Oh my, Glacier National Park in Montanta is an unforgettable USA travel experience.
Jagged snowcapped peaks and glacier blanketed ridges stand guard over green and blue hued lakes, whilst wildflowers and wildlife fill alpine meadows and rivers and waterfalls gush through forested valleys.
There is an incredible amount of things to do in Glacier National Park including some of the best hikes and scenic drives we have done anywhere in North America, and great wildlife spotting opportunities.
It’s the only place in the lower 48 states where grizzly bears still roam in abundance, plus it’s full of bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
Seeing a grizzly was on our bucket list of things to see AND the list that says, don’t let me get too close to a grizzly when I do!
If I haven’t convinced you enough that a visiting Glacier NP is a must, then check out the accolades this national park in Montana holds:
- World Heritage Site
- Biosphere Reserve
- Worlds’ First International Peace Park
- and the World’s first International Dark Sky Park
Uh ha. Pretty impressive!
Glacier National Park Montana is named not just for its fast moving rivers of ice, but for the dramatic ice-sculpted scenery those glaciers have left for us to enjoy and gawk at.
There are significant less glaciers here than in nearby North Cascades National Park, which stands at around 300.
The 25 glaciers in this national park are sadly rapidly shrinking.
Get here as quick as you can to see them before they do.
Allow Glacier to melt into your heart so you can take whatever small steps you can in your own life to leaving a domino effect impact on preserving the wonders of Mother Nature, and essentially your own survival.
Glacier National Park is one of the most iconic USA national parks and up there with our other favorites such as Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park for providing a never ending run of WOW moments.
Although it’s popular, most visitors stick to the Going-to-the-Sun-Road so you can easily find pockets of tranquility and seclusion.
Where is Glacier National Park?
Glacier is in Western Montana, on the border of Canada to the north.
This 1562-sq.-mile national park is bordered by North Fork Flathead River to the West, Marias Pass on US 2 to the South, US89 and Blackfeet Indian Reservation to the east and the Canadian border to the north where you can access into Waterton Lakes National Park
The main areas of the park are:
- Many Glacier
- St Mary
- Two Medicine
- Logon Pass and Going-to-the-Sun-Road
- Lake McDonald Valley
Things to Do in Glacier National Park
Take your pick. There is an incredible and diverse amount of things to do in Glacier National Park.
From hikes, to lake activities, to scenic drives, and wildlife viewing, any kind of interest is catered to.
Glacier National Park has waterfalls, lake, alpine and wooded forests, snow peaked mountains, valleys, grizzly bears, icebergs and glaciers.
It’s on par with Olympic National Park and Yellowstone National Park for unrivalled diversity.
Going to the Sun Road Scenic Drive
You’ll be amazed by this engineering feat that offers incredible vistas, sheer drop offs and perhaps a little bit of terror.
It begins at the park’s western entrance before heading northeast along Lake McDonald. After about 10 miles it begins its long ascent to Logan Pass.
The road has been carved into the edges of the mountain as it winds its way up to Logan’s Pass and then back down eastwards towards St Mary Visitor Center where it ends on the eastern shore of St Mary Lake.
Interpretative panels are set along the road for you to learn more about how glaciers created this area and point out any notable features.
Being one of the best things to do in Glacier National Park and most populasr, we recommend getting an early start as the road can get very busy and finding a park at Logan’s Pass is challenging!
There are plenty of hikes to do along the way, so if you only have one day to explore the Going to the Sun Road then you definitely want to start early.
Points of Interest along Going to the Sun Road
Lake McDonald Valley
Your drive will start through the Lake McDonald Valley which has the park’s largest lake and dense ancient temperate rainforests.
There are plenty of hiking trails in this area for you to enjoy this lush and verdant area so different to the rest of the park.
I recommend leaving them for another day, especially if you are doing other hikes up near Logan Pass, and you are staying on the western side of Glacier NP as it’s easier to get to at any time.
Here you’ll find the trailhead to one of the most famous hiking trails in Glacier National Park, the Highline Loop. Stop to enjoy the beginning of the sublime views to come.
Garden Wall and Weeping Wall
This is the section where the road cuts precariously into the Garden Wall. Breathe deep as it can be scary at times.
The Granite Wall is a 8,999 ft. granite ridge that separates the west and east regions of Glacier along the Continental Divide. You’ll pass by the popular Weeping Wall, which glistens due to the seasonal waterfall running down it.
There wasn’t any real water running when we drove past. Your car may get a good soaking if its running when you visit.
You could spend hours along this stretch of the road pulling over at the many pullovers to enjoy the views.
Logan Pass is the highest point in the park navigable by car. Millions of years ago, powerful glaciers carved out lush meadows filled with wildflower and wildlife.
This is a great stopping off point to stretch your legs, browse the visitor center and enjoy one of the several hikes that leave from Logan Pass. We’ll share those in the hike section below.
As mentioned, the Logan Pass parking lot gets very busy during the popular summer months of July and August. So be sure to arrive here as early as you can.
If you don’t get a spot immediately, be patient and drive several laps until you see someone returning to their car. We did about 10 laps before one finally opened up for us.
Cross over to the end of the car park opposite the Visitor Center to appreciate views down over the St Mary Valley. We saw lots of bighorn sheep here right on the edge of the parking lot.
Jackson Glacier Overlook
Jackson Glacier Overlook at the 36 mile mark is one of the only 25 glaciers left in the national park.
St Mary Lake
The views of St Mary Lake as you drive into this glacier-carved valley from Logan Pass are sensational.
You’ll notice the effects of the 2005 Eagle Fire here with much of the forest lining the lake shore still blackened. There are numerous trailheads and viewpoints along here.
Wildgoose Island is a small piece of land in the middle of St Mary Lake.
We stopped here on a separate day to admire the spectacular views of the valley, St Mary Lake, and the surrounding mountain views.
The afternoon light doesn’t show its magnificence – its the morning light that does so plan accordingly. This was one of my favorite views in the park.
Best Hikes in Glacier National Park
Besides the scenic drive, hiking is one of the best things to do in Glacier National Park.
It’s hard to say what are the best hikes in Glacier National Park as there are sooo many and we didn’t do them all.
So we’ll share the Glacier National Park hikes we did and LOVED. Each of the following hikes would give you a fantastic overview of the diverse scenery of this national park.
I feel we did the best hiking trails in glacier national park. If you can fit any of these in you will have an incredible experience.
Lake McDonald Valley Hikes
Trail of the Cedars (1 mile roundtrip)
The Trail of the Cedars is a short, paved wheelchair accessible one-mile roundtrip hike. Arrive early as parking can be an issue.
You’ll walk along a rasied boardwalk through a forest of ancient western red cedars and western hemlocks.
The lush forest floor is covered in ferns and mosses and a footbridge over Avalanche Creek offers gorgeous views of a small waterfall and the lower Avalanche Gorge. This is the trail for ambling.
Avalanche Lake (4 mile return)
You can branch off the Trail of the Cedars to hike to Avalanche Lake. This is a gentle 4-mile return hike that follows the meandering Avalanche Creek.
It’s wooded and rocky in parts and slightly elevated. It reminded me so much of the Mirror Lake Trail in Yosemite National Park, even the views at the end were very similar.
Avalanche Lake is beautiful and this is one of the nicest Glacier National Park hiking trails for all ages.
Pack a picnic lunch. You’ll want to rest on the shore of Avalanche Lake for a while to take in the views of the towering mountains on the other side with waterfalls gushing down its sides. Apparently a bear was here just before we arrived!
Logan Pass Hikes
Hidden Lake Trail (3.2 mile return)
Starting from the Logan Pass Visitor Center, this is one hike that is easy for most people (and also very popular).
It’s 3 mile return that is part boardwalk and path and only gains an elevation of just under 500 feet.
The walk heads over lush alpine meadows and offers beautiful expansive vistas and mountain views. Without realizing it you will cross over the Continental Divide here just before the overlook.
The trail brings you to the spectacular deep blue Hidden Lake. It’s bordered by rocky cliffs and mountain peaks. This is a great spot to have a picnic lunch.
We wanted to continue on down to Hidden Lake (a further 1.5 mile down a steep track) but the grizzly bears were just not allowing it. Only two days before they had killed a mountain goat which was still on the path.
This makes it very unsafe to walk so the trail was closed. We did not see any bears on this trail.
Highline Trail (1 – 7.6 mile one-way)
Remember that Garden Wall I mentioned on the Going to the Sun Road? Now is your chance to walk along it and look down upon the Going-to-the-sun road.
The Garden Wall is the sharp, glacier carved ridge that forms part of the Continental Divide. Walking along it is a highlight and one of the best things to do in Glacier National Park.
As the Hidden Lake Trail was closed, we had a bit of extra time and decided to walk a short way along the beginning of this trail, which is where you get the most beautiful views.
The total length of this trail is 11.6 miles – one way! It will end at The Loop where you can then sort out a ride back on the shuttle bus. I doubt you will want to hike back!
The beginning of the trail is quite steep, narrow and a little scary at the beginning. Ropes tethered to the wall are there to guide you and help you feel a little more secure. The views are phenomenal – be careful not to get too distracted by them.
It then widens and flattens out and takes you through the huckleberry bushes. Don’t forget to yell out “Hey Bear!”
We stopped here and then turned back. You could continue walking to Haystack butte which is 3.5 miles into the walk. From there the trail takes you to Grinnell Glacier Overlook (7.6 miles).
Turn back here or keep walking to The Loop.
Many Glacier Hikes
When people gush about their Glacier experiences, it’s usually Many Glacier they talk about the most.
This area has some of the most accessible glaciers and is possibly the best place to spot wildlife. We saw a mum and baby black bear foraging by the side of the road as we drove into this area.
The views here driving in alone are enough to tell you, you have arrived at a special place.
Grinnell Glacier Hike (11 mile return)
Wow! Where do you start with the Grinnell Glacier hike? Firstly, just do it – it’s our favorite of things to do in Glacier National Park.
We were hesitating as we knew it was an 11 mile return hike, with the end being very steep. We weren’t sure if hiking all the way up to Upper Grinnell Lake would be worth it?
Should we just hike to Grinnell Lake and be satisfied? We got up close to a glacier in North Cascades National Park just a few weeks before.
Boy are we so glad we decided to keep going!
At the top of our list of Glacier National Park hikes was the Iceberg Lake. It was shorter than Grinnell Glacier and you’d get to see icebergs at the end of it. That was going to be the ultimate.
But, then a grizzly bear killed a mountain goat so the trail was closed.
After chatting with several rangers, we decided to do Grinnell Glacier as they all said it was probably the best hike in Glacier for its outstanding views and because you get to see a glacier, which sadly is rapidly melting.
Surprisingly, especially considering since we expressed our disappointment at not being able to see icebergs on the Iceberg trail, not one ranger or person mentioned that when we arrived at Upper Grinnell Lake we would see this…
Can you imagine our surprise and elation as we came up from the last of the steep climbs trying to grasp our breath and asking, “Are we there yet?” and we saw a milky turquoise lake completely covered in bopping icebergs.
We were like what glacier?
But Grinnell Glacier was there on the mountain face standing guard over its chunks of ice it released into the water. It was mesmerizing.
It was a hot day as well and we all contemplated jumping in for a cool down until we stuck our big toe in and decided it might be a little risky given the slippery sloping sides we’d have to try and climb back out of.
I don’t think our body would have too long before it shut down in those freezing temperatures.
So we sat in the sun enjoying the stunning beauty of Mother Nature and vowing to do even more to reduce our impact upon her precious resources.
How could it be possible that our future grandkids may never see this?
My favorite was hearing the kids say – after a couple of hours of hard hiking and whining – “Oh my God, this was so totally worth it.”
What’s even better about the Grinnell Glacier hike is that the views all the way there and back are absolutely stunning. You get panoramic views down into the valley over the brilliant aqua of Grinnell Lake, Swiftcurrent Lake and Josephine Lake.
You walk through huckleberry gardens and forested sections. It’s just beautiful.
We almost saw a grizzly bear as well. A fisherman yelled to us from down below that a grizzly was drinking from the edge of the lake. It was in a position where we could not see it (but we were in a safe position).
The Fisherman, whilst alert didn’t seem to bothered, and quietly snuck on out. Seeing that grizzly would have made Grinnell Glacier the best hike in America!
You can just hike to Grinnell Lake which is absolutely stunning. I liked looking down on it from above the trail.
To save your legs, you can get a ferry from Many Glacier Hotel to the other side of Swiftcurrent Lake. A short hike will take you to Josephine Lake where another boat will take you to the other side.
From there it is 1.5 miles overland to Grinnell Lake. We contemplated it, but figured due to ferry waiting times and the cost of the ferry, it would just be easier to just hike it.
I’m so glad we did!
Two Medicine Valley Hikes
Two Medicine Valley is a quiet corner of Glacier National Park.
Before the Going-to-the-Sun Road was opened, this was one of the busier areas of the park. This area is for avid hikers looking for some high-altitude passes across the Continental Divide and those content with a short stroll and a picnic by the lake.
You can also enjoy a cruise on Two Medicine Lake, where you can jump off and enjoy a two mile hike to double-flumed Twin Falls.
Running Eagle Falls (0.6 miles roundtrip)
This is only a short trail 0.6 miles roundtrip, but is really worth doing if in this area. It’s handicap accessible and has a well-maintained path.
You’ll cross over a footbridge near the stream which leads to a stunning waterfall. There are plenty of vantage points in the area.
What made this waterfall so unique is that it appears to come gushing out of a cave. Apparently during spring this is covered up by the volume of water rushing over the top of the 40 ft. ledge above.
Once that water dries up you can see the water coming out of the 20 ft. sinkhole. I am so glad we saw it when we did as it was cool!
I loved the story surrounding the name of this waterfall as well. It’s named after Running Eagle (Pitamakan) a female warrior leader of the Blackfeet Nation who experienced a four-day vision quest in the mountains high above the falls.
It has a spiritual essence here.
Planning a Trip to Glacier National Park
How Many Days Do You Need in Glacier National Park?
I can’t fathom that you’d visit Glacier National Park in a day, but if that is your only opportunity, then do it. And follow the Going-to-the-Sun road and add in at least one of the hikes below.
Our recommendation is to visit for at least three days. We had five days in the Western Montana area, but only spent three days exploring the park.
When Time of Year is Best to Visit Glacier National Park?
Peak season for experiencing all the things to do in Glacier National Park is in July and August.
Due to its high altitude, many facilities don’t open until July. Lower elevations can be visited as early as May, and September will see fewer crowds.
Getting to Glacier National Park
The easiest way to get to Glacier NP is by car. It will give you the greatest flexibility in getting around the park, but you may also want to consider the free shuttle mentioned below.
I loved the freedom of having our own vehicle as we explored the Going-to-the-sun-road.
Amtrak’s Empire Builder runs from Chicago to Seattle stopping in both East Glacier and West Glacier.
Shuttle Service to the Park
You can also get a private shuttle from Whitefish and Glacier National Park Airport and anywhere in the Flathead Valley to the park and back.
Learn more about this service here.
Is there a Shuttle in Glacier National Park?
Glacier National Park offers a free shuttle bus stopping at all major spots on the Going to the Sun road. So all major trailheads are served by the bus. They are air-conditioned, wheelchair accessible and run on bio diesel.
There is a shuttle service that also stops at the major places to visit on the eastern side of the park.
Tours of Glacier National Park area
Red Jammer Buses
You cannot escape seeing the red jammer buses driving along the Going-to-the-Sun-Road. They definitely add a lot of color to the views.
They are a nostalgic reminder of days gone by and have been serving the park for over 70 years. It’s an easy way to sit back with the top open, enjoy the views and have someone tell you all about the park and what you are seeing.
Welcome to the land of the grizzly bear – the most feared animal in my world. Remember the Glacier National Park is their home and you are a guest. So visit with respect and caution.
If you are as scared as I was about grizzlies (and still are), you won’t be as scared when you are there in this stunning park enjoying many beautiful hikes and stunning vistas.
We did take many precautions and were very bear aware the entire time.
Low and behold we did not see one grizzly! We did see a few black bears though.
A few tips:
- Never give bears easy access to your food. For your safety and theirs. Any bears seeking human food must be removed from the park so please protect their home as well as yourself.
- Follow the rangers advice. They are soo good at monitoring bears and shutting down trails due to any threatening bear activity. Check in with them. They’re working to keep you and the bears safe.
- Hike in groups. We had a group from 10 – 16 hiking on every trail so I felt very safe with all our noise, especially the kids singing and screaming, Hey bear.
- Be sure to make noise. Yell out “hey bear”, clap and sing. Make the noise on blind corners so you don’t startle any bears.
- Carry bear spray and only use it if the bear comes close to you. It is a last resort but is meant to be the best one.
Accommodation in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park Camping
Most campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis with varying fees.
Fish Creek and St Mary Campgrounds and half of Many Glacier Campground can be reserved. There are no hook ups.
Get all the details here.
Glacier National Park Lodges
When a Swiss chalet meets a hunting lodge, you get the atmosphere of Lake McDonald Lodge. It’s perfectly located on the edge of the lake and near many hiking trails. Worth having a look even if you aren’t staying here.
Many Glacier Hotel
I’m disappointed we finished our Grinnell Glacier hike so late and missed checking out Manny Glacier Hotel, a popular and stunning old style lodge on Swiftcurrent Lake.
The views here of the glaciers and lakes are meant to be phenomenal. If you can, this would be a great place to stay filled with otherworldly charm and tranquility.
Places to Stay near Glacier National Park
Close to the western gate is the West Glacier, probably the most popular and pleasant gateway town. I’d recommend staying here or the lovely town of Whitefish which has lots of options.
Belton Chalet is the park’s oldest hotel built in 1910. We stayed not too far outside West Glacier.
Things to Do near Glacier National Park
Aerial Adventure Park
Head to the obstacle course high up into the trees at the Whitefish Mountain Resort.We loved the two hours we spent there with friends for Savannah’s birthday.
We wish we had more time to complete the harder blue and black levels of the Aerial Adventure Park but a thunder storm unexpectantly rolled through and they had to close the course.
It was probably the best high ropes course we have done. We traversed the trees via cable bridges, climbing rope ladders and swinging trapezes. And a couple of fun zip lines too!
What I loved most was watching the kids working together to get through the course, supporting and encouraging. This is why you do activities like this – it’s true team building and shows you that we’re all in this together, and true joy comes from collaboration and achieving together.
I spent the entire time moving through the courses with the kids and I had a blast spending such precious time with them.
Whitefish Mountain Resort also offers zip line tours, scenic lift rides, alpine rides and mountain biking in the summer.
Of course, in the winter it’s all about skiing. Their lodges with hot tubs on the deck look very enticing.