There is really no disputing the natural beauty of Glacier National Park. It’s an absolutely stunning place where the wilderness has remained untouched and the mountains reach to the sky. It’s one of the few places in North America where all of our native carnivores still survive – Grizzly and black bears, wolves, and cougars roam the steep slopes and lush, green valleys. Pet travelers should be aware that, like many of our national parks, the desire to protect the wildlife and their habitat and prevent interactions with pets has lead to severe restrictions on where pets can go in the park.
There are only two roads in Glacier – one that runs from south to north along the western edge of the park, and the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road that cuts east to west across the heart of the park for 50 miles. Going-to-the-Sun is the more popular of the two roads and takes about 3 hours to drive – each direction – if you stop for a few pictures along the way.
Pets are allowed in developed areas, in picnic areas, along roads, and in parking areas only. So, if you’re going to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road (and you should!), plan several short stops to get them out to stretch their legs … and pose for photos.
There is only one trail in Glacier Park that is pet friendly. McDonald Creek Bike path is a paved trail that runs 2.5 miles between West Glacier and Apgar Village. Buster and Ty suggest picking it up in West Glacier, grabbing an ice cream at Eddie’s when you get to Apgar, having a rest by Lake McDonald, and then trekking back to the car.
Once you’re done with Going-to-the-Sun Road and the McDonald Creek Bike Trail, there’s not much left for pet travelers to do in the National Park. You could find a pet sitter or daycare and do some hiking on the Park trails … or you could head a bit to the south and hit one of the national forests with your pooch. Flathead, Kootenai, and Lewis and Clark are all within easy striking distance – and all the trails are pet friendly! Hungry Horse Reservoir in Flathead National Forest is especially beautiful and it felt like we had the trails to ourselves.
Remember, it’s possible you could meet a predator on these trails, so take precautions. While dogs can be off-leash in most areas of the national forests, it’s not a good idea if they don’t have a reliable recall. Bears are known for pursuing dogs, and that that could be dangerous situation for both you and your pup. We also recommend investing in bear bells for yourself and your dogs – letting the bears know you’re coming is the best way to avoid running into one!
If you’re into a more urban trail with less likelihood of wildlife encounters check out the Swan River Trail in Bigfork. This is an easy 3-mile walk with nice views of the Swan River, and when you finish up you can walk down the hill into Bigfork to have a look around and get a snack. We timed it just right and got to enjoy an art festival during our visit!
Flathead Lake is twenty-seven miles long, as much as fifteen miles wide, and is one of the cleanest lakes in the populated world for it’s size. The clear water turns a beautiful turquoise blue in the sunlight. Orchards dot the eastern shore and small towns spread along the western shore. Exploring the crystal waters either by car or renting a canoe is a great way spend a day.
Whitefish is a quaint little resort town tucked between Whitefish Lake and the Whitefish Mountain Range. While you’re here, explore a plethora of trails, check out the award-winning restaurants, or stop by the five-acre Hugh Rogers Dog Park in Armory Park.
We’ve gotten some questions about where we’d suggest pet travelers stay when visiting the Glacier area. We camped in an RV park very close to the National Park entrance in West Glacier and wouldn’t do that again the next time. After two days, we’d seen what we could in the Park and spent much of our time driving down to Bigfork and over in Whitefish because there was a lot more to do with the boys. My suggestion would be to find a pet friendly hotel around Whitefish.
One of the challenges of traveling with pets is finding restaurants where you can eat together. Unfortunately, we did not find a great selection of pet friendly eateries in the area. It seems the laws here are very similar to what we experienced in Coeur d’Alene. That means pet travelers will need to plan on getting take-out or booking accommodations that would allow you to prepare your own meals.