Glacier National Park is one of the United States’ most underrated destinations. Located in the foothills of northwestern Montana’s Rocky Mountain Range, this picturesque National Park boasts next-level mountain views and ample water sports activities. Plus, the sunsets at Glacier National Park are simply unmatched.
We highly suggest spending at least three to four days at Glacier National Park to see all the noteworthy sights, such as Lake McDonald and the Highline Trail. You should arrive at the park early in the morning to avoid excessive crowds and allow plenty of time to check out other nearby attractions. Below we have prepared a three-day itinerary for how to successfully conquer this epic National Park.
Once you’ve selected the dates of your trip, make sure to purchase a permit to access the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road. This scenic drive offers access to many of the park’s top attractions and is also accessible via shuttle service.
Note: Glacier National Park is open for tourism year-round. However, the summer is the peak season to visit since most local businesses are open and the weather is ideal for hiking. With that said, the National Park is breathtakingly beautiful in the winter. If you plan to visit Glacier during the colder months, be prepared to rent or purchase snowshoes to make the hiking trails more manageable. Going To The Sun Road is often closed in the winter due to inclement weather.
Where To Stay Near Glacier National Park
While it is possible to stay inside the park, there are very limited options that tend to sell out more than a year in advance. Staying in the charming town of Whitefish is much more convenient and allows you to easily explore the local shops and restaurants.
The pet-friendly Pine Lodge on Whitefish River is one of our favorite places to stay near Glacier National Park. The location in downtown Whitefish is the perfect place to enjoy all the restaurants and nightlife after a day of exploration. Plus, guests enjoy a range of on-site amenities including complimentary bike and kayak rentals.
DAY 1 – WEST GLACIER & LAKE MCDONALD
Start your morning on the Trail of the Cedars, beginning at Going-to-the-Sun Road. It is a long but straightforward loop hike. Though the trail is easy to navigate, be prepared for the 757-foot elevation gain. You may continue on the trail for an additional 1.6 miles to reach Avalanche Lake, which was formed by the snow-tipped Sperry Glacier.
Since the trailhead is popular amongst tourists and locals, we suggest starting your hike at sunrise to avoid crowds. This way, you won’t have to wait forever to get a picture-perfect photograph in front of the beautiful glacial lake.
No trip to Glacier National Park would seem complete without seeing Lake McDonald. The water is crystal-clear and filled with colorful pebbles. It is also the largest of the seven hundred lakes situated in the National Park. If you want to watch the sunset over Lake McDonald, you may leave the park briefly and head back beforehand. The sun typically goes down between 8-9 p.m. in the summertime.
Where to Eat
We recommend grabbing a meal at Polebridge Mercantile. The restaurant is about an hour and 10-minute drive away from the West Glacier Entrance, taking you five miles along the stunning Going-to-the-Sun Road. It has delicious food, friendly staff and unique gifts available for purchase. Besides, you do not want to leave Montana without eating one of Polebridge Mercantile’s famous bear claw pastries!
However, you can check out the eateries at Apgar Village if you want to remain closer to the park, such as Eddie’s Cafe & Gifts. The area is within walking distance from Lake McDonald, allowing you easy access back to the lake in time to watch the sunset.
DAY 2 – GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD & EAST GLACIER
You will begin day two, driving Going-to-the-Sun Road, taking in the spectacular mountain views along the way. Make your way to Logan Pass, the highest point on the scenic road. Once there, stop in the visitor center to learn more about the geography, wildlife and history of the park before heading on your first hike of the day.
While there are many gorgeous hikes in East Glacier, we could not recommend the Highline Loop Trail enough. It starts at Logan Pass, taking travelers through a lengthy 11.8-mile hike through meadows and steep cliffs. Keep an eye out for adorable mountain goats throughout your hike! If you want a more mellow hiking excursion, take the Hidden Lake Overlookroute. It also begins at Logan Pass, though it is only 2.7-miles roundtrip.
If you are up for another hike, venture to St. Mary Falls. There you will find three breathtaking waterfalls inside a narrow gorge. It is an easy, 1.7-mile roundtrip hike that begins at the St. Mary Falls Shuttle Stop.
PRO TIP: If you are traveling without a car, Glacier National Park offers a free shuttle service along Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Where to Eat
After spending the day at East Glacier, we recommend venturing outside of the National Park to the nearby local Montana farming community, Babb. It is a short, twenty-minute drive from St. Mary. You can get your hands on delicious farm-to-table bites in the area’s many restaurants. Fans of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives may recognize Two Sisters Café, known for serving delectable bison burgers and other local dishes like rainbow trout.
DAY 3 – MANY GLACIER
We’ve saved the best for last. You will not want to miss out on the Many Glacier region, which is home to several of the best hiking trails in Glacier National Park. Start your day early as the drive to Many Glacier is just under two hours from the lodge.
Two of the most noteworthy hikes in Many Glacier include Cracker Lake and Grinnell Glacier. The aquamarine water at Cracker Lake is undoubtedly among the most beautiful sights in the United States. It is well-worth the 12.6-mile trek once. On the other hand, the Grinnell Glacier hike is much shorter, spanning approximately 7.6-miles roundtrip. Be sure to take in the views at Lake Josephine along the way, especially if you want to catch the sunset.
Thrill-seeking hikers may prefer the Two Medicine Lake Loop, a 9.7-mile trail that takes visitors to the jaw-dropping Twin Falls. You may also reach the waterfalls via a 2.3-mile hike from the Two Medicine Lake Boat Dock. If you’re looking to take a break from hiking, rent a boat or embark on a tour for the day to explore the rest of Two Medicine Lake.
After a day of active adventure, head back to Whitefish for a well-deserved Italian dinner at Ciao Mambo. Hand-tossed pizzas and delicious pastas paired with a vast selection of wine is the perfect way to end your time venturing through Glacier National Park.