Tips for Accessibility in Glacier National Park

September 22, 2021

Tyler sitting in his wheelchair looking at MacDonald Lake in Glacier National Park

How adventurous are you? Our readers, Steve, Tyler, and Teresa are daring to reinvent their lives. They bought an RV, moved to Utah, and have decided to create a life of adventure as they travel through America’s National Parks.  

Tyler is a 25-year-old with Cerebral Palsy. He’s a triplet with two sisters and also two older brothers. He and his parents love to see new things and are trying to find the best ways to enjoy the beauty of National Parks.   

Their RV has a wheelchair lift, so that makes it easy for them to roll on short notice! Right now they don’t tow a vehicle but are learning that it may be necessary for the future.   

I asked Teresa to share about her family’s latest adventure to Glacier National Park.  

What Are the Park Fees for People With Disabilities? 

The first thing we did was get a National Parks Access Pass. It’s a lifetime pass for people with permanent disabilities. There was a small $10 fee to process it, otherwise, it’s free to get into any National Park for Tyler’s lifetime. Find out more about passes here and purchase an access pass in their store. You may also obtain this pass with no fee at a site that issues passes. Regular annual park passes are $80 and, from what I’ve seen, it’s typically $35 for a seven-day pass. Each park is different, so be sure to check ahead.  

This summer we decided to go to Glacier National Park in Montana. It’s a World Heritage Site featuring rugged rocky mountains that have been formed by glaciers, old cedar forests, alpine meadows, and some of what must be the cleanest freshest water you’ve ever seen.  

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier NP

 

Tell Us About Getting Into the Park. Any Tricks We Need to Know?  

To start we had to get a pass to the “Going to the Sun Road.” The main road that goes through the heart of the park. You don’t want to miss out on this. You can get a pass months in advance, but we didn’t. They leave about 25% of the passes for you to reserve up to 2 days before you want to enter and the pass is good for 7 days.  

We learned if you want to purchase passes on the National Parks website that you need to use Google Chrome as your browser and refresh 10 seconds before the tickets go on sale. We didn’t have this advice yet and weren’t so lucky even though we got on right at 8:00 a.m. But you can enter the park every day before 6:00 a.m. and after 5:00 p.m. without a pass. So that’s what we did both days that we were there.  

We loved our evenings in the park on the road. We entered from West Glacier and much of the traffic was coming out of the park as we were heading in and we always had parking anywhere we wanted to stop, and minimal traffic, which I understand is not always the case.   

Were All Roads Inside Glacier NP Open to Your RV? 

There are no RV’s allowed on the “Going to the Sun Road.”  We rented a car in Kalispell, Montana at Glacier Park International Airport and used it to get around the park for a few days. The airport was 35 minutes from our KOA campsite. Tyler has a power wheelchair and we were unable to rent a van with a lift so we brought his travel chair along.  

Tell Us About Your Favorite Wheelchair-Accessible areas in Glacier National Park. 

There were seven stops we made where Tyler got out to explore. These were easily accessible by both his wheelchair and even his power wheelchair if we’d had it, which is much wider.  

Steve, Teresa & Tyler at Logan's Pass

Logan's Pass 

One of our favorite spots where Tyler could get around easily and spend some time was Logan’s pass. This is a great spot if you’re with other people because the path is accessible up to a point where others can break off and hike to overlook Hidden Lake or hike all the way to Hidden Lake.  

If we had been with a group, Tyler could have been involved for the first part of the hike. There were also other paths with descriptive displays to read there and a little store that had closed before we got there.   

 

Teresa and Tyler on Trail of the Cedars path

Trail of the Cedars 

Our next favorite spot for Tyler was the “Trail of the Cedars”. It had a much different vibe and seemed like a completely different ecosystem. There was a .8 mile walk on a boardwalk that meandered through some very old towering trees. It’s described as a cedar/hemlock forest, with a pristine clear creek running nearby.  

This trail is like the other where it breaks off to a different hike which would not be accessible for Tyler in a wheelchair but fun for others. It went to Avalanche Lake. We stopped at one of the several benches available along the path and watched and listened to the creek go by. I’d love to add that setting and the quietly rushing, babbling creek to my Calm App and listen to it every day. The only thing missing was the moose that I had hoped would come and get a  drink while we were watching.   

Two Dog Flats  

This is a big meadow bordered by trees that boast lots of wildlife sitings. We pulled up just in time for a Mother grizzly bear and her two cubs to be sighted. Lots of other cars started pulling up and as the bears were coming closer to the parking, we stayed in the car and watched through the window for safety reasons.   

 

Steve & Tyler at Wild Goose Island turnout

Wild Goose Island Turnout  

You will find Goose Island Viewpoint at a pullout on the lake side of the road about six and a half miles from St. Mary. The pullout is easily recognizable due to the large parking area and the number of photographers you likely will see there  

This point offers a breathtaking view of St. Mary’s Lake, Goose Island, and the surrounding peaks of Glacier National Park. It was indeed a beautiful spot to get a photo.  

Bird Woman Falls Overlook or the Loop  

There were lots of spots to get a view of the expansive scenery that you see climbing up the canyon. You cannot imagine the vastness of this area and no picture can do it justice, you have to see it for yourself! 

McDonald Falls  

McDonald Falls is located approximately 12 miles (19.3 km) from the West Entrance of the park. The parking area has a regular pullout and then one for disabled parking. There was an accessible ramp for a view of the Falls. The viewpoint is ADA compliant with a paved route that leads to the overlook.  

McDonald Falls, Glacier NP

McDonald Lake  

There are lots of pullouts to view Lake McDonald. About 7 miles from the West Glacier entrance/exit there is an accessible one with parking and a ramp down to a bench near the lake. We were able to push Tyler down a little further than that right onto the pebbled beach just in time for the sun to set.  

There was an accessible trail to a bench that looked out onto the water. It was a little further down to get to the beach and Steve decided Tyler’s chair could do that and pushed him a little bit farther. It was only about 5 feet further down a hill and you could determine if your chair can do that when you saw it.  

Hanging Out in West Glacier 

As we waited for the park to open our second day there, we hung out in West Glacier where there was a grill and ice cream shop, a few gift stores, a gas station, and a grocery store. There was a super cute miniature golf course that we didn’t try so I’m unsure how the wheelchair would have done there. It was definitely a stopping point for families.  

West Glacier was much smaller than I expected it to be. Tyler chose a T-shirt and enjoyed a Huckleberry shake. There was a tour for river running and shops for fishing outfitters in the area. We saw many others like it along the road from Kalispell to West Glacier.  

RV Camping in Glacier National Park 

The West Glacier KOA was fantastic. There was a diner where we had a steak and potatoes one night and some huckleberry pie. RV camping is new to me and this site seemed every bit as good as the one we stopped at on the way back from Indiana at Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills. We found lots of space and mature trees in each space.  

Because we were exploring the park in the evenings, we missed out on a campfire the night they finally lifted the fire ban. We were super tired when we got home but the stars were in abundance and there were two really low and bright “stars”. We checked them out with our Night Sky App and it was actually Jupiter and Saturn! 

Are there any places that were not wheelchair accessible?  

There were lots of places that were not accessible. We found that many stops had stairs or a wheelchair inaccessible trail. Apparently, there are accessibility brochures at the entrances to National Parks but I was unaware of that until the end of our trip. 

Next time I will ask at the visitor centers for a free guide to wheelchair accessible places in the park or visit the park website beforehand. Follow this link for the physical mobility page for Glacier National Park so you can plan ahead. .   

Thank you, Teresa Vincent, for sharing your visit to Glacier National Park in September 2021 with us!

As you can see from the pictures she shared, there are several different trail surfaces that are suitable for wheelchair access - from nicely paved paths to tricky (but doable) gravel lakesides. It seems that the National Park system as a whole is beginning to make more and more of these beautiful places ADA accessible, so check back on their individual park websites for future improvements. 

Tyler in his wheelchair looking our over McDonald lake at Glacier National Park






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