Updated February 2020.
Whether you are looking to spend several days in the park or just a weekend, there are some stops you want to make the time to see when you’re headed to Glacier. After growing up there, I found a few spots that I highly recommend—and a few I think can be skipped. Having an itinerary can help you to make the most of your time there while also giving you an opportunity to enjoy the magnificent nature in the area. This itinerary covers three days to one week, which should be plenty of time to enjoy the park. However, if you only have three days or less, I’ve front loaded the itinerary so you can see the most popular spots first. (If you can, stay longer so you can check out some of Glacier’s hidden gems!)
- How to get there
- When to go
- How to get around
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
- Glacier National Park itinerary
- Day 1–Apgar Village, Lake McDonald, and the Trail of the Cedars
- Day 2–Bowman Lake and Avalanche Hike
- Day 3–Going-to-the-Sun, Logan Pass, and hiking
- Day 4–Whitewater rafting, fly fishing, or horseback riding
- Day 5–St. Mary, Goat Haunt, and hiking
- Day 6–Grinnell Glacier Trail and Lake Josephine
- Day 7–Iceberg Lake hike or quiet day
- A note on wildlife
How to get there
If you aren’t choosing to drive, then the best way to reach the park is by flying into Glacier International Airport (FCA). While flights used to be fairly limited, as the park gains in popularity, it’s become a lot busier. You’ll want to take a look into booking flights a few months in advance in order to avoid soaring prices. You can also fly into some more major airports and then drive, but be prepared to spend some time in the car!
Alternatively, if you are planning on flying into Bozeman, Billings, or Missoula, you’ll have a bit of an easier drive and sometimes lower airline prices. (Check out my guide on road tripping from Billings to Glacier National Park!)
Booking in advance also pertains to camping spots if you are planning on road tripping. They often book out for the summer months in May, so doing a bit of research into whether or not you want to camp in the park or outside of it can save you from not having a place to stay while you’re there.
When to go
Glacier opens in June, but the famous Going-to-the-Sun road might not be at the beginning of the season. Because of latent avalanches and snow, it can be early July before you might make it to Logan Pass.
July and August can be extremely crowded, so I highly recommend going in early September. You will have avoided most of tourist season, and also have access to areas of the park that will close off in October.
How to get around
Most visitors choose to rent a car, which can go for around $200 in the busiest season. This is another thing you will want to book in advance in order to avoid the cars all being rented out when you are planning to arrive. Most likely, you will want to pick up your car at the airport, though there are some rental car agencies in nearby Kalispell and Whitefish too.
You might also want to consider renting a camper vehicle if you want to cut down on costs and get the full experience! Keep in mind that the largest a vehicle can be on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is 21 feet, and rightly so. You’ll be surprised how tight the road is.
Glacier also has a shuttle service within the park, which can be helpful when you are trying to hit the major sights without constantly having to find parking. If you are planning on using the shuttle, you’ll want to drive to Apgar Village and board there.
There are several tour options available, as well. If you are thinking that this is the way you want to go, I recommend Sun Tours. They do a fantastic job and you get a chance to ride in Glacier’s signature red jammers!
Where to stay
There are a number of camping spots and hotels that you can stay at near Glacier. If you don’t mind driving, you can also find accommodations in the towns of Whitefish and Kalispell that are a little bit cheaper than staying in the park or close to it.
101 Under Canvas Road, Coram
+1 888 496 1148
Under Canvas Glacier was added a few years ago as one of the few glamping spots in the area. Despite the lavish interiors, the rooms go for around an average $170 a night for a standard king and offer a volleyball court, BBQ station, and lobby where you can order in breakfast before you get hiking.
1 Rte 3, Browning
+1 303 265 7010
Glacier offers a number of hotels that are worth booking a night at. Many Glacier is located on the east side of the park, the ideal spot for hikers looking to spend their time on the trails instead of in a car. If you’re looking for a no-frills spot with scenic views of the mountains, then this is your spot.
355 Halfmoon Flats Road, West Glacier
+1 406 387 5341
Located a short drive from the west entrance, you’ll find a reasonably-priced camping spot with a pool, bathrooms, and space for your vehicle. They also have a store on the campgrounds in case you forgot something essential like toothpaste or s’mores items. Lots of families and those with RVs tend to stay here.
Where to eat
There isn’t a ton of amazing dining within the park itself, but there are some spots located just outside in West Glacier that serve up some good dishes. If you are planning on staying within the park, consider the chalets and lodges as your main places for food.
190 Going-to-the-Sun Rd
+1 406 888 5359
This is one of the few restaurants within the park worth checking out. You have very basic dishes here, but it serves as a good way to eat up before your hike. The bar is also a favorite among locals and they have a number of beers on tap for you to try after a day of sightseeing.
+1 406 888 5000
Hidden away from the main drag is the Belton Chalet, where you can find some fine dining right outside the park. This historic lodge (built in 1910) was one of the first structures to house tourists traveling on the Great Northern Railway. Now, it has a restaurant created to honor that past.
Glacier National Park itinerary
This itinerary is built on the premise that you are staying on the west side of the park. It can be completed in reverse if you are staying on the east side.
Day 1–Apgar Village, Lake McDonald, and the Trail of the Cedars
Today is a quiet day exploring the western side of the park. Immediately after the entrance, you will enter Apgar Village. Take some time to wander the grounds, check out the visitor’s center, or visit the shores of the lake. There is also some delicious ice cream here worth tasting too.
After that, head down the shore of Lake McDonald until you reach the lodge. Built in 1914, it’s the perfect place to relax with a picnic lunch and enjoy the gorgeous views. If you would like, you can also take a boat ride from the nearby dock—the tours are informative and you might even spot some wildlife heading down to the water for a drink.
For those looking for a little extra to end their day, head over to the Trail of the Cedars. Much of the trail is on a boardwalk, so tourists of all ages can experience the running rivers and smell of the large trees.
Day 2–Bowman Lake and Avalanche Hike
Bowman Lake is probably the farthest away from the other sights, but it’s worth checking out for a quieter area where tourists are less likely to visit. You’ll need to drive here since it is a bit off-the-beaten path and tours don’t run here. The best time to visit is during the morning or evening for the perfect Golden Hour photo, so plan to have the lake as the beginning or end to the activities you do for the day. If you choose to go swimming, know that the water is extremely cold and you’ll need a change of clothes!
Once you have woken up from the cold water, pack your bags for a hike up to Avalanche. This is one of the park’s most-visited hikes. With a round-trip hike of about four miles, this hike can easily be done within an afternoon. Make sure to bring some snacks or a lunch, though! This is the hike I take friends and family from out of town on, since you get a lot of pay-off for not a difficult hike.
Day 3–Going-to-the-Sun, Logan Pass, and hiking
For those who want to get a hike in, some of the most famous and beautiful hikes are located at Logan Pass. You need to take Going-to-the-Sun Road in order to get there, so it’s worth it to get up pretty early in order to get both in. Parking spaces fill up fast—skip the extra 30 minutes of sleep so you can be up there at seven am sharp.
Going-to-the-Sun is an impressive feat of engineering, and you will have to take it slow because of the steep drop. There are several stops along the way that include openings to short trails and springs worth checking out if you have the time.
Once you reach Logan Pass, you have the option to hike a number of different trails. For day hikes, I recommend Hidden Lake and the Highline. They offer beautiful views and will get you back to your campsite by dinner. Of course, for those who want a more extensive hike, you will have to plan accordingly and make sure you have a backcountry permit if necessary.
Day 4–Whitewater rafting, fly fishing, or horseback riding
Take a break from hiking today (aren’t you relieved?) and head out on some other adventurous activities instead. Almost all tours depart from West Glacier, so keep that in mind when you’re booking your trip or move this day to another one if you plan on camping in the park. Glacier has a number of different whitewater rafting companies–all are reputable and known for doing a good job of taking care of their customers on some pretty crazy rapids. I recommend Glacier Raft Co. They’ve been around for several years and also offer additional tours that include fly fishing. (You can’t beat the rivers here!)
Glacier is also known for its horseback riding trails, which can be a fun activity if you have some kids or you are tired of walking. Horses were used before cars to transport people and items throughout the park and it’s fun to step back in time with a ride. Another reason to book horseback riding is that you can start the trail at a number of different spots–not just at Apgar! It’s also quite affordable at around $45 for a day. Here’s some more information if horseback riding appeals to you.
Day 5–St. Mary, Goat Haunt, and hiking
The east side of the park is a hiker’s paradise, and it’s often where multi-day hikes begin. However, if you are only in the park for three days, it’s still worth visiting. First, make a stop at Lake St. Mary—site of numerous movie shoots and some of the clearest water in the United States. You can take a boat cruise here or just enjoy the cool water on your feet.
Many head to Goat Haunt as their introduction to Waterton National Park, but you don’t have to head across the border if you don’t want to. It’s also the site of a great day hike if you are willing to strap on your hiking boots again. This is another location is where backpackers start their journeys into the wilderness for a few days, but you can also walk to a few waterfalls and turn back if you don’t want it to be a multi-day affair.
(Want more than a Glacier National Park itinerary? Check out my guide to road tripping through Montana!)
Day 6–Grinnell Glacier Trail and Lake Josephine
It’s back to the trail for a memorable hike. Named after the man who was an integral part of establishing the park, you get the chance to touch glacier ice today. Be warned–this hike is not for the faint of heart, and those who don’t want to push themselves too hard should opt for one of the other hikes suggested on Day 3. It’s about seven miles round trip, and make sure to bring your bear spray since this is a spot heavily populated by momma grizzlies and babies in the summer.
After your hike, relax in the cold waters of Lake Josephine, located close by to the trailhead for Grinnell. This is a great opportunity to take a boat ride if you haven’t on Lake McDonald, and if you are staying at the Swiftcurrent Inn it makes for an easy day. If you are staying on the west side of the park, you’ll want to get up super early for this hike so you can get back decently for the evening.
Day 7–Iceberg Lake hike or quiet day
Another day, another hike. For those looking for the ultimate Instagram picture, this is the ideal hike for you. However, it’s not easy. Plan to spend the whole day on this hike and bring a decent-sized lunch and enough water to last you throughout the day. You’ll hike through nine miles of amazing scenery and have the chance to spot bears (again, bring your spray!), moose, deer, and mountain goats. You will gain some elevation during the latter part of the hike, so make sure you’re physically prepared to handle it.
If you would like a quieter day, consider a shorter hike like Twin Falls or Baring Falls. Both start in the Two Medicine area of the park and lead you to some great waterfalls. Alternatively, you might also want to consider making the drive to Whitefish for some zip lining, craft beer, and more.
A note on wildlife
Bears are a real presence in the park, and if you are planning on hiking, you should always take a can of bear spray with you. Do not approach a bear (or any wildlife), and make sure that you properly lock up your food in your car or a bear-safe container. Never feed any type of animal.
What would you add any of this to your Glacier National Park itinerary?
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