Glacier Outdoor Center Blog

Posted: June 8th, 2014 by Jeff

Early Season Hiking in Glacier National Park

Early season visitors often ask us, what are some hiking options in Glacier National Park when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed? While having the road open does give you easier access to many more hiking opportunities, there are still plenty of other options while the road is still being worked on in the early season. This week, we are going to cover three options for the West Side of Glacier National Park. From an easy level to more difficult, these three hikes all provide some unique view of Glacier National Park.

Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park

Johns Lake Loop
Trail Head – Johns Lake Trail head, 1.3 miles east of McDonald Lodge on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Distance – 1.9 miles
Difficulty – Easy

Johns Lake Loop is a short loop through a quiet old-growth forest of cedars that features glimpses of Lake McDonald, Johns Lake, McDonald Creek and two beautiful waterfalls called Sacred Dancing Cascades and McDonald Falls. At the beginning of the hike will be a fork in the trail. To continue to Johns Lake, take the left fork. A short while longer will be another fork in the trail. Going right at this fork will bring you to Johns Lake with a pretty view of Stanton Mountain in the background. There is also a great chance to see wildlife in this area. After leaving the lake and returning to the main trail, stay left to continue the loop. Eventually you will cross the Going-to-the-Sun Road on the trail towards Sacred Dancing Cascade, McDonald Creek and finally McDonald Falls before finishing the loop right back at your vehicle.

Avalanche Lake
Trail Head – Begin on the Trail of the Cedars Trail head which leads to the Avalanche Lake Trail head.
Distance – 4.6 miles
Difficulty – Moderate

Avalanche Lake is a wonderful hike which takes you through old growth forest and travels along Avalanche Gorge the entire way until you finally reach Avalanche Lake. Avalanche Lake hike has medium grade steepness throughout most of its duration and eventually flattens out towards the top as you reach the lake. Upon approaching Avalanche Lake the trees open up to reveal a beautiful backdrop of Bearhat Mountain with multiple water falls cascading down. At this point the main trail to the top has been completed. If you would like to continue on towards the head of the lake, follow the off beaten trail alongside the western shoreline.

Apgar Lookout

Apgar Lookout
Trail Head – Half a mile past the West Entrance of the Park, turn left on the road for Apgar lookout and continue over the bridge until you reach the trail head sign.
Distance – 7.1 miles
Difficulty – Hard

Apgar lookout provides great views of Lake McDonald, Middle Fork of the Flathead River and Apgar Lookout Tower. The hike begins in the trees but quickly transitions to the burned (2003, Robert Fire) areas as you gain elevation. From the start of the burned area to the ridge just below the lookout is just less than 3 miles.  The Lookout Tower was built in 1929 and is no longer in use today and is considered a National Historic structure.

These three hikes are great choices for early season visitors. They are all accessible in the early season when the road is not fully open.  Remember when hiking in Glacier National Park, carrying bear spray is always a good idea. The bears have all waken up from their long winter sleep and are regularly seen in the Park. For more information on hikes or to pick up any gear you might have left home, visit Glacier Outdoor Center located at 12400 U.S. 2, West Glacier, MT 59936, just ½ mile before the Going-to-the-Sun Road turnoff.

Posted: May 16th, 2014 by Jeff

With the 2014 Flathead River spring runoff well on its way it saddens us to wave goodbye to another year of incredible spring fishing.  It’s time to take off your wading boots, pack up your rod and wait out the brown, dirty water until it returns to its majestic blue color…..or is it?

Just because the Flathead River is blown out and looks more like Willy Wonka’s chocolate river than anything else, it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other places teeming with hungry fish. If you don’t want to wait out the river, check out some of these other great alternatives during high water.

Mission Lake

Mission Lake is located just off U.S. Highway 2 between Browning and Cutbank on the Blackfeet Reservation so make sure you pick up your tribal license before you leave town. When spring begins to melt the ice from Mission Lake, the Rainbows move to the shoreline to begin their annual spawning. Less than a stone’s throw from the shore will be some beautiful 3 to 8lb Rainbows hungry for scud, egg, worm and prince patterns. Also, don’t be afraid to throw out some leeches and small buggers.  If you are looking for some red hot fly fishing for Rainbow Trout, head to Mission Lake between mid-April until the end of May on a nice day. When going over to the east side, always be prepared to deal weather changes and high winds

Rogers Lake

Rogers Lake is located roughly 30 minutes west of Kalispell and is just under 250 acres. It has a great population of Grayling along with some Cutthroat Trout.  Grayling are a unique fish from the salmon family, range from 10 to 16 inches in length and have quite the history with anglers throughout the world. They were once highly pursued to suppress their numbers because they were thought to have impeded trout from inhabiting certain areas of rivers and streams. Later research showed Grayling and Trout actually have different diets and inhibited different micro sections of rivers, streams and lakes. Enough with the history lesson though. Let’s get down to business. You can access Rogers Lake with a drift or small motored boat. Callibaetis mayfly patterns, Prince nymphs and Damsel nymphs will all work well. Like the other waters in this article, Rogers Lake is a great option for when the local rivers are blown out. It also has the added benefit of being very user friendly for anglers just getting into the game.

Fly Fishing, Rogers Lake, Grayling, Montana

Lower South Fork Flathead River

The Lower South Fork of the Flathead River is not quite as renowned as its counterpart above the Hungry Horse Reservoir but when the rest of the Forks and Main Stem of the Flathead River are all blown out, the Lower South Fork has the one benefit of being dam controlled which keeps the river fairly clear even when the others are muddy.  Because the water is pulled from the bottom of the reservoir, you’ll want to wait for a warmer sunny afternoon to raise the water temperature a few degrees. After a few weeks of high water, the Trout start getting better acclimated and begin feeding more aggressively.  Look for slow moving water along the banks to throw your mayflies and prince nymphs or a large rubber-leg.     

Posted: March 21st, 2014 by Jeff

Flathead Valley Sportsman's Expo

The Montana Sportsman’s Expo proved to be another successful event for Glacier Raft Company, Glacier Anglers and Glacier Outdoor Center.  This year we had our largest booth yet, showcasing our new AIRE rafts, paddle boards and the latest and greatest in camping and fly fishing gear.  We also got a chance to present some of our 2014 specials for spring fishing, summer rafting and our premiere Great Bear Wilderness trips. Best of all, we got to visit with our friends, mingle with the Flathead Valley community and share some of our knowledge about rafting and fishing the Flathead Rivers.

This year we came fully loaded with door prizes, half priced fishing and camping gear and loads of raffles, all supporting scholarships for our third annual “Fun on the Fly” youth fishing camp. Each year, Glacier Anglers gives out 10 scholarships to children aged 10-16 for a one day fly fishing camp where aspiring anglers have a chance to learn how to tie knots, cast fly rods, learn the different types of flies and of course, catch fish. The camp is being held at the ponds behind the Glacier Outdoor Center on June 8th and June 21st. The prizes and raffles consisted of a full day fly fishing trip, an Orvis Clearwater Rod and Access Reel, an Orvis fly fishing pack loaded with flies, tippet, leader, floatant, nippers and forceps.  A big congratulation goes out to our winners: Melissa K, Gerry B, Bruce C, Kevin G and all of our youth camp scholarship winners. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Another one of our show stoppers was a brand new AIRE raft and NRS full fishing frame that we priced specially for the Sportsman’s Expo. This year the raft and frame package sold in a record twenty minutes. If you didn’t get a chance at it this year, we will be doing it next year as well. If you can’t wait for next year, we have great AIRE raft specials going on right now and a huge selection of NRS frames to go with them. AIRE rafts are the best in the industry and are the only type of raft that Glacier Raft Company uses. They are incredibly durable, self-bailing and best of all, made in the USA. Stop in the Glacier Outdoor Center’s AIRE showroom to see different models and colors.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit the Montana Sportsman’s Expo, put it on the list for next year. It’s a wonderful event held at the Kalispell Fairgrounds and it gives the whole family a chance to get out of the cold and start thinking about all the fun activities to do in the Flathead Valley once the snow thaws.

Posted: March 3rd, 2014 by Jeff


The temperature and also the chance I will go fishing today. It is not that West Glacier isn’t beautiful in the winter. Really, it’s one of my favorite times to be up here. You have the place all to yourself, no one is out and about, and every spot on the river is yours.

That being said it’s zero. Everyone has their limitations, mine is 34 degrees. 34 lets you fish without deicing your guides every minute. It lets a bit of a hatch come off, and allows you to not get frostbite from the wind chill. But today is NOT 34 degrees, it’s zero.

The good news is that we have been getting a great amount of snowfall this winter. Skiing has been good, and lots of snow pack means that the Middle Fork and North Fork will have water throughout the summer. But that seems so far away when you are looking at the thermometer out the window and it says zero.

March is here though, and while it can be cold, the pre-runoff can be very good. Just you on the river, with your friendly guide of course. The fish pod up and some of the rainbows from the lake start moving up. While it’s cold, it’s a great time to be out here.

So while it’s zero, we are still in the shop, ready to talk fishing for this month or the next and help you get some dates booked for this summer. Summer, that time of the year, when fish eat big dry flies, sip emergers and when it’s not “zero.”

By: John Malison

Spring fly fishing Glacier National Park


Posted: December 17th, 2013 by Jeff

Country Magazine has just listed the iconic road of Glacier National Park in their “2013′s Best Scenic Roads List.” If you have not yet experienced the exquisiteness of Glacier National Park, it’s time you started thinking about it.

Located in northwest Montana, Glacier National Park is a place of beauty and makes up the center of one of the largest and most intact ecosystems in North America known as the “Crown of the Continent.” In the heart of Glacier National Park, winding 50 miles through its rugged peaks lays Going-to-the-Sun Road. This road is the marquis attraction of the park and a piece of engineering brilliance. It travels from West Glacier, through Logan’s Pass at 6,646 feet, to East Glacier and provides some of the most incredible views you will ever see. It’s the only American roadway to be designated both a National Historic Landmark and a National Civil Engineering Landmark.

Going-To-The-Sun Rd

Going-To-The-Sun Rd Glacier National Park

Going-To-The-Sun Rd Montana

Each year crews work tirelessly in the spring on Going-to-the-Sun Road plowing the snow which can get as deep as 80 feet in some places. They usually begin plowing in early April and don’t complete the entire road until mid to late June. One section of the road that is slightly longer than a mile known as the “Big Drift” can take almost a month to plow. That’s a lot of snow!

Snow Plowing Glacier National Park Glacier Raft Company

Snow Plowing Glacier National Park

Snow Plowing Glacier National Park West Glacier

If you’re headed to Glacier National Park this summer, you won’t be disappointed. There is incredible scenery and an endless amount of outdoor activities like hiking, camping, whitewater rafting, fly-fishing and bicycling. There are also a number of quaint towns a short drive from the park where you will find nice shops, restaurants, breweries and nightlife. A few of those towns are West Glacier, Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Bigfork.

If you are planning your trip to the Park, contact Glacier Raft Company and Glacier Anglers. We have modern rustic log cabins located 1/2 mile from the West Entrance to the Glacier National Park and offer whitewater rafting and fly fishing trips daily. You can visit our website at or give us a call at 1-800-235-6781.

Posted: October 25th, 2013 by kali

You may have noticed the hillsides turning yellow.  Thankfully, it is not the bark beetle in action, and the trees are not dying.  These yellow-needled trees are Western Larch trees, otherwise known as Tamaracks.

western larch needles

Tamaracks are the only deciduous conifers in the west.  They are related to the Eastern Larch which is East of the Mississippi. The largest Western Larch is actually located in Seeley Lake, MT.

western larch in the fall

Western Larch are one of the only deciduous cone-baring trees that lose their needles.  They are also highly sought out for firewood because they burn hotter and they are easy to split.

glacier park

During the spring, Western Larch are a lighter green and eventually turn a dark green so they are hard to distinguish from the rest of the forest. In the fall, after the aspens and cottonwoods have lost their leaves, Western Larch needles lose their chlorophyll and turn yellow. Eventually all the needless fall to the ground and they are left bare for the winter.

cabin and larch

So, this fall take a moment to view these magnificent Western Larch colors. They are quite a sight and cover many mountains around Glacier Park and the Flathead Valley.

western larch in montana

Reference -

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Posted: October 21st, 2013 by kali

The trees begin to loose their leaves and businesses close for the season. But the fall colors are too good to miss!

West glacier fall

West Glacier Montana

Going to the sun road in fall

Posted: October 17th, 2013 by kali

The beginning of October has graced us with a heavy dusting of snow in the higher elevations.

glacier park

The peaks of Glacier National Park were simply beautiful this morning.


What a spectacular show from mother nature these past few days have been!

Posted: October 4th, 2013 by kali

We were able to make it into Glacier National Park one last time before the Government Shutdown.  And what a sight it was!  Going-to-the-Sun Road has not been open this late into fall for some time because of construction.  Here is a look at the photos we took while driving up the GTTSR to The Loop.





Posted: September 30th, 2013 by kali

Check out our guest writter Alanna Sobel of The National Park Foundation! We’re honored to post her contribution to our blog.

Fall Activities in Glacier National Park


Vacationing in Glacier National Park in the fall definitely has its advantages.  Summer is the peak tourist season and scheduling your vacation for September or later allows you to avoid the crowds and have many of the spectacular sights to yourself.  Traveling to Glacier National Park in the fall does require some pre-planning, but many of the destinations in the park offer gorgeous autumn palettes as a reward to those willing to brave the unpredictable weather.

When exploring Glacier National Park in the fall, self-sufficiency is very important.  It is vital to pack enough water and food for all members of your party as many of the outposts and visitor centers will be closed. Inexperienced hikers may prefer to visit during other times of the year.  However, for experienced hikers or independent travelers, autumn can offer the least amount of traffic and best opportunities to view the park’s wildlife as they actively prepare for winter.

Many Glacier is the ideal location to view the stunning glaciers the park is known for.  Given scientific predictions and the current state of climate change, many people expect the famous glaciers to disappear within the next 30 years.  Many Glacier is a refuge for those who wish to see the impact of these ancient glaciers before they are only a memory. It is also a good spot for viewing black and grizzly bears who are preparing for winter by feasting on the lush fauna.

For kayakers and canoeists that brave the park in fall, the crystal lakes of Two Medicine beckon for a dip before winter.  Once the heart of the park, this area is significantly less traveled now that most visitors focus on the Going-To-The-Sun Road.  This area is a favorite for birders and photographers thanks to its panoramic vistas.  Its thunderous waterfalls are a sight to behold and temp boaters and kayakers to explore Two Medicine’s pristine waters.

For history buffs, St. Mary Valley offers the opportunity to explore ancient homelands of the Kootenai, Blackfeet, and Salish tribes.  When the visitor’s center is open, tribe members perform drumming and dancing events for visitors and many tribal elders participate in speaking events highlighting the rich history of the tribes.  After the center closes for the season, intrepid explorers can take it upon themselves to set out and explore these ancient forests. The diverse habitat highlights the ingenuity of the tribes who have carved out a homeland and rich lifestyle in this vast alpine valley.

Persistence pays off for visitors willing to brave Glacier National Park in the latter half of the year.  The decrease of visitors and the stunning seasonal change is a treat for travelers willing to march to their own beat.  Beautiful and uncluttered valleys, as well as wide-open waters await travelers visiting the park in the fall, before they settle under the next season’s snowfall.


Alanna Sobel is a writer for the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks. In partnership with the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation enriches America’s national parks and programs through private support, preserving our country’s heritage and inspiring generations of national park enthusiasts. To learn about our national parks or to find out how you help, visit