Glacier was a difficult park for me to plan. I did nowhere near the amount of research compared to the other parks. Because we were going in early June, which is towards the beginning of Glacier’s season, I planned to ask the rangers for a map, a list of what was actually open, and their recommendations. Turns out, I left that ranger chat with lots of fun things for us to do around Apgar campground during the first 4 days of our trip.
Glacier National Park is a hiker’s paradise. Because there are so few roads, there are trails galore! The park has dozens of lakes and waterfalls and viewpoints that are only accessible via trailhead.
But what if you don’t like to hike? Can you still enjoy a Glacier vacation? Absolutely! Apgar Village has a cozy, walkable lake town vibe and you can explore the national park via historic tour bus, ferry boat, bike, and car!
Where to Stay in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is a big park, but there are very few roads. Most of the 7 entrances do not connect to another section of the park. If Going to the Sun Road is not yet open for the season or your vehicle does not meet the road’s height, width, and length restrictions, you will not be able to drive through the middle of the park from the west side (Apgar) to the east side (St. Mary). For these reasons, you’ll want to plan your trip itinerary before you decide where to stay at Glacier National Park.
Lodging in Glacier
Glacier National Park has 7 lodges and motels inside the park gates, and you’ll find most of them on the west side. Village Inn Motel and Apgar Village Lodge sit at the base of Lake McDonald. Lake McDonald Lodge and Motel Lake McDonald are at the opposite end of the lake. Rising Sun Motor Inn is on the east side, not far from the Saint Mary entrance. Many Glacier Hotel and Swiftcurrent Motor Inn are in the Many Glacier area. Backcountry hikers can also book overnight stays at Sperry Chalet and Granite park Chalet.
Choosing from one of these places to stay in Glacier National Park will give you two advantages. You’ll be closer to what you want to do and you won’t have to worry about Glacier’s vehicle reservation system. Hotels in Glacier National Park are definitely the way to go.
Camping in Glacier
Glacier has 13 campgrounds with a range of services and amenities available. Apgar Campground, Avalanche, Fish Creek, Many Glacier, Two Medicine, Rising Sun, and Saint Mary all allow RVs and campers, but none of the campgrounds offer electric hookups.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you are visiting the park before Going to the Sun Road opens or if your camper does not meet the length or height requirements for the road, you will have to exit the park and drive all the way around to get to another campground. We still recommend booking at least 2 different campgrounds to best explore different areas of the park, but you’ll want to give yourself more time to switch campgrounds.
Just like hotels in Glacier National Park, camping in Glacier National Park has some advantages. One additional advantage is cost. Campgrounds in Glacier National Park will be much cheaper than campgrounds outside of it. As long as you can book well in advance and don’t need hookups, this is the way to go.
Lodging Outside of Glacier
While you can find many places to stay outside Glacier National Park, there’s no real advantage, because the area is very rural. I highly recommend staying inside the park to save you time as well as cut down on your need to book vehicle reservations for Glacier National Park. If you must stay outside the park, check distances on the map before booking and don’t get fooled by names. For example, the town of East Glacier is 45 minutes of mountain ridge roads away from the Saint Mary park entrance. It is close to the Two Medicine entrance, but there’s not as much to do in that area.
Camping Outside of Glacier
You’ll find a few RV parks near the park entrances, especially Saint Mary and Apgar, as well as along the road between them, but if you don’t mind going without hookups, we’d always recommend staying inside the park. And with the current reservation system, staying inside Glacier certainly makes things easier.
When to Visit Glacier National Park
The weather in Glacier National Park is likely not what you might expect. For one thing, their summer season kicks off late and the park is still experiencing snow melt in June. The east side of the park doesn’t really hit their summer season until July.
Summer Glacier National Park Travel Guide
The summer season in Glacier is naturally its busiest. Summer season (and vehicle reservations) in Apgar start around Memorial Day, while the east side of the park picks up a bit later, around July 1. If you want to bike Going to the Sun Road, you’ll want to visit before mid-June. If you want to drive the road instead, visiting in mid to late July is a better choice. Many businesses do not open for the season until Going to the Sun Road is open, especially on the east side of the park. So if you visit before that happens, know that you might have fewer restaurants, shops, and tours to choose from. Peak season is between July 4th and Labor Day, which may be the best time to visit Glacier if you’re looking for warm sunny days and all the amenities to be open.
Spring Glacier National Park Travel Guide
If you visit in early May when the park is still thawing out, you’ll have beautiful snow-capped mountains and the park’s waterfalls will be at their fullest, but many businesses will not yet be open and park shuttles will not be running. In May Going to the Sun Road will have a shorter biking area, and trails may be blocked with snow. As the weeks go by and Going to the Sun Road is cleared, longer sections will be opened to bikers and hikers. And biking this beautiful road is truly the way to go, because you can stop as often and the slow pace is perfect for taking in the views. The miles go by much too quickly in a vehicle and it’s harder to stop for a photo, especially if it’s busy.
Fall Glacier National Park Travel Guide
In the fall, things in the park start to slow down. The park’s many Western Larch trees turn a beautiful golden hue and wildlife may be more active. But plan to visit early in the fall season, as colors are changing in mid-September to mid-October. Going to the Sun Road usually closes mid-October unless early winter storms cause an earlier closure. Campgrounds and lodging choices may be more limited as things close for the season. If you plan to visit in the fall, be sure to check the park’s website or talk with the rangers about seasonal closures.
Going to the Sun Road Historical Opening Dates
If you come to Glacier before July 13th, expect Going to the Sun Road to be closed to cars. If you visit between June 16th and July 12th, you might find it open to bikes or cars. The opening date changes each year based on the amount of snow accumulation and how early in the spring they can begin clearing the roads. Ten out of the last 15 years the road has opened to vehicle traffic in June, ranging from the 16th to the 28th with the remaining 5 years opening July 2 or 13th. 2023 was the earliest the road has opened since 2005, with an opening date of June 13th (during our visit).
No matter when you decide to visit, keep in mind that late snow melt also means that just about all park road maintenance must also take place during the peak visitor season. Visitors will likely experience road delays or closures in some portion of the park during their visit.
Weather in Glacier National Park
You can experience a rainy day in Glacier at any time of the year, but if you plan to visit Glacier National Park in the spring or fall, you should expect to experience some rain. So what do you do in this beautiful place when the weather is less than ideal and it’s not the right day for scenic mountain photos? Here’s what to do in Glacier National Park when you have bad weather.
Go for a hike – A foggy day might obscure the mountain range, but it won’t change how you feel about a waterfall hike. If it’s raining, make sure to wear waterproof gear and shoes with good traction. Hiking poles could also be helpful.
Spend some time in town shopping.
Explore the visitor centers – The park visitor centers are small and have limited exhibits, but in West Glacier you’ll also find the Alberta Visitor Center and the Crown of the Continent Discovery Center, a horse-riding tour company with a free exhibit area.
Look for wildlife – Go on a drive through the park and look for animals.
Enjoy a leisurely meal or just an ice cream cone.
Drive up to Canada – If you find yourself on the east side of the park with bad weather, you’re only a short drive from Alberta! Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada are sister parks, but a little bit of a drive could make the difference in the weather you experience.
How to See Wildlife in Glacier
Most of our national park wildlife encounters are on long scenic drives, especially in backcountry roads. The options for this in Glacier are limited. We saw several deer, both on our hike and in our campground, and we also saw a bear while biking down Going to the Sun Road and a bighorn sheep just after sunset while driving Going to the Sun Road.
Glacier’s mountain goats are particularly famous, so you’ll want to look for them as well. They enjoy the high-elevation parts of the park, like Logan Pass and Highline Trail. We were able to see them on Highway 2 at Goat Lick Overlook, where the mountain goats enjoy licking the mineral-rich rocks.
If you spot wildlife, be sure to stay the recommended distance away: 25 feet for most animals and 100 feet for bears.
What to Bring to Glacier National Park:
Food supplies – Amenities and services are very limited around Glacier National Park. Major grocery stores are 1-3 hours away and groceries available in St. Mary, Babb, or West Glacier are much more limited and very expensive. (Like double or triple what you’re used to.) We always recommend that campers come fully stocked with all their groceries. And if you’re staying at a hotel, you might want to research your restaurant options and menus ahead of time and consider bringing some on the go breakfast and lunch items. For example, at Many Glacier you’ll find 1 sit down restaurant, 1 convenience location with takeaway sandwiches, and 1 café serving 3 hot meals a day. Those are the only choices for miles, so it helps to know what your options are and where to find them. Of course, if you arrive early in the season, you might find some food services have not opened yet.
Refillable water bottles – Refilling stations are listed in the park newspaper and fresh water spigots are available in the campgrounds and some of the picnic areas.
Hats and sunscreen – Many of Glacier’s hikes are well shaded, but a hat and sunscreen are hiking staples nonetheless.
Layers – Even in early June, it can be a bit chilly in Glacier in the mornings and evenings.
Good walking shoes – If you plan on hiking. And if they’re new, make sure to break them in ahead of time.
Bear spray – If you’re flying in, you can purchase or even rent bear spray from the park. If you’re driving, you might want to prepurchase it, to save time tracking it down. Know how to use it and carry it with you everywhere.
Your camera – The landscape in Glacier just begs to be photographed. Clear blue and green water, vibrant mountains, colorful rocks, cascading waterfalls…. The list goes on. Be sure to bring a camera to capture the beauty around you.
Binoculars – If you want to do any wildlife viewing, you might benefit from a pair of binoculars that will get you a better look at animals while maintaining a safe distance.
Bikes – If you come in the early season, I’d highly recommend biking as much of Going to the Sun Road as you can. Bringing your own bike will be much cheaper than renting and if you’re like us, you can use this as an excuse to purchase your own e-bikes. Renting would have been about 50% of our purchase cost, and bringing our own was crucial since we also needed to figure out child seats for the kids ahead of time.
Glacier National Park with Kids:
Read Books About Glacier
Glacier on the Move by Elizabeth Rusch
Glacier National Park (Rookie National Parks) by Joanne Mattern
Glacier National Park Activity Book by Little Bison Press
Geography from A to Z: A Picture Glossary by Jack Knowlton
Who Pooped in the Parks Glacier by Gary D. Robson
B is for Big Sky Country: A Montana Alphabet by Sneed B. Collard III
Butterflies of Montana Coloring Book for Kids, Teens & Adults
National Parks of the U.S.A. by Kate Siber
Talk About Bear Safety Ahead of Time
Prep kids ahead of time for how to interact with wildlife, how much distance to stay away, how to keep a clean camp, and how to be bear-aware while hiking.
Junior Ranger Program
We try to complete Junior Ranger books at every park we visit. Glacier has a pre-reader booklet for younger children in addition to the classic Junior Ranger booklet.
Glacier Activities Kids Will Love
Ice cream – Ice cream cones are available several places in Apgar Village and West Glacier as well as a shop in the town of St Mary. I was surprised that Many Glacier Hotel did not have an ice cream shop, but they did have a little convenience store with prepackaged ice cream treats.
Throwing rocks at McDonald Lake – The entire beach is made of rocks and they had a grand time! We also found great rock throwing options along McDonald Creek, Logan Creek, and Avalanche Creek.
If your kids like to climb rock or walk across fallen trees, we found many along Avalanche Lake Trail. The boys also loved splashing in Avalanche Lake. They also found several rock throwing opportunities at Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine at Many Glacier. We did not come prepared for them to get wet at Lake Josephine, but we saw others taking a quick (chilly) dip.
Paddling – If your kids are like ours, they love to get out on the water. Many of Glacier’s lakes are not open for watercraft, but they are allowed at Lake McDonald, Two Medicine Lake, and Swiftcurrent Lake. All three lakes have rentals available.
Planning a Glacier National Park Vacation
Glacier National Park is a very popular summer destination and the season is much shorter than other parks, so you’ll need to plan in advance for everything that requires a ticket or reservation. In addition to booking places to stay in Glacier National Park and a rental car if you need one, boat tours or historic red bus tours will also need to be booked well in advance. And of course, there’s the infamous vehicle reservation system.
Glacier National Park’s Vehicle Reservation System
Glacier is a very popular park and in recent years, they have had to implement a vehicle reservation system to keep the park from overcrowding. While frustrating for visitors who have trouble getting a reservation, the system is crucial for areas with limited parking.
West side park entrances of West Glacier/Apgar, Camas Creek, and Polebridge will require a vehicle reservation earlier in the season than the east side entrances of Many Glacier, Saint Mary, Two Medicine, and Cut Bank. I found it very confusing to read about these vehicle reservations online before our trip, but the system made a lot more sense once we arrived at the park. Here are a few key things that I think will be helpful to know:
- Most of the park entrances do not connect to each other. At the time of this writing, Polebridge has a road closure preventing it from connecting to Camas Creek and Apgar, and the Two Medicine and Many Glacier entrances at the east side of the park do not connect with anywhere else. And while Going to the Sun Road is closed to vehicles in May and June (and sometimes part of July), you cannot drive from West Glacier to Saint Mary. Because the park entrances are essentially all dead ends, vehicle entrances are limited, because if they keep letting cars in, no one will have room to park anywhere.
2. If you have access to a park entrance for any reason (see next), you have access to all open roads in that section of the park. This might sound obvious, but the way the NPS site is worded, I was confused if my Apgar campground reservation gave me access to Going to the Sun Road, because it sounded like the vehicle checkpoint for the road was after the campground (it is not).
3. There are multiple ways to gain entrance when a vehicle reservation is needed. The easiest (and the one we prefer) is having a campground or hotel reservation for that area. This is why where you stay in Glacier National Park makes a huge difference! Additionally, any tour group ticket for that area of the park will give you entrance. For example, renting e-bikes from Glacier Outfitters or getting tickets for the boat tour of Many Glacier. If those options don’t work for you, vehicle reservations are available same day at 8 am with a small percentage of them made available (and booked up) months in advance.
4. There are times when a vehicle reservation is not needed. This time changes based on the entrance, but generally, if you enter the park very early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you will not need to have a reservation. Arriving early is your best option if you’re planning to hike, to allow yourself plenty of time before sunset.
Other Tips for Planning a Trip to Glacier National Park
Cell signal in the park is limited. We had trouble getting any cell signal at all in West Glacier, but the Apgar Visitor Center did have wifi we could connect to. Saint Mary had much better signal, although it did fade in and out at times. At Many Glacier we were again without cell signal.
We had heard that there was no fuel inside Glacier National Park, but this is less of a concern than we thought. Gas stations are located immediately outside St. Mary and Apgar and the road systems at other entrances like Two Medicine and Many Glacier are very short, so you don’t have much driving available to you before you’d exit the park and pass a gas station again.
A lot of the glacier activities are pretty involved, so if you have a long list of must do hikes, you’ll probably want a day per item on your list.
Top 10 Must Do Activities in Glacier:
1. Drive or bike Going to the Sun Road – Bike it if you can!
2. See a glacier – Jackson Glacier Overlook is the most accessible spot, and Grinnel Glacier is a very popular hike.
3. Take a walk or hike in nature – This is such an excellent park for hiking!
4. Eat huckleberry ice cream – Ice cream shops are everywhere!
5. Enjoy one of the park’s many glacial lakes
6. Take a guided tour – Via ferry boat or historic red bus.
7. Look for mountain goats – The mascot of the park!
8. See a waterfall – Even if you don’t hike to a waterfall, you’ll find them along McDonald Creek and in the spring you’ll see them high up on the mountains. And don’t miss the Weeping Wall on Going to the Sun Road.
9. Visit more than one park entrance – Many people only visit the west side, but this park is worth fully exploring!
10. Look for (and stay away from) bears
What To Do in Glacier National Park
Short Hikes in Glacier
These hikes are marked in the lower two levels by the Glacier park rangers. Note that several trails have very similar names, but a hike to a lake’s overlook and a hike to the head of the lake will have very different distances and elevations.
Johns Lake Loop (Apgar) – 2 mile loop trail to a lake with minimal elevation change.
Avalanche Lake (Apgar) – 2.3 miles each way. This trail slowly climbs 740 feet in elevation with a few dips down on the way. This was a challenging hike for our little ones, but the lake at the end was well worth it and we moved much faster on the way back. Plan to spend at least 4 hours on this hike and pack a picnic.
Trail of the Cedars (Apgar) – This .9 mile accessible loop path is located at the start of the Avalanche Trail.
Baring Falls (St. Mary) – Short .3 miles each way to a beautiful waterfall.
St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls (St. Mary) – Hike 1.1 miles out and back to St. Mary or continue for a total of 1.8 miles each way to see the impressive Virginia Falls as well.
Sun Point Nature Trail (St. Mary) – Just under a mile each way accessed by either Sunrift Gorge or the Sun Point Picnic Area.
Sunrift Gorge (St. Mary) – A very short walk to an 800 foot long, 80 foot deep gorge.
Hidden Lake Overlook (Logan Pass on Going to the Sun Road) – 1.3 miles each way with a 600 foot elevation gain. Parking can be difficult at Logan Pass.
Swiftcurrent Lake Trail (Many Glacier) – A 2.6 mile loop trail around this beautiful lake in Many Glacier. Portions of the trail near the Many Glacier Hotel are accessible. We recommend taking this trail and tacking on the little path to Lake Josephine to see two stunning lakes in one hike.
Grinnell Lake (Many Glacier) – A 3.5 mile hike one day from the Many Glacier Hotel. This hike can also be shortened to 1.4 miles each way by booking a boat ride across Swiftcurrent Lake. Don’t confuse this with the much harder Grinnell Glacier Hike.
Running Eagle Falls (Two Medicine) – A .7 mile loop trail with wheelchair accessibility.
Twin Falls (Two Medicine) – A 3.6 mile out and back hike from the North Shore trailhead but can also be shortened with a boat ride across the lake.
Longer or Harder Hikes in Glacier
There are so many hikes at Glacier National Park and many are very challenging. I’ll recommend some of the most beautiful shorter hikes in my itinerary below, because we have kids and that’s what works best for us. But feel free to swap those out for any of these if they interest you more. Just make sure to allocate extra time for longer and more intense hikes.
Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint (Many Glacier) – 5 miles each way from the Grinnell Glacier trailhead or 3.7 miles from the Many Glacier hotel boat with about 2,500 feet of elevation gained.
Hidden Lake (Logan Pass on Going to the Sun Road) – Shorter than other challenging hikes, this 2.5 mile out and back hike has a steep descent to the lake. An added challenge will be finding parking at Logan Pass.
Highline Trail (Going to the Sun Road) – This challenging 14.9 mile out and back trail takes about 7 hours to complete and hikes the mountainside above Going to the Sun Road. But this hike is all about the stunning views along the way, so there’s no need to finish the entire trail. The famous wall portion of the trail where you hold onto a mountainside cable is right at the beginning. And the main elevation gain is from mile 3 to 5 ascending and descending a single peak. So consider just doing the first couple miles of the trail if the entire thing seems like too much of a challenge.
Book a Tour
Boat tours are available at Saint Mary Lake, Two Medicine Lake, Lake McDonald, and Many Glacier. The Many Glacier boat tour includes 2 boats on 2 different lakes and during some parts of the year you’ll have the option for a guided or self-guided hike as well.
Vintage red bus tours are a very popular way to experience Going to the Sun Road and learn about history of Glacier National Park. Each 1930s bus seats 16 passengers and tickets sell out weeks in advance. Tours depart from both east and west sides of the park, with different routes available throughout the season. Whichever tour you book, you’ll want to do it well in advance!
Bike Going to the Sun Road
If you visit before June 15, you can expect Going to the Sun Road to be open only for bikers and hikers. The earlier you come, the less of the road that will be open. Even in late June or early July, the road might not be open for motor vehicles yet. We brought our e-bikes with kid seats to bike Going to the Sun Road. 13 miles from Avalanche Lake trailhead were open and I think we biked about 10 in 2 hours. We decided to turn around when our bike’s batteries started to get low. We spent another hour biking back down, which took longer than expected because we had to stop for a black bear in the road! I also want to mention that I am not used to biking any hills, so I was nervous about feeling out of control on the descent. While there are plenty of curves to Going to the Sun Road, it is not a mountain road full of switchbacks. Some gentle braking around curves was all we needed and the single tight turn (called The Loop) is flatter than other sections and we had plenty of time to slow down around this corner. It’s a stunning drive and I highly recommend it for all biking skill levels. If you’re not an experienced biker, an e-bike will allow you to bike at a leisurely pace without intense effort.
You’ll find e-bike rental companies in West Glacier and Apgar Village. You can rent a bike and any accessories you might need or even book a biking tour. There are also a few bike paths in the Apgar/West Glacier area.
Get Out on the Water
You’ll find various rental options available at Lake McDonald, Two Medicine Lake, and Swiftcurrent Lake. Rent a kayak or a paddleboard or even a small motorboat to enjoy an afternoon out on the water.
Each Entrance: What To Do in Glacier National Park
Polebridge Mercantile Bakery – Huckleberry bear claw comes highly recommended
Huckleberry ice cream in Apgar Village
Scenic stops along Going to the Sun Road – Red Rock Point is a favorite
St. Mary & Virginia Falls
Scenic stops along Going to the Sun Road – Don’t miss Jackson Glacier overlook
Historic Many Glacier Hotel
Boat ride across Swiftcurrent Lake
Swiftcurrent Lake Trail with walk to Lake Josephine
Running Eagle Falls
How to Plan Your Glacier Travel Itinerary
As I said above, many of the popular activities in Glacier will take several hours, so I would recommend leaving more time than you think you’ll need each day and padding your itinerary with a few extra days if you can in case of bad weather or to give your legs a break from all that hiking. And of course, make sure you have the vehicle reservations that you need. With a good plan and your reservations in place, you’re all but guaranteed to have an amazing Glacier vacation!
Glacier 1 Day Itinerary
It’s very hard to choose how to spend just 1 day in Glacier National Park, so I’m going to give you 3 options: West Glacier, East Glacier, and a West to East Going to the Sun Road Drive option. For the west and east only options, I’m going to assume you’re visiting early enough in the season that Going to the Sun Road is only partially open to cars with a middle portion open just for bikers and hikers and a road closure keeping you from biking fully from one end to the other.
1 Day in West Glacier – Going to the Sun Road is Closed
If you only have 1 day in West Glacier, I’d recommend hiking to Avalanche Lake in the morning and biking the open portion of Going to the Sun Road in the afternoon. If you rent e-bikes for Going to the Sun Road, the trip will be much easier on your legs.
If that feels like too involved of a day, choose just one of those activities and fill in the rest of your day with other things. Stop at the pulloffs along McDonald Creek. Rent kayaks or paddleboards and explore the lake. Get ice cream in West Glacier or Apgar Village. Take the Apgar bike path or walk Trail of the Cedars.
1 Day in East Glacier – Going to the Sun Road is Closed
Split your day between Saint Mary and Many Glacier. At Saint Mary, drive the open portion of Going to the Sun Road. If you visit in the spring, take your bike and bike all the way to the road closure. Stop for a short hike at Sunrift Gorge to Baring Falls or the more moderate St. Mary and Virginia Falls trail. For a more challenging trail, hike to Hidden Lake.
At Many Glacier, enjoy the pristine lake and the gorgeous historic hotel. Take a walk around Swiftcurrent Lake (stop at Lake Josephine too) or get tickets for the boat tour from Swiftcurrent Lake. Some tours include a guided hike across to Lake Josephine. (Make sure to prebook your tickets online in advance!)
For 1 day in East Glacier, I would recommend either camping at Saint Mary campground or staying at Many Glacier hotel. This would mean you’d only need 1 vehicle reservation for whichever entrance you’re not staying at. (Alternatively, you could also visit before vehicle reservations start.)
1 Day Driving Going to the Sun Road
Start at Lake McDonald and Apgar Village. Pick up breakfast or coffee and then start heading down Going to the Sun Road towards Avalanche Lake. Stop as often as you can along the way, enjoying the beautiful views. Don’t miss the West Tunnel, the Loop, Weeping Wall, Big Bend, and the Triple Arches. Jackson Glacier Overlook is also a key stop, and one of the best spots to see a glacier from the road.
If you have time to add a short hike, take St Mary Falls trailhead to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls or stop at Sunrift Gorge for the Baring Falls trail.
If you haven’t already stopped for a picnic lunch, you’ll find a picnic area at Rising Sun.
Finish Going to the Sun Road and exit the park at St. Mary. Continue north to Many Glacier. Check out the stunning viewpoint and the gorgeous historic hotel. Explore the area more fully with a walk around Swiftcurrent Lake or a boat tour from Swiftcurrent Lake and a guided hike across to Lake Josephine. (Prebook tickets!)
Have dinner at the Many Glacier Hotel or a café outside of the Saint Mary entrance, before making the return drive across Going to the Sun Road in the evening.
After the descent, take time to stop at overlooks along McDonald Creek and Lake. My favorite stop is at McDonald Creek Cutoff where there’s a bridge across the creek. Stop back in Apgar Village or West Glacier to get an ice cream cone.
For this itinerary, you’ll need a vehicle entrance for both Apgar and Many Glacier. Allocate 2 hours to drive Going to the Sun Road in each direction, without counting for any hiking.
2 Day Glacier Travel Itinerary – Going to the Sun Road is Open
With two days in Glacier National Park, I would stay in Apgar Campground or Village. Spend one day hiking to Avalanche Lake and enjoying other activities around Lake McDonald. Spend the 2nd day driving Going to the Sun Road. While on the east side of the park, do another hike or take a boat ride on Saint Mary Lake. If time allows, visit Many Glacier as well and enjoy the view from the hotel if you don’t have time to walk around Swiftcurrent Lake.
3 Day Glacier Travel Itinerary – Going to the Sun Road is Open
For a 3 day Glacier vacation, I’d do all the above activities, splitting them between 3 days:
1. Drive Going to the Sun Road and do all the stops and any smaller hikes that appeal to you.
2. Choose one longer hike to focus on if you’re able. The most popular choices are Avalanche Lake, Hidden Lake, and Grinnell Glacier. (Grinnell Glacier would require a vehicle reservation for the Many Glacier entrance).
3. Get out on the water. Whether you rent a kayak at Lake McDonald or book a boat tour at Many Glacier, Saint Mary, or even Two Medicine is up to you. Remember, a boat tour can be a great way to take some mileage off of one of the longer hikes like Grinnell Lake or Grinnell Glacier Overlook.
With 3 days in Glacier, I would book 2 nights in Apgar Village and 1 at Many Glacier Hotel. If you have an RV, I’d actually recommend booking all 3 nights at Saint Mary campground to avoid moving the RV during such a short trip (and you’ll have to go the long way around the park if you exceed the length, height, or width restrictions of Going to the Sun Road). If you are tent camping, you’d have a bit more flexibility, because the size restrictions on Going to the Sun Road probably won’t be an issue.
4 Day Glacier Travel Itinerary – Going to the Sun Road is Closed
If Going to the Sun Road isn’t open yet and you’d like to see both sides of the park, I’d recommend a minimum 4 day trip.
2 Days of Apgar Activities:
Bike the west side of Going to the Sun Road from the vehicle closure to the road closure. Make sure to get a park newsletter that marks all the scenic stops along the road.
Take a hike: Avalanche Lake, Trail of the Cedars, or Johns Lake.
Rent a kayak and paddle Lake McDonald.
Get ice cream in West Glacier or Apgar Village.
1 Day of Saint Mary Activities:
Bike the east side of Going to the Sun Road from the vehicle closure to the road closure.
Hike Sunrift Gorge and Baring Falls or hike to St. Mary and Virginia falls. For a bigger challenge, bike to Logan Pass and then hike to Hidden Lake.
Take a boat tour of Saint Mary Lake.
1 Day of Many Glacier Activities:
Take a boat tour of Swiftcurrent Lake. Some tours will include a guided hike to Lake Josephine.
Walk around Swiftcurrent Lake to Josephine Lake or for a bigger challenge, hike to Grinnell Lake or Grinnell Glacier Overlook.
If you’re staying in a hotel, book 2 night at Apgar or West Glacier and 2 at Many Glacier. If you’re camping, split your time between Apgar and Saint Mary Campgrounds. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to exit the park and drive around to the other park entrance.
If you want to add on days from here, decide what hikes and activities are most important to you, and assign the extra days that way.
5+ Day Glacier Itinerary – Going to the Sun Road is Open
If you have 5 days in Glacier National Park, here are some things I might add to the itinerary: Get a reservation for the Two Medicine park entrance and take a boat tour or hike to one of the nearby waterfalls. Running Eagle Falls comes highly recommended. Get a reservation for the Polebridge/North Fork entrance and go to Bowman Lake. Spend part of each day hiking. I’ve shared some of the most beautiful trails, but there are truly too many to list, so ask the park rangers for additional recommendations.
Allocate 2 hours each way to drive Going to the Sun Road and enjoy doing it multiple times during your trip. It truly is spectacular.
If you want to fully explore each area of the park, stay for 7-10 days and book a few nights of camping at each entrance.
7 Days in Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton
What if you wanted to spend a week in 3 breathtaking national parks? While I’d always recommend taking 3 weeks for this kind of trip and really soaking it all in, not everybody has that kind of vacation time, so here’s how to do it in just one week with a 10 hour drive from north to south.
For this itinerary, I’m going to plan north to south, but feel free to flip it if the reverse order works better for you. I’ll assume you can visit the park in July or August when it’s fully open for simplicity’s sake. (Remember, you’ll need vehicle reservations if you’re not staying inside the park.)
Day 1 – We’ll kick off this amazing week in Many Glacier. Walk around Swiftcurrent Lake to Lake Josephine and enjoy the beautiful Many Glacier Hotel. Stay overnight at Many Glacier Hotel, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, or Many Glacier campground.
Day 2 – Move down to St. Mary and drive Going to the Sun Road. If you get up early enough, drive to the west side and hike Avalanche Lake before driving back. If you don’t have enough time for that, do one of the shorter hikes near Saint Mary Lake. Stay overnight in St. Mary Campground or Rising Sun Motor Inn.
Day 3 – Drive 6.5 hours from Saint Mary to Mammoth Hot Springs on the north side of Yellowstone. If you have time in the evening, walk the hot springs boardwalks in this area of Yellowstone National Park. Stay at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Mammoth Campground (if open) or Madison Campground.
Day 4 and 5 – Follow my 2 day Yellowstone National Park travel itinerary, starting with driving the loop of the park and then focusing on the Old Faithful area on day 5. Spend the night of day 5 in the Old Faithful area.
Day 6 – If you haven’t stopped by Grand Prismatic Spring or seen the overlook from Fairy Falls trail, prioritize that first thing in the morning, and then drive south out of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park. It should take less than 2 hours to get to Colter Bay Village. From here, you’ll want to make a lot of scenic stops on the way south along Teton Park Road. (unless you have an RV, in which case you’ll want to stop and unhitch first).
Day 7 – Spend half your day at Jenny Lake, hiking to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, or enjoying a boat ride across the lake. Then drive around Highway 191 to the rest of the Grand Teton pullout stops and head over to see the historic buildings at Mormon Row if you have time.