area of the park. You can find information on obtaining a permit at the park's website.
What if you are headed to the park and you don't have a vehicle registration? Or you need some activities for the days when you don't have a reservation? Here are four places you can visit at or near Glacier National Park, no vehicle registration required (though the park does reserve the right to close areas within the park if they become too crowded).
1. Many Glacier
Also known as the Swiftcurrent Valley, Many Glacier gets its name from the numerous small glaciers found on the mountains surrounding the valley. With numerous large lakes, it is a popular location for water activities. Numerous hikes into the park's backcountry start from Many Glacier, from which you can get stunning views of the mountains and valleys
of this part of the park. It's also a popular destination for wildlife viewing - Many Glacier is ideal moose habitat, and those with keen eyes may spot mountain goats and bighorn sheep on the mountains surrounding the valley. Watch out for the park's famed grizzly bears while here as well - their presence often closes the trails around Many Glacier.
2. Two Medicine
In the southeastern part of Glacier National Park sits Two Medicine. One of the two most sacred parts of Glacier National Park for the Blackfeet Nation, the tribe traded the lands to the park in 1896 in exchange for money to keep the tribe from starving. Today, they are working to have it designated a cultural heritage area. Park visitors can hop on a tour boat on Two Medicine Lake, or rent a small boat to explore on their own (though check in advance on these small boats - they were closed in 2021 due to staffing issues). The popular Running Eagle Falls Trail is a short nature trail that takes visitors to Running Eagle Falls, where Pitamakin, a female warrior of the Blackfeet Nation, had a vision quest. Other hiking trails take visitors into the mountains around Two Medicine.
3. The U.S. 2 Corridor
Although the Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road through Glacier National Park, U.S. Highway 2 follows the southern border of Glacier National Park, with scenic mountain and river views as it takes you from the east entrances to the park to the western ones. Along the drive, you can find many attractions. The popular Silver Staircase Waterfall often attracts crowds. Marias Pass, the lowest pass over the Rocky Mountains north of New Mexico, is along the road. Another popular stop along the way is Goat Lick. This exposed cliff along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River attracts mountain goats in large numbers, and it is the most popular of the park's mineral licks - at least, it's the most popular for the goats, who come to find minerals necessary to their health. Many trailheads along the road take visitors into Glacier National Park or nearby national forests and wilderness areas. Also, because much of the drive is not within park boundaries, there are numerous restaurants along the way to stop for food and drink.
4. National Forests
Most of the western and southern edges of Glacier National park are bordered by national forests - the Flathead National Forest and the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Almost always less crowded than Glacier National Park, the forests have many miles of hiking trails. Flathead National Forest, for example, has over 2,000 miles of hiking trails, far more than are found in the national park. Numerous lakes provide water sports opportunities, including the Jewel Basin, which is well-known for its high mountain fishing. Within the national forests, you can also engage in activities that are prohibited in the park, such as ATV riding. Those who want to have a true wilderness experience can find their way to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, south of Glacier National Park. Known for its grizzly bears, hiking, and fishing, the wilderness is protected in a way that makes it less developed than the backcountry of Glacier National Park, for those who really want to get away from crowds.
Want to learn more about Glacier National Park and places you can visit without a vehicle registration permit this summer? Check out 101 Travel Bits: Glacier National Park.