With glacier-capped mountains, brilliant aquamarine lakes, stunning alpine scenery, and some of the most exciting hiking trails in the country, it’s no wonder that Glacier National Park is called the “Crown of the Continent.”
If you want to see waterfalls, wildlife, and mountain slopes covered in a blanket of wildflowers, put Glacier National Park on your list. This is the type of national park that just begs you to get out of the car and go exploring. Take a boat ride across Lake McDonald, paddle a kayak on Swiftcurrent Lake, or take your pick from epic hiking trails scattered throughout the park.
Here are the best things to do in Glacier National Park. Enjoy!
About Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana, on the border with Canada. Just across the border sits Waterton Lakes National Park. Together, these two parks form Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the world’s first international peace park.
Glacier officially became a national park in 1910. In 2018, Glacier National Park was the 10th most visited park, making this one of the most popular national parks to visit in the United States.
There are several regions of Glacier National Park. Going-to-the-Sun Road cuts across the center of the park and this is the most popular and most crowded section of the park. Just to the north is Many Glacier, a wildlife rich, gorgeous area with some of the park’s best hikes. Two Medicine and the North Fork are more remote areas. If you want to leave the crowds behind and journey into the backcountry, visit Goat Haunt.
The park remains open all year, however, Going-to-the-Sun Road, the main thoroughfare through the park, is only open during the summer months (typically from late June/early July through mid-October).
Glacier National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Best Things to do in Glacier National Park
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Going-to-the-Sun Road is not only the most scenic drive in Glacier National Park, it’s also one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. For 50 miles, this road twists and turns through the mountains and over the Continental Divide. It tops out at Logan Pass, where you can park, stretch your legs, enjoy the view, and even take your pick from several hiking trails that start here.
To drive the entire length of Going-to-the-Sun Road, it takes approximately two hours, depending on traffic and how frequently you stop for photos. And the first time you drive this road, it’s jaw-dropping.
Expect a lot of cars on this road and frequent traffic jams. There are numerous turn-outs where you can park, get out of your car, and safely enjoy the view.
In my opinion, the stretch of road between The Loop and Logan Pass is the best, but it’s also quite nice from Logan Pass to St. Mary Visitor Center.
Going-to-the-Sun Road and Logan Pass, view from the Highline Trail
Pro Travel Tip: There are regulations to the type of vehicle allowed on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Vehicles longer than 21 feet or taller than 10 feet are not permitted on the road. The road is very narrow with rock overhangs, so larger vehicles are too big for these tight spots. Therefore, if you are in an RV or pulling a trailer, you most likely will not be able to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road. You can still get the experience, just take the park shuttle or a Red Bus Tour.
When is Going-to-the-Sun Road open? Typically, this road is open from the end of June/early July through mid-October. Opening and closing dates are dependent on snowfall. Get updates on the official national park website.
At 6,646 feet (2025 meters), Logan Pass is the highest point on Going-to-the-Sun Road and part of the Continental Divide. This is the highest point in Glacier National Park that can be reached by car.
From here, enjoy sweeping views across Glacier National Park. Jagged mountains, fields of wildflowers, and the chance to see bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and other wildlife are the highlights.
View of the mountains and wildflowers along the trail to Hidden Lake, near Logan Pass
Two popular hiking trails start at Logan Pass: Hidden Lake and the Highline Trail.
Parking at Logan Pass: Logan Pass is an extremely popular place to visit in Glacier National Park, not only for the views but also for the hikes. There is a large car park but it fills up fast!! During our visit in early August, the parking lot was completely full by 8 am. I recommend that you get here no later than 7:45 am if you want a spot. Otherwise, you will have to park on a turn-out on Going-to-the-Sun Road and hike up to Logan Pass.
Go Hiking in Glacier National Park
There is no better way to experience the beauty and majesty of Glacier National Park than from a hiking trail. And there are many to choose from.
Whether you are looking for a short, easy hike out to an alpine lake or an epic trail into the backcountry, you have a lot to choose from.
Here is a list of some of the best trails in Glacier, starting with short, easy hikes and ending with longer, full day (and very worthwhile!!) hikes. All distances are round-trip.
Trail of the Cedars: 1 mile, flat, easy. This boardwalk and gravel trail winds its way through a thick forest of cedar trees. The highlight is the view of Avalanche Gorge. This is a loop trail and you can walk it in either direction.
Trail of the Cedars
Avalanche Lake: 4.5 miles, 700 feet elevation gain, moderate. This trail starts at Trail of the Cedars and continues along Avalanche Creek until you get to Avalanche Lake. It’s a nice hike with views of a lovely lake. The lake makes a nice picnic spot. This is a popular trail so try to start your hike early (by 7:30 am).
Hidden Lake Overlook: 2.8 miles, 460 feet elevation gain, easy to moderate. This is one of the most popular hikes in Glacier National Park. To get to the overlook, it’s an uphill hike on boardwalks and a dirt trail. Not only do you get to see Hidden Lake, but there’s a good chance that you will spot mountain goats and maybe even bighorn sheep.
Hidden Lake Trail
St. Mary’s Falls: 1.7 miles, 260 feet elevation gain, easy. From the small car park on Going-to-the-Sun Road, it’s a mostly downhill walk to the waterfall. This area was hit by a wildfire in the past, so there is very limited shade on the trail, and in the summer, it can feel surprisingly warm. You can continue to Virginia Falls, adding on another 1.6 miles to this hike.
Trail to St. Mary’s Falls
St. Mary’s Falls
Highline Trail: 11.6 miles, 800 feet elevation gain, 3000 feet elevation loss, moderate. This point-to-point hike is one of the best in the park. Start at Logan Pass and then it’s an overall downhill walk to the Loop. You’ll walk on a trail that clings to the cliffs above Going-to-the-Sun Road for amazing views of the park. This is our favorite hike in Glacier. Learn more here.
Another view from the Highline Trail
Apikuni Falls: 2 miles, 700 feet elevation gain, moderate. This is a short, popular hike to a waterfall that is located in the Many Glacier area of the park.
Cracker Lake: 12.6 miles, 1400 feet elevation gain, strenuous. Cracker Lake is a brilliantly colored aquamarine lake in the Many Glacier area.
Grinnell Glacier: 10.6 miles, 1600 feet elevation gain, strenuous. This hike has it all: stunning alpine scenery, waterfalls, emerald green lakes, a glacier, and a great chance to spot wildlife. We saw moose, mountain goats, and bear on this hike. Located in Many Glacier, you can shave off 3.4 miles by taking the boat across Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes.
Iceberg Lake: 9.6 miles, 1200 feet elevation gain, strenuous. We have not hiked this, yet, but have been told by many people that this is their favorite hike in Glacier National Park. It’s a stunning hike to a beautiful lake. For 2.7 miles, you will share the trail to Ptarmigan Tunnel and get to see Ptarmigan Falls.
Ptarmigan Tunnel: 10.6 miles, 2300 feet elevation gain, strenuous. This is another hike that gets rave reviews. It’s less trafficked than other trails in the area, so if you like the idea of hiking without the crowds, this is a good one to consider.
This is one of the most beautiful areas of Glacier National Park. Yes, it even beats Going-to-the-Sun Road. With massive, snow-covered mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and of course, glaciers, this is a hiker’s paradise.
Swiftcurrent Lake and Many Glacier Hotel
View from the hiking trail to Grinnell Glacier
Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake are the most popular hikes in the area, but there are literally ten more hikes to choose from. Most of them are longer hikes, coming in at around 10 miles, but they are worth every step you take on the trail.
If you are not a big hiker, you can still get a lot out of your visit here. Stay in the historic Many Glacier Hotel and ride the boat across Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes. Just driving the roads here we spotted black bear and other wildlife.
Pro Travel Tip: If you plan to visit Many Glacier on a day trip from another area of the park, try to get here at 8 am. Parking is limited at the trailheads and lodges and on one of the days we were here, park staff were turning visitors away.
Important Note: The road to Many Glacier is a paved road, but with numerous potholes and rough sections, it can be slow going. You don’t need a 4×4, but just be prepared to dodge a lot of holes in the ground and to travel at roughly 25 miles per hour.
Visit the Two Medicine Area
Two Medicine is the area of the park that was first visited, before Going-to-the-Sun Road was constructed in 1932. This is a great area of the park for day hikes and to venture out into the backcountry. It doesn’t see the same number of visitors as Going-to-the-Sun Road or Many Glacier, so this area feels off-the-beaten-path.
For a list of hikes and things to do, click here.
Lake McDonald Valley
Lake McDonald is the largest lake in the park. Sitting on the edge of the lake is the historic Lake McDonald Lodge, built in 1914.
From the lake, take your pick from numerous hikes or go horseback riding. You can also take a boat tour of the lake.
Red Bus Tour
Ride a vintage 1930’s bus for a tour of the park. This is considered to be the oldest touring fleet of buses anywhere in the world.
There are numerous tour options to choose from. Take a scenic ride along Going-to-the-Sun Road, visit Many Glacier, or Two Medicine. Tours can last up to 9.5 hours, depending on which one you choose, with prices up to roughly $50 per person. Book your tickets in advance because they do sell out.
Tours run from the end of June through mid-September.
Click here for full details.
See Wild Goose Island
Wild Goose Island is a tiny island located on Saint Mary Lake and it is one of Glacier’s most photographed spots.
You might also recognize Wild Goose Island from the opening scene of the movie “The Shining.” In fact, the first few minutes of the movie were filmed at Glacier National Park, with video clips of Wild Goose Island, Saint Mary Lake, and Going-to-the-Sun Road.
To get this view, park in the small parking lot on Going-to-the-Sun road, labeled “Wild Goose Island Lookout” on Google Maps.
Take a Boat Tour on One of Glacier’s Lakes
The first things that might come to mind when you think of Glacier National Park are probably mountains and glaciers. But this is also a land of lakes.
If you want to take a break from scenic drives and hiking trails, consider taking a boat tour or renting kayaks for a different experience.
In Many Glacier, you can sit back and take a boat tour of Swiftcurrent or Josephine Lakes. You can also rent kayaks at the Many Glacier Hotel and kayak on Swiftcurrent Lake.
Lake McDonald, Two Medicine Lake, and Saint Mary Lake are also popular places to go on a guided boat tour or to rent kayaks.
Click here to learn more.
Waterton Lakes National Park
Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Waterton Lakes is located in Canada. It feels like a quieter, mellower version of Glacier National Park.
One of the best things to do is to take a guided boat tour on Waterton Lake. You will cross the border back into the United States, see remote Goat Haunt, and look for wildlife.
Hiking and biking are popular things to do here, as well as some experiences you wouldn’t expect to have in a national park. Have high tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel, go shopping at the boutique stores in the town of Waterton, or take your pick from one of many great restaurants in town.
You can day trip here from Glacier National Park or spend a night or two. If you have the time in your itinerary, this is a very nice place to take a break from the summer crowds that flock to Glacier.
Glacier National Park Fees and Hours of Operation
Glacier National Park is open 365 days of the year. However, numerous roads in the park are closed due to snow, from September through June. For full details, visit the national park service website.
The entrance fee is $35 and is valid for 7 days.
How to Plan Your Time
Ideally, plan on spending a minimum of two days at Glacier National Park. Even more time is better and you could easily spend a week here and never run out of things to do.
With one day, drive Going-to-the-Sun Road and visit the sights along the drive: Logan Pass, Hidden Lake, Lake McDonald, the Trail of Cedars, Avalanche Lake, and Saint Mary Lake. If you are a big hiker, get to Logan Pass by 7:30 am and hike the Highline Trail.
With two days, follow our one-day recommendation. Spend day two in Many Glacier and hike one of the trails.
With three or more days, add more time to Many Glacier, visit Two Medicine, or visit Waterton Lakes National Park.
What We Did
So far, we have visited Glacier National Park twice. The first time, Tim and I just visited the park in one day, driving Going-to-the-Sun Road and hiking Avalanche Lake and Hidden Lake. It was nice, but we had no idea what we were missing by skipping Many Glacier.
On our more recent visit (August 2019), Kara and I spent four and a half days in Glacier. We spent a day and a half in Many Glacier, one day in Waterton, and two days along Going-to-the-Sun Road (one of these days we hiked the Highline Trail). It was not enough time. There are still so many hikes to come back and do. Two Medicine and the North Fork areas are still on our to-do list.
Where We Stayed
We booked our trip last minute (in June for a trip in August). Since we visited so many different areas, and because I booked our hotels so late, we stayed at five different hotels in five nights. In Many Glacier, I could not find a hotel or lodge that had availability for two or more consecutive nights. So, I recommend booking your hotels as far in advance as possible.
Many Glacier Hotel. This is a grand, historic hotel. It looks amazing on the outside and has an enormous, rustic lobby with stunning views of Swiftcurrent Lake. Kara and I stayed in a standard room. It was a very basic room with a double bed and private bathroom. There is no air conditioning, but it is cool at night so that was not an issue. However, it’s an old hotel. The floors creak and the walls are thin, so if you are a light sleeper, bring ear plugs.
Important Note: There is no Wi-Fi in the rooms and the Wi-Fi is very limited in the lobby. There is no cellular service in Many Glacier. I actually made a collect call to Tim (when was the last time I did that?!) simply because I couldn’t even send a text message. Kara and I were traveling on our own, on a “girls trip,” and since we drove up from Yellowstone, I wanted to let Tim know that we got in safely.
Many Glacier Hotel
Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. I liked it here. Again, it’s very basic, with no Wi-Fi, cellular service or air conditioning. But we stayed in a building tucked away in the trees and it was very nice. Our room was enormous, the beds were comfy, and it felt more peaceful than staying at the Many Glacier Hotel.
Northland Lodge. This is where we stayed at Waterton Lakes. We had one bedroom with a private bathroom in a house. Again, it’s nothing fancy, but it was clean, quiet, and they had Wi-Fi!! That was important because now that we were in Canada, I could not use the cellular service without paying an additional fee. The Prince of Wales Hotel is another option in Waterton, but they do not offer Wi-Fi, so that’s why we chose the Northland Lodge.
Great Northern Resort. This place is wonderful. It is located in West Glacier, so it is a great place to stay to be near Lake McDonald and Avalanche Lake. We had an enormous room with two beds, air conditioning, and great Wi-Fi. I would stay here again.
Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge, Whitefish. This is where we stayed our last night at Glacier. The following day we had a flight home so I wanted to stay near the airport. Unless you are having a hard time finding accommodations inside the park, I wouldn’t recommend staying in Whitefish. It’s a 40-minute drive just to get to the west entrance and can take an hour and a half or longer to get to Logan Pass. However, after your visit, Whitefish is a great place to stay. There’s a lot to do here, with outdoor activities and family-friendly experiences.
If you have any questions about Glacier National Park, let us know in the comment section below.
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