Established in 1910, Glacier National Park became Montana’s first National Park and the country’s 10th. It is also recognized as one of the world’s first international peace parks as it was a way to celebrate the friendship between the United States and Canada. Both countries work seamlessly as they continue their preservation and research efforts to protect the one million acres belonging to this park. Its inhabitants and visitors can continue to enjoy its beauty year-round. After visiting this location several times this past year, we wanted to share our ideal 3-day itinerary, which we believe encompasses the best experiences in Glacier National Park.
Activities to do:
Glacier National Park has a lot to offer its visitors, and some of the best ways to fully embrace yourself in the environment are by camping. There are over 1,000 camping sites across 13 campgrounds, each of which offers you a different view perfect for every explorer apart of your group. With reservations starting at $15 a night, you can choose campsites that are remote or full hookups. Whatever you need, this National Park can offer it to you.
Did you know Glacier National Park has 700 lakes? So because of the abundance of water due to past ice-ages, you won’t be short of water sport activities. Introduce yourself to these fantastic lakes by kayaking and enjoy the crystal blue waters up close.
One thing you won’t be short of in this National Park is hiking trails. Over 700 miles of trails to explore, allowing you to do light day hikes or extended backpacking trips. Our favorites are the Grinnell Glacier Trail, Hidden Lake Overlook, and the McDonald Creek Trail. Just be mindful of the trail conditions, as they are subject to close depending on the season. To learn more about these trails and their current conditions, visit the National Park Trail Status Report website.
Driving on the Going-To-The-Sun Road is an absolute must when visiting this park, as it’s one of America’s most scenic roads. However, this road can become very busy, so start your day early to not only beat the crowds but have a higher chance of seeing wildlife as well. On this road, you pass the continental divide, see lakes, glaciers, overlook cliffs, and so much more. Check out the must-see stops list here.
Passes & Permits:
Besides the National Park Entrance, there are a few areas where a permit or pass will be required, and due to Covid-19 restrictions, reservations may be needed for campsites, ranger-led programs, and more. For up-to-date information on the park’s permit status, check out the National Park Website for Glacier National Park.
When you’re planning a trip to this National Park, it’s imperative to consider the weather you’ll be facing when you’re here. Of course, try and visit during the July and August months, which also happens to be the peak season for this National Park, but when learning about what each season brings, you will understand why. Here is what you can expect during each season to better plan your trip for yourself and your family.
Summer – During the summer season, all amenities and programs will be fully running as this is the park’s peak season. In addition, you can expect temperatures in the 80s during the day and 40s at night, making it comfortable your entire trip.
Fall – The early fall season is a beautiful time to go as most of the amenities are still open, and the foliage makes for perfect photos. Temperatures are still comfortable on sunny days, but the days do start to cool off fast. Keep in mind; if you are visiting after labor day, you may find a few popular destinations closed for the season.
Winter – With the park on the continental divide, the weather can be extreme, especially during winter. You can expect frequent below-freezing temperatures during the day and night, unpredictable blizzards, snowpacks over 16 feet, and avalanches. Because of these conditions, park lodging, shuttle services, the visitors center, and most roads are closed. However, these conditions cause the lowest park entrance fees of the year, making this an ideal destination for those who don’t find the cold off-putting.
Spring – In the spring, temperatures are starting to warm up, but you can still expect snowy conditions and cool temperatures. Keep an eye out for changing conditions as they can happen fast, and keep in mind that park amenities may be running on a limited schedule.
It’s easy to say that this National Park is one of the most photogenic ones out there. No matter what camera you have, what spot you go to, or the time of day you choose to take a photo, we can guarantee each shot will be spectacular. Read our list below to learn more about some of our favorite photo spots.
- Lake Mcdonals
- Avalanche Gorge
- Two Medicine Lake
There are so many more spots to choose from but if you know photographing a lake is at the top of your list, try and do it around sunset, where the colors in the sky reflect on the water. The sight will just blow you away. Remember to constantly watch your footing and keep the park clean & pristine so we can continue to share it with others.
When visiting this National Park, you will see that amenities are limited, but you can still access all of your basic needs. While spaced out, there are several gas stations, restaurants, lodging options, and stores right outside the park entrances.
You can find Gas Stations in West Glaciar and is St. Marys. As always, it is recommended that you fill up your tank before entering the park as there are none inside
Cell Phone Service
Given the park’s remote location, cell service is almost non-existent so make sure your maps are saved to your phone or grab one from the entrance on your way in. There are areas where you can connect to wifi but even these connections are limited.
Firewood is available for purchase at most camp stores but if you want to gather your own, you can do so along Bowman Lake Road, North Fork Road from Dutch Creek to Kintla Lake, and in any backcountry campgrounds that allow fires. Keep in mind that you may only collect deadwood on the ground, and you may be subject to a fine if collected elsewhere.
There are a handful of grocery and general stores for you to choose from in both West Glacier and St. Marys, as well as a few other small towns surrounding the park. However, if you are exploring both the US and Canada sides of the park, be mindful of what food you can bring into each country.
There is a handful of dumping stations available, and some of them are the LaSalle RV Park in Columbia Falls, Mikes Conoco, and Many Glacier Campground inside the park. Each campground offers these stations for free to registered guests or for a small fee for those just needing to use the station.
Pets are allowed in Glacier National Park! This park recognizes our K-9 friends as members of our family too. Pets are allowed in the park’s developed areas, i.e., campgrounds, paved roads, etc., and can venture up to 100 feet from those areas. However, they still must remain on their leash and need to be supervised at all times. When roads in this park are closed, be mindful that they are considered backcountry roads, and therefore, your pets are not allowed on them at those times. Of the area as this park has tons of cacti for your pup to run into. Read here for more information on what to do with your pet when you choose to hike.
Where to stay
From Camping to Hotels and Airbnb, you will have plenty of stays to choose from. However, these accommodations tend to fill up fast during the summer months and may not even be an option in the winter months, so plan your accommodations accordingly.
There are several campgrounds to choose from, all of which require reservations, but luckily, most of them have over 50 spots per campground, so securing a spot won’t be hard. We listed our favorite three below but read here to see the complete list of top-rated campgrounds.
- Apgar Campground
- This is the largest campground in Glacier National Park and is on Going-To-The-Sun Road. Besides unique spots with a view, you can find a gift shop, visitors center, camping supplies, and more here.
- Kintla Lake Campground
- This remote location is perfect for tent campers looking to get away from the noise and rush the park tends to bring during its peak season. While you can drive to this location, it’s not recommended as it is a 40-mile gravel road climb from the west entrance.
- Chewing Black Bones Campground
- Located just outside the park, this tribal campground caters to tent campers and vanlifers. With a general store, visitors center, tipi village, and more, this could be the perfect spot to start your trip at.
Dispersed camping around Glacier National Park is common as many areas to choose from. To learn more about where you can disperse camp, head to the Boondockers Bible website here.
Glacier National Park Airbnb
The majority of your options will be located in West Glacier, Montana. There are many hotels in this area, but we recommend the accommodations below. All are unique stays, and to look at the more extensive list, see the popular AirBnB superhost stays here.
- Camp Caribou Yurt
- 2 Guests, 1 Bed, 1 Bath
- Boathouse on Lake McDonald Shores
- 4 Guests, 2 Beds, 1 Bath
- Heart Rock River Retreat
- 5 Guests, 2 Beds, 2 Baths
Day #1 Itinerary
Glacier National Park is amazing because of the hundreds of thousands of acres you can explore and while this park is mostly accessible throughout the year, we put together an itinerary that would be perfect year round.
Morning: Grab breakfast at the famous Sunflower Cafe & BBQ. Closed during the colder seasons, it’s worth a stop and is a great way to start your first morning in this National Park. Many of the cafe’s visitors even come back for a barbeque dinner because of how good it is. This fun atmosphere will be a great introduction to the park.
Afternoon: If being on the water excites you then we have the perfect lake for you! Bowman Lake, more remote than the others, is great for those wanting to escape the noise but still have a fantastic view. It’s easiest to venture with your own kayak or paddleboard, but if you need a rental, click here.
Evening: Still ready for an adventure? Visit the Glacier Highlign right outside of the park. This adventure park offers 50 different highlines and rope course activities including ziplines. There’s even a restaurant and lodging options if you chose to stay here overnight.
Day #2 Itinerary
Morning: Use your first full morning as an opportunity to drive on the Go-To-The-Sun Road. This road takes approximately 2 hours to drive the full 50 miles, without stopping, but we recommend stopping as much as you can. To read a list of the best stops along this road, click here.
Afternoon: Spend your afternoon on the Lake Mcdonald Trail. This moderately trafficked trail is 13.7 miles long and perfect for all skill levels making it great for families. Here you will find several viewpoints overlooking the lake on your 1,246 foot elevation gain up the mountain. For the photographers in your group, stick around to see the sunset. You can still make your way back to the start of the trail so you’re not hiking in the dark but no matter where you stop you’ll be able to capture spectacular photos.
Evening: Continue your Lake Mcdonalds adventures by having dinner at the Russell’s Fireside Dining Room at the Lake Mcdonald Lodge. Here you can grab burgers, sandwiches, burritos and more. They even accommodate gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan diets. Stay until the sun is fully set and catch a view of the night sky before calling it a night.
Day #3 Itinerary
Morning: Hidden Lake is spectacular on its own but specifically around sunrise which is why we recommend this hike on your last day! This 2.7 mile hike is easy and even has an observation deck that offers some of the most impressive views. When starting your morning before the sun is up though, be careful as bears frequent the area.
Afternoon: Visit the park Museum! There is a diverse range of fossils, furniture, photographs and more all relating to the history of this loved National Park. If you can’t take in the whole museum in one afternoon, you can view it virtually by clicking this link here.