MANY GLACIER CAMPGROUND

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

While the campsite we had in Fish Creek Campground was the best campsite we’ve ever had, Many Glacier is the best campground we have ever stayed at.  I now fully understand why it is one of the most difficult campsites to get a reservation at in the entire National Park Service.

When we were checking out of Fish Creek at the Ranger kiosk, the Ranger noted to us that the site we were checking out of was her favorite in the campground – a sentiment that was communicated to us by other Rangers we spoke with.  I then asked her what her what her favorite campsite was in Many Glacier; her response was, “any of them, it’s Many Glacier”.

Location: 12 miles west of Babb, MT on the east side of the park.

Sites: 109, half being reservable, the other half are first-come, first-serve.

Bathrooms: Flush toilets and sinks.

Showers: Yes, a 5 minute walk to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.

Entrance Road: Be warned – it is an incredibly bumpy road with LARGE potholes.

The Many Glacier entrance to Glacier National Park.

A Bumpy Ride

In order to get to Many Glacier, you will need to leave the park and drive to Babb, MT, which is about 9 miles north of St. Mary on the east side of the park.  Once in Babb, you will head west on Route 3 for 12 miles, which will take you to the Many Glacier area, which includes the famous Many Glacier Hotel, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, Many Glacier Campground, and a number of trailheads for popular hikes in the park.

Route 3 starts out running along Swiftcurrent Creek, a whitewater river with incredible aqua green water that looks like it belongs on a postcard (as does much of what you see in Glacier).  After a mile or so, you will see a sign that says, “Rough Road Ahead”, or something to that effect, and the road goes from a relatively smooth and even pavement to a pothole covered mess.  A more appropriate sign might be, “Slow Down or Ruin Your Suspension”, or possibly, “If You Are Going Faster Than 20 MPH, You May Blow a Tire”.

I honestly don’t recall the actual speed limit but I do know that we weren’t exceeding it when we encountered what looked like a WWI battlefield over a crest.  I hit the brakes, and luckily, we didn’t hit any of the holes hard but, it was close.  These are potholes that put downtown Chicago to shame and you are rolling the dice if you are going the speed limit.  I remember saying to Nat that I felt bad for anyone driving an RV or pulling a trailer if they didn’t know this was coming.  The next several miles – until you get to the actual gate to the park – are like this.

I guess one positive side effect of the condition of the road is that you are forced to slow down, which will give you ample time to look at Lake Sherburne, and you won’t hit any of the cattle that we came upon standing in the middle of the road.

Many Glacier Hotel

Upon reaching Many Glacier, you will immediately notice the large, alpine style lodge to the left that sits on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake – the Many Glacier Hotel.  It faces two huge mountain valleys that stretch into the distance and leave you feeling overwhelmed.  It really is beautiful.

The Many Glacier Hotel and surrounding mountain valleys, as seen from the parking area behind it.

While we didn’t stay at the hotel, it’s worth mentioning (and visiting) due to it’s historical significance and sheer impressiveness.  It contains a restaurant, lounge, gift shop, coffee shop/deli, and has a deck and lawn area that you can sit down and relax on as you enjoy the view overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake and the surrounding mountain valleys.


Fun Fact: The Many Glacier Hotel was built in 1914-15 by the owner of the Great Northern Railway in an effort to attract U.S. vacationers to the area and it was promoted as the “American Alps”.  Not coincidentally, it was styled with an Swiss Alpine theme that emulates some of the grand hotels of the European Alps.

The interior of the main floor of the Many Glacier Hotel has an impressive rustic feel.

The Glacier Park Boat Company also runs a boat tour out of the hotel, which covers both Swiftcurrent and St. Josephine lakes.  There is a short hike between the two lakes that will allow you to board the second boat.  We took the tour and found it to be a nice, albeit, short excursion that provided a different view of the surrounding areas.  You will want to get reservations for the tour; they can be purchased at the kiosk that is just outside the hotel, next to the boat dock.  We didn’t have a reservation but were able to get on a wait list for a trip.

One of the Glacier Park Boat Company’s boats crosses Swiftcurrent Lake towards Many Glacier Hotel.

Swiftcurrent Motor Inn

The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn sits directly next to Many Glacier Campground on the end of the road to Many Glacier.  It is comprised of a main building that has a restaurant, a lobby, and a camp store, and a number of small one room cottages that can be rented.  There is also a building that contains the showers and a small laundry facility – both require tokens to operate, which can be purchased at the store.

The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. The parking lot was usually full of cars and people with spotting scopes and binoculars looking at grizzly bears and other fauna on the mountain slope directly behind the area.

We visited the camp store daily, usually to get ice for the cooler or to let the kids get some of the soft serve ice cream after a hike – if I recall, it’s $2.50 for all you can fit into a cup, which we thought was pretty reasonable.  The restaurant is nice and done in a simple diner style motif and serves a wide array of food.  We did take out pizza and walked it back to the campground and found it to be pretty good, (although I will say that all food tastes pretty good when camping).

The showers and laundry facility are in a building located behind the Motor Inn, along with the cottages, just a short walk away from the campsite.  The showers were clean enough by our standards, (which are low), when we camp we are simply happy to have a shower and don’t get too worked up over how spotless it is.  We wear shower slippers (flip-flops) anyway.  As long as the water is warm and we have a place to get clean – we are satisfied.  We never had to wait in line for a shower but we also planned our showers to overlap with when many people eat dinner (5:00-6:00).

Ricky on the road in front of our campsite. The RVs at the end of the road are next to an asphalt path that leads to the Swiftcurrent Inn parking lot.

The laundry area is smaller but adequate.  We didn’t have any problems with having to wait in line to do any laundry but I imagine that this could be an issue as there were only 5 washers and 5 dryers.  We were not accustomed to having this many conveniences so close to the campground and so readily available – it was a nice surprise.

Note: Both the showers and laundry require tokens, which can be purchased at the camp store.

Many Glacier Campground

What can I say?  If it isn’t apparent already, we REALLY loved this campground.  The location is incredible; you are surrounded by mountains and it makes you feel really insignificant – in a good way.  It isn’t a large campground so you have fewer people around but the SwiftCurrent Motor Inn does see quite a bit of traffic comparatively.  That being said, since the entire area of Many Glacier is more remote and there is a sign near Babb that tells visitors when parking is full, I feel like it gets less traffic than it potentially could.

The view from the road in front of our campsite (our site 104 can be seen to the right) looking towards the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn to the north.

Bathrooms were clean, showers were but a short walk, and there is a modest restaurant and camp store next to the campground; we see why the campground is so tough to reserve and why people line up to get one of the first-come, first-serve sites every morning.  On the morning that we hiked the Highline Trail, we left the campground at 6:00 AM and there was a line of at least 25 cars.

Here are the campground fill times for Many Glacier during our stay August 2 – 7. Note that the times started getting erratic after the Howe Ridge Fire started on August 11.

Campsites

Most of the campsites we noticed had good tree cover and reasonable privacy although a few were definitely smaller than others and/or placed in very close proximity to each other – particularly some on the inner loops.  My parents stayed in site 43, which was right next to one of the bathrooms – I mean right next to it.  The outdoor bathroom light was on 24/7 and had consistent traffic.  It did not feel very private but fortunately for them, they spoke with the Campground Host and they were kind enough to move them to a different site after one day.

A good perspective of the gravel drive we set up on. The area behind the chairs and under the hammocks or where the picnic table is were the only possible locations for a tent. Ours wouldn’t fit.

We had site 104, and even though it was on an inner loop, it appeared to be one of the larger sites with excellent privacy and a good sized gravel drive.  Unfortunately, the designated tent area was too small for our REI Kingdom 6, even without the Tech Garage vestibule, so we had to adapt and ended up using the gravel drive to set up on.  Fortunately, it was flat but I bent a few stakes due to the drive being so densely packed with gravel.  Using the drive, we had plenty of room for the tent and Nemo Bugout.

Our view from the campsite, particularly looking south where you had an unimpeded view of Grinnell Point, was awesome.  That being said, I imagine that many of the sites had excellent views of some sort, whether it be of the mountains or Swiftcurrent Creek.

We had a good number of trees in the campsite that provided shade, privacy, and a place to hang hammocks, which we did.  As we were setting up, a Ranger came by on her rounds and let us know that you could only have a max of two hammocks hanging from a tree.  One of our neighbors had a stack that was three high and were forced to take one down and put it up in a different location.

As with most popular NPS campgrounds that are in bear country, you must store all food and cosmetic items in bear proof containers or a hard sided vehicle.  Our campsite had its own bear box, which was a first for us, we had only seen communal bear boxes prior to this.

Mountain Goats & Bighorns & Bears, Oh My!

While in Many Glacier, we saw mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, marmots, and lots of bears.  I’m not kidding when I say that we saw bears every single day we were at Many Glacier.  The parking lot of the Swiftcurrent Inn almost always had a crowd of people with spotting scopes and binoculars looking at the mountain slopes to the north fir bears.  Ricky managed to get a few grainy shots of them using a 300mm lens, which was definitely exciting.  One morning we had a Ranger point out fresh bear scat on the asphalt path that led to Swifcurrent Motor Inn – she said it was most likely from the pre-dawn hours as a grizzly came through the campground.  Suffice to say, there are a lot of bears here.

A female grizzly walks behind our campsite in Many Glacier Campground. She had three cubs with her!

There is a downside to this.  The campground can occasionally close to tent campers.  This means that only hard sided vehicles are allowed in the park – cars, trailers (not soft sided pop-ups, and RVs.  If you have a reservation or are at the campground and are tent camping when this happens, the park tries to move you to a different campsite within the park.  Your other option is to sleep in your car at the site.  Just two weeks before we arrived, Many Glacier had been closed to tent campers; you had to be camping in a hard-sided trailer, RV, or vehicle due to an incident with a male grizzly in the campsite.

As it turns out, one morning we had an epic encounter with a grizzly bear sow and 3 of her cubs.  They actually entered our campsite just after we had woken up, which made for one of the most memorable moments of any trip

Swiftcurrent Creek

Sitting in the hammock overlooking Swiftcurrent Creek was a nice way to relax after a hike. It runs next to the campground and is accessible by a number of paths.

Swiftcurrent Creek runs next to the campground with the campsites located on the outer southern loop being next to the creek and there a few well used trails that lead from the road to it.  The water is relatively shallow and pretty cold but our kids loved walking around and splashing in the creek and Natalie and I set up our chairs or hammocks along the bank and relaxed.

I was surprised that I didn’t see anyone fishing the entire time we were there.  I am assuming that there are trout in the creek since Ricky found one of their favorite foods – a sculpin.

Ricky found what we think is a sculpin in the creek. We were pretty sure it was dead but we put it back anyway.

Hiking

Being in Many Glacier puts you within walking distance of some of the best and most popular hikes in the park, which means you don’t have to worry about parking!  This is a huge benefit that I cannot stress enough because finding parking at popular trailheads can be a huge pain in the you-know-what.  We were able to hike from our campsite to Grinnell Glacier, which was awesome.  We had planned on doing the Iceberg Lake trail as well but it was closed due to bear activity.  We also did a few shorter hikes out of the Many Glacier area.

At the top of Grinnell Trail. Grinnell Glacier, Salamander Glacier, and Upper Grinnell Lake are in the background.

I will be posting about the Grinnell Glacier hike in a separate article in the future.

Things We Loved

  • The entire Many Glacier area is incredible.  It is be best campground we have ever stayed at.
  • The views from the campground are incredible.  You are surrounded by mountains, which creates a very epic feel.
  • Swiftcurrent Creek runs right next to the campground and is easily accessible (although the water is cold).
  • There are wildlife viewing opportunities galore.  During our stay we saw: grizzly bears (in the campground and our campsite), mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, squirrels, fish, deer, and more.
  • Some of the most popular hikes in the park have a trailhead in Many Glacier. This means you don’t have to worry about parking, which is a huge benefit.
  • The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn is less than a 5 minute walk away.  You can get almost anything you need there.
  • Bathrooms are clean and showers are very close.
  • All campers were very respectful of quiet hours and we experienced no issues with generators running after hours.

Things to Consider

  • A few of the campsites are in very close proximity to the restrooms, which are brightly lit, have regular traffic, and create noise – doors closing, water running, etc.
  • Getting a reservation at Many Glacier Campground is very difficult in the peak season – there is a lot of luck involved.  If you want a reservation, you will need to be checking the reservation website on a very regular basis.
  • Getting a first-come, first-serve campsite in peak season will require you getting in line at the campground entrance very early (like pre-dawn) in the morning.
  • Due to the fact that Many Glacier sees so much bear activity, it can sometimes be closed to tent campers.

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