When people ask me my favorite national park my answer is always a resounding Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park is located in remote northern Montana and saw over 3 million visitors in its 2019 season.
Although it is off the beaten path, Glacier is known for its abundance of wildlife, striking mountain views, 700 miles of trails, and 35 glaciers located inside of the park.
Table of Contents
Glacier National Park Trip Planning Guide
I have visited Glacier National Park twice, once in March and once in September. Both times were pure magic and this Glacier National Park Guide will lay out everything I did (or wanted to do) during my time in my favorite national park.
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Glacier National Park?
The best time to visit Glacier National Park is during the summer, June-August.
However, late May and early September can also be great times to visit as they are in the shoulder season. Visiting in the shoulder season can be a risk because the Going-to-the-sun Road can close at any moment. For instance, the road closes when there is substantial snowfall.
I visited Glacier National Park in early September and the weather was amazing.
During this time, there was snow on our second day so we visited the last weekend possible for the 2020 season. Because of this, I would recommend going in the summer for warmer weather and heightened accessibility.
How Many Days Do You Need to Spend?
I recommend spending at least two days in Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park has so much to offer. In 2 days you will be able to see the highlights of the park but will leave wanting more.
Additionally, if time is on your side I would recommend going for 4 to 5 days as this will give you the perfect amount of time to be able to see and do everything. And if you are an extreme hiker, consider staying longer!
Where to Fly Into?
Glacier National Park is definitely less visited a national park than say the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park. This is due to its remote location as there is no major airport nearby.
The most convenient airport to fly into to be Kalispell Montana (FCA). However, this airport is small and flights can become pricy. In fact, the only airlines that fly into the airport are Delta, United, and Alaskan Airlines.
Other drivable airports to the area are Helena, (HLN), Butte (BTM), and Missoula (MSO).
When I visited Glacier National Park, I flew into Helena, Montana. Helena is the capital of Montana and is located about four hours south of Glacier National Park. I chose Helena since I have family there and it made a great hub for visiting other parts of Montana as well.
Where to Stay?
Glacier National Park is split up into two distinct sections, West Glacier and East Glacier.
West Glacier is more touristy, offering the Kalispell airport, many hotels, restaurants, and gift shops.
Moreover, East Glacier is home to the Blackfeet Indian Tribe and is much more remote. There is a small selection of hotels and Airbnb’s on this side of the park as well. However, if you are looking to save on drive time, it could be a good idea to stay one night in East Glacier and another in West Glacier.
In the summer, Kalispell is going to be the place to stay for Glacier National Park. Kalispell is the main city and tourist hub for Glacier National Park as it has the airport and a lot of hotels and restaurants in the area. It is a 45-minute drive from Glacier National Park, but it is a beautiful drive so it will fly by for you.
If you are up for camping, I would highly recommend this KOA campground just 2.5 miles outside of Glacier National Park’s entrance.
Additionally, inside the park, Glacier is also home to 13 different campgrounds. Some take reservations and others are first come first serve. You can use this website to check availability.
When I visited, I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn right next to the Kalispell airport. I stayed three nights and use it as my base for the park.
Along with camping, there are a few hotels inside the park. Lake McDonald Lodge is a popular and historic in-park lodging option. If you plan far in advance and are willing to splurge, this is a bucket-list stay.
Things To Do in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is a hiker’s paradise. It is absolutely gorgeous and there’s a reason it’s my favorite National Park.
In fact, there is an abundance of hikes and excursions to take while you are in the park. Here is my list of the top things to do.
Check out these Glacier National Park excursions!
Firstly, the going-to-the-sun road is the main attraction of Glacier National Park. This road was completed in 1933 and is an engineering marvel.
This road is the main road in the park and the only road that connects East and West Glacier and is an attraction in and of itself.
With awe-inspiring mountain views and vast valleys below, be sure to take your time on this road and plan in advance for picture stops. In fact, driving the whole road can take anywhere from a few hours to an entire day.
Additionally, along this road is where you will find parking lots for all of the hikes as well.
Glacier is known for its beautiful colorful lakes. Take a boat tour around Glacier for a relaxing way to experience the park. It should be noted there are options to take a guided boat tour or to rent a small boat on your own!
Red Bus Tour
The Red Bus Tour is Glacier’s in-park transportation. While not necessary, I would highly recommend using this service if you are wanting to learn the history of the park as you drive through it. In fact, it is a great guided tour of the park.
Rafting in Glacier is a bucket-list experience. Navigating the Glacier waters of Flathead river is bound to be a good time. For more information check out the NPS website.
Kayaking Lake McDonald was on my Glacier itinerary, however, due to the weather, we could not make it happen for us. This excursion on Glacier’s largest lake offers a dreamy atmosphere and a relaxing afternoon. I recommend Glacier Park Boat for your kayaking adventure.
Glacier has so many beautiful hikes and highlights to experience. I undoubtedly ALWAYS recommend using the AllTrails App to plan hikes and see what truly interests you, but I will break it down for you as well.
Firstly, start your trip by stopping by the visitors center to talk with the national park service park rangers to see what hiking trails are open.
This hiking list will consist of the best hikes in the area, in order of where they are located on the Going-to-the-sun road, from West to East.
Quick Note: Bear Spray is highly recommended on any trip to Glacier National Park. Bear spray is not allowed on airplanes. Because of this, many visitors leave behind unused bear spray. Alternatively, check with your hotel front desk for any leftover bear spray before purchasing.
Avalanche Lake Trail via Trail of Cedars
Moderate – 6 miles out-and-back – 757 ft elevation gain.
Avalanche Lake Trail will lead you through dense Pacific coast lush greenery. But at the end of the trail, you are met with a beautiful view of a beautiful lake and green mountains.
Grinnell Glacier Trail
Hard- 11.2 miles out-and-back – 2,181 ft elevation gain.
Up for a challenge with rewarding views? Head to Grinnell Glacier. The steep elevation gain is met with up-close views with Grinnell Glacier and gorgeous overlooks along the way.
Hard- 14.9 miles out-and-back – 2,578 ft elevation gain.
By far the most popular hike in the park is the Highline Trail. In fact, this is one of two major hikes accessible from Logan’s Pass (the highest point on the going-to-the-sun road). With stunning cliff and glacier views, this is a great hike if you are looking for a full day hike.
Pro-tip: Not up for all 15 miles? Hike the first 2 miles of the Highline Trail. You get beautiful cliff views without the elevation and save some time!
Hidden Lake Overlook Trail
Moderate – 2.9 miles out-and-back – 568 ft elevation gain
A beautiful boardwalk hike is located at Logan’s Pass is met with one of the most iconic views in the park.
Sun Point Nature Trail
Easy – 1.7 miles out-and-back – 213 ft elevation gain
A moderately trafficked trail with beautiful views of Saint Mary Lake and 360-degree mountain views.
St. Mary and Virginia Falls Trail
Easy – 2.9 miles out-and-back – 452 ft elevation gain
Follow a series of waterfalls through the glacier forest. It is an easy stroll to St. Marys waterfall but continues an extra mile to the beautiful Virginia Falls.
3 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary
My goal is always to help others travel, so sometimes I feel that sharing my itinerary and exactly what I did can be helpful.
However, what I planned for during my Glacier trip was not exactly what happened due to weather closing the Going-to-the-sun road on my second day in the park.
I visited Glacier National Park in the fall of 2020 with my best friend! However, things were a bit different back then due to COVID-19 and all the restrictions.
During my trip to Glacier National Park, I had a half-day in the park, one full day in the park, and another half-day.
First, on day one we drove 4 hours from Helena, MT to Kalispell. We checked into our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, and drove 45 more minutes to Glacier National Park.
After that, we stopped by the visitor center and enjoyed the colorful views of Lake McDonald.
On my first and only full day in the park, I woke up around 5 AM to drive from Kalispell into Glacier National Park in hopes of parking at Logan’s Pass. Logan’s pass is the highest point on going to the sun road and his home to two of the biggest trails in the park, the Hidden Overlook trail, and the Highline Trail.
Unfortunately, it was full before I got there so instead I went to St. Mary and Virginia Falls first. This is about a 10-minute drive past Logan’s Pass. There is a parking lot for this hike as well and I thought it was the perfect introduction to the park. This easy hike is gorgeous, winding through the forest being met with waterfalls and sunrise mountain light.
Next, I drove just a little farther to Sun Point Nature Trail. Surprisingly, this trail ended up taking my favorite photos of the trip here! With sweeping 360-degree mountain views and lower crowds, this trail is the perfect spot to take a break, rest, and enjoy the views. Additionally, I would recommend packing a lunch and eating it on this hike!
After Sun Point Nature Trail it was mid-afternoon, so I then headed back to Logan’s Pass to do some of my most anticipated hikes in the area. Next, we grabbed a parking spot and proceeded up the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail.
The Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is absolutely fantastic. It was an easy hike along the boardwalk and finished with steep stairs. At the top, I saw a mountain goat and then was greeted with a postcard view of Glacier National Park, one I will never forget.
By the time I finished the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail, it was late in the day. Next, we opted to start the Highline Trail.
The Highline Trail is another hike but is very intense and very long. I only did about 2 miles of it just to get a feel of it and it was amazing. But, walking along a cliffside in Montana with sweeping views of the valley ahead of you is an adrenaline rush and so beautiful.
If you have the time these are two must-do hikes in Glacier National Park.
Lastly, I ended the day by driving from Logan’s Pass back to Kalispell Montana via the Going-to-the-sun road. This was about a 90-minute drive.
On day three we were greeted with a cold and snowy park. The going-to-the-sun road closed on our second day. Because of this, we were only able to access the first few miles of the park in our car.
On our second day in Glacier National Park, we did the Avalanche Lake Trail vis Trail of Cedars. This is a popular trail with tons of parking.
You can reach this trail just past the entrance of the park. This moderate trail is 6 miles out-and-back and gains about 750 feet of elevation. However, to me, this trail does not provide jaw-dropping 360-degree mountains views but is still an impressive and must-do hike in the park. It offers a much different feel than the hikes deeper into the park.
Glacier National Park continues to be one of those places I dream of going back to frequently. The gorgeous views and unparalleled hikes are what draw me to it.
In conclusion, if you have the opportunity, do not skip over this national park. Have you been to Glacier National Park? What is your favorite National Park? Leave a comment below and let me know.
Planning a National Parks road trip? Check out this 7-day Utah Road trip!