Glacier National Park is a treasure trove of amazing activities and unforgettable nature excursions. A day trip is not enough to fully explore the park and to take in everything that it has to offer. [...]
Ultimate Itinerary Guides for a Trip to Glacier National Park
Published: Oct 01, 2020
How many days should you spend to enjoy a full Glacier National Park experience? To be perfectly honest, I'm not really sure. The park covers over a million acres of land, filled with amazing sights to see, exciting adventures, and wildlife encounters in every nook and cranny. I'm going to take a wild guess and say: maybe forever?
Sadly, not everybody can enjoy and explore Glacier National Park forever. Some of us don't even have a whole week to explore the park. Even if you have as little as one day to explore, we've got you covered.
Here are our itinerary guides for a 1-day, 3-day, and 5-day trip to Glacier National Park. We've also included a perfect weekend guide that is perfect for families that are travelling with children.
Best time to visit Glacier National Park
Before we get to the itineraries, let us first talk about when it is the best time to visit Glacier National Park.
Summer is generally the best time to visit because it is during this season that a majority of the park is open and accessible. Glacier normally gets around 140 inches of snow annually, which results in the closure of various parts of the park, such as the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road. If you want full access to everything that Glacier National Park has to offer, schedule your trip around mid-June to mid-September.
If you decide to travel during these dates, prepare yourself for the sea of other park visitors that are also taking advantage of the sunny weather. If you're not a fan of big crowds, you can opt to visit the park in either spring, fall, or winter. A visit during these seasons is still worth your time and energy, especially if you choose to enjoy each season's highlight activity.
Our itineraries are set in the summer when the snow has melted, the flowers are in full bloom, and most of Glacier National Park is open for the public to enjoy.
1 Day in Glacier National Park
Let's be honest, one day is obviously not enough to explore the entirety of Glacier National Park. But if you only have one day to spare, here's how you can see and enjoy everything that Glacier has to offer.
A Glacier National Park bucket list typically includes the following: drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road, see a glacier, go on a hike, catch a glimpse of the park's wildlife, hunt for stunning vistas, and enjoy some water fun. Now, how can you possibly do and enjoy all of these activities in one day? Here's how.
Since there are a lot of activities lined up for your one day in Glacier National Park, it is only fitting that you begin your adventure early. Not only does this give you more time to explore the park, but it also allows you to secure a parking spot.
The first activity of the day is to drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road. You'll be able to cross out at least four items from your list just by going on a drive in this iconic road. Without stopping, the drive will take about 2 hours but for this trip, stops are highly encouraged.
During the entire drive, you'll be surrounded by the amazing sights of Glacier National Park. You can enjoy these views from the comfort of your car but we highly suggest that you stop in one of the several pullovers that are located along the road for an extended appreciation of the park's stunning vistas.
It is also along this road that you'll be able to spot a glacier without having to go on a hike. For this activity, you'll want to head over to the Jackson Glacier Overlook, which is located on the east side of the road, between Logan Pass and St. Mary.
Logan Pass is the highest point of Going-to-the-Sun Road. There is a visitor center in this location. You can check the box next to animal's sightings here because the area is frequented by mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Since you're already stopping by Logan Pass, the next activity on the itinerary is a hike to Hidden Lake.
The hike to Hidden Lake begins on the west side of the Logan Pass Visitor Center and ends on a stunning lake, carved by a glacier. My favorite part about this hike is the sea of wildflowers that you'll be travelling through to get to your destination. This hike is also a great opportunity to spot some wildlife such as mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, wolverines, and even grizzly bears.
Another hike that you should check out is the Trail of the Cedars. Contrary to the hike to Hidden Lake, which is mostly on the open meadow, the Trail of the Cedars will take you through an ancient forest of western red cedars and western hemlocks.
After exploring Going-to-the-Sun Road and its surrounding areas, head over to Lake McDonald for some water fun.
Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park. There are multiple activities that you can do in this area such as kayaking, canoeing, or going on a boat tour. Have a picnic in this location while gazing at the mesmerizing clear waters of the lake and the thousands of colorful rocks that fill its banks. Then, end your trip with a gorgeous view of the sunset.
One day may not be enough to explore and enjoy everything that Glacier National Park has to offer but it is definitely enough to have an amazing and memorable visit. In short, on trips like this one, your focus should not be on having the best trip but rather on making the most out of your trip. In the end, the best trip is always the one where you had a lot of fun, no matter how long or short the trip was.
3 Days in Glacier National Park
Depending on your time management skills, the activities that you want to do, the sights that you want to check out, and the weather, three days may be just enough to explore and enjoy a majority of Glacier National Park.
For this itinerary guide, we'll be travelling through the park from West to East, via the Going-to-the-Sun Road. You can easily switch up the order of things to suit your preferences.
Explore the Lake McDonald area on your first day in Glacier National Park. Go on a stunning hike in the morning and enjoy the water in the afternoon.
Our top recommended activity for the Lake McDonald area is hiking the Apgar Lookout Trail. This trail is quite difficult but trust me, it is worth it.
As you hike up to your destination, you will be surrounded by amazing panoramic views of the park. Your destination is an old and historical fire lookout that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. From this vantage point, you'll be able to see amazing views of the surrounding areas, the high peaks of Glacier, and the entire length and beauty of Lake McDonald.
If you're hiking this trail, we recommend that you begin early in the day to avoid too much sun exposure. Depending on your skill level, this hike can take about three hours to complete, which will take up most of your morning.
After that, head over to Apgar Village for your lunch. Apgar Village is filled with shops and restaurants that guests can enjoy. There are also multiple accommodation options in this area. For this itinerary, we recommend that you set up camp at the Apgar Campground, the largest campground in Glacier National Park.
Don't feel like camping on your trip to Glacier National Park? Check out this article that contains amazing hotel recommendations in all of Glacier's gateway communities.
In the afternoon, enjoy the cool and crystal clear waters of Lake McDonald. From Apgar Village, you will be able to access a beautiful beach that is filled with colorful pebbles. Enjoy the view of Lake McDonald, sparkling in the afternoon sun and the surrounding mountain range before doing some water activities.
Spend the rest of the day in Lake McDonald canoeing, kayaking, or going on a boat tour. Before the day ends, catch a glimpse of the golden sunset that is reflecting on the surface of Lake McDonald.
With that, the first day of your trip is over. Head to your choice of accommodation and rest up for another amazing day.
Day two of your trip starts early because today, you'll be driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Due to the popularity of this area, securing a parking spot at Logan Pass is quite challenging. If you arrive there early, you won't have any problems.
For this day, follow our one day itinerary and thoroughly explore Going-to-the-Sun Road and the Logan Pass area.
Aside from the two hikes mentioned in the one day itinerary, you should also check out the hike to Florence Falls; one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Glacier National Park. You'll definitely be mesmerized by the water flowing down perfectly arranged stair-like rocks. A few things to note about this trail is that it's on the more strenuous side and that it travels through grizzly bear territory.
After a fun, and maybe quite challenging day of exploration in Logan Pass and Going-to-the-Sun Road, head over to your choice of accommodation. Pitch a tent in another campground or grab this opportunity to explore one of Glacier's gateway communities such as East Glacier or St. Mary.
On your third and final day in Glacier National Park, go and explore the Two Medicine area. There are many amazing hiking trails in this location as well as mountain peaks that are a stunning red in color.
Two Medicine Lake is at its calmest and most beautiful in the early mornings. Begin your day early and embark on a boat tour or board the historic boat Sinopah. The effects of the morning light on the lake and its surrounding area is simply fantastic. The soft glow of the early sun will surely leave you with amazing photos.
After the boat tour, your next activity is to hike up to Upper Two Medicine Lake. Aside from a wonderful experience on the water, riding the boat across Two Medicine Lake actually shaves off some miles from your hike.
Upper Two Medicine Lake truly is a sight to see, with its iconic red shore that is very similar to the peaks in the area and the numerous mountains that line the horizon. This trail is not that difficult and you also have the opportunity to go on a side trip and see Twin Falls.
If you still have some time left, you can go on another hike. In this area, you'll never run out of amazing trails to enjoy. If you want to explore and enjoy more of Two Medicine Lake at your own pace, you have the option to rent a boat or a canoe. After that, it's time to go home.
That's it. Your three days in Glacier National Park are over. Are you wishing for more time to spend in the park? Yeah, us too. Still, three days of exploration is better than none. On your next visit, you can go and check out the other parts of the park that you were not able to explore on this trip.
Soon, you'll be able to proudly declare that you've explored the entirety of Glacier National Park and when they ask you how you did it, your response will be: “three days at a time”.
5 Days in Glacier National Park
If you have five days to explore Glacier National Park, you can allocate a day for each of its major areas.
For this itinerary, we'll begin on the west side of Glacier and head east. You can easily adjust and change this to suit your needs and preferences.
Begin your adventure at the Lake McDonald area. The itinerary for this location is the same as the 3-day itinerary mentioned above.
If you want a more chill way to start your week in Glacier National Park, instead of hiking the Apgar Lookout Trail, spend your morning exploring Apgar Village and Lake McDonald. Apgar Village is filled with shops and restaurants that might pique your interest. You can also pick up some stuff that you might have forgotten to pack. I know I'm not the only one who inevitably forgets something even if I'm an over packer. Lake McDonald is also very pretty in the morning.
In the afternoon, go check out the Apgar Lookout trail. It's quite a strenuous hike but it's definitely worth it. The view of Lake McDonald from the Fire Lookout is absolutely stunning. After that, hike back down to Lake McDonald to enjoy the sunset.
This setup is basically an inverted version of the 3-day itinerary. Once the sun has set, head over to your camp or your lodging. Rest and prepare for an amazing week to come.
The Many Glacier area is your destination for your second day in Glacier National Park. This area has the highest concentration of grizzly bears in the entire park, so make sure to pack your bear spray and make a lot of noise.
Your main landmark for this area will be the stunning Many Glacier Hotel. For this location, we definitely suggest hiking up to see Grinnell Glacier, one of the park's most accessible glaciers. You can even hike on top of it if you want, though it's not highly recommended, due to safety reasons.
Similar to the Apgar Lookout Trail, the hike to Grinnell Glacier is both beautiful and strenuous. You'll pass by two lakes, hike through prime grizzly territory, and hug some cliff faces. After all those challenges, you'll finally arrive at Grinnell Glacier, one of the ancient ice rivers that helped to shape the topography of Glacier National Park.
If you've decided to hike to Grinnell Glacier, there are boat rides available at Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine that will take you across and shave off some miles from your hike. These boat rides are amazing in the morning, so start your trip as soon as the sun rises.
If a frozen ice river from the past is not your thing, go hike a loop around Swiftcurrent Lake, a relatively easy trail that is surrounded by amazing views of the lake and its surrounding peaks. You'll also be able to spot some wildlife during this hike, such as grizzly bears, moose, and bighorn sheep. The banks of Swiftcurrent Lake are also an excellent location for a picnic so make sure to pack a basket and enjoy the scenery.
For a non-nature activity, go check out Many Glacier Hotel and its amazing architecture. It's an old property that was inspired by Swiss-style lodges, which makes it perfect for Glacier National Park, which is considered as America's Switzerland by many. If you want to stay in this hotel, make sure to book your rooms early to secure a spot in this historical property.
For day three, it's time to head to the sun. Drive along the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road and explore the Logan Pass area.
For this day, follow our ultimate one day itinerary for an amazing day at Going-to-the-Sun Road and Logan Pass. At the end of the day, head over to your choice of accommodation instead of going to Lake McDonald.
One of my most favorite trails is located in the Logan Pass area. The hike to Hidden Lake is very beautiful and is definitely recommended. The experience of walking through a sea of wildflowers in the summer is always an amazing time for me and I think you'll enjoy it too.
Day four is for St. Mary and waterfalls. Enjoy this day and some of the many amazing bodies of water of Glacier National Park.
Begin your day early and head over to St. Mary Lake to watch the sunrise. The lake is absolutely serene and beautiful, bathed in the soft glow of the sun. Make sure to snap a dozen or so amazing photos in this location after you take in the beauty of nature in the morning.
Our top hike recommendation for this area is the Sun Point Nature Trail, also known as the “Three Falls Trail.” Along the way, you'll be able to enjoy amazing views of St. Mary Lake and the mountains that surround it. We absolutely love this hike because of the amazing opportunity of seeing three falls all in one hike. On a hot summer day, you'll definitely appreciate the blast of cool air coming from the falls.
Otokomi Lake is also a good area to explore. It is a beautiful hike that is filled with Blackfoot history. Along the way, you'll also be able to view five waterfalls from a distance, which is always an amazing sight to see.
Your last day in Glacier National Park will be spent in the Two Medicine area, the last part of the park that you are yet to explore. It's the last day of your trip so make sure to enjoy every moment of it.
Follow the Day 3 guide of our 3-day itinerary for an amazing day at the Two Medicine area. This location is filled with amazing trails, which is perfect if you want to hike as much as you can on your last day in Glacier. Make sure to start your day early to enjoy Two Medicine Lake at its calmest and to have more time to explore the area.
You'll never run out of amazing things to do, breathtaking sights to see, and extraordinary wildlife to spot in Glacier National Park. A million acres is a lot of ground to explore and cover and you surely won't be able to do it in five days. What you can do with the time that you have is to spend every moment of it in bliss, while creating beautiful lasting memories.
A Perfect Family Weekend in Glacier National Park
Planning a family trip is always stressful, especially if you're travelling with children. There are a lot of factors to consider such as child appropriate activities, lodging, and safety. If you're considering Glacier National Park for your next family getaway, here is our suggested two-day itinerary to help you with your planning.
Glacier National Park is an amazing location for family trips. You'll never run out of amazing things to do here as a family. There are hiking trails that can be accomplished by kids as well as multiple learning opportunities for the whole family.
For this itinerary, we'll be exploring the Lake McDonald / Apgar / West Glacier area.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who is always extra excited on the first day of any trip. Spend all that excited energy on a hike to kickstart your perfect weekend in Glacier National Park. Don't forget to pick up a family pack from the Apgar Visitor Center for maximum enjoyment and learning.
Planning a trip to Glacier National Park? Check out this article that contains everything that you need to know about the Crown Jewel of the Continent.
Our top trail recommendation for this itinerary is the Trail of the Cedars. It's an amazing trail that will not be a challenge for kids to complete. If you're travelling with older children, give the Apgar Lookout Trail a try.
In the afternoon, drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road and explore Logan Pass. Wild animals such as mountain goats and bighorn sheep are always seen in these areas so keep your eyes peeled. There is also a trail that leads to a waterfall in this area that you can check out.
The perfect end to your first day in Glacier National Park is enjoying some water activities in Lake McDonald while waiting for the sun to set. After that, head over to your camp to settle down for the night.
For day two, it's time for the kids to become official Glacier Junior Rangers. Head over to the nearest visitor center to check out the required activities. Once the kids have been inducted to Ranger-hood, visit the Apgar Nature Center to learn more about Glacier National Park through a series of hands-on activities. I'm sure that no kid will pass up the opportunity to feel a grizzly bear's fur.
After that, you can go on more hikes, explore Lake McDonald on a boat, or visit Apgar Village and hunt for perfect souvenirs. Your weekend in Glacier National Park is almost over and we want you to spend your time doing whatever you want to do.
For me, national parks are always a top destination for family vacations. Being out and about in nature allows us to disconnect from the internet and everything else that keeps us busy on a regular day. Take this time that is free from the distraction of ringing phones to connect with your family and to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of nature.
A few reminders
Safety is always the top priority, especially if you're travelling with children. Glacier National Park is generally a safe destination, which will be safer if we keep the following points in mind:
- Water is the number one cause of accidents in the park. Always exercise extra caution when you're near it.
- Always stick to marked paths. Straying away from these designated locations can lead to accidents.
- Wildlife is abundant in the park, especially bears. Do not approach wild animals for your safety and theirs. Always carry bear spray, especially when hiking in areas that they frequent.
- If you notice anything that is out of the ordinary, report it to park rangers immediately.
Nature may be unpredictable but as long as you keep a clear and cool head and prepare accordingly, you'll be just fine.
No matter how many days you have to explore Glacier National Park, you'll definitely go home with wonderful memories and unforgettable experiences. One day in the park is as good as a full week as long as you enjoy yourself.
Glacier National Park is a treasure trove of amazing experiences. No matter how many times you visit, I'm sure every trip will still be full of surprises. I hope our itinerary guides helped you in planning your perfect trip to Glacier. Remember, the best trip is always the one where you had a lot of fun, no matter how long or short the trip was.
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