In this Glacier National Park itinerary we are covering everything you need to know before visiting, including when to visit, where to stay, and things to do at Glacier National Park!
For years Glacier National Park has been at the top of not only our national park bucket list, but our United States bucket list. Every summer we would hope to finally get to visit the park and it just never worked out because of timing or logistics.
But despite a couple challenges, like traveling with our dog Kona and our van being too long (more on that later), we finally made it happen this summer and it was 1000% worth the wait! We didn’t know if it could meet our very high expectations, but to be honest, it exceeded them.
We visited in August 2020, during COVID-19, which meant that our experience was a bit different than normal (the east side, including Two Medicine and Many Glacier were closed), but we still had the most incredible time!
We drove the crazy gorgeous Going-to-the-Sun Road, hiked the epic Highline Trail (our new favorite US hike!), ate delicious local treats (huckleberry anyone?!), swam in a beautiful lake, and so much more. It was the most perfect few days and we are already counting down the days until we can return! Watch our experience at Glacier
We are excited to share this 4 day Glacier National Park itinerary, which is full of our favorite sights, hikes, and eats from our time at the park! Prepare to turn into the heart eyed emoji and “oooh and ahhh” for 96 hours straight…this park is an absolute GEM and we are so pumped for you to experience it!
Note: During our trip the majority of the east side of the park, which is on the Blackfeet Indian reservation, was closed due to COVID-19. This Glacier National Park itinerary will only focus on the areas along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, including Logan Pass, part of St. Mary, and Lake McDonald, as well as the North Fork area. We hope to visit the rest of the park in 2021!
Important update about the Going-to-the-Sun Road
Between May 28-September 6, 2021 from the hours of 6 AM- 5 PM MDT, you are required to have a reservation to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road. You can either reserve a pass to drive the road (valid for 7 days) or will have a pass included if you’re staying at certain lodging inside the park or have specific tours booked. If you arrive before 6 AM or after 5 PM, you will not need a permit.
You can find out more details on how to get your pass here. This new requirement heavily impacts this guide, as many of the items on this guide are located on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Check out our other Glacier National Park guides for more detailed info on specific major attractions:
Leave No Trace Principles
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
- Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
- Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
- Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
- Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
- Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
- Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.
- About Glacier National Park
- Different regions of Glacier National Park
- When to visit Glacier National Park
- Getting to Glacier National Park
- Getting around Glacier National Park
- Where to Stay in Glacier National Park
- Things to know before you visit Glacier National Park
- 4 days in Glacier National Park itinerary
- If you have extra time…
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park became the United State’s 8th National Park in 1910 and is located in northwestern Montana, right on the border of Canada. In fact, the park, combined with Waterton Lakes, which is right across the border on the Canadian side, became the first international peace park in 1932.
Together, Glacier and Waterton Lakes are often referred to as the “Crown of the Continent” because they sit at the headwaters of streams that flow into the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay.
By itself, Glacier National Park encompasses over 1 million acres and is home to 762 lakes, most of which are unnamed, beautiful mountain views, waterfalls, and 26 named glaciers, all of which are shrinking in size.
Despite not being fully open the majority of the year, Glacier is the 10th most visited National Park in the United States, with 3 million visitors annually. The park is absolutely magnificent and there is no doubt as to why millions flock to it every year.
Note: it costs $35 per vehicle to enter Glacier National Park, which covers 7 days. However, we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass, which is $80 per year and will get you into any National Park, monument, or forest for free.
Different regions of Glacier National Park
There are a handful of different regions that make up Glacier National Park, each with incredible hikes and views. We’re sharing a map in the section above with each area marked, as well as information about each area below so you can plan accordingly!
Lake McDonald Valley
Open: typically open year round
On the west side of Glacier, sits Lake McDonald, which is the largest lake in the park at 10 miles long, over a mile wide, and almost 500 feet deep. It is home to the historic Lake McDonald Lodge, as well as the Apgar Visitor Center, and there are many activities in the area including hiking, swimming, horseback riding, a boat tour, and a ranger led evening program.
The Lake McDonald Valley is the beginning point of the Going-to-the-Sun Road from the west, so you’ll likely drive through this area almost daily during your trip.
Open: Typically late June or early July until mid-October, but this varies depending on the weather
This is a can’t miss area of the park! Located about 1 hour from the start of Lake McDonald, Logan Pass is the highest elevation you can reach in the park by car, which you get to by driving the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Logan Pass is home to some of the most incredible and popular hikes in the park, including Hidden Lake and the Highline Trail, as well as the Logan Pass Visitor Center.
Because of this, the area can get very busy. We highly recommend arriving just before sunrise to get parking and an early start on the trails. The parking lot usually fills by 8:30 AM in the summer. There is also a shuttle that can bring you to Logan Pass, however it was not running in 2020, so make sure to check!
Another perk of arriving early is to experience the early morning light hitting the mountains, which is magical. We saw some amazing sunrises from the visitor center parking lot! You also will have a very good chance of seeing some wildlife up close and personal including mountain goats and bighorn sheep!
Open: Typically late May to early October, but this varies depending on the weather
St. Mary is located on the eastern end of the Going-to-the-Sun Road and is just a short drive to the eastern part of the park, including Many Glacier.
This part of the park is home to a visitor center, some amazing waterfalls, like St. Mary, Virginia, and Baring falls, as well as gorgeous views of St. Mary Lake. During our visit, a portion of the St. Mary area was closed, but from the part we got to see, it sure is beautiful and offers a lot to explore for many different activity levels.
Open: Partially accessible in the winter
The North Fork area is located in the northwest of the park and to access this area you will need your own car (all-wheel or 4 wheel drive is recommended), as it’s a bumpy, dusty unpaved road. But don’t worry, it’s not too bad and our van was able to make it just fine!
We originally didn’t plan to visit this area, but we are so glad we did, as it’s much more remote and less busy than other areas of the park. But beware, there are very limited services and no cell phone service, so come prepared with a full tank of gas, snacks, offline maps, and a sense of adventure.
In North Fork you will find beautiful Bowman and Kintla Lakes and the cute, tiny community of Polebridge. Polebridge offers a tiny bit of accommodations and the Polebridge Mercantile where you’ll find coffee and the famous huckleberry bear claws (THE BEST!).
We have learned since our visit that vehicles over 21 feet are not allowed to drive the roads once you enter the park past Polebridge. Our van is 22.5 ft long, but the ranger let us drive it anyway. But don’t risk it!
Many Glacier, Two Medicine, & Goat Haunt
Open: Partially open for winter activities like cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter
These three regions are located on the east side of Glacier, which we unfortunately were unable to visit due to it being closed this year. We have heard that these areas are home to some of the most beautiful hikes and views in the park, so we cannot wait to go back and experience it for ourselves!
When to visit Glacier National Park
While Glacier National Park is technically open 365 days a year, most of the park, including the Going-to-the-Sun Road, is closed during the winter.
Late May through early July is typically when the majority of the park begins to open up again and the most popular times to visit the park are July-September, when the trails tend to be clear of snow, fully accessible, and full of wildflowers. During this time, daytime temperatures average in the 70s and nighttime in the 40s. It’s absolutely perfect!
However, during these months, there are two things that can damper the fun: crowds and wildfire smoke, which typically obscure the views in the park for a period of time every summer. If you want to avoid both, we’d suggest visiting in either late June or early September. Note: the Going-to-the-Sun Road may not be open in late June.
If you want to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which takes you from Lake McDonald to Logan Pass and St. Mary, the best time to visit is late June or early July to early October. While the road is partially maintained for much of the year, particularly the Lake McDonald to Avalanche Lake area, the alpine portions are not maintained in the winter months and there is no set date for when it reopens each year.
Getting to Glacier National Park
One of the best things about Glacier is how remote you feel when you’re in the park. But the downside is that it makes it a tiny bit trickier to get there. Although there are quite a few smaller cities surrounding the park, there are no major cities nearby, so you may have a bit of a drive to get there.
If you’re flying into Glacier, the closest airport is Glacier Park International Airport (GPIA) in Kalispell, Montana. This airport can be accessed with direct flights from Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas, and Atlanta through major airlines such as Delta, United, Alaska, and American Airlines.
The airport is pretty small (we rented a car here), so flights may be a bit pricier and if you’re not located in one of the cities above, you will have a connection. But at around 44 minutes from the park entrance, it may be worth the cost or layover to be very close to the park.
Two other airports you could fly into are Missoula International Airport(MSO) in Missoula (2.5 hours away), Montana serves many of the same airlines and cities as Glacier Park International Airport, or Spokane International Airport (GEG) in Spokane, Washington (4.5 hours away), which will have the most flight options available.
Driving to the park? Here is how far popular nearby destinations are from the west entrance of the park:
Kalispell, MT: 44 mins, 33 miles
Missoula, MT: 2 hours 35 mins, 138 miles
Calgary, AB (Canada): 3 hours, 140 miles. This would make for an EPIC trip to swing by Banff and Jasper before or after Glacier!
Spokane, WA: 4 hours 36 mins, 273 miles
Bozeman, MT: 4 hours 57 mins, 289 miles
Seattle, WA: 9 hours, 550 miles
Boise, ID: 10 hours, 524 miles
Portland, OR: 10 hours, 624 miles
One other option to get to the park is by train! Amtrak offers a few different options for train rides to Glacier, including various cities for departure, different trip lengths, and even adding on the Canadian Rockies (Banff and Jasper), Yosemite, Yellowstone, or even the Grand Canyon to your trip. Amtrak’s packages include lodging, as well as some activities while at Glacier National Park. This would be an incredible adventure!
Getting around Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is 1,583 square miles, making it a huge park to explore! To truly enjoy the park we highly recommend renting a car for your time at the park if you’re flying in.
If you’re road tripping in from somewhere in a car then you’re all set! Although, keep in mind that the Going-to-the-Sun road has a length limit of 21 feet, 8 feet wide, and 10 feet tall so if you are in a van or RV be aware of how this might affect you. Our van is 22.5 feet and we had to rent a car so we could drive the road.
In a normal year, there are free shuttles that can take you along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, from the Apgar visitor center to St. Mary visitor center. This is a great option if your vehicle is too long and you want to explore the park, without renting a car.
However, the shuttles are only open seasonally (usually July 1st through Labor Day) and they do not start running very early, so if you plan to do any long hikes or want to beat the crowds, we’d suggest having your own car.
Note: The free shuttle did not run in 2020 due to COVID-19, so make sure to check if it’s running when you visit.
If you want a more unique and educational experience, you can take a red bus tour through the park, which has various routes, ranging in length. These vintage vehicles are restored from the 1930s and are super cool, but the downside to these is that you do not get to hike on these tours, it’s more about learning about the park and seeing the sights from the road.
The Blackfeet Perspective by Sun Tours is another amazing tour opportunity. These half-day and full-day tours let you learn more about the park through the Blackfeet perspective. You will learn about history, culture, family, and local knowledge about the area that Blackfeet have long called home for many years. There are tours of the East and West sides, individually, or both.
If you want a shuttle to connect you from different lodges and areas outside of the park to the park shuttle, Xanterra operates a paid shuttle that can help you get to a few different destinations.
Where to Stay in Glacier National Park
With a handful of awesome smaller cities nearby, as well as accommodations in the park, there are quite a few options of places to stay. Here are some lodging options that we would recommend, starting with options inside of the park, which is great if you’re looking for convenience and less time driving to the park and more time exploring.
There are 13 park campgrounds to choose from at Glacier National Park and 1,009 sites, ranging from $10-$23 per night. While most campgrounds in the park are on a first come first served basis, Fish Creek, St. Mary, Many Glacier, and Apgar’s group sites allow reservations. Make sure to book very far in advance (you can book up to 6 months in advance) to secure a spot!
For the rest of the park’s campgrounds, you can check the current conditions and see what time they filled up on this page, which is super helpful to make sure you snag a first come, first served site.
For the sake of this Glacier National Park itinerary, Fish Creek, Apgar, Sprague Creek, Avalanche, Rising Sun, and St. Mary would be the most convenient options to the majority of the items on this guide. If you want to be close to both the town and the park, we’d suggest Apgar or Fish Creek.
Note: According to the NPS, RVs and truck and trailer combinations are not recommended at these campgrounds: Bowman Lake, Cut Bank, Kintla Lake, Logging Creek, Quartz Creek, and Sprague Creek.
If you are looking for a “step back in time” experience while at the park, look no further than staying at a classic lodge in the park. No televisions or elevators, floors that creak, and hand carved staircases and railings are part of the experience at these lodges.
The Lake McDonald Lodge is a historic lodge built in 1913 on the eastern shore of Lake McDonald. It is a 3 story Swiss chalet style lodge with 82 rustic, but comfortable rooms. We can’t imagine waking up to a view of the lake!
The Village Inn at Apgar is on the western shore of Lake McDonald and has one and two bedroom motel style units with full kitchens, making it perfect if you’re with a small group and/or want to cook meals. The Inn was built in 1956 and still retains that 50s charm in its decor and style.
Apgar Village Lodge & Cabins is located in Apgar Village where you can easily rent a bike, book a tour, or swim in Lake McDonald. There are cabins available with and without kitchens and family units.
A backcountry chalet is something we have been dying to stay in since our trip to Italy and the Dolomites a few years ago! There are only 2 chalets remaining in the park and they both are only reached by trail, the Sperry Chalet and Granite Park Chalet. Neither are exactly cheap, but what an experience they would be to stay in!
The Granite Park Chalet is a hikers hostel where you can cook your own food in the kitchen and need to bring all of your necessities.
The Sperry Chalet is more of a full service experience. This chalet features private rooms, bedding and 3 meals from the restaurant.
Outside of the Park
If you want to stay outside of the park, we’d highly recommend looking into Columbia Falls, Kalispell, and Whitefish as your home base, all of which have lots of options for places to stay, as well as restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores. Here are a handful of options, ranging from Airbnbs, hotels, campgrounds, and more!
If you plan to start your adventures super early in the park, which we’d recommend, an Airbnb would be a great option for a place to stay. With access to a kitchen, you’ll be able to whip yourself up some very early morning coffee and food before hitting the trails, as well as have a comfortable place to return to everyday.
Columbia Falls is probably the closest you can stay to the park at just a 20 minute drive to the entrance.
Cabins: These 5 studio cabins have a kitchen, bathroom, grill, and great views
Cozy Montana Home: A 3 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom house that is great for 5 guests
Peak Baggers Roost: A 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom condo
While a little bit south of the park, this area is convenient to the local airport and has tons of amenities.
The Shoebox: A super adorable 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom cottage
The Cottage: A 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom house for up to 7 guests
The Aspen Abode: A cute studio tiny house! Warning: the bathroom is in a separate building
Le Petite Chalet: A studio tiny house with a nice bed and grill
Mtn View House: A 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house with amazing views
Updated Apt on 5 Pvt Acres, 20 Mins to Glacier NP: A 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment with a great back patio
We loved the town of Whitefish! It’s super cute and is close to both Glacier, as well as tons of other outdoor activities!
Moonlight Ridge Cabin: 1 bedroom, 2 bathroom cabin that sleeps 4 guests
Historic Condo in Downtown Whitefish: 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom condo that is walkable to restaurants in Whitefish
Perfect Downtown Location with view of Big Mtn: A gorgeous 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom guesthouse that sleeps 5
Downtown, Near Lake ⛰️ Glacier National Park: A 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom condo with modern finishes
Your Basecamp in Whitefish: A super cool 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom guesthouse
Great downtown location: A 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house that sleeps 6
Great downtown location: A 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house that sleeps 6
This will be a bit further to the park, but this area is gorgeous!
Modern Tiny House in Lakeside: A gorgeous 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom tiny house in a beautiful setting
Renovated Luxury Barn: A super nice 2 bedroom, 2 bath barn
Cozy and Quiet Studio: The name says it all!
Guesthouse with loft bedroom: This guesthouse has 1 bedroom and 1 bathroom
Reclusive Moose Cabins (Columbia Falls)
Cedar Creek Lodge (Columbia Falls)
Glacier Outdoor Center (West Glacier)
Country Inn & Suites (Kalispell)
Hampton Inn (Kalispell)
Springhill Suites (Kalispell)
Best Western Plus Flathead Lake (Kalispell)
Homewood Suites (Kalispell)
Hampton Inn (Whitefish)
Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge (Whitefish)
Bar W Guest Ranch (Whitefish)
Mountain Meadow RV Park (Hungry Horse): this is where we stayed! We didn’t want to risk not getting a free campground during the busy season, so we booked this spot to have somewhere to keep the van while we hiked and to not stress about where to sleep at night. Like most RV parks, the spots are kind of close together, but we did like how this one had tons of trees to give it more of a campground feel vs. RV park feel.
Glacier Campground: There are both RV and tent sites here, as well as cabins!
West Glacier KOA: This KOA is close to the west entrance of the park. Similar to most KOAs, it doesn’t have much privacy at all, so be prepared to have close neighbors.
National Forest Campgrounds
These campgrounds are all reservable 6 months in advance and are great for both tents and RVs.
Tally Lake Campground
Big Creek Campground
Lost Johnny Point Campground
Emery Bay Campground
Middle Fork Flathead River: This free campground looks amazing! It’s right on the river and good for RVs and vans, although the road can be a bit rough. You can only stay here for 3 days though. Find more free campsites on Campendium and freecampsites.net!
For a luxurious camping experience check out Under Canvas Glacier! At this location they offer lofted Treehouse canvas tents and safari-inspired suites complete with king size beds, private bathrooms, and a wood burning stove! This accommodation is located only 7 miles from the park entrance.
Things to know before you visit Glacier National Park
Before you visit Glacier National Park, here are a few of our top tips to ensure you have a fun and safe time:
- Get to the park early! We always recommend getting anywhere early, but if you want to enjoy some solitude, shoot for arriving by 7 AM.
- Visit during the week. Weekdays are a lot less busy at the park and can be more enjoyable.
- Make sure to pack the 10 essentials. Although many of the trails are well trafficked and well marked, always have the 10 essentials with you just in case things do not go according to plan.
- Be bear (and wildlife) aware. Black and grizzly bears (the more aggressive of the two) both call Glacier National Park home. While attacks are very uncommon, there is a good chance you will see a bear at the park (we saw two black bears from the car), so please review what to do if you see a bear. Mountain lions, moose, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep also call the park home, so please keep your distance from them as well.
- Carry bear spray! It is crucial to carry bear spray in the park just in case you encounter a bear and it starts to get aggressive. You can rent this from Glacier Outfitters in West Glacier if you’re flying in.
- Be flexible! During our trip to Glacier we couldn’t hike two popular trails that we were excited about due to bear activity. It is pretty common for trails to close due to grizzlies, which is for everyone’s safety, so we appreciated it, so be prepared to have plans change and make sure to have back up options!
- Pack food + water and fill up with gas! There aren’t really any food options in the park past Lake McDonald, so make sure to pack meals to enjoy during your hikes! If you start near visitor centers, they will have water fountains, but if not, make sure you have enough water on you, or a water filter in case you need to fill up in a stream. There is also only one gas station on the road, right at West Glacier, so make sure you have a full tank!
- Dogs are not allowed! Just like the other National Parks, dogs are not allowed outside of parking areas and campgrounds at Glacier National Park. Traveling with your dog? Learn what we do with Kona if she cannot join us during our travels. For this trip, Kona stayed at Columbia Mountain Kennels.
- Be prepared for variable weather. The temperature at Logan Pass can be 10 degrees cooler than at Lake McDonald, so make sure to pack layers (and sunscreen for sunny days)!
- Download maps beforehand. With little to no service in the park, we highly recommend downloading AllTrails maps before you go. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to do so, which is $30 a year and so worth it!
4 days in Glacier National Park itinerary
Now that you know how to get to Glacier, when to visit, where to stay, and tips for your visit, it’s time to start planning! Here is a 4 day Glacier National Park itinerary with the best hikes, places to eat, roadside stops, and things to do at Glacier National Park!
Day 1 of this Glacier National Park itinerary is all about seeing highlights along the Going-to-the-Sun highway, as well as doing some iconic, but not too long hikes!
Total miles of hiking: 11.3 miles
- Make a quick coffee and hit the road early to get to Logan Pass for sunrise. I know this sounds brutal, but trust us, it’ll be sooo worth it! You can either enjoy the sunrise from along the Going-to-the-Sun road or at the Logan Pass visitor center, which has incredible views!
- Hike the Hidden Lake Trail, which is 5.3 miles with 1,374 feet of elevation. This trail starts at the Logan Pass visitor center and after 1.4 miles you’ll reach the Hidden Lake Overlook, but make sure to continue on to Hidden Lake.
Note: When we visited, this hike was closed due to grizzly bear activity (the trail was closed for at least a week) so we suggest checking the trail’s status in advance so you’re not disappointed. From the photos we have seen, this hike looks incredible and it’s high on our list for next time!
- Drive the EPIC Going-to-the-Sun Road! After leaving the Logan Pass visitor center and Hidden Lake trailhead, continue east along the Going-to-the-Sun road towards Sun Point and St. Mary. There are a handful of overlooks along the way to give you even more crazy beautiful views of the park, including the Jackson Glacier Overlook and Wild Goose Island Lookout.
Want a more detailed guide on the Going-to-the-Sun road and the must visit stops and tips? Check out our Guide to Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road!
- Hike to see Baring, St. Mary, and Virginia Falls, which we think is about 6 miles total. You will start this hike at the Sun Point parking area. Take the Sun Point nature trail about 0.1 miles to Sun Point, which overlooks Saint Mary Lake. After soaking in the views, head back towards the parking area, but instead of turning right, continue straight towards Baring Falls.
You’ll go along Saint Mary Lake to the falls, as well as some bare trees, which were burned in a fire, and possibly wildflowers, which makes for some beautiful and unique scenery. After seeing Baring Falls, follow the trail to St. Mary Falls, which is gatorade blue, and finally Virginia Falls, which has these super cool red rocks.
The waterfalls get better and better as you go and if you’re lucky like us you might see a moose or other wildlife! We couldn’t find an AllTrails route page for it, but this is the best representation we could find! Our friends, The Mandagies, also wrote a great blog post about the trail too!
- End the day by driving back west on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. If you’re in the park for sunset, we highly recommend the Big Bend Overlook for sunset. It’s absolutely magical to watch the valley fill with light as the sun goes down.
- Looking for a dinner spot close to the park? Check out Backslope Brewing, Gunsight Saloon, or The DeSoto Grill.
On day 2 of this Glacier National Park itinerary, you’ll take things a little easier with some delicious coffee and breakfast, a gorgeous hike, and time relaxing at Lake McDonald!
Total miles of hiking: 6.7
- Sleep in a bit and grab coffee and breakfast at Uptown Hearth (closed Monday and Tuesday), located in Columbia Falls. A couple other coffee shops to check out in the area are: Montana Coffee Traders and Azul Coffee Bar.
- Hike to Avalanche Lake via the Trail of the Cedars, which is 6.7 miles and 757 ft of elevation gain. Similar to our experience with Hidden Lake, when we went to hike the trail to Avalanche Lake, it was unfortunately closed for bear activity.
But we did get to experience the Trail of the Cedars and it was a very nice walk in the woods with a super cool gorge with bright blue, glacial water. And from what we can see, Avalanche Lake looks very worth the additional miles!
- After your hike, spend the rest of the day at Lake McDonald. This lake marks the beginning of the Going-to-the-Sun Road from the west and at 10 miles long, and over a mile wide and 472 feet deep, it is the largest lake in the park. It’s known for its amazing views of the mountains, colorful rocks, and clear water.
There is a lot you can do in this area of the park, including horseback riding, hikes, and swimming in the lake. We spent our time at a day use area, which had some beach space and great views of the lake and mountains. We floated around on a floaty, but you can also rent kayaks by Apgar village!
PS: If you have time, do the Johns Lake Loop hike to McDonald Falls on the way to the lake!
- For dinner, check out Backslope Brewing, Gunsight Saloon, or The DeSoto Grill, all of which are close to the park.
- Get lots of sleep because tomorrow will be a BIG day!
Prepare to be amazed! Day 3 on this Glacier National Park itinerary includes one of the most epic hikes the park has to offer. It’ll be a long day, but your eyes will be in awe the entire time!
Total miles of hiking: 15.2
- Get a very early start and head up to Logan Pass to spend the day experiencing one of the greatest trails that the park has to offer, the Highline Trail!
- There are a few different ways to hike the Highline Trail, including different starting and ending points, hiking to a chalet, hiking to a glacier overlook, or only hiking a portion of the trail. We have an entire guide on hiking the Highline Trail, which covers everything you need to know about the trail, your options, what to bring, and so much more, so we suggest reading that to find out everything you need to know before you go.
But for the sake of this guide, we’re going to recommend hiking the Highline Trail to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook, which is about 15.2 miles round trip (AllTrails says it’s 14.7 miles, but the park maps said 15.2) and 3,507 ft of elevation gain.
This trail is absolutely stunning and quickly became our favorite hike in the US (so far)! However, it can be a bit tough at times, especially the 0.6 miles to the top of the Grinnell Glacier Overlook on the Garden Wall trail. Longest 0.6 miles ever! But don’t let that scare you, it’s 100% worth it for the view at the top! The gatorade blue water and lakes off in the distance are stunning!
The hike took us about 8 hours, but we’d recommend planning for 10 just to be safe. Also, starting early is KEY to having some solitude on the trail! We hardly ran into anyone on the way to the overlook, but we did have to move to the side on the way back, especially the last couple miles, to let people pass. And make sure to bring lots of water and food for fuel. You’ll need it!
PS: If 15.2 miles is too much for you to do in one day, we highly recommend doing at least some of the trail to see some of the best views in the park!
- After conquering the Highline Trail, treat yourself to some huckleberry pie at The Huckleberry Patch! While a bit of a touristy spot, the pie is delicious and tastes even better after 15+ miles. They also have regular food, but we didn’t have a chance to try it.
Spend your last day in Glacier exploring a less busy, but just as incredible, part of the park. As well as eating one of our new favorite treats!
Total miles of hiking: 0-11.6
- Recover a bit from yesterday’s hike by sleeping in a bit and then heading to the North Fork area of the park!
We didn’t originally plan on visiting this area of the park during our trip, but when our original plans fell through on our last day and we had no cell service to figure out what to do, we remembered hearing about this area of the park and we decided why the heck not! We followed signs to get there and are so glad we made the trek out there to experience a more off the beaten path side of one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
There is no cell phone service on the drive and getting to this area requires driving on dirt roads, but it’s really not bad. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have a bear run right in front of you like we did!
- Right at the entrance of the North Fork area is the cute town of Polebridge. This town is home to the Polebridge Mercantile, which has been open for 106 years…crazy! The mercantile is part store, coffee shop, bakery, and pizzeria. But they are probably most famous for an insanely delicious pastry called a Huckleberry bear claw.
These pastries are loaded with huckleberry (and we think some sort of cheese?), shaped like a bear claw, and are drizzled with a sauce and strudel on top. These are crazy delicious and are a MUST EAT item while near Glacier!
- We highly recommend taking your bear claw to Bowman Lake, which is a gorgeous, large lake surrounded by mountains. It’s about a 35 minute drive from Polebridge and requires more driving on dirt roads, but it makes an epic spot to picnic with your bear claws (notice we said claws, not claw, because you’ll definitely want more than one!)
If you want to do some hiking while at Bowman Lake, we suggest checking out the Numa Ridge Lookout Trail, which is 11.6 miles and 3,021 ft of gain and ends with a great view of Bowman lake, the surrounding mountains, and an operating fire lookout!
That may be a bit ambitious after tackling the Highline Trail the day before, so if you’re looking for something easier, you can hike along Bowman Lake for a bit.
- After spending the day in the North Fork area, head to Whitefish. We loved this little mountain town’s vibe and views! Whether you are rewarding yourself after a hike or rewarding yourself for relaxing at Bowman Lake all day, do NOT skip a meal at the Wich Haus (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)!
They might possibly have the best sandwich we’ve had outside of our favorite in Italy! They have “a locally-driven and often changing menu that tastes of Montana” so you are sure to have something unique to try.
- And for dessert (the bear claw was technically breakfast, so it doesn’t count as dessert, right?), head to Sweet Peaks Ice Cream. We loved their flavors!
If you have extra time…
We could have easily spent a month (or more!) in this area and never gotten bored. If you have more than 4 days at Glacier, here are some other ideas of things to do and places to eat to add to your Glacier National Park itinerary!
- Mudman Burgers (Columbia Falls)
- Last Chair Kitchen & Bar (Whitefish)
- Loula’s Cafe (Whitefish)
- The Farmhouse Inn and Kitchen (Whitefish)
- Abruzzo Italian Kitchen (Whitefish)
- Jalisco Cantina (Whitefish)
- Tupelo Grille (Whitefish)
- Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits (Kalispell)
- Skyes Diner (Kalispell)
- The Knead Cafe (Kalispell)
- Visit Flathead Lake! We loved this lake so much. It’s crystal clear, huge, and surrounded by mountains. We visited Wayfarers State Park and highly recommend grabbing Flathead cherries while in the area (we got ours at Bigfork Orchards). We hear Burgertown Dairy Freeze is a great post-lake food stop!
- Explore the Many Glacier and Two Medicine areas of the park (if they are open)! We hear that Iceberg Lake (9.3 miles 1,450 feet of elevation gain), Grinnell Glacier (11.2 miles, 2,181 feet of elevation gain), Ptarmigan Lake and Tunnel Trail (8.6 miles, 1,896 feet of elevation gain), and Cracker Lake (12 miles, 1,650 feet of elevation gain) are some of the best!
- Siyeh Pass Trail: 9.7 miles, 2,234 feet of elevation gain
- Piegan Pass Trail: 12.4 miles, 2,014 feet of elevation gain
- Gunsight Pass Trail: 18.8 miles, 3,727 feet of elevation gain
- Haystack Butte Trail: 8.2 miles, 1,689 feet of elevation gain
- Mount Oberlin Trail: 3.5 miles, 1,519 feet of elevation gain
- Go on a guided river rafting, horseback riding, fly fishing, or hiking tour with Glacier Guides Montana Raft or Wild River Adventures
- Ride an alpine slide at Whitefish Mountain Resort! We did this and it was SO FUN! They also have mountain biking, a zipline, and more!
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