Here’s my list of the top 10 things to do around Glacier National Park everyone should experience on their first Glacier National Park trip.
How to get to Glacier National Park
Flying – If you are flying into Glacier National Park, the closest airport is Kalispell, MT. The drive from Kalispell, MT to Glacier National Park on the west side is less than one hour. Check your airline as routes are limited, especially during the off-peak seasons.
It is also possible to fly into Missoula, MT and drive up to Glacier National Park. The drive from Missoula to West Glacier is 2.5 to 3 hours.
Where to stay in Glacier National Park
There are quite a few lodging inside the National Park or just outside. Here are some of the more popular locations to stay during your visit.
1. Where to stay in Glacier National Park? Spend the night at Lake McDonald Lodge!
Speaking of lodging – Lake McDonald Lodge, one of the several Glacier National Park hotels, sits along the shores of Lake McDonald on the west-side of Glacier National Park. Built in 1895, the lodge offers different types of rooms including classic hotel rooms, hostel rooms with shared bathrooms, 2-room suites and free-standing cabins.
While you are there, you can take a boat ride on the lake, hike along Avalanche Lake or Trail of the Cedars or take in a Ranger led talk. Walking along the shore of Lake McDonald is a relaxing way to start or end your day.
Boat rides are $18.25 for Adults, $9.25 for kids (4-12), Free for kids 4 and under.
2. Drive the Going to the Sun Road (GTSR)
The Going to the Sun Road is 50 miles of an engineering marvel which spans the entire width (east/west) of Glacier National Park. This drive is one of the most scenic drives in the United States, but also requires some nerves of steel with the winding roads and steep drop offs. Get a sense of it before you go and watch the opening scene of The Shining showing an aerial view of Jack and Wendy drive to their winter home. Must see stops along the way:
- 5.5 miles east of Lake McDonald Lodge is the trail to Avalanche Lake. The entire trail is 2 miles to the lake, you can make it a short hike by stopping at Avalanche Gorge which is 0.5 miles from the trailhead. Come back through Trail of the Cedars and experience the greatness of cedars 100 feet tall and diameters of 4 to 7 feet.
- The Weeping Wall located 3-miles west of Logan Pass is a 100 foot long natural waterfall along the Going to the Sun Road where water flows from the Garden Wall fed by snow runoff.
- Logan Pass Visitor Center is the highest point inside the park accessible by car at 6646 ft above sea level. If you arrive in the morning hours, it provides an excellent location for photography and wildlife spotting. You can also access the hiking trails to Hidden Lake and Highline.
- Jackson Glacier Overlook has a nice pull off area to stop and view the 7th largest glacier in the world. The Overlook is the best view of this glacier located on the east side of Logan Pass.
There are many stops along the Going to the Sun Road, so take your time and enjoy the scenery. Take in going through the tunnels and of course, watch for wildlife!
Without stops and with regular traffic, driving the road would take approximately 2 hours.
Tip: Be sure to check weather conditions as it could snow almost anytime at Logan Pass closing the road.
3. See animals at Glacier National Park
Wildlife spotting is a favorite for those visiting Glacier National Park. You never know when a black bear will be in a tree, moose on the side of the road, mountain goats on the cliff side or a grizzly bear crossing your path. Always be on the lookout especially during the early morning and late afternoons when they can be the most active.
4. Take a hike (literally)
Hiking is a must during your visit. There are hikes for everyone including easy short or long strenuous hikes. Getting out of the car and enjoying nature is why most of us visit this incredible National Park. You can see nature from a different vantage point. Read about the hikes before your visit and plan a few based on your skill level. Some popular ones to check out include: Iceberg (see further down for more detail), Avalanche Lake, Trail of the Cedars, Highline, Hidden Lake Overlook and Grinnell Glacier.
5. Hike to Iceberg Lake
The hike to Iceberg Lake is one of the best hikes in the United States. While the hike itself isn’t very technical or strenuous, it is 9.3 miles so being in relative decent physical shape is a requirement. If you get an early start, there is a good chance you’ll catch some moose grazing in the grass close to the trailhead at SwiftCurrent Motor Inn, so be on the lookout. The reason this hike is on the “must do” list is the lake itself. Casting a blue created by the glacial flour, it is a color which must be experienced. While at the lake, take off your shoes and take a dip in Iceberg Lake!
6. Red Bus Tour
When you hear Glacier National Park, many think of the iconic Red Buses which tour the park. The current fleet, built by the White Motor Company in 1936 and 1939, provide guests with an opportunity to roll back the canvas tops, enjoy the aerial views of the mountains and listen to knowledgeable guides talk about the history of Glacier National Park as you are comforted in the cool air by the Red Bus Tour wool blankets. They are good at finding wildlife too!
7. Hear the Legend of Wild Goose Island
Wild Goose Island is a small island half way between two shores of St Mary’s Lake. It’s the story of two crossed lovers, but you’ll have to visit Glacier to find out the rest. Take a St. Mary’s boat tour, a ride on the Glacier Red Bus or ask a Ranger to tell you the story.
8. Be in awe of the majestic views
Everywhere you turn at Glacier there is another view to leave you in awe. While you can enjoy and appreciate the views from a car, it is best to get off the beaten path to enjoy a different perspective. There are 26 remaining glaciers within the park along with 150 named peaks within the park. Mount Cleveland sits at 10,479 feet as the highest peak within the park.
9. Hear a Ranger led talk
Visiting a National Park provides the opportunity to hear stories directly from the National Park Rangers. They essentially live in the park and hearing first hand accounts is very special. While the topics change, at Glacier you can hear talks on wildlife, go on a hike with a ranger or even a snowshoe walk in winter. Before you visit, check out the schedule online to plan your “can’t miss” talks.
10. Eat Huckleberry Pie
Huckleberry is very similar to a blueberry as a small round, blue-purple fruit. Visitors favorite location for trying huckleberry pie is Park Café in St. Mary but trying anywhere won’t leave you disappointed. While you are allowed to pick and eat a few on a hike, please no picking large amounts as the bears rely on them for food. Check the regulations before you visit and go huckleberry picking.