Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing

A lone skier heads up an unplowed road on cross-country skis
A lone skier heads up an unplowed road on cross-country skis



Glacier’s winter recreation opportunities are diverse, with trails and routes available for all skill levels. Weather conditions, as well as minimal park operations and services, can present challenges for many visitors. There are not many services available adjacent to the park, let alone within the park boundary.

Ski and snowshoe rentals can be found at various private businesses in surrounding communities, but there are no rental opportunities in the park. If you are interested in a guided tour, see a list of operators on our Guided Winter Activites page.

While recreating, make sure to adhere to winter-adapted Leave No Trace principles.


Guidelines for Safety

  • Most winter routes are not marked, so bring a good map with you.
  • Travelling on frozen lakes is very dangerous and is strongly discouraged.
  • Snowmobiles are not permitted anywhere in Glacier National Park.
  • Pets are not allowed on front-country trails, wilderness trails, or unplowed roads. Pets must always be leashed.
  • If hiking on trails in forested areas, be aware that snow conditions may vary, and tree wells are a concern.
  • Ice is common on roads and on heavily skied trails. Observe weather forecasts as your trip approaches to know what to expect.
  • Check for area and trail closures and current avalanche conditions, especially if you plan to go downhill skiing.
  • Survival during the long winter is difficult for wildlife, and human contact is a stressor. Apply wildlife safety protocols during all encounters.
  • Avoid hypothermia by drinking liquids, staying dry, carrying survival gear, wearing layers of clothing, and snacking frequently. Be alert to symptoms of drowsiness and confusion.
  • Weather is variable and differs between the several areas of the park. Check weather for regional differences between the west side, the east side, and the Continental Divide.
  • Cross-park trips involve extreme avalanche and terrain hazards and should be attempted only by experienced and well-equipped parties. Winter camping is limited, and permits are required for wilderness camping.
An illustration showing three potential routes across/around a potential avalanche path: safest (way above), safer (just above), and never (across the potential avalanche path)
Routes around potential avalanche paths can be safe, or risky.



Be aware of current avalanche conditions. Avalanches are a major danger and can be deadly.

  • Never stop in or beneath an avalanche path.
  • If caught in an avalanche, make swimming motions and fight to stay toward the surface.
  • Stay on low angle ridges and in thick stands of trees if travelling off the recommended routes listed below.
  • If you must travel on a steep slope, minimize your time in that location. Fasten all layers of clothing, put on a hat and gloves, loosen pack straps, remove ski pole straps, and cross one at a time.
  • Watch for signs of slope instability, including recent avalanche activity, shooting cracks in the snowpack, and "whumpfing" sounds. Stay off cornices and steep, open slopes, and stay out of gullies
  • Avalanche activity increases with a foot or more of new snow, snowfall of one inch or more per hour, sustained winds over 15 mph, and sudden changes in temperature.


Winter Recreation Hazards

Click a drop-down item below to learn more:


Enjoy Glacier’s Winter Landscape - Popular Routes

Before you head out, take into account your skiing ability and check with rangers for local weather and snow conditions. Severe weather, lack of snow, winter rains, or melting conditions can quickly alter the difficulty of any winter trip. Most ski routes are not marked. A topographic map will help. Plan to break trail on less popular routes. The Middle and North Forks of the Flathead River present major barriers to travel on the west side of the park. Skiing on frozen lakes is dangerous and not recommended. Skiers, snowshoers, and hikers are asked to maintain separate tracks and register at the trailhead registration boxes. Climbers should complete the Voluntary Climber's Registration form, available at ranger stations, Park Headquarters, and Apgar Visitor Center.

As winter snows start to melt, emerging vegetation is revealed. Please stay off these fragile areas. In spring, warming conditions greatly increase avalanche activity. Cross park trips contain extreme avalanche and terrain hazards and should be attempted only by experienced and well-equipped parties. A permit is required for backcountry camping.

Pets are not allowed on trails, unplowed roads, in the backcountry, or off leash. Snowmobiles are not permitted anywhere in Glacier National Park. Ice is common on roads and on heavily skied trails.
Ski trails in the Apgar/West Glacier area
Ski trails in the Apgar/West Glacier area


Apgar - West Glacier

The routes described in this area begin at two parking locations: the concession horse barn, reached by taking the first left off Going-to-the-Sun Road, past the West Entrance Station, and the road closure gate just beyond the McDonald Creek Bridge on the Camas Road.

Lower McDonald Creek

2 to 3 miles (3-5 km) round trip
The trail begins just south of the McDonald Creek Bridge. The best access is the summer bike/foot path. This entire area is a good place to explore on your own. The gentle terrain along lower McDonald Creek provides easy skiing through the forest with side trips along the creek.

Rocky Point

6 miles (9.6 km) round trip
Follow the same route as McGee Meadow Loop (described at right) until 0.2 miles north of the Fish Creek Campground. Take the McDonald Lake Trail on the right, just before the gate on the road. The trail winds down a short hill but the route is fairly level for the most part. Ski left at the first trail junction then right at the next one shortly thereafter. The forest opens as you approach Rocky Point, where there are beautiful views up and down Lake McDonald.

Apgar Lookout

10.5 miles (16.9 km) round trip
Park at the plowed area in front of the barn and follow the left fork of the unplowed road across the Quarter Circle Bridge. Take the right fork and follow the road ½ mile until the actual Apgar Lookout trailhead is reached. After an easy start, the trail steepens and climbing skins may be necessary for the trip if conditions are icy. The views are great from the lookout but this trail may be very difficult for beginning skiers.

Site of Old Flathead Ranger Station

10 miles (16 km) round trip
Park in front of the barn and follow the left fork of the unplowed road to the Quarter Circle Bridge (½ mile). The trail provides good views of the McDonald Valley, and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, before entering the forest. Take the left fork at the road junction 1 mile from the bridge. An exceptional view of the river is located 2.5 miles from the junction, 100 feet south of the road, across from an open hillside. One building of the old station still stands on the bluff above the confluence of the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River.

McGee Meadow Loop

11.5 miles (18.5 km) round trip
Take the right fork of the road at the closure and ski past the houses until the road turns to a trail. The trail soon joins the road to Fish Creek Campground and the Inside North Fork Road. Bear left past the campground. The improved road soon turns to a narrow climbing gravel road. From this point it is 3 miles to the first meadow. Continue over the crest of the hill to an orange marker identifing the trail to McGee Meadow. Ski along the northern edge of the meadow until you see the opening for the car pullout to the west, on the Camas Road. After a couple of short uphill sections, the route descends to the road closure. This trip can be done in either direction, but going up the Camas Road is more strenuous.

Ski trails along Upper McDonald and Avalanche Creeks
Ski trails along Upper McDonald and Avalanche Creeks


McDonald and Avalanche Creeks

Gentle terrain, generally ample snow, and easy access to wonderful winter scenery make this the most popular skiing area in the park. From West Glacier, follow Going-to-the-Sun Road for eight miles (12.9 km) along Lake McDonald, to Lake McDonald Lodge, where the winter road closure and parking area are located.

McDonald Falls

4 miles (6.4 km) round trip
Ski up the unplowed road 1.8 miles (2.9 km). Turn left and ski a short distance to the bridge over McDonald Creek for a view upstream to McDonald Falls.

Sacred Dancing Cascade

5.3 miles (8.5 km) round trip
Follow the route to McDonald Falls. Just across the bridge, turn right. Ski upstream one mile along the west bank of McDonald Creek. Cross the foot bridge over the creek. Turn right and follow the unplowed road back to Lake McDonald Lodge.

Avalanche Picnic Area

11.6 miles (18.6 km) round trip
The route up Going-to-the-Sun Road offers easy skiing and good views of McDonald Creek and the mountains surrounding the McDonald Valley. Avalanche Picnic Area is a good destination. Longer trips up the road are possible. The forested valley trails, especially along Sacred Dancing Cascade, are also popular. Snow conditions may be variable under the trees. Avalanche Lake is a popular destination with some steep narrow sections that can be difficult to ski up or down, especially when icy. The Trail of the Cedars is generally not good skiing.

Ski trails in the Polebridge Area.
Ski trails in the Polebridge Area.



The routes described follow the unplowed gravel roads originating at the Polebridge Ranger Station. Access to the area is via county road 486, running north from Columbia Falls. This road is infrequently plowed and skiers should check on local road conditions. Park on the east side of the North Fork Bridge at Polebridge Ranger Station.

Big Prairie

4 miles (6.4 km) round trip
Ski this mostly level route from the ranger station through the 1988 burn to a large natural meadow and return. Keep left at both road junctions. Highlights include views of the North Fork of the Flathead River, the Whitefish Range to the west, and the Livingston Range to the east.

Bowman Lake

12 miles (19.3 km) round trip
After leaving the ranger station go left at the first junction, then right at the second. Several hills on this route may be difficult when icy. The reduced forest canopy left by the 1988 burn provides excellent views of the mountains. The route continues through the forest to a spectacular view at the foot of Bowman Lake.

Covey Meadow

3 mile (4.8 km) loop trail
After leaving the Polebridge Ranger Station go right at the gate for approximately 100 yards, then turn left into the natural meadow. The route circles around to intersect with the Lone Pine Prairie trail at a high bank overlooking the North Fork of the Flathead. This trip offers an excellent outing for families with small children.

Lone Pine Prairie

6 miles (9.6 km) round trip
Ski right, at the first road junction north of the ranger station, over low hills to a natural meadow. This route affords views of the river, the mountains, and the 1988 burn. An easy trail leaves from the eastern edge of Lone Pine Prairie to Hidden Meadow (2.4 miles round trip).

A map showing Highway 2 and the Railroad on the right, and ski trailes extending to the left. Landmarks include Mile Marker 193.8, Bear Creek, and Three Bears Lake.
Ski trails around Marias Pass


Marias Pass

The area surrounding the summit of Marias Pass, locally called “Summit”, is a popular winter recreation spot for skiers and snowmobilers alike. The conditions may occasionally be very windy, but the snow can still be good here when other areas are not. Parking at the main lot by the monument is usually best although other areas may be blown or plowed free of snow.

Autumn Creek Trail

6 miles (9.6 km)
Autumn Creek is the most popular ski route in this area. The trail starts right at the summit of Marias Pass and crosses the railroad tracks before entering the park. Use caution when crossing this main line; removing skis is a good idea.

Look for the orange markers as you enter the trees as they will mark the trail’s location. Turn left at the first trail junction. The first section of the route follows the gradual grade of the trail until you reach the open section below Elk Mountain. The views of the mountains from this opening are spectacular but several avalanche paths cross this area and openings to the south. If you get off trail, or have to detour past areas blown free of snow, ski to the obvious drainage of Autumn Creek to the west. Here the route follows the right side of the creek. From the start of the creek drainage there are some steep hills and creek crossings which merit caution, especially in icy conditions. The route follows the trail to the railroad tracks again and then follows the steep access road to a pulloff at mile marker 193.8 on U.S. Highway 2.

Beginners may want to just ski the first part of this trail and explore the open areas along the beginning of the trail, especially the Three Bears Lake area.

Ski trails in the Two Medicine Valley
Ski trails in the Two Medicine Valley


Two Medicine Valley

The Two Medicine Road provides easy access to scenic skiing when snow conditions are good. On the east side of Glacier National Park snow deposition is strongly influenced by wind. Open areas may be blown free of snow any time of the winter.

Two Medicine Road

Mileage varies
Start skiing at the end of the plowed road (usually 4 miles/6.4 km north of the town of East Glacier) near the junction of U.S. Highway 49 and Two Medicine Road.

Popular destinations include: the park boundary, 6 miles/9.6 km round trip;
Running Eagle Falls, 10 miles/16 km round trip; and Two Medicine Lake, a strenuous and hilly 16 mile/25.7 km round trip.

Ski trails in the St. Mary area
Ski trails in the St. Mary Area


St. Mary

The main trailhead for these trails is the parking area near the 1913 Ranger Station. Take U.S. Highway 89 to the town of St. Mary. After entering the park, follow the signs to the 1913 Ranger Station. Winter backcountry camping permits may be obtained at the Hudson Bay District Office. Call ahead to ensure staff will be available to issue permits.

Beaver Pond Loop

~ 3 miles (4.8 km)
This route offers fine skiing through aspen, meadows, and mixed conifer stands in the rolling hills east of St. Mary Lake. The trailhead is near the historic 1913 Ranger Station.

Red Eagle Lake Trail

8 miles (12.8 km) round trip
Follow the old fire road, now called the Red Eagle Lake Trail, and ski through rolling terrain to the scenic bluff overlooking Red Eagle Creek. There are great views of the mountains along St. Mary Lake and the Red Eagle Valley.

Last updated: June 13, 2024

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PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936



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