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Base out of East Glacier vs Babb vs West Glacier

Washington, DC
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Base out of East Glacier vs Babb vs West Glacier

We’re looking at vacation rentals in these 3 areas. I’ve pretty much ruled out West Glacier bc of the distance to Many Glaciers and surrounding areas. The place we’re looking at near Babb is more expensive / less nice than the places near East Glacier. Thoughts? We’ll be there 4 nights, then driving to Banff. We’re a family with 2 kids under 8 so I’d prefer not to move around and split up the nights on East and West side (unless it’s strongly recommended). Thanks.

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1. Re: Base out of East Glacier vs Babb vs West Glacier

East Glacier is near Two Medicine. Personally I would not stay there for a visit to Many. Over an hour drive each way on a road you won't want to travel after dark. Many Glacier is very scenic and offers great hiking. I would stay in Babb. Have you checked Glacier Trailhead Cabins or Paul's Ranch. They both get good reviews. Are you flying? One night on the west after arrival is a good idea so you can take your time driving across the park. What time of year are you planning?

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2. Re: Base out of East Glacier vs Babb vs West Glacier

How far is the "near Babb" place to the Many Glacier entrance and the St. Mary entrance?

What activities do you want to do while in the area (it sounds like visiting Many Glacier is a priority)? How far are you comfortable driving each day with the kids? What time of year is this trip?

In general, I would pick St. Mary or Many Glacier as a base over East Glacier Park, but it's possible that EGP would work fine in certain situations.

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3. Re: Base out of East Glacier vs Babb vs West Glacier

Hi- we’re flying into Calgary, spending the night (late arrival) and then driving down the next day. Kids are good in the car but I think a daily 2 hour drive is too much (hence, ruling out West Glacier). We won’t be doing any 10 mike hike, but kids are good for 3-5 mi. Haven’t gotten to researching specifics yet- wanted to get housing done first- but a quick review says that Many Glacier is a key area to see.

Hudson, Wisconsin
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4. Re: Base out of East Glacier vs Babb vs West Glacier

For the best 3-5 mi. hikes, they will be located in these 4 areas on the east side: St. Mary, Many Glacier, Logan Pass & Two Medicine.

Here are some suggestions:

St. Mary - St. Mary Falls/Virginia Falls (3.6 mi. RT)

Many Glacier - Grinnell Lake (2.4 mi. RT w/ boat shuttle), Redrock Falls (3.6 mi. RT)

Logan Pass - Hidden Lake Overlook (3 mi. RT), Highline Trail to Haystack Butte (6 mi. RT)

Two Medicine - Upper Two Medicine Lake (4.5 mi. RT w/ boat shuttle), Running Eagle Falls (0.6 mi. RT)

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5. Re: Base out of East Glacier vs Babb vs West Glacier

If you're looking for some recommendations on easy hikes in the park, this list of the best easy hikes is a great starting point: hikinginglacier.com/glacier-best-easy-hikes.…

Spokane, Washington
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6. Re: Base out of East Glacier vs Babb vs West Glacier

Lodging is the biggest thing and being close to Many Glacier if you can't actually stay in the valley is challenging. Trailhead cabins are nice, good location, but can be expensive. I have never stayed at the Babb motel, but have seen decent recommendations for it. St. Mary is also a good option as 8 miles from Babb. Two Med is too far out of the way. You could look at breaking up the drive with a night in Waterton. While there was a significant fire there this summer, post fire landscape can be very interesting and a good lesson for the kids. Wild flowers come back almost immediately after a fire. The best hiking info for Glacier is at www.hike734.com, Jake has hiked every trail in the park and set up this great website for access. Bear spray will be a necessity when you arrive BTW.

Kalispell, Montana
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7. Re: Base out of East Glacier vs Babb vs West Glacier

First of all you are right about not using West Glacier as a home base because most (but not all) of the scenery and hiking is on the east side. Similarly I would not choose East Glacier Park village because it is outside the park to the south of the core area on the east unless you choose to do so for one night the day you visit Two Medicine which is the second gem of the east side.

The 89/49 heading to East Glacier Park village is gorgeous but is also a slow two-lane, curvy road which has free ranging cattle...Its also a road you also don’t want to be driving 2x/day for 4 days or at night. Be very cautious with vacation rentals, VRBO etc on the east side. Sometimes they are not handily located at all or are farther out on the Blackfoot Reservation near Browning where you do NOT want to be. VRBO cancellation policies are not as lenient as park-run or St. Mary area hotels/motels/cabins.


Since you are not avid hikers who go the long distances and have young kids, I would not base myself in Many Glacier for 4 nights either. It is rather remote from the rest of the east side and the famous GTTSR/Logan Summit/West side that you will want to visit as well. MG, while beautiful and rather compact, can actually get boring after a while since you are not taking the long hikes. Hikes there can also be long and steep. For example the famous Grinnell Glacier hike climbs and then descends back 1,700’ in a rather short distance...it is considered strenuous for casual hikers. *The 14 mile drive from Babb to Many Glacier is also not in good shape. It is rough and very rutted. I would not want to drive that 2x/day in order to see other places on the east after you have run out of things to do in MG.

Look into taking ranger led hikes. Otherwise its good to buy and carry bear spray. People think there is safety in numbers on trails, but if a mama bear is spooked/startled and charges...you don’t want to be the ones she chooses to run at. If the can is labeled bear spray right on the can, you can take it across the border.


I would choose Rising Sun/St Mary instead. It is very centrally located. It places you right in the middle between Many Glacier to the north, the GTTSR which is a highlight of the park...all the way from St Mary to Logan Summit to Apgar village on the west side. And also the Two Medicine Valley to the south, the second gem of the east side.


Below is an itinerary for you to look at because it is one we recommend generally for casual hikers, scenic auto tourists and visitors staying only a very few nights. You can then decide whether or not you want to stay a day on the west at all, or make a day trip of the entire Going to the Sun Road and back as a gorgeous full day-trip from an east side home base. You can see by reading through the itinerary what there is to see and do and where things are located. Then plan your days around that to avoid a lot of un-necessary driving.


First off, its best to begin your trip on the West side of Glacier and move to the East side. That way the scenery and hiking just keep getting better and better. Coming from Calgary though it is not necessary to begin on the west particularly if you choose St Mary/Rising Sun as home base.

A....Basic attractions on the west side after you have visited the Apgar shops and view across the lake are:

1...A short drive up to Polebridge on the OUTER Northfork road to visit the Famous Mercantile Bakery. Google "A Short Movie About a Montana Bakery”. Think Hucklebery bear-claws and other goodies. That drive is very scenic especially earlier in the season when the snow is still capping the mountains. Do not be tempted by others to drive to Bowman Lake from Polebridge in a rental car...if anything happens it can be costly and ruin your trip. You will also be out of cell phone range in many places in the mountains.

2...River Rafting and float trips on the river are ONLY available from West Glacier. Kayaking and canoes can be rented in Apgar to use on Lake McDonald.

3...Touring the Lake McDonald valley's turnouts, the stopping at Lodge area for a meal and to enjoy its historic interior and walk out back down to the lake shore. Finally at Avalanche, taking the easy Trail of the Cedars/Avalanche Lake trail. The Trail of the Cedars is handicapped accessible...boardwalked and has benches along the way. The Avalanche extension of it is moderately difficult...4.5 miles round trip to the lake. Go to the picnic area there down by the river...it can be fun for the kids to toss stones into it and you can get nice photos.


B...Allot 3 - 4 nights on the "East Side Core” based in St Mary/Rising Sun, OR divided between there and Many Glacier/Babb. Since you are heading to Canada later, stay in MG last if you divide your stay.

1...After staying on the West Side or if making the GTTSR a day trip from the east, traverse the Going to the Sun Road for its entire length.

The day you traverse the GTTSR can be totally used up by a nice breakfast, then stopping at the overlooks along the famous Alpine sections of the GTTSR as you ascend to Logan Summit. You may want to walk part of the famous hikes along that route. For example, at Logan Summit the Hidden Lake Overlook and the very top part of the famous Highline Trail as far as you are comfortable and back. Along those 2 trails you may have your best chance to see mountain goats and Big Horn sheep.

On the east side descent heading down from or up to Logan, you can take a walk up the creek at Siyeh Bend for views and photo ops, a short walk up Sunrift Gorge or a hike to St Mary Falls...1.7 miles round trip. If you go all the way to Virginia Falls from there its a 3.6 mile round trip total for both. That hike takes you through a recently burned area which is beginning to recover. The fire also opened up views which were in tree-jail before. Stop at the Wild Goose Island overlook as you near the far end of St Mary Lake. It is said to be the inspiration for Paramount Picture's logo.

2...In Many Glacier Valley, the highlight can be the two-lake boat tour/ranger led hike to Grinnell Glacier. **GG is a strenuous hike, gaining 1,700' between the last boat dock & the glacier so you can hike it partially and turn back....about 4.5 miles round trip to the Glacier. Grinnell Lake from the boat dock is an easier/flatter hike of about 1.8 miles round trip from the boat dock...or independent hiking other trails according to your ability. Then there is Iceberg Lake, a beautiful hike = 10 miles round trip...even if you only go part way, wildflowers can be stunning along that trail. The horse back tour to Cracker Lake from the MG Stables is the best in the park. *A very easy evening must-do walk is to Fishercap Lake to see the resident Moose...plural. You can also rent kayaks and canoes there.


3...You would enjoy making a day trip via the 89/49 down to Two Medicine Valley/Lake for hiking/short walks/photos or a boat tour/ranger led hike to Upper Two Medicine Lake and fabulous scenery. Or a boat tour without the hike. Trick Falls (two level when water is running high) is there...the trail handicapped accessible. The drive itself is gorgeous and not to be missed. It is slow, curvy in spots and there will probably be free-ranging cattle and horses on the road.


Maybe for you...

1...Arrive Calgary as early as possible drive to St Mary, passing up MG until later.

2 & 3...Stay St Mary again. One day for the entire GTTSR and one for Two Medicine Valley

4...Many Glacier

5...head to Banff via the Cowboy Route and not the freeway. MG to Waterton Lakes via Chief Mountain cut-across, then #6 to Pincher Creek...then the Canada #3 for a few miles to the #22 to Longview. At Longview head west on the 541 to the #40 and turn north. That will take you through the gorgeous Kananaskis Valley where so many movies and TV series have been filmed and which is like Banff used to be before the crowds.

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8. Re: Base out of East Glacier vs Babb vs West Glacier

When exactly is this trip going to be? Lodging in Glacier books early. Canada has a lot more lodging because both Banff and Jasper are year round towns and both also have ski areas. They both also have certified and inspected B&B’s in both places which are sometimes really fun to stay in.



The following is a fairly long list of accommodations which may help you obtain reservations in the various places in and near Glacier.


INSIDE the park: In Apgar = *Village Inn in Apgar has the best views, all rooms face the lake right on the beach!, the Motel Lake McDonald, or the Apgar Village Lodge and cabins. Also Lake McDonald lodge, its cabins & motel located along the east side of the lake.


In and near WEST GLACIER village or JUST OUTSIDE the park: West Glacier Motel, Vista Motel, Glacier Guides Lodge, Glacier Highlands and the Belton Chalet. The Great Northern Resort and rafting, SilverWolf deluxe log chalets, Great Bear Inn. Mountain Cleft Wilderness Retreat, a VRBO home. Glacier Outdoor Center cabins and rafting. Cabins at the KOA campground. San-Suz-Ed campground and 8 B&B rooms.



CORE OF THE EAST SIDE of GNP where most of the hiking is located.

At RISING SUN, an IN-PARK motorlodge and cabins just inside the East Gate.

In ST.MARY just BARELY OUTSIDE the East Gate: St. Mary Lodge complex, its Great Bear annex (the only one with TV, AC and fairly good WiFi), new cabins, two basic 50's style motels and now some very very small "tiny houses". Glacier Trailhead Cabins, The Cottages at Glacier (was called Pinnacle). Johnson’s and the new cabins at the KOA.


In MANY GLACIER VALLEY inside the park: Many Glacier Lodge and the Swiftcurrent motel and cabins. If room views matter to you, at the lodge, choose a Lakeside Balcony room.


In BABB, 15 miles from Many Glacier Valley: Thronson's, a basic but clean older motel. 4 miles north of Babb Is Paul Ranch Montana with its alpacas. * The road from Babb to MG is rough and rutted...you may not want to drive that 2x/day if you are hiking and enjoying other things on multiple days in MG.


Lodging in EAST GLACIER PARK VILLAGE. Its OUTSIDE the park on the south end of the east side...13 miles from Two Medicine Valley, 40 miles from St Mary and 65 miles from Many Glacier. Ideal for visiting Two Medicine Valley if you want a one night stay. Not ideal as a home base.

Glacier Park Lodge with its famous tree lined atrium lobby. Mountain Pine Motel, Sears Motel, Jacobson's Cabins, Whistling Swan, Travelers Rest Lodge and cabins, The Brown House and Lone Elk Lodge and condo. Glacier Park Circle R cabins and new motel addition. Also a unique hikers cabin/hostel facility, the Backpacker's Inn, behind Serrano's Restaurant and run by the same. *read recent reviews/look at visitor's photos...some are very small and more rustic than you may like.


In WATERTON LAKES NP: Check recent reviews before booking.

Prince of Wales Hotel, the Historic Classic and Northland Lodge, a nice B&B type lodge.

Aspen Village Inn Rooms range from cottages with full kitchens to deluxe suites.

Crandell Mountain Lodge a quaint place. Rooms with fireplaces, country decor, and lots of character!

Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort, open in Winter too.

Waterton Glacier Suites...open all year with 4 star dining, spa and mountain views.

Bear Mountain Motel, basic in the village

Bayshore Inn Resort and Spa., lakeside rooms best.

Waterton River Lodge B&B


Just a hint...People jam the reservation lines first thing when they open...if you do get connected, even then, the reservations can come up as totally booked for your dates.

Not to worry. When people get on the line first thing, they grab what ever comes up and sometimes double and triple book reservations in multiple places and then calm down and cancel later what actually does not fit their schedule. They may do that for trip plans in two different months even until they decide on when they can actually get their vacation leave settled.

Its not right and unfair really...but it happens all the time. As time passes after the first rush, cancellations tend to show up consistently and quite often. That is when you need to grab what shows up at least as your own plan B until what you really want for each day opens up. If it happens, relax a bit...you have an entire year to get lodging in place. Cancellation policies are very lenient up here...which actually causes the over booking in the first place but its nice if you do legitimately need to cancel your own plans later. Its much easier to book a day at a time and not wait for a block of 4 days to open up.

Good luck....don't panic.


Since you are heading to Banff/Jasper you may find these links useful as well.




Let me know if you would like itinerary help for Banff/Jasper and the fabulous Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper. Don’t skip the parkway, it is the highlight of the Canadian parks.

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