Glacier National Park in northern Montana has long been a favorite of visitors, and after exploring this park for a week, we can see why.
Glacier is gorgeous.
Known as the Crown of the Continent, Montana’s Rockies tower above, while rivers and glaciers still do their work below to change the landscape bit by bit. The park is not only home to breathtaking views, but also countless species of wildlife, national forests, native lands, and of course, glaciers.
If you’re planning a trip to Glacier (and we hope you are!), then check out these amazing things to do in Glacier National Park.
Things to do in Glacier National Park
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Things To Do in Glacier National Park
1. Take a drive on Going to the Sun Road
Perhaps the easiest and most obvious thing to do when arriving at Glacier is to take a drive on Going to the Sun Road. This is the main road that goes through the park and is the starting point for many of the trailheads and points of interest throughout Glacier. It’s also how you’ll get to Logan Pass, which you’ll want to do at some point.
Along the 50-mile corridor, there are several overlooks, pull-outs, and trailheads where you can see some of Glacier’s most stunning scenery. The entire drive will take about 2-2.5 hours one direction and will be congested, so plan accordingly. Going to the Sun Road can be accessed from the west entrance to Glacier National Park at West Glacier or from the east at St. Mary.
AftT Tip: Glacier National Park has begun instituting a ticketed entry system for access to Going to the sun Road in order to relieve congestion. Entry at West Glacier, St. Mary in the east, or Camas Road, requires a reservation in addition to the normal park pass. Valid passes include either an annual America the Beautiful Pass , a 7-day Glacier National Park Pass, Every Kid Outdoors 4th Grade Pass, etc. Visitors with service reservations such as camping permits or hotel reservations can use this as their ticket. Be sure to read more about the requirements here.
Highlights of Going to the Sun Road include Logan Pass, Jackson Glacier Overlook, Lake McDonald, the Weeping Wall, and trailheads to several popular hikes like Hidden Lake Nature Trail, Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail, and Piegan Pass. You may even see some wildlife like bears and mountain goats!
If you’re asking, “Where are the glaciers in Glacier National Park?”, take Going to the Sun Road to the Jackson Glacier Overlook which is in between Logan Pass and St. Mary on the eastern side of the park. It’s your easiest opportunity to see a glacier without having to hike to one.
2. Explore Lake McDonald
As you enter Glacier National Park from the West Entrance, Lake McDonald begins to dominate the view and is definitely worth a stop. It’s the largest lake in the park and serves as the backdrop for the Village Inn at Apgar, as well as the historic Lake McDonald Lodge, a Swiss chalet-style lodge built in 1913.
Activities in the area include camping, boat tours, horseback riding, and fishing. It’s also a great place to just dip your feet in the cold water and check out the “fruity pebble” rocks. Check here for more information about scheduling tours and activities at Lake McDonald.
3. Visit Logan Pass
Logan Pass is one of the most popular places to visit in the entire park. It’s the highest point on Going to the Sun Road and is the trailhead for one of the most popular hikes in Glacier – Hidden Lake Nature Trail. At 6,647 feet above sea level, views here are enormous, so you’ll want to grab your camera and stretch your legs.
Other things to do here are hike the Highline Trail, explore the Visitor Center, or grab a photo by the Continental Divide sign for a great memento. Be sure to keep a watch for wildlife here – especially mountain goats. They like to graze around the visitor center and even come right down to the yard out front for a snack!
AftT Tip: No matter what activities you have planned in Glacier for the day, getting an early start is imperative. Even with a ticketed entry system in place, parking lots will fill quickly, especially at Logan Pass, which is limited on space. Plan on getting here between 7:00 and 7:30 in the morning because it will probably be full by 8:00am. Otherwise, plan of stopping later in the day after 4:00pm. The early bird definitely gets the worm!
4. Explore Glacier on Horseback
While hiking is one of the best ways to explore Glacier National Park, sometimes you just want to leave the hard work to someone else! Guided horseback tours are offered by Swan Mountain Outfitters and are the only park concessionaire to do so. Tours are available from Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, and Apgar, and are a great way to get a different perspective in Glacier. The girls definitely enjoyed their ride and saw same really great parts of the park, all without breaking a sweat.
For more information on booking a tour, click here.
5. Go On An Amazing Hike
If you are planning on doing some hikes, this is a fantastic place to do it. Hiking Glacier National Park is incredible, and with over 700 miles of trails to pick from, there’s something here for everyone and every skill level.
We won’t cover every single hike here in this post, but here are some of the best hikes in Glacier National Park.
Trailhead: Piegan Pass Trailhead east of Logan Pass
Distance: 4.5 miles to Piegan Pass (9 miles total)
One of our favorite hikes, this one takes you through evergreen forests, past streams and waterfalls, and traverses rock fields until you end up with some of the best views in the park. Once you arrive, you’ll probably find lots of curious marmots to take photos of. Although it’s longer than some, we think this is one of the best hikes at Glacier National Park.
Hidden Lake Nature Trail
Trailhead: Logan Pass Visitor Center
Distance: Overlook is 1.2 miles. Another 1.2 miles down to the Hidden Lake.
Majestic views of the Rockies along with alpine lakes and fields of wildflowers in the summer. Very popular and one of the best trails in Glacier National Park.
Trailhead: Logan Pass Visitor Center
Distance: 11.5 miles
Another hike with excellent views. Portions of the hike are along a skinny ledge overlooking Going to the Sun Road. This is a point-to-point hike.
AftT Tip: Sturdy, comfortable shoes or boots are a must when hiking in Glacier National Park. Make sure you have a good-fitting pair that are broken in before you set off. Most trails are well maintained, but there can be water, mud, fallen trees, rocks, and even snow and ice to deal with on the trail.
6. Raft the Flathead River
For a change of pace, try whitewater rafting through Glacier National Park with a local tour company. Guided raft trips are available from several outfitters and will take you and your group down the North Fork or Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
This will give you a different view of Glacier’s beauty, and you’ll have a lot of fun along the way. The Flathead River is protected as part of the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers program and runs through both Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest. We used Wild River Adventures for our half-day trip and had a blast!
For more information of rafting the Flathead, click here.
7. Backpack in Glacier’s Wilderness
This one takes quite a bit more planning, but the payoff is huge. This is the first time that we’ve visited a park and took the “divide and conquer” approach, but it allowed the boys to spend 6 days in the backcountry while the girls explored Glacier in their own, less intense way.
Wilderness camping in Glacier National Park is an incredible experience. With over 700 miles of trails – much of it remote wilderness – Glacier is very popular with backpackers. Once you decide to go backpacking in Glacier National Park, begin your planning by visiting the backcountry camping page here. It’s critical that you put in for a permit when the lottery opens in March. Once approved, it’s possible to change, but you need to secure one early.
Once you’ve set off, it can be a life-changing experience seeing things most visitors to Glacier will never see, but like any backpacking adventure, planning and good preparation are key. Prepare for challenges like bugs, sun, and animal encounters. You should also plan for epic views and a lot of fun!
AftT Tip: While ticks aren't that prevalent, flies and mosquitoes are, so be sure to have plenty of insect repellent. You'll be glad you did! We like non-aerosol Sawyer lotion. It's better for the environment and works well.
Our 55-mile trip took us through the Belly River area and over Stoney Indian Pass to Waterton Lake along the Canadian border and back.
8. Tour the Park On A Vintage Red Bus
Despite the crowds, Glacier National Park feels different than other parks we’ve visited. It feels friendly and welcoming, and a large part of that is due to the Swiss-inspired architecture and the throwback tour buses operated throughout the park. They hearken back to a golden era, and we’re here for it.
These vintage buses operate as part of the Glacier National Park Lodges, and tours can be booked directly here.
9. Explore St. Mary, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier
Many Glacier, St. Mary, and Two Medicine are on the eastern side of the park and shouldn’t be missed if you’ve got the time. Some of the best hikes in Glacier have trailheads in these areas. Many Glacier is the jumping off point to get to things like Grinnell Glacier, which is very popular, and there are plenty of peaks and lakes to explore in Two Medicine. If you drive Going to the Sun Road all the way to St. Mary, enjoy the beautiful views of the lake and then grab some pizza in town at Rising Sun Pizza.
Driving north to highway 17 takes you through part of the Blackfeet Reservation where there are roadside markers and monuments to explore. Continue north to see awesome views of Chief Mountain, and eventually you’ll get to the Chief Mountain Border Patrol Station at the Canadian border. While you’re here, grab a photo at the Glacier Waterton Parks International Peace Park sign. Very cool!
10. Trek With Llamas
Glacier National Park will provide you with endless adventures, but there are also lots of activities to enjoy outside the park, and one that the girls enjoyed was trekking with llamas through the Flathead National Forest. Yup, if you don’t want to carry your stuff on a hike, and you require a cute, furry animal to do it for you, then check out a llama trek!
The girls had a lot of fun with this while the boys were in the backcountry. They enjoyed lunch on the trail, some nice hiking through scenic Montana, and made some new friends along the way. If you’d like to book a trip, check out Swan Mountain Outfitters.
11. Savor the Huckleberries
Without a doubt, you will see advertisements for huckleberries near Glacier. It’s the official treat of Glacier National Park (I just made that up). So in keeping with the spirit, do yourself a favor and indulge with some huckleberry ice cream. Or pie. Or doughnuts. Or salt water taffy. Or do like we did and get all the huckleberry things! When you’re done eating, wash it down with some huckleberry lemonade, and then tell us how awesome it was in the comments.
Planning your trip to Glacier National Park
When is the best time to visit Glacier National Park?
July, August, and September are the best times to visit Glacier National Park. Northern Montana has a fairly short window in the summer to enjoy the park that runs from June to mid-October. If visiting outside of those months, you run a real risk of snow interfering with your trip.
AftT Tip: Once snow plows begin to run in spring, you can monitor their progress here.
Weather conditions can change at any time, especially in the higher elevations. If planning for backcountry camping in Glacier National Park, keep in mind that many of the backcountry campsites are not even bookable until July 15th or even August 1st.
Where to stay in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is pretty unique in that they have several lodges and motor inns in the park to stay. Unfortunately, they also fill up very quickly so early planning is a must. If staying in the park isn’t important, and you want to trim some expense, Kalispell is not far away and has lots of chain options. They will fill quickly as well, so be prepared to book early.
Lake McDonald Lodge
Upscale Swiss-inspired chalet right on Lake McDonald and Going to the Sun Road. This would be a great home base.
Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins
On the eastern side of the park near St. Mary, the Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins is a comfortable spot only ¼ mile from St. Mary Lake. It’s next to Going to the Sun Run for easy access to most things in the park.
Many Glacier Hotel
Located on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, this cozy lodge was built in 1914-15 and is perfect for those who want to be tucked away and enjoy some of the great hikes Glacier has to offer.
Xanterra Travel Collection operates these properties around the park, as well as the Red Bus Tours: Village Inn Motel, Lake McDonald Lodge, Rising Sun Motor Inn, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, and Many Glacier Hotel.
If you’re looking for cabins at Glacier National Park rather than traditional hotel rooms, many of these properties offer these as well.
Prince of Wales Hotel
If you’d like to stay on the Canadian side right in Waterton Lakes National Park, the historic Prince of Wales hotel sits right on the lake and is an upscale option.
SpringHill Suites Kalispell
The girls stayed in Kalispell for their trip, and they said the Springhill Suites was excellent. Rooms were clean, beds comfortable, and it’s got room to spread out. We were able to offset some costs here by booking with Marriott Bonvoy points, which was nice because rooms here in the summer (like everywhere in Kalispell) can be expensive.
Getting to Glacier National Park
Flights to Glacier National Park
Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) – 30 miles to the park and the closest airport to Glacier National Park.
Missoula International Airport (MSO) – 150 miles to the park
Great Falls International Airport (GTF) – 130 miles to the park
For something different, take the Amtrak to Glacier National Park! Amtrak serves Glacier aboard their historic Empire Builder line with several stops at the park. Shuttle service is available to some of the lodges from the train station.
Getting around Glacier National Park
If you have your own vehicle, be sure that you have both a park pass of some sort (America the Beautiful, Every Kid Outdoors, etc.) and also a ticket for entry to Going to the Sun Road. You will need both!
Park shuttles are a great way to get around the park and let someone else do the driving. They make stops throughout the park at popular stops, overlooks, and visitor centers. Click here for a list of shuttle stops.
AftT Tip: For 2021, Glacier is changing the way their shuttle system works and are now requiring visitors to reserve their seat with a timed ticket. This is to help manage what is expected to be a record number of visitors in 2021. The tickets are $1 and can be purchased from recreation.gov . Also, some shuttle stops will be reduce or eliminated for 2021. Read more about this new policy here.
Red Bus Tour
Don’t forget about taking a Red Bus Tour. They are a great way to see the sights and learn more about Glacier National Park – all while someone else deals with the traffic!
Map of Glacier National Park
Using this Map: Click on the top left corner to expand the points of interest on the map. You can zoom by double-clicking on an area of the map and also click+drag to move it.
Directions to Glacier National Park
Navigating the park is pretty simple. Once you’re in the area, there is one main road through the park (Going to the Sun Road) and one main road around the park. Use the map below to find hotels, trailheads, scenic views, and entrances to Glacier National Park.
About Glacier National Park
Glacier was designated a U.S. National Park in 1910, and is one of America’s oldest designated National Parks. Only seven other parks are older – Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, Wind Cave, and Mesa Verde. Glacier has the distinction of being part of the first International Peace Parks with Waterton Lakes in Canada (1932), a U.N. Biosphere Reserve (1978), and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is also a designated Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association.
When the park was designated in 1910, there were over 100 glaciers that could be found in the park. Today, there are only 25 that meet the criteria.
Have you been to Glacier National Park? What was your favorite part? Let us know in the comments!
Other nearby National Parks
In Montana, you may want to visit nearby Big Hole National Battlefield, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, or Yellowstone National Park. Just south of Yellowstone in Wyoming is Grand Teton National Park.
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