Without a doubt, Glacier National Park in Montana is one of the most beautiful (if not the most beautiful) national park in the United States. When we visited Glacier National Park for the first time in 2021, we were absolutely in awe at how beautiful it is from every angle. Glacier National Park has so many beautiful mountains, lakes, hiking trails, waterfalls, and wildlife.
When looking at information about Glacier National Park, it can seem a little overwhelming, so I have created this guide to help you plan your trip in the easiest way possible.
***Note: Included in this post are links to some Amazon products. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases (at no extra cost to you), but don’t feel pressured to buy anything! I only include links to products that we have tried or would use ourselves.
About Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is located in western Montana in the United States. It became a national park in 1910. Before it was a national park, it was inhabited by various Native American tribes including the Blackfeet and Flathead tribes. The park is over 1,000,000 acres and borders Canada. The Continental Divide passes through the middle of the park. The park has millions of visitors every year, maybe one of which will be you!
Ways to Get Around Glacier National Park
The best way to get around Glacier National Park is by car, but if you can’t drive, there are still options for you too.
Driving is the best way to get around Glacier National Park as it allows you the flexibility to visit multiple areas of the park and stop at any stops you want. Some parts of the park, especially the Going-to-the-Sun Road, has many places to stop along the way that you can only stop if you are driving at your own pace. The best direction to drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is from west to east as most of the roadside pull-offs will be more accessible if driving this direction.
One downside of driving at Glacier National Park is the need for a reservation to enter any part of the part within certain hours of the day. Due to the large amounts of people visiting Glacier National Park in recent years, there is a reservation system for being able to drive anywhere within Glacier National Park. Note that Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road that cuts across the park and if you do not have a reservation for Going-to-the-Sun Road, you must drive around the park to get to the other side. Driving around the park without going through on the Going-to-the-Sun Road can add several hours to your trip depending on which part of the park you’re trying to access.
If you are unable to drive or uncomfortable driving at Glacier National Park, there is a shuttle system throughout the Going-to-the-Sun Road that has various designated stops throughout the road. I write more about the different shuttle and bus options in my blog post about Going-to-the-Sun Road, which you can read here:
What is the best time of the year to visit Glacier National Park?
Glacier National Park is technically open year-round, but if you are wanting to see all the iconic sites that Glacier National Park has to offer, the time in which you can visit is limited. The best time to visit Glacier National Park is from after the Going-to-the-Sun Road opens and before it closes again for the season which is essentially early July to mid-September. The time that the road opens and closes really depends on how much snow they got over the winter months. For the most up-to-date road updates, visit the National Park Service Website.
How Many Days Do You Need in Glacier National Park?
Glacier National Park is large and you could easily spend weeks here and not see everything. At minimum, I recommend at least 4 days (but definitely more if you have the time). I have laid out a basic itinerary of where to spend each day if you are on a 4 day trip and you can read more about each part of the park below or in one of my blog posts on each part of the park. If you are staying 5 or 6 days, you can definitely add more time along Going-to-the-Sun Road or West Glacier depending on what activities you plan on doing. If you are into hiking, there are so many amazing full-day hikes throughout the park depending on what you want to see.
4 Day Itinerary of Glacier National Park
Day 1: West Glacier
Arrive to Glacier National Park in the morning (the earlier you arrive, the less crowded it will be)
Explore around Lake McDonald, Apgar, and West Glacier by hiking or driving
Take a boat tour of Lake McDonald
Spend the evening and night in West Glacier (or even the gorgeous Lake McDonald Lodge)
Day 2: Going-to-the-Sun Road
Begin driving on the road in the morning (again, the earlier the better)
Stop at any of the stops you want along the way
Make it to Logan’s Pass (the highest part of the road) by early afternoon
Continue on Going-to-the-Sun Road stopping at various places and hiking throughout
- Drive until you reach St. Mary where you will stay for the night
Day 3: Many Glacier
Drive north to Many Glacier
Spend the day at Many Glacier
- Take a boat across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine
Hike or relax at the Many Glacier Lodge
Stay the night at Many Glacier Lodge
Day 4: Two Medicine
Drive south to Two Medicine
Spend the Day at Two Medicine
Take the boat across Two Medicine Lake
Hike to waterfalls or mountain lakes
- Spend the night either at East Glacier (the closest town to Two Medicine) or St. Mary depending on where you are going after Glacier National Park
Areas of Glacier National Park
Many Glacier is one of my favorite parts of Glacier National Park. I have “many” good things to say about it (pun intended). Many Glacier is on the far upper east side of Glacier National Park. It takes a little more effort to reach this part of the park and due to that, this part of the park is less crowded than other parts of the Glacier National Park. The national park bus also does not go to Many Glacier, even further reducing the amount of people that visit here.
There are many great trails in the Many Glacier, with one of the most popular being the Grinnell Glacier Trail. The Grinnell Glacier Trail is a 11.2 mile trail that goes up to the most popular glacier in Glacier National Park. I highlight Grinnell Glacier as well as other trails in the area in the my Many Glacier Blog Post:
A great thing about the Many Glacier area is that there are options for those that may not want to do extensive hiking. The Many Glacier Lodge is absolutely beautiful and has a deck and seating area at the back of the lodge with expansive views of the lake and the mountains. It makes a great place to sit and watch the view while enjoying a cup of coffee from the lodge’s café.
Another option for those that aren’t hiking, Glacier Park Boat Company runs a boat across Swiftcurrent Lake and another boat across Lake Josephine. These boats allow you the option to see different views of the mountains from the water and watch for wildlife. When we were are the boat dock at Swiftcurrent Lake on the far side, we watched bald eagles swooping around and return to their nest.
To see more information on all of the things to do at Many Glacier, check out my blog post about Many Glacier: Everything You Need to Know About Many Glacier
Two Medicine is another area of Glacier National Park that is less visited than West Glacier or Going-to-the-Sun Road. This area of Glacier National Park does not have a lodge or as much parking available as Many Glacier, but has a small general store. The views driving into the Two Medicine part of the park are gorgeous.
Glacier Park Boat Company also has a boat that crosses Two Medicine Lake. There is the option of taking the boat or hiking around 3 miles around to the other side of the lake. We took the boat to the other side and the boat captain narrates the ride telling the history of the surrounding area.
There is a lot of hiking in the Two Medicine part of the park. We hiked to Twin Falls when we visited.
For more information on things to do at Two Medicine, check out my Two Medicine Blog Post:
Going to the Sun Road Eastern Side
Going-to-the-Sun Road spans across the entirety of Glacier National Park. It is closed over half of the year due to the high amounts of snow received at the higher elevations. The highest point in the road, Logan Pass, is closed as late as July many summers.
Even though the road is closed for a lot of the year, the road is open up until the point that it is cleared of snow. This is great because even if you are visiting at the time that part of the road is closed, you can visit things along the Going-to-the-Sun Road from each side of the park. Logan Pass divides the road into the east side and the west side, which I believe are distinctly different.
The eastern side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road starts from the St Mary entrance. St Mary and the eastern side of Going-to-the-Sun Road is much less crowded than the western side, especially earlier in the summer when the road is not fully open yet. St Mary is a very small town and has some small facilities, eateries, and a gas station.
There are endless viewpoints and beautiful views on the eastern side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but my two favorite are Baring Falls and Wild Goose Island Overlook.
For more information on the sites to see along Going-to-the-Sun Road, see my Going-to-the-Sun Road Blog Post:
Going to the Sun Road Western Side
Whether you can drive through Logan Pass to reach the western side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road or you must drive around the park to reach it, it is completely worth it. The western side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is completely different than the eastern side, but it will not disappoint. While the eastern part of the road has views looking up at the mountains, most of the western side follows a road that is carved out of the side of the mountain, offering expansive views of mountains and deep valleys.
The western side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road begins at Apgar and Lake McDonald in the West Glacier area. The road follows along the side of Lake McDonald, weaves through a deep valley, and then starts rapidly gaining elevation on a narrow curvy road on the side of mountains. There are many unmarked small pull-offs to soak in all of the views.
For more specifics regarding stops along the way and ways to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road without a car, check out my Going-to-the-Sun Road Blog Post:
West Glacier and Lake McDonald
West Glacier and Lake McDonald are, as the name suggests, on the western side of the park. This is the most popular area of the park and also the part of the park with the most facilities. This area of the park is also the closest area of the park to an airport, so many people begin their trip here. Many major trails of Glacier National Park start in the Lake McDonald area. There is a lodge at Lake McDonald. There are boat tours of Lake McDonald that begin near one of the lodges on Lake McDonald.
Gear to Bring to Glacier National Park
The gear included here is great if you’re visiting during peak season which is July and August, but this stuff would also be helpful at other times of year and at other parks besides Glacier National Park. I include a gear list here for you because these are things that I either wish I would have brought or am so glad I brought with me on our visit to Glacier National Park!
Wind-breaker or rain jacket
The climate at GNP can change quickly and a storm can come in quick, especially at higher elevations. There were several days while we visited that the weather was gorgeous in the morning and by afternoon there was a terrible thunderstorm. Having our rain jackets with us allowed us to keep having fun and stay dry even though it was rainy!
Here is rain jacket similar to what we use on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3QV8Lg5
Fleece jacket for chilly nights
Even though we visited in the peak season in the middle of summer, it still got very chilly at times during our visit. We had packed several fleece jackets which were absolute lifesavers on the chilly nights. Columbia fleece jackets are always my go to (as you can see I am wearing a Columbia fleece jacket in most pictures throughout the blog lol).
Here is the exact Columbia jacket I have in multiple colors (Amazon sells it in over 80 colors): https://amzn.to/3KiGfyn
Sandals are great to wear while relaxing after a long day of hiking. They are also optimal if you are exploring around lakes and waterfalls as they dry super quickly.
Here are the sandals that I wear on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3KMzRCc
(Teva sandals are my all time favorite, not sponsored or anything, I just love them lol)
Mosquito repellent is something that I did not bring enough of to Glacier National Park and we were absolutely eaten alive while hiking. Since the warm season is so short, the mosquitoes take advantage of every warm day.
Here is the mosquito repellent I recommend on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3tsogP1
(this is stuff is heavy duty, but needed since herbal-based repellents won’t scare away Glacier’s mosquitos)
You don’t want your phone to die and miss out on the perfect picture opportunity! Especially if you’re using your device for any navigating, it could be dangerous if your phone dies. It is not a bad idea to have a power bank with you to keep your phone charged for when you need it.
This is a great power bank that has solar power capabilities on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3HDvdlp
No matter where you are, it is always good to have extra water with you to be safe. If you don’t have enough water with you and are far from a water source, you could be in a lot of trouble. One way to save money on your trip is to bring your own reusable water bottle because the majority of visitor centers within the park have free water fill-up stations. We love Nalgene bottles for their lightweight and durability.
Find the Nalgene bottles we have on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3sBdyqi
It is never a bad idea to have extra snacks with you. If you are out hiking or driving along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, it could be a long time before you have access to somewhere with food again. Be sure to bring extra snacks with you in the case that you are delayed or away from main areas longer than you think you will be.
Visiting Glacier National Park soon? Check out some of my other posts about Glacier National Park!
I hope this guide helps you in planning a trip to the gorgeous Glacier National Park!
Is there anything I am missing or any questions that you have about Glacier National Park? Let me know down in the comments below!
Thanks for Reading!