Glacier National Park, located in Montana, close to the Canada-United States border, is often called Crown of the Continent due to its unique ecosystem. The Park boasts picturesque mountain peaks, bustling waterfalls, more than a hundred beautiful lakes, abundant wildlife, and many different plants.
Together with the Canadian Waterton Lakes National Park, they form the world’s first international peace park since 1932.
Glacier National Park has about 3 million visitors a year, making it the 10th most visited National Parks in the United States. No wonder with more than 700 miles of hiking trails and even a world-class biking route!
There is one road that crosses the park called “Going-to-the-Sun Road.” It goes over the Continental Divide connecting the towns of West Glacier and St Mary over 53 miles (85 km). The highest point of the road is at Logan Pass,6,646 feet (2,025 m).
Our travel guide is going to show how to make the most out of your visit. The 3-day itinerary for Glacier National Park includes the most important tips for visiting, hiking trails in the alpine meadows, wildlife watching, biking, and even getting soaked under the waterfalls.
Best time to visit Glacier National Park
The best time to visit Glacier National Park is from July to September. The entire length of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is only open mid-June to mid-September, with snow at higher elevations lasting until July.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed in winter due to heavy snowfall and avalanche danger. Therefore a big part of the road has to be plowed every spring.
Plowing, starting in April, takes several months to clear the road and reach Logan Pass from both sides. Until the road fully opens (a different day each year), a part of the road is open for vehicles from both sides. Hikers and bikers are allowed even further.
For biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road and enjoying the luxury of having the road all to yourself, I suggest visiting in June, right before the road opens for vehicle access. It would be best if you kept checking the plowing report to see where the plows are and how far you’d be able to go.
If you visit at the beginning of the season, you will see the snow walls in higher elevations being several meters high. It’s hard to imagine those are (almost) summer conditions.
Tip: To visit Glacier National Park, you need to purchase an Entrance Pass. A private vehicle pass valid for seven days costs $35. Alternatively, you can also purchase a National Parks America the Beautiful pass. This pass gets you into every national park in the United States as well as countless national monuments.
While you can get this directly from the National Park websites, getting it from REI saves you extra $$ for shipping as REI offers free shipping for items above $50.
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Where to stay in Glacier National Park
Camping is the most popular option, especially in summer. In Glacier National Park, camping is permitted in designated campgrounds only. We’ve stayed in our converted minivan, but you can also stay in a tent.
There are 13 campgrounds in the Park with fees from $10-$23 per night, and most of them operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. Fish Creek, St. Mary, and Many Glaciers Campgrounds can be booked six months in advance.
Because you’re camping in a bear and mountain lion country, it’s wise to carry a bear spray with you at all times.
If you’d like to camp for free, you can do so in the National Forests outside the Glacier National Park. The closest is Flathead National Forest on the west side.
A more luxurious option would be to stay in lodges. Rustic chalets and lodges can be found close to both entrances to the park in West Glacier and St. Mary.
The best-rated is Lake McDonald Lodge on the shore of Lake McDonald along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and Many Glacier Hotel on the shore of Swiffcurrent Lake. Both are built in a Swiss-chalet style with stunning lake and mountain views.
3-Day Itinerary for Glacier National Park
The most exciting part of every trip planning is the activities. I recommend biking, hiking, lake swimming, and waterfall showers for three days in Glacier National Park.
This is not your typical sightseeing itinerary but an adventure-packed three-day itinerary for Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park Day 1: Biking Through the Park
On day 1, explore the Going-to-the-Sun Road and all it offers from a bike seat. That’s right! Biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road is hands down the best way how to appreciate this stunning piece of nature.
If you don’t have your bike, you can rent a bike or e-bike on either side of the park, in St. Mary or West Glacier.
It’s easier to bike from one side to Logan Pass and return the same way rather than dealing with a shuttle if you bike through to the other side of the Park.
From St. Mary to Logan Pass is 18 miles (29 km) one-way. The first 11 miles (18 km) road is mostly flat as you bike along Saint Mary Lake. With all the viewpoints along the road marveling about the huge turquoise lake surrounded by mountain peaks, you won’t even notice how quickly the miles pass away.
The last 7 miles (11 km) is all about biking uphill, where you cover almost 2000 feet (550 meters) of elevation. We biked up in late June on a hot day but the massive snow wall, where I couldn’t even see the end of it, provided a fantastic cooldown. I’ve never seen snow that high.
If you bike up to Logan Pass from West Glacier, it’s 32 miles (52 km) one–way. Although it is much longer, I found the ride more enjoyable.
The first 12 miles (20 km) is flat as you bike along Lake McDonald. The stunning crystal clear water with colourful rocks is a popular photography spot. After the lake, the road goes slightly uphill for 9 miles (15 km). The last 11 miles (17 km) are the most challenging and also the most rewarding.
Imagine endless valley and mountain views mixed with narrow roads and rocky cliffs. And just before you reach Logan Pass, the best reward awaits. Melting snow is creating several waterfalls splashing down the rocky wall right onto the road. While cars pass by, you can bike right underneath them for the ultimate cool-off.
You can hang out at Logan Pass, enjoy the wildflowers, watch bighorn sheep or mountain goats, have a snow fight (early in the season), and head down for another reward – the downhill ride. From whichever side you decide to bike, end the day at a lake with a swim; your body will thank you for it.
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Glacier National Park Day 2: Hiking
Let’s get those legs moving and hike to stunning lakes, glaciers, wildflowers, and even wildlife.
On day 2 in Glacier National Park, drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, visit Logan Pass, and either hike a few short hikes with picnics in between or go on a full-day hike on the Highline Trail.
Best Hikes in Glacier National Park
The series of short hikes include the Trail of Cedars, Avalanche Lake, and Hidden Lake. The Trail of Cedars is a short and flat 1 mile (1.6 km) loop through a forest of giant cedars with a view of Avalanche Gorge, a canyon with cascading waterfalls.
Avalanche Lake starts at the Trail of Cedars. In 4.5 miles (7.2 km) and around 700 feet (200 meters) of elevation, you reach Avalanche Lake with a beach perfect for a picnic.
Hidden Lake Overlook, 2.8 miles and 460 feet (4.5 km, 140 meters) of elevation, is one of the most popular hikes in Glacier National Park. A mix of boardwalks and dirt trails leads to a breathtaking Hidden Lake viewpoint with trees around a massive mountain in a backdrop.
For a full-day hike, I highly recommend Highline Trail. In 11.6 miles one-way and 800 feet of elevation (18.7 km, 240 meters), the trail takes you above the Going-to-the-Sun Road with breathtaking views over the valley and glaciers.
You can start either at The Loop or Logan Pass and take the free shuttle back to your car. Starting at Logan Pass is easier as it’s a downhill hike. Plan to arrive at Logan Pass by 7 am to have a parking spot. When you park at Logan Pass, cross the Going-to-the-Sun Road where the Highline Trail starts.
The beginning of the hike is exhilarating as you walk on a path carved into the rock wall. It’s quite narrow path with a chain to hold onto on one side, and a cliff on the other. The views are so worth the effort though! Even if your time is limited, hike at least the first few miles for the most stunning views over the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
For a change of scenery, the trail continues through forests, meadows filled with wildflowers and fantastic views all day long. You can usually spot a bighorn sheep, mountain goat, or even a bear on the trail. Make sure you carry a bear spray and make noise while hiking, so you don’t surprise them.
The shuttle from the Loop departs every 15 minutes, but due to the popularity of the Highline Trail, the line can get long. The sooner you arrive, the better chance you have to catch a spot on the bus.
Tip: When visiting the Glacier National Park in spring and summer, you need to purchase a timed entry ticket to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Glacier National Park Day 3: Hiking and Scenic Views
The last day in Glacier National Park calls for a truly epic view. On a Grinnell Glacier Hike, you have a chance to see the largest glacier in Glacier National Park. Furthermore, prepare to see lots of wildflowers, lakes, waterfalls, and wildlife.
Grinnell Glacier hike starts at Many Glacier area, a different part of the Glacier National Park than Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The trail is rated moderate as it covers 10.6 miles and 1600 feet (17 km, 488 meters) of elevation roundtrip. You want to start early to get a parking spot; the lot usually fills up by 8 am.
The first part of the hike is flat along Josephine Lake. The uphill starts at the end of the lake, but during those 3 miles (4.8 km), the views are just getting better and better. The views are more staggering the higher you get, and the whole hike can take a while because of all the photo opportunities and taking in the scenery.
Just when the trail gets more challenging with rocky steps, know that the best is coming. A short walk after the climb is a view of the Grinnell Glacier with a turquoise lake underneath. Picnic with a view is on a different level here.
Hiking back is easier as it’s downhill with constantly beautiful views. Keep your eyes open all around you as wildlife sightings are frequent.
Tip: If you’d like to shorten the hike, you can take boats across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. In this case, your total hiking mileage would be 7.2 miles (11.6 km).
There you have it!
An adventurous guide on the best things to do in Glacier National Park! Hopefully, this article has given you tons of inspirations on the ins and outs of the area. Regardless if you are there for longer, you can use this 3-day Glacier National Park as a guide to help you get started.
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