When you’re staying in West Glacier, it’s easy to get tunnel vision around the vistas of Glacier National Park. But once you’ve scored your entrance tickets and had time to drink in all that Glacier has to offer, there are plenty of other public lands to discover.
State parks are a bargain both for Montana residents and nonresident visitors. Residents pay their state parks fee when they register their vehicles, so their license plate is their park pass. Nonresidents can pay $8 for the vehicle for the day and get into as many parks as they can make it to. Or ask about the seven-day pass or the annual pass if you’re planning to spend more time in Montana.
And then 56 state parks are waiting for you. Not sure where to start? Here are six of our favorite state parks within an easy drive of West Glacier.
For views of the entire Flathead Valley without having to walk far from the parking lot, Lone Pine is the place to be. Drive up to the visitor center on top of the hill, where you’ll find activity tables for kids and interpretive displays. From there, there’s an ADA-accessible paved path to a viewpoint, or you can take the dirt trail to the very top. If you want to take on more of a hike, there are 7.5 miles of trail in total. And if you bring your own bow, you can hike up to the free archery range to practice your shooting.
At the edge of Bigfork, the Wayfarers Unit of Flathead Lake State Park is the perfect spot to hang out on a summer evening on the rocks that rise above the water. It can get busy on summer days, so we’d challenge the strong of heart to a midwinter polar plunge instead.
On the west side of Flathead Lake (that’s the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi in the continental United States, for those wondering) West Shore might be small, but two miles of hiking trails lead to some of the biggest views you can get of Flathead Lake.
A herd of wild horses and record-setting bighorn sheep are just the start at Wild Horse Island. Pets need to stay at home, and you have to find your own way to cross the water—whether it’s by charter, motor boat rental, or a paddle-powered vessel. But it’s worth the trek to explore this unique park.
The newest state park, Somers Beach borders a federal wildlife protection area on the north end of Flathead Lake. In the winter, walk the wide-open shoreline. In the summer, cool your feet in the shallow water and see how far you can walk from shore before you can’t touch the bottom. The CSKT Dam controls the water level of the lake, raising it to a full pool for summer recreation. So where it was sandy in the cooler months, you’ll find a few feet of water in summer.
If you make a day trip to Whitefish, explore the town, wander the city’s trails, and check out Whitefish Lake from the state park. Launch your own boat, swim from the shore, or rent kayaks and paddleboards from the rental booth, open June 15 to Labor Day.
West Glacier isn’t just your gateway to the national park: it’s also an ideal jumping-off point for the rest of the region. Book your stay, and explore.