Glacier National Park Travel Tips: An Essential Guide

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Get essential Glacier National Park travel tips. Learn about the best time to visit Glacier National Park as well as Glacier National Park reservations, tours, food, lodging, and the best hikes. First time to Glacier National Park? You’re in the right place. After visiting numerous destinations, both foreign and domestic, the breathtaking scenery at Glacier National Park tops the list of stunning vistas. This list of essential tips includes commonly asked questions plus an itinerary for a 7-day visit, a 5-day visit, and a whirlwind 3-day visit to the park. Let’s get started with the Glacier National Park travel tips so you can start planning your adventure!

My Glacier National Park Backstory

I’ll admit, I was a little intimidated when planning our visit to Glacier National Park. The busiest times to visit are late July and early August, just when our visit was going to happen. Yikes! Also, I had heard the hikes were really tough. Bears sometimes roamed the trails. What was I getting into?

glacier national park travel tips and travel guide with lake and mountains pictured

Glacier National Park Was Amazing

After arriving home, our phones were overflowing with photographs and we had exciting stories to share. As a first-time visitor, what were some of my big takeaways? Here are my most valuable tips for first-time visitors to Glacier National Park, along with some commonly asked questions and recommended itineraries for three different lengths of visits.


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What Do I Need to Know Before Going to Glacier National Park?

Before visiting Glacier National Park, here are a few key things to know:

Weather and Seasons: Glacier National Park experiences a wide range of weather conditions throughout the year. Summers are generally warm with occasional thunderstorms, while winters are cold and snowy. It’s important to check the weather forecast before your trip and pack accordingly.

Road Conditions: Some of the park’s roads, such as the Going-to-the-Sun Road, may have restrictions or closures due to snowfall or maintenance. Check the park’s website or contact the visitor center for up-to-date road information.

Park Entrance Fees: Glacier National Park charges an entrance fee. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the current fees and payment methods before arriving at the park. Alternatively, consider purchasing an annual pass if you plan to visit multiple national parks in a year.

Lodging and Camping: The park offers various lodging options, including lodges, cabins, and campgrounds. These accommodations tend to fill up quickly, so it’s advisable to make reservations well in advance. If you plan to camp, familiarize yourself with the park’s camping regulations and availability.

Wildlife and Safety: Glacier National Park is home to diverse wildlife, including bears, moose, and mountain goats. It’s important to observe wildlife from a safe distance and never approach or feed them. Familiarize yourself with bear safety protocols and carry bear spray when hiking in bear country.

Hiking and Trail Conditions: Glacier National Park offers numerous hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties. Research and plan your hikes in advance, considering your fitness level and the trail conditions. Check for any trail closures or restrictions before setting out.

Leave No Trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles to help preserve the park’s natural beauty. Pack out your trash, stay on designated trails, and respect wildlife and vegetation.

Remember to consult the official Glacier National Park website or contact the visitor center for the most up-to-date information and any additional guidelines specific to your visit.

We didn’t decide to visit Glacier National Park until March, about 4 months ahead of our trip in late July. When we checked online to see if we could reserve a camping spot inside the park, all of the reservable spots were taken. The campground we were most interested in, Many Glacier, also has first-come, first-serve spots, but we didn’t want to take a chance and not have a place to stay. People really do line their vehicles up on the road and sleep in their cars while waiting for a campsite at Many Glacier to open up on any given morning. If you are interested in reserving a camping spot inside the park, check out the park website for information about Glacier National Park Reservations.

Other lodging options inside the park include the historic Many Glacier Hotel, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, and Lake McDonald Lodge. For a complete list of places to stay and their amenities, visit the U.S. Park Lodging website. We knew we would be camping, so none of those places were an option for us, but they might be just what you are looking for.

Glacier National Park Many Glacier Hotel Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun #go
The historic Many Glacier Hotel

Where did we end up? We made reservations at the St. Mary KOA just outside of the park on the east side. Filled with amenities, such as a pool and hot tub, pizza and ice cream, it was a great choice for us. Located about 1/2 mile outside of the village of St. Mary, it turned out to be a very convenient place to set up camp.

St. Mary KOA Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun
The St. Mary KOA at dusk

What are the Best Months to go to Glacier National Park?

The best months to visit Glacier National Park are typically from June to September. During this period, the weather is generally milder, and most of the park’s facilities, including campgrounds, lodges, and visitor centers, are open. Here’s a breakdown of the seasons:

Summer (June to August): Summer is the peak tourist season in Glacier National Park. The weather is pleasant, with average temperatures ranging from the 60s to 70s Fahrenheit (15-25 degrees Celsius) in the lower elevations. The Going-to-the-Sun Road, the park’s iconic scenic drive, is usually fully open during this time, allowing access to many popular areas. Trails are snow-free, and wildlife sightings are common.

Fall (September to October): Fall brings cooler temperatures and vibrant foliage colors, making it a picturesque time to visit the park. September can still have mild weather, but by October, temperatures drop, and some services and facilities start closing for the season. However, fall offers quieter trails and fewer crowds compared to summer.

When should you avoid crowds in Glacier National Park? Regardless of the season, weekdays tend to be less crowded than weekends. If your schedule allows, plan your visit for weekdays to avoid the weekend influx of visitors. Additionally, arriving early in the morning allows you to beat the crowds and secure parking spots at popular trailheads and viewpoints.

It’s important to note that even during the quieter seasons, certain areas and attractions within Glacier National Park, such as Logan Pass and popular hiking trails, may still see moderate levels of visitors. Being flexible with your itinerary, exploring lesser-known trails, and seeking out off-the-beaten-path areas can further enhance your chances of avoiding crowds and enjoying a more peaceful experience in the park.

How to Get to Glacier National Park

Here are some common ways to get to the park:

By Air: The nearest major airports to Glacier National Park are Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell, Montana, and Great Falls International Airport (GTF) in Great Falls, Montana. These airports offer domestic flight options. From there, you can rent a car or take a shuttle service to the park.

By Car: If you prefer driving, you can access the park via several entrances. The west entrance is near West Glacier, Montana, and can be reached via U.S. Route 2. The east entrance is near St. Mary, Montana, and can be accessed via U.S. Route 89. Both entrances connect to the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the park’s main scenic route. We drove our pickup with our camper on top. Once we were settled at our campsite, we offloaded the camper to make driving around the park easier. Going to the Sun Road does have a vehicle and vehicle combination length limit of 21 feet, so if you are pulling a travel trailer, it would be best to leave the trailer at the campsite before attempting the road. Vehicles over 10 feet tall may have difficulty navigating due to rock overhangs on the Going to the Sun Road as well.

By Train: Amtrak’s Empire Builder route connects Chicago, Illinois, and Seattle, Washington, with stops in West Glacier and East Glacier Park. This train service offers a scenic journey and can be a convenient option for those traveling from the Midwest or Pacific Northwest.

By Bus: Some tour companies and shuttle services offer transportation to Glacier National Park from nearby cities, such as Kalispell or Missoula. These services can provide a hassle-free way to reach the park, especially for those who prefer not to drive.

What is the Best Way to get Around Glacier National Park?

The best way to get around Glacier National Park is by a combination of personal vehicle, shuttle service, and hiking. Here are the main options for transportation within the park:

Personal Vehicle: Having your own vehicle gives you flexibility and convenience to explore the park at your own pace. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is the park’s scenic highlight, offering breathtaking views. However, be aware that parking can be limited at popular trailheads and attractions, especially during peak season. Arriving early in the day can help secure parking spots, especially at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Park personnel actively patrol the parking areas, and if there is a No Parking sign, you should take it seriously.

Shuttle Service: Glacier National Park operates a free shuttle system called the Going-to-the-Sun Road Shuttle. It runs along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and stops at various scenic viewpoints, trailheads, and visitor centers. The shuttle service helps alleviate traffic congestion and provides an eco-friendly way to navigate the park. Check the park’s website for the shuttle schedule and any updates on availability.

On Day 4 of our visit, we tackled the Highline Trail, starting at Logan Pass. We anticipated this would be the most challenging hike of our trip, and we were right.

The Highline Trail Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun #go
This was taken near the beginning of the Highline Trail. If you look closely, you can see the road down below and the cable along the rock wall for hikers to hold on to if needed. I held on.

Right before we made it to the Granite Park Chalet for a rest, we decided to challenge ourselves and hike up The Wall to look over Grinnell Glacier. It was the toughest .6 mile climb of my life, but it was worth it. Take a look at the view.

View of Grinnell Glacier from The Wall Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun #go

We knew we would have to meet one of the park’s free shuttles after we finished at a place called The Loop, and the shuttle would bring us back up to the Logan Pass parking lot. We were a bit apprehensive about this. Would we have to wait forever for a shuttle? Would there be room for us, as it would be in the middle of the day? Not to worry! When we finally made it to The Loop, we only had to wait five minutes before a nice, nearly-empty, air-conditioned shuttle pulled up. We were exhausted, sweaty and so grateful!

If you want to take a break from driving and would like to travel the Going to the Sun Road, I highly recommend the shuttles. The drivers do not provide narratives like the Red Bus jammers (love that nickname), but the views out of the windows are just as spectacular. Plus, with air conditioning, the ride is very relaxing.

Hiking: Glacier National Park boasts an extensive network of hiking trails, allowing you to explore its stunning landscapes up close. Lace up your hiking boots and embark on scenic hikes that suit your fitness level and interests. The park offers trails of various lengths and difficulties, ranging from easy strolls to challenging treks. Always carry a trail map, water, and essential supplies while hiking.

Glacier National Park Tours: Another option is to join guided tours offered within the park. These can range from interpretive bus tours to ranger-led hikes or boat cruises. Guided tours provide informative insights into the park’s natural and cultural history, and allow you to focus on the experience while leaving the logistics to the experts. Glacier National Park is home to a fleet of 33 vintage red buses which have undergone renovations to increase reliability. At first, we weren’t sure we wanted to spend the money on a tour when we could drive around ourselves. We decided to try out the East Side Alpine Tour, and we’re so glad we did. Our driver’s name was Jonathan, and he was excellent.

Glacier National Park Red Bus Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun #go
Beginning the Red Bus tour at St. Mary

 

If you choose to drive the Going to the Sun Road in the park, whoever is driving really has to pay close attention to the road. It’s tough to drive and appreciate the incredible scenic views. One of the big advantages to taking a Red Bus tour is that someone else is doing the driving.

Another huge plus, at least with our driver (called “jammers”, in Glacier National Park lingo) is the wealth of information to be learned from the driver’s narration as you progress along the route. In addition to sharing stories about the sights as we went along, our driver, Jonathan, encouraged questions from the passengers. Due to the questions asked, we learned about favorite day hikes, great places to eat, best places to see wildlife, and many more tips which helped shape our visit. A Red Bus tour, especially done at the beginning of your stay, is well worth the money, in my humble opinion.

Use a Hiking Map

One of the best investments we made near the beginning of our stay was a map called Day Hikes of Glacier National Park Map-Guide.

In addition to being available on Amazon, it was for sale in every camp store and visitor center we went into. It is an informative map and an amazing list detailing 88 different day hikes in order of the author’s preference. The author, Jake Bramante, was the first person to hike the entire 734 miles of trails in the park in one year. He accomplished this feat in 2011, and the resulting map is a very useful resource. We learned to pay attention to the elevation drop or gain as well as the length of the hike.

Do You Need Bear Spray in Glacier National Park?

Yes, it is highly recommended to carry bear spray when visiting Glacier National Park. The park is home to a significant population of grizzly bears and black bears, and encounters with bears can occur, especially when hiking or exploring backcountry areas.

Bear spray is a powerful deterrent that can help protect you in the unlikely event of a bear encounter. It is a pressurized canister containing capsaicin, a compound that creates a cloud of irritant particles when sprayed. The spray is effective in deterring bears and giving you time to safely retreat.

When carrying bear spray, it’s important to know how to use it properly. Familiarize yourself with the instructions and practice deploying the spray before your trip. Additionally, ensure the bear spray is easily accessible, such as attaching it to your backpack or belt.

While bear encounters are rare, it’s crucial to be prepared and follow bear safety guidelines. These include making noise while hiking to alert bears of your presence, staying at a safe distance if you spot a bear, and properly storing food and scented items to minimize attracting bears to your campsite.

Before our trip, we were advised by multiple people, including park rangers, to carry bear spray. Around the park you might see signs such as this one.

Glacier National Park Bear Warning Sign Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun #go

We can testify to the need for bear spray because we actually encountered a black bear on the trail we were using to hike to Grinnell Glacier. There were hikers in front of us on the trail who were closer to the bear than we were. They backed away and gave us a warning. Not wanting to become a statistic, we backed away as well, then as soon as we rounded a corner in the path, out of sight of the bear, we ran away from it down the trail. Here’s a brief shot of part of the incident.

The legs in the video belong to the hikers in front of us who first saw the bear. The bear was not being aggressive, but was using the same trail we were on. Berries were plentiful, and we were just in the way of the bear’s progress. After moving away from the bear for about 1/4 of a mile (stopping a few times to check to see if we were still being followed), we were relieved to see the bear turn and take a different route down towards Lake Josephine. We hikers (there was a group of about 10 of us by this time) scurried along the trail past where the bear had been and continued our hike.

Grinnell Glacier Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun #go
Grinnell Glacier was our destination. We did not see any bears when we hiked back down.

 

During the rest of our stay, we did see a few more bears while hiking, but we were able to observe them from a safe distance. We were grateful to be carrying bear spray the whole time, even though we never had to use it.

Start with an Easy Hike

In retrospect, we should have begun our hiking adventures with a less-demanding hike than the one to Grinnell Glacier. The Iceberg Lake hike begins in the same vicinity of the Many Glacier area, but is a much more gradual elevation gain. If we had it to do over again, we would begin with Iceberg Lake and save Grinnell Glacier for later in our visit.

Iceberg Lake Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun #go
We hiked to Iceberg Lake on Day 6 of our stay.

Take Days Off

Mindful of our middle-aged bodies, we chose to do a long hike about every other day. On the other days, we did shorter hikes or drove to new areas. One of the “off” days was spent hiking the wheelchair accessible Trail of the Cedars, then heading up a couple of miles to Avalanche Lake.

Avalanche Gorge Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun #go
The beautiful Avalanche Gorge on the way to Avalanche Lake

On the same day, we also drove to the historic Lake McDonald Lodge and had lunch at Eddie’s Cafe in Apgar Village. The Izaac Walton Huckleberry Club sandwich and the Going to the Sun Thai Wrap were delicious.

Eddie's Cafe Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun #go
Eddie’s Cafe in Apgar Village

On another “off” day, we drove over to the scenic Two Medicine region of the park, then experienced the grandeur of the historic Glacier Park Lodge in the town of East Glacier.

Glacier Park Lodge
The grand Glacier Park Lodge lobby

On our final “off” day, we drove north to the Chief Mountain region of the park, near the Canadian border, to view some majestic scenery.

Try the Local Cuisine

As previously mentioned, our Red Bus tour driver, Jonathan, was a wealth of knowledge about many subjects, including local eateries. His top recommendation was the Two Sisters Cafe. You can’t miss the pink building located on the highway between Babb and St. Mary. Every time we drove by during business hours, the parking lot was packed.

Two Sisters Cafe Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun #go
The Two Sisters Cafe

We ate dinner there the evening of the Grinnell Glacier hike when we were both wiped out. The bison burger was delicious, as was the pulled pork sandwich and coleslaw. I wanted to try the huckleberry-lemon bread pudding with huckleberry creme fraiche, but I was too full. If anyone does eat there and gives it a try, please let me know how it was!

One other bit of local cuisine I was looking forward to nearly as much as our visit to the park was the opportunity to eat Wilcoxson’s ice cream. My very favorite product from this Montana company is the huckleberry ice cream sandwich. When we first arrived in St. Mary, we looked and looked for them. Finally, my dear husband bought an entire box at the cute Park Store. My hero!

Huckleberry Ice Cream Sandwich
Since we had a whole box of these, my husband and I each had one a day during our stay. It was a sweet reward after a long day of hiking!

Listen to Recommendations from Employees and Other Visitors

I’ve already noted what a fountain of useful information our bus driver, Jonathan, was. There were other excellent sources of information as well. Our awesome waitress at Eddie’s Cafe clued me into the website called HikingInGlacier.com. She described the glorious color of Cracker Lake to us and showed us pictures. We didn’t make it there on this visit, but maybe next time.

10 essential travel tips for Glacier National Park Pinterest image

We also received wonderful advice from other campers in the hot tub at the KOA. There’s nothing like listening to another hiker’s first-hand experiences. Most of us in the hot tub were just normal middle-aged people with aching joints, not super-fit youngsters. If the guy sitting across from us recommended a hike, we knew we had a good chance at success.

What Should You Not Miss at Glacier National Park?

With 88 hikes listed in our Day Hike Guide, we knew we would only be able to experience a small sample of what Glacier National Park has to offer. On hiking days, we were driving away from the campground at about 6 A.M. We saw some spectacular early-morning sights and we avoided most of the crowds.

When visiting Glacier National Park, there are several iconic attractions and experiences you should not miss. Here are some highlights:

Going-to-the-Sun Road: This scenic drive is a must-do in Glacier National Park. Spanning 50 miles (80 km) through the heart of the park, it offers breathtaking views of mountains, waterfalls, valleys, and glaciers. Be sure to stop at Logan Pass to admire the scenery and possibly spot wildlife.

Hidden Lake Overlook Trail: Located at Logan Pass, this popular hike provides stunning views of Hidden Lake and the surrounding mountain peaks. The trail is around 2.7 miles (4.3 km) round trip and offers a chance to see alpine wildflowers and potentially encounter mountain goats.

Many Glacier: Explore the Many Glacier area, known for its picturesque lakes, towering mountains, and abundant wildlife. Take a boat tour on Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, or embark on scenic hikes such as Grinnell Glacier Trail or Iceberg Lake Trail.

Avalanche Lake Trail: This moderate, 4.5-mile (7.2 km) round-trip hike offers breathtaking views of Avalanche Lake nestled amidst mountains and old-growth forests. The tranquil lake is a perfect spot for a picnic or simply taking in the serene surroundings.

Lake McDonald: Enjoy the beauty of Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park. Take a scenic drive along its shores, go for a boat ride, or simply relax and soak in the stunning mountain reflections.

Many Glacier Road and Swiftcurrent Lake: Drive along the Many Glacier Road to soak in the spectacular scenery and keep an eye out for wildlife. Stop at Swiftcurrent Lake for serene views and the chance to rent a kayak or canoe.

Grinnell Glacier: For a more challenging but rewarding hike, consider the Grinnell Glacier Trail. This 10.3-mile (16.6 km) round-trip hike takes you through stunning landscapes, culminating in breathtaking views of the glacier and surrounding peaks.

Early morning in Glacier National Park Glacier National Park has stunning scenery, fabulous hikes, and abundant wildlife. Ride a boat, ride a bus, take a hike and take photos. Get back to nature, have some family fun and travel to this fantastic destination. Lodging tips, food tips and hiking tips are offered. Accessible and family friendly, this national park is amazing. #glacier#glaciernationalpark #travel #traveltips#familytravel #hiking #camping #nature#nationalparks #destinations #accessibletravel #travelwithkids #familyfun #go
This was one of the spectacular early-morning views we saw driving into the park.

 

How Many Days do You Need to Visit Glacier National Park?

To fully experience Glacier National Park, it is recommended to plan for a visit of at least 3 to 5 days. This time-frame allows you to explore the park’s scenic wonders, engage in various activities such as hiking, wildlife viewing, and scenic drives, and also provides flexibility to account for weather conditions and unexpected opportunities that may arise. However, if time permits, spending a week or more in Glacier National Park would allow for a more leisurely and immersive experience, enabling you to thoroughly explore its diverse ecosystems and take in the breathtaking landscapes.

We spent seven days in the park, completed six hikes, saw bears, elk, moose, mountain goats and one lone sheep. Although we visited during the busiest part of the season, the crowds were so spread out we hardly noticed. The only place which was a bit chaotic was the Logan Pass Visitor Center. If you want to be assured of a parking spot, arrive before 7 A.M.

Some people will have more time to spend in Glacier National Park than others, so here are three different itineraries based on the length of your stay. Maybe one of these itineraries will fit your needs.

Glacier National Park Itinerary 7 Days

A 7-day itinerary for Glacier National Park allows you to explore the park’s diverse landscapes, enjoy scenic drives, hike iconic trails, and immerse yourself in its natural beauty. Here’s a suggested itinerary:

Day 1: Arrival and Lake McDonald Area

– Start your trip by exploring the Lake McDonald area.

– Drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road, stopping at scenic viewpoints like McDonald Falls and Logan Pass.

– Take a short hike to Avalanche Lake or explore the Trail of the Cedars.

– Enjoy the sunset at Lake McDonald.

Day 2: Many Glacier Area

– Head to the Many Glacier area in the northeast part of the park.

– Take a boat tour on Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.

– Embark on a scenic hike, such as Grinnell Glacier Trail or Iceberg Lake Trail.

– Keep an eye out for wildlife like mountain goats and bears.

Day 3: Two Medicine Area and Scenic Drives

– Explore the Two Medicine area in the southeast part of the park.

– Hike to beautiful destinations like Scenic Point or Twin Falls.

– Take a scenic drive on the Chief Mountain Highway or explore the St. Mary Valley.

– Consider visiting the Museum of the Plains Indian for a cultural experience.

Day 4: Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada)

– Cross the border into Canada and visit the adjoining Waterton Lakes National Park.

– Take a boat cruise on Upper Waterton Lake to see stunning landscapes and wildlife.

– Hike the Crypt Lake Trail, known for its breathtaking views and natural wonders.

– Explore the charming townsite of Waterton and enjoy the local cuisine.

Day 5: Two Medicine or Logan Pass Area

– Return to Glacier National Park and spend more time in either the Two Medicine or Logan Pass area, depending on what you haven’t explored yet.

– Take a boat tour on Two Medicine Lake or hike to other scenic destinations.

– Visit Logan Pass if you didn’t have the chance on Day 1 and hike the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail.

Day 6: Many Glacier Road and Swiftcurrent Lake

– Drive along the Many Glacier Road, stopping at viewpoints and enjoying the scenery.

– Hike to Grinnell Glacier or choose from other scenic hikes in the area.

– Relax and take in the peaceful atmosphere at Swiftcurrent Lake.

Day 7: Going-to-the-Sun Road and Departure

– Spend your last day driving along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, starting early to beat the crowds.

– Stop at Logan Pass for a final glimpse of the stunning vistas.

– Enjoy any remaining hikes or viewpoints along the way.

– Depart Glacier National Park or extend your stay if you have more time.

Saint Mary Lake and wild Goose Island in glacier national park
Saint Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island at sunset

Glacier National Park Itinerary 5 Days

A 5-day itinerary for Glacier National Park allows you to experience some of the park’s highlights, take scenic drives, and enjoy hikes amidst stunning landscapes. Here’s a suggested itinerary:

Day 1: Arrival and Lake McDonald Area

– Start your trip by exploring the Lake McDonald area.

– Drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road, stopping at scenic viewpoints like McDonald Falls and Logan Pass (if accessible).

– Take a short hike to Avalanche Lake or explore the Trail of the Cedars.

– Enjoy the sunset at Lake McDonald.

Day 2: Many Glacier Area

– Head to the Many Glacier area in the northeast part of the park.

– Take a boat tour on Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.

– Embark on a scenic hike, such as Grinnell Glacier Trail or Iceberg Lake Trail.

– Keep an eye out for wildlife like mountain goats and bears.

Day 3: Going-to-the-Sun Road and Logan Pass

– Drive along the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road, focusing on the section between Lake McDonald and Logan Pass.

– Stop at viewpoints along the way, such as Weeping Wall or Jackson Glacier Overlook.

– Hike the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail at Logan Pass and explore the visitor center.

– Enjoy the scenic drive back to your accommodation.

Day 4: Two Medicine Area and Scenic Drives

– Explore the Two Medicine area in the southeast part of the park.

– Hike to beautiful destinations like Scenic Point or Twin Falls.

– Take a scenic drive on the Chief Mountain Highway or explore the St. Mary Valley.

– Consider visiting the Museum of the Plains Indian for a cultural experience.

Day 5: Scenic Drives and Departure

– Spend your last day taking in the park’s scenic beauty.

– Drive along additional sections of Going-to-the-Sun Road, stopping at viewpoints or trailheads you missed.

– Consider a short hike or enjoy a picnic in a picturesque location.

– Depart Glacier National Park with beautiful memories of your visit.

Glacier National Park Itinerary 3 Days

With a limited time of 3 days in Glacier National Park, it’s important to prioritize the park’s highlights and make the most of your visit. Here’s a suggested itinerary:

Day 1: Arrival and Lake McDonald Area

– Begin your trip by exploring the Lake McDonald area.

– Drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road, stopping at scenic viewpoints like McDonald Falls.

– Take a short hike to Avalanche Lake or explore the Trail of the Cedars.

– Enjoy the sunset at Lake McDonald.

Day 2: Many Glacier Area

– Head to the Many Glacier area in the northeast part of the park.

– Take a boat tour on Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.

– Embark on a scenic hike, such as Grinnell Glacier Trail (consider taking a guided hike for a more immersive experience) or the shorter, but equally stunning, hike to Hidden Lake Overlook.

– Keep an eye out for wildlife like mountain goats and bears.

Day 3: Going-to-the-Sun Road and Departure

– Spend your last day driving along the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road.

– Stop at viewpoints along the way, such as Weeping Wall or Logan Pass (if accessible).

– Enjoy short walks to points of interest, like Sun Point or Baring Falls.

– Depart Glacier National Park, taking in the scenic beauty one last time.

Can I Just Drive Through Glacier National Park?

Yes, you can drive through Glacier National Park and enjoy the scenic beauty along the park’s main road, the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Driving through the park allows you to experience the park’s highlights from the comfort of your vehicle. You can stop at various pullouts and viewpoints along the way to take in the scenery, snap photos, and appreciate the natural wonders.

Driving through Glacier National Park is a wonderful way to appreciate its scenic wonders, but to truly immerse yourself in all that the park has to offer, consider combining your drive with stops for short hikes, wildlife viewing, and exploring other areas of the park on foot.

Bonus Tip: Plan Something Fun on the Way Home

This post is quite long, but I must mention our post-Glacier adventure. We traveled west from the park, then south along the eastern, less-traveled shore of Flathead Lake. As we journeyed west into Idaho after passing through Missoula, we noticed zip line parks and waterparks along the way. Those would have been fun, but our goal was Walla Walla, Washington. We had heard of an awesome pizza place, Sweet Basil Pizzeria, and wanted to give it a try.

Sweet Basil Pizzeria, Walla Walla
Sweet Basil Pizzeria in the heart of charming downtown Walla Walla

The delicious gourmet pizza and interesting downtown location did not disappoint. The locally-brewed root beer was another plus. Eating at Sweet Basil helped ease our Glacier National Park withdrawal symptoms.

Is Yellowstone or Glacier Better?

Now that I have visited both Yellowstone and Glacier, I highly encourage you to try visiting both if you are able, as both parks offer unique and remarkable experiences. Here are some of the highlights and comparisons:

Scenic Beauty: Glacier National Park is renowned for its stunning mountain landscapes, pristine lakes, and glaciers. It offers breathtaking vistas, picturesque valleys, and iconic attractions like the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Yellowstone, on the other hand, features diverse geothermal features, including the famous Old Faithful geyser, vibrant hot springs, and the majestic Yellowstone River. It also encompasses the picturesque Yellowstone Lake and the impressive Yellowstone Canyon. The scenic beauty of both parks is exceptional, but the landscape varies.

Wildlife: Both parks are home to a wide range of wildlife. Yellowstone is known for its abundant populations of bison, elk, bears, wolves, and numerous bird species. It provides excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, including the famous Lamar Valley. Glacier National Park is renowned for its populations of grizzly bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and other species. Both parks offer opportunities to spot wildlife, but the specific species and their behaviors may vary.

Geothermal Features: Yellowstone is famous for its geothermal wonders, including the iconic Old Faithful geyser and the mesmerizing Grand Prismatic Spring. The park boasts numerous geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and geothermal pools. Glacier National Park, on the other hand, does not have the same level of geothermal activity as Yellowstone.

Hiking and Outdoor Activities: Both parks offer exceptional opportunities for outdoor activities. Glacier National Park features an extensive network of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging multi-day treks. It is a paradise for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Yellowstone also offers hiking trails, as well as opportunities for camping, fishing, boating, and wildlife-watching. The types of activities you prefer may influence your preference for one park over the other.

Ultimately, the choice between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park depends on your personal interests and preferences. If you are drawn to stunning mountain landscapes and glaciers, Glacier National Park may be your top choice. If you are captivated by geothermal wonders, unique wildlife, and diverse ecosystems, Yellowstone National Park may be more appealing. Both parks offer unforgettable experiences, and if possible, visiting both can provide a well-rounded exploration of the natural wonders that the United States has to offer.

Travel Essentials

Best Glacier National Park Guide Book

There are several excellent guidebooks available for Glacier National Park, each offering a unique perspective and wealth of information. Here are a few highly recommended options:

“Moon Glacier National Park” by Becky Lomax: This comprehensive guidebook provides detailed information on hiking trails, camping, wildlife viewing, and attractions within the park. It includes maps, suggested itineraries, and insider tips to help you make the most of your visit.

“Glacier National Park: Adventuring with Kids” by Harley McAllister: If you’re planning a family trip to Glacier National Park, this guidebook is a valuable resource. It offers recommendations for family-friendly hikes, educational activities, and practical tips for traveling with children in the park.

“Hiking Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks” by Erik Molvar: For avid hikers, this guidebook focuses specifically on hiking trails within Glacier National Park and the adjoining Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. It provides detailed trail descriptions, difficulty ratings, and topographic maps to assist in planning your hikes.

Remember to check the publication date of any guidebook you choose, as newer editions may have updated information. Ultimately, the best guidebook for you will depend on your specific interests and needs. Consider reviewing the content and reviews of each option to find the guidebook that aligns with your preferences and travel plans.

Other Glacier National Park Travel Essentials

Keep track of all of your belongings (even your kids) with Apple air tags. These handy devices come with a battery and are even water-resistant. Just use a simple one-step process to connect the tag to your iPhone or iPad, then use the Find My app to locate your item. Get a 4-pack and use for tracking luggage, pets, and more.

Whether you are camping or staying in a hotel, be safe with a portable carbon monoxide detector. This one has an AC-adaptor with battery backup. It’s only 2.75 by 1.5 by 4.5 inches, and could save your life.

Do You Have Any Favorite Glacier National Park Tips to Share?

This has been a long post, and if you’ve read it through to the end, thank you! I must leave space for any Glacier tips you might have. Do you have a favorite hike or travel experience you would like to share? I’d enjoy any wisdom or stories you care to write about. I can see why Glacier National Park is a favorite destination for many, and I hope to return one day.

Glacier

If you like what you’ve read today, you might also like reading about scenic Newport on the Oregon coast or my visit to the historic and beautiful Wallowa Valley. For some simple travel wardrobe ideas, you can check out my post listing Wardrobe Essentials for the Savvy Traveler. Wherever your adventures take you, I hope you make wonderful memories.

Free Customizable Capsule Travel Wardrobe Packing List

Are you a chronic over-packer? I was until I started using this customizable capsule wardrobe packing list. It’s free to subscribers, and you can save new digital copies anytime you need to pack for a new adventure.

Capsule Wardrobe Packing List

Wherever your journeys take you, I hope you make wonderful memories. Thanks for visiting the Fluxing Well site. Happy travels!

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28 thoughts on “Glacier National Park Travel Tips: An Essential Guide”

  1. Thank you for this interesting post! I love the photos and the tips!

    Reply
    • Hadassah,

      I know you would have to travel a huge distance to get to Glacier NP from where you live. You have beautiful scenery in Europe as well. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Lisa

      Reply
  2. These are great tips! I don’t know what I would have done if I had rounded a corner and saw a bear…. I almost stepped on a snake hiking in Panama and that was enough for me so no thank you to the bear!

    Regardless, I’ve only ever visited in the winter and have sort of “stayed away” from summer months because of the mass amounts of people, but this post gives me hope that it’s possible to go in peak season and still have a great time.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Chris,

      Yes, we were apprehensive as well, but were pleasantly surprised. Your snake story makes me very thankful for my trusty hiking boots! I’d love to learn about your winter Glacier NP experiences, and I look forward to reading your travel posts. Thanks so much for commenting!

      Lisa

      Reply
  3. Those red buses look super cool. Good advice on taking a day off. Some people waste a vacation by being too tired.

    Reply
    • Mike,

      If we wouldn’t have had some low-key days, we would have been toast. I’m so grateful for our red bus experience. It set the tone for the entire trip. Thanks so much for your affirming words!

      Lisa

      Reply
  4. Love the red bus! Your travel posts are so very helpful for seeing an insider’s point of view. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Jenn,

      I am so glad you find my posts helpful. I enjoy traveling, and love to find insider tips to share. Thanks for your kind words, and have fun on the travels you take.

      Lisa

      Reply
  5. I want to go to more mountainous areas (besides Tahoe and Yosemite both of which are close to me!) Glacier National Park looks so pretty. I’d be soooo scared to encounter a bear (I did see one in Yosemite though but it was a very young one!)

    Hannah the Mad Dog

    Reply
    • Hannah,

      If you want to see mountainous areas, I definitely recommend Glacier National Park. It’s truly breathtaking! I hope you get to visit it someday. Thanks for commenting, and happy travels!

      Lisa

      Reply
    • Martina,

      Thank you so much for the encouraging words. I enjoy writing about our adventures, and I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on this post. I’m so glad you found the information helpful and unique. Happy travels!

      Lisa

      Reply
  6. My boys would absolutely love riding the big red bus. I LOVE the bear spray. It makes me think of Fox Spray from that one Disney movie I can’t think of the name of right now. LOL Going to Glacier National Park is definitely on my bucket list! Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • Ashley,

      I’ve never heard of fox spray, so I can’t help you think of the name of the movie.=) Yes, I think your family would really enjoy Glacier. There are so many things to do and see. I do hope you get to visit there one day. Thanks so much for your comment!

      Lisa

      Reply
  7. This place looks amazing! Thanks for the tips! Hopefully I’ll get a chance to visit some day 😉

    Reply
    • Lindsay,

      Yes, it was an amazing place, and I, too, hope you get the chance to visit. Thanks for commenting, and happy travels wherever you go!

      Lisa

      Reply
  8. This is on my to do list!!! Looks like you had an amazing time.

    Reply
    • Trina,

      I’m so glad it’s on your list. My photos do not do it justice. I hope you get to visit someday. Thanks for your positive words!

      Lisa

      Reply
  9. Wow! Such adventurous experience. Love this post and wanna travel Glacier National park! 😇

    Reply
    • Sunshine,

      It was adventurous, especially as I am rather nervous of heights. The breathtaking views were worth the nervousness, though. I hope you get to travel there one day. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Lisa

      Reply
  10. What a beautiful place to visit, it saddens me that glaciers will be gone in the years to come. Now is the time to start planning one of these amazing adventures. Thanks for the amazing overview!

    Reply
    • Jenn,

      It did take some planning, and we were not as organized as we had hoped. If you would like to visit next summer, the reservations for campsites in the park open up six months in advance. I hope you get to travel there! Thanks so much for your kind words.

      Lisa

      Reply
  11. Sounds like an amazing experience! I’d love to do a trip with this number of trails and beautiful views. I’m a bit hesitant about the bears though! Thanks for the great info.

    Reply
    • Ana,

      If you are nervous about the bears, carrying bear spray helps. Also, there is safety in numbers, and if you are with a large group, chances are the bears will stay away. There are ranger-led hikes that might be a good way for you to go if you are really nervous. I hope you get to visit it someday! Thanks for commenting!

      Lisa

      Reply
  12. What an amazing time! I had no idea it was such a fantastic place. I love that it was kind of an adventure toe with the bear!!!! Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to look into this for a potential place to RV to.

    Reply
    • Gina,

      If you have an RV, there are many campgrounds for you to choose from. The KOA at St. Mary was awesome. Thanks for your comment, and happy traveling in your RV!

      Lisa

      Reply
  13. I love your interesting writing Lisa. About the red buses…a friend told me that anytime you go to a new city, first item on the agenda should be riding a red bus. Then you get an overview of the area and can choose what you want to go back too. Has worked well!

    Reply
    • Carla,

      Your friend gave you great advice. A bus tour is always a terrific place to start a visit to a new area. Thank you so much for the kind words about my writing. That means a lot to me. Happy traveling and riding buses!

      Lisa

      Reply

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