Date of Travel: August 24-29, 2017
Total Cost Per Night: $23
See here on a map!
Site: 35, then 75 (Dry Camping)
There have only been a handful of times when we have been able to stay in a place of such quintessential natural beauty that we were left with truly deep and lasting impressions. Staying at Many Glacier was one of those times. This magical place had so many more wonders, great and small, than our senses could fully absorb. The pure, almost untouched wilderness captivated our hearts and has become a part of who we are as a family. Some memories can feel bittersweet…you regret that you cannot go back to that moment and have it again. Our time in Glacier National park are full of these memories. They stay in your mind, fresh and and ready to conjure up every time you close your eyes or see a picture.
The drive from Devils Tower in Wyoming to Glacier National Park was one of the most obnoxious drives we have done in a while. It felt so never-ending that we began to wonder what possessed us to add Glacier to our itinerary. It consisted almost entirely of 2 lane highway with a town with maybe one gas pump every 50-75 miles. With us only getting 150 miles between fill-ups, we were a bit nervous at times that we would find the next stop.
When we finally pulled into the national park, the road to the campground in Many Glacier felt like a third-world country (we have new axles on our camper possibly thanks to this ghastly road). Leslie was already carsick and this did NOT make things any better. There were massive potholes and ruts and cows (yes cows!) that necessitated a 25 mph top speed and so much jostling that we thought we would destroy our camper. Evidently, after talking to some rangers, this is common each year in spite of constant road work.
Thankfully, right before we turned into the campground to find our site we saw the dump station where we needed to fill up with water (there is no water or electric here). It’s on the side of the road facing the opposite direction of travel so you might need to pull into the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn (more on that later) and approach it heading the other direction.
So with our camper full of water we proceeded to site 35, which was a tight pull through. We were immediately blown away by this place. Our site was incredible, although not well suited for a rig as long as ours. (I’ll touch on that later.) It was clear that our persistence in making multiple site changes and adjustments to get a good site had paid off. As soon as camp was set up and the jackets were pulled out we were off exploring. We took off to explore the vicinity and were so refreshed as all the nastiness from the road trip was washed away by the brisk air and stunning views. We did make a rookie mistake for this place. We started walking in the woods with the bear spray back in the camper! We didn’t let that happen again, as grizzlies frequently stroll through this campground.
Let’s get the particulars out of the way and then get to all the fun that there is to do around here. I should probably make an entire blog post or two about this area, but we’ll try to squeeze it into here.
Only about 1/4 of this campground is reservable ahead of time. Reservations can be made 6 months out, and let me tell you, you better be on top of them. This is one of the toughest campgrounds to get into that we’ve experienced (Dead Horse Point S. P. in Utah being the exception). Of the 46 or so sites that you can reserve, only a few can handle a 30′ trailer like we have, which made snagging one that much harder.
The majority of campsites here are first-come-first-served. Here’s what that looks like. Cars will line up outside the campground as early as 4 am, some even spending the night before in line. Starting at 7 am I think (maybe 8?) the ranger will go to the first person in line and offer them what’s available for the day. Then they’ll go to the next person, etc. When you’re camping here, you’re required to declare when you’re leaving and post it on your site. If you reserved a site, you obviously are already locked in for a set period of time. You can extend your stay but you must pay by the night before and alert the campground host, and it’s dependent on availability. They have a master list of who’s leaving each day so they know how to pass out sites each morning. It’s a very organized and structured way to assign sites. They highly frown upon and almost always restrict people from “working out a deal” with fellow campers to acquire their sites. If you are moving sites or decide last minute to extend your stay you are required to hop in line with everyone else.
We had originally planned to spend 4 nights in Many Glacier, but in the process of tweaking our agenda we ended up with only 3 of the nights we needed because of messing up our reservation dates. Ben had planned to go sit in that line in a lawn chair with his coffee in the pre-dawn hours to get us another site. But a through a chance meeting with a nice guy who was leaving early we ended up getting his site for 2 nights. We talked it over with the campground host who gave us her blessing to take his site and we got to stay a 4th and 5th night. I had mentioned before that they frown on this…we were blessed that they made an exception for us. I think they were willing to bend the rules since we weren’t trying to sneak around and do it and were following the rules.
The campground itself is heavily wooded with gravel sites. There are multiple restrooms. There are no showers but each restroom building has flush toilets as well as running water and a separate nook for cleaning your dishes in a large sink. (This also worked really well for dumping our grey water 5-10 gallons at a time!) There seem to be an equal mix of newer restrooms and older ones. They have the same general layout, they just differ in their cleanliness and newness.
I think that most sites here are pull-thru. The ones that aren’t are really not set up for RVs, but rather to park your car and tent camp.
There are plentiful water spigots throughout the campground. They have great pressure and are close enough to haul water to your campsite.
If you have a 30′ camper like we have, be warned…you are not guaranteed to find somewhere to fit. Our first site, site 35 was an AMAZING site. It had an abundance of privacy and backed up to some beautiful woods that meandered to a river. On the reservation site, it showed that it could fit 30′ campers. Well, we pulled right in with no problem, but I realized too late that I was going to have a nightmare getting out of the site. It was a pull-thru site, but there was a tree along the driver’s side that was very far forward, coupled with a hard turn out of there. There was no physical way for me to pull through the campsite. It was a miracle that I was able to finagle my way backing up out of the site! There was another site across from us (maybe site 34 or 36) that we watched a guy try to back his 30′ TT into for almost half an hour before he got it to fit. Site 75 on the other hand had a ton of room for us. Unfortunately, you can’t reserve it.
Sites were averagely level. We used 2-3 blocks under each wheel on the left side. Our second site needed almost no blocks.
They are super super strict here about food and things that have touched food. Grills had to be propane (this was because of huge fires this past summer that were actively going on when we were there) and be put away when done. No dumping of dish water. Nothing whatsoever that has come in contact with food. All of this is for good reason. One of the days we were hiking, we were told that a large Grizzly bear walked right through our site!
Just to touch on our second site, site 75, we loved it in many ways as much or more than our first site. The campground has a couple very distinct feels. The majority of the campground as I mentioned is very wooded. It’s very secluded feeling, very majestic, very “woodsy”. The few sites along the river have a different feeling. There are less trees, less woodsiness, bigger views and bigger skies. There is a massive mountain straight across the river that these sites give you a perfect and overwhelming view of. We spent our last 2 nights at site 75. This site was a favorite with the kids because of the river across the street. The water was cold, but they wanted to swim and build dams after hiking. Leslie liked this too since the kids weren’t bathing much since we were being so careful with the water. One thing we enjoyed over here was bringing our camping chairs out into the middle of the river and sitting on the island, enjoying a drink and the views.
Surroundings…the real reason you’re here!
One of the highlights that we did not expect staying here was the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn store. It’s just a 2 minute walk from the campground. There is a restaurant, store, laundry and showers you can pay for. For $2.50 you can get a giant cup of soft serve ice cream that is all you can fit in the cup (you better believe we got that thing looking like the Tower of Pisa!)! The first night they had chocolate and vanilla options. But every day after that the chocolate was gone and there was huckleberry! Our kids…and Dad…went crazy for this. The store has a great (although small) selection of basic grocery items, beer, hiking supplies, souvenirs and shirts. We paid $4 for a half a gallon of milk, but the convenience was worth it. Ben was very happy that you could buy a bottle of local beer for $1.50.
They also have laundry around back which made Leslie super excited! Not only had the kids been bathing very infrequently, but the clothes were less than fresh. It was $6 to do a load, but completely worth it (especially since the next campground in Yellowstone wouldn’t have laundry). We really enjoyed the people watching from the porch of the store/restaurant. While we enjoyed our ice cream we could watch all kinds of people coming off the trail. It was fun to see so many active people enjoying nature.
Many Glacier campground has absolutely no cell service. This was kind of nice in the sense that we could put away our devices and just be together, but we did realize we should have given a campground land line number to family back home in case they had to get a hold of us. A ranger did tell us that if we had an emergency to go to the pay phone and dial 911. This would connect us to the ranger station and they would get us the help we needed.
We did 2 epic hikes while we were here, Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake. On one of our down days we also did a short, easy hike to Redrock Falls straight from the campground. I highly recommend this easy walk that goes along Fishercap Lake (take an offshoot trail down to the lake for good deer/moose sightings) and Redrock Lake.
The day we did Ginnell Glacier we splurged and did the boat rides that start at the Lodge. It cost our family of 5 about $100, but it saved us 3 miles, making this hike more manageable. We had seen plenty of pictures and videos of this hike, but none of that prepared us for how truly breathtaking it was. It is probably the best hike we have ever done. The trail was really crowded though. Ben hated this, but Leslie didn’t mind since it hopefully helped keep bears away. The kids (who were 7, 9 and 12 at the time) had never hiked more than 5 miles, so doing 8 miles had them a little freaked out. We offered to give them each a dollar for every mile they hiked cheerfully. This was money well spent for us, it kept the complaining down and they ended up with some extra blow money.
Three days later we did Iceberg Lake. Leslie couldn’t go back to sleep after 5am that morning, so she got everyone up and we hiked from our campsite at 6am. It was dark (we started with headlamps) but we had the trail almost entirely to ourselves. This hike was going to be 10 miles round trip so the sooner we started the better. The problem was that we were out there alone on a trail that frequently gets shut down due to grizzly activity. Parts of this trail have very dense woods, and in the early morning light alone in the woods we all got a little freaked out. We were making so much noise it felt like we might lose our voices. We sang and shouted at the top of our lungs for a couple miles. It was scary at the time, but now it’s a funny memory. Getting to Iceberg Lake and having it to ourselves (except for 2 other people) was incredible. This place cannot be properly described, you have to see it for yourself to grasp how amazing it is. By the time we left the lake to head back down an hour later, it was getting crowded.
Ben had said for a while that Glacier National Park was on his bucket list and it did not disappoint. Leslie had been very concerned about the grizzlies but she survived. The kids were dreading the long hikes, but they were bribed and made amazing memories they can tell their own kids about someday. This campground is popular for a reason and I wish it could stay hidden. It’s out of the way and tough to get to, but it will no doubt be one of your favorite places ever and will stick with you for the rest of your life!