Montana USA Northwest Travels

Glacier National Park: Red Bus Tour

Glacier National Park Red Bus Tour
Glacier National Park Red Bus Tour

It was my first visit to Glacier National Park and I wanted to absorb every ounce of touristy stuff I could. I booked a Red Bus Tour, which is probably one of the most touristy things you can do at Glacier. Although I like to drive most places, it was nice to hand the wheel over to someone else and take in the scenery.

We visited Glacier before the high season in May. Typically I love visiting places off season as there are fewer tourists, but this meant that the Red Bus Tours were running a limited schedule. We took the Huckleberry Mountain Tour as it was our only option from the west side of the park at this time of year. This tour runs from May 25th to June 19th and consists of a 3.5-hour tour. The tour is mostly driving with a few stops for photo opportunities and two spots to stretch your legs.

Glacier National Park Red Bus Tour
The Red Bus outside of Lake McDonald Lodge

What I was most excited about was riding around in the Red Bus, or known at Glacier NP as Reds. The drivers are known as “Jammers” who would jam the gears shifting on the mountains roads. A tricky transmission was the culprit for the jamming noise.

Glacier National Park Red Bus Tour
A view through the roof of the Red Bus

The buses’ history started in 1935, toting tourists around Yosemite National Park. The buses’ convertible tops and large capacity made for a great site-seeing vehicle. Other national parks followed suit along with Glacier, Yellowstone and Gettysburg National Battlefield, who operates two of Yellowstone’s original 98 buses. The Glacier buses received an overhaul in 2000-2002, converting some of them to use propane, instead of fuel, reducing the impact on the environment. The transmissions were also replaced from a manual to an automatic, thus removing the “jamming” sound. The changes are not visually noticeable and the body of the bus still looks as though it did in 1935, but now the buses fall in line with the overall mission of the National Parks Service:

The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.

The Huckleberry Mountain Tour picks up at 4 locations: Lake McDonald Lodge, Village Inn, West Glacier KOA and Apgar Transit Center, where we were staying. We boarded the bus along with a group of other people. It was crowded and I was sandwiched in the middle. Not the best location for photography, but the rollback top on the bus came in handy when we were stopped of course.  The rollback top allowed me to stand above my fellow tour mates and snap away photos to my heart’s content.

Glacier National Park Red Bus Tour
Lake McDonald

Our first stop was the west end of Lake McDonald. It was the classic spot to take a photo of the lake.

We traveled along the open portion of the Going To The Sun Road to the “end of the line”, stopping at Avalanche Creek, taking a stroll along the Tree of the Cedars. The rest of the road was closed due to snow.  The Avalanche Creek area is usually packed with people, but I do recommend stopping here and checking out the creek, even if you have to park in the campground overflow parking.

Glacier National Park Red Bus Tour
It’s funny, right?

The tour also took us out to the Huckleberry Mountain Nature Trail. Here we saw the devastation of the 2001 forest fire. I never like looking at burned trees, but I do find humor in this photo.

The tour finished up and dropped us back off at Apgar. It was an enjoyable tour however if you are visiting later in the year I would try to take a tour that takes you over the Going To The Sun Road. Although I have not taken that specific tour, I can say, not having to drive on this road and being able to take in the scenery would be a nice treat.

I have driven on the Going To The Sun Road a few times and always find myself either pulling over often or scrambling for the camera. It’s really unfortunate that Boomer’s legs don’t reach the peddles, otherwise I’d let him drive and I could take the photos 🙂

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16 replies on “Glacier National Park: Red Bus Tour”

I’ve been hoping to go to Glacier National Park. I love the buses! But like you, I would be stressed to be stuck in the middle and have my photos restricted. The roof is a nice option. Your Lake McDonald shot is beautiful! Thanks for the great insights!

Those busses are so cool looking! I’m definitely a fan of bus tours in national parks – If I’m not walking, it’s because I want to take pictures and appreciate the scenery, not concentrate on driving.

It is sad to see burned trees but according to the NPS fire is a necessity for having a healthy forest. As the forest grows it would choke itself out by not allowing sunlight to reach the ground through it’s dense trees – which not only impacts the plants growing but also the animals who eat those plants.

I love how the buses look. We saw some of these buses at Yellowstone but they weren’t running. What a cool way to see the park and not deal with the hassle of keeping your eye on the road and sightseeing. We haven’t made it to Glacier NP yet but hope to soon.

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