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.
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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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—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 3—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.
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 to this itinerary?