It is admittedly overwhelming – narrowing down what to do within one-million-acre Glacier National Park. Do you drive Going to the Sun Road? Do you go kayaking on Lake McDonald? Which hikes are the best? We’ll help you plan the perfect national park trip with these suggested itineraries.
With just one day, yes, you’ll want to drive the famous Going to the Sun Road. Start in West Glacier, filling up on gas and stocking up on food and water. Visit Apgar Village and take in the views of Lake McDonald from the south end. Now, hit the road and travel all the way to St. Mary, pulling over at the numerous pullouts and scenic viewpoints along the way – favorites are Trail of the Cedars, Logan Pass Visitor Center, Jackson Glacier Overlook, Sunrift Gorge and Sun Point.
Want more? Add on the 5-mile roundtrip hike to Avalanche Lake. Take a guided boat ride on Lake McDonald. Take a trail ride from the Apgar or Lake McDonald corral. Or, explore the undiscovered Two Medicine Valley, a short drive from East Glacier park.
Congratulations for carving out three glorious days at the Crown of the Continent. We’ll break it down by day:
Day One: Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, either west to east or as a loop by driving the road from West Glacier to St. Mary and going back to West Glacier via East Glacier Park and Highway 2. Stop at Trail of the Cedars, Logan Pass Visitor Center, Jackson Glacier Overlook, Sunrift Gorge and Sun Point.
Day Two: The North Fork
Travel into one of the park’s wilder sections, the North Fork. You’ll drive along a gravel road, accessing stunning, remote views. Definitely stop in the off-the-grid town of Polebridge, powered by solar panels and generators, and grab a pastry and souvenir at the beloved Polebridge Mercantile. Go kayaking or canoeing in Bowman or Kintla lake.
Day Three: West Glacier
Hang out in West Glacier today, taking a trail ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters, a cruise on Lake McDonald’s historic wooden boat or a half-day fly-fishing or whitewater rafting trip on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
If you have the time, five days in Glacier National Park is the sweet spot. You’ll be able to see just about all of the national park and possibly drive up into neighboring Waterton National Park in Canada. Here’s what to focus on:
Day One: West Glacier
Start here and get your bearings on a float trip or rafting trip on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Spend your afternoon on the trails taking a horseback ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters at their Apgar corral.
Day Two: Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road
Drive the iconic road from west to east, stopping at Trail of the Cedars, Logan Pass Visitor Center, Jackson Glacier Overlook, Sunrift Gorge and Sun Point. At Logan Pass, consider one of several awe-inspiring hikes, including the Highline Trail and Hidden Lake Trail. The hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook (Hidden Lake Nature Trail) is considered easy, but you’ll want to get an early start to avoid the crowds. You’ll pass through alpine meadows known as the Hanging Gardens in full view of 8,760-foot Clements Mountain. At 1.35 miles, you’ll reach the overlook, where you can see Hidden Lake and Bearhat Mountain. Keep an eye out for bears, wolverines, marmots, mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
Day Three: Learn About Local American Indian History
Take a tour to learn more about the Blackfeet Nation, to whom Glacier National Park is known as the “Backbone of the World.” The park and its natural features has historical and spiritual significance to many of Montana’s First Nations. Visit the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, take a trail ride on Blackfeet Nation or attend a “Native America Speaks” program.
Day Four: Many Glacier
This is what you came for! Drive from St. Mary a short way north to Many Glacier, a particularly pretty area of the park and home to many moose and bears. Sit for awhile at Many Glacier Hotel on the eastern shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. Take a guided boat tour, go hiking or head out on a horseback ride.
Day Five: Head North to Canada
Visit the Waterton Lake National Park in Alberta, Canada. You’ll drive north along the Chief Mountain International Highway to get there (bring your passport!). Upon arrival, be sure to visit the Prince of Wales Hotel for its absolutely stunning location and view of Waterton Lake. In the small town of Waterton, rent a tandem bike, go hiking or take a boat tour.
Can I Go to Glacier National Park in the Winter?
Yes! Consider staying outside the park at the historic Izaak Walton Inn between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. You can go cross-country skiing on more than 20 miles of trails and take a guided excursion within the national park, reveling in all its snowy glory.
As for Going-to-the-Sun Road, it’s closed to vehicular traffic due to snowfall, but you can cross-country ski and snowshore on it as well, starting from at Lake McDonald Lodge. You can, however, drive the North Fork to Polebridge for some of the Mercantile’s scrumptious pastries. Bring your snowshoes and tackle Camas Road.
Generally, the National Park Service offers free snowshoeing tours on Saturdays and Sundays from January through March.
If You Have More Time in Glacier National Park, Add On …
- Watch the sunset at Big Bend
- Explore Lake Josephine
- Hike to Grinnell Glacier
- Hike to Iceberg Lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel
- Swim in Bowman Lake
- Visit St. Mary Falls
- Hike the Sun Point Nature Trail
- Explore Two Medicine area
- Go backpacking
- Try a couple of different campgrounds
- Spend a night at the Lake McDonald Lodge