Article Overview: Best Things to Do in Glacier National Park
I’ve visited Glacier National Park four times and would like to share my personal list of the best things to do in Glacier National Park based on first hand experience.
It’s no secret that Glacier National Park is one of the most stunning national parks in America as seen by the wild summer crowds. I want to make sure your trip to Glacier National Park is as enjoyable as possible and proper planning is key. But don’t worry, that’s where I come in!
You should probably know that I didn’t pull this list of the best things to do in Glacier National Park out of thin air. I’ve spent my entire adult life exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
Table of Contents: Things to Do in Glacier National Park
Things to Do in Glacier National Park
- About My Travels Glacier National Park
- Glacier National Park Timed Entry Permit
- Things to Know Before You Visit Glacier National Park
- Where to Stay in Glacier National Park
- Best Things to Do in Glacier National Park
- 1. Drive Going to the Sun Road
- 2. Visit Many Glacier & See Swiftcurrent Lake
- 3. Visit Lake McDonald (with the pretty rocks) & Apgar Village
- 4. Hike to Grinnell Glacier (Before it’s Completely Gone)
- 5. The Trail of the Cedars
- 6. Hike to Hidden Lake
- 7. See the Epic Panoramas at Logan Pass
- 8. Admire Avalanche Lake
- 9. Visit Saint Mary Lake
- 10. Go Camping
- 11. Wildlife Viewing
- 12. Stay at the Many Glacier Hotel
- 13. Spend a Day at Two Medicine
- 14. See Bowman Lake
- 15. Go Backpacking in the Backcountry
- More Helpful Tips for Visiting Glacier National Park
- Summary of the 10 Best Things to Do in Glacier National Park
- Map of Things to Do in Glacier National Park
About My Travels Glacier National Park
Visiting Glacier National Park was long a bucket list item for me. I researched extensively before visiting Glacier National park for the first time. Did I drive the entire Going to the Sun Road on Google maps before going? No comment.
I can tell you that Glacier National Park is way more beautiful in person than in photos, even some of the spectacular ones that are out there these days.
Glacier National Park is one of the grandfathers of the national parks system and continues to stand the test of time as one of the best national parks in the US.
This exceedingly beautiful mountainous park and its jaw-dropping vistas make other park overlooks seem tame by comparison.
Glacier National Park Timed Entry Permit
TIMED ENTRY PERMIT: To access Going-To-The-Sun Road (a must), the Polebridge Ranger Station, West Entrance, St. Mary Entrance, and the Camas Entrance entrance you MUST first obtain a timed-entry ticket.
These tickets can be obtained via recreation.gov here up to 60 days in advance and typically go up on the site starting in March.
The cost is $2 per vehicle and the ticket is good for 7 days. Entry Tickets are only required for the Going to the sun Road between the hours of 6am-5pm.
Things to Know Before You Visit Glacier National Park
The entrance fees to Glacier are $30 per vehicle ($35 in the Summer) OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which I never leave the house without in the Summer because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂
Cell Service is fairly non-existent in most of the park.
Best Guide Book
This is the best guidebook for Glacier.
I like this map best for Glacier National Park.
Best Time to Visit
The Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park is during the Summer months when the park is fully open. The best months are July – September when the trails are mostly clear of snow and the park is teaming with wildflowers and wildlife.
Driving in Glacier
Drive Times in the park can be deceptively long as navigating roads in the mountains takes more time and distances that are relatively short via crow flight can take hours to complete based on existing roads.
Consider taking the Glacier National Park shuttle service which operates seasonally on Going to the Sun Road instead of taking a car to lighten your footprint on the park and eliminate the stress of driving.
Drink it. Lots of it. Don’t forget it in the car.
Maps of the National Parks
National Parks Checklist Map: This beautiful National Parks Checklist Map can be ordered to your house.
Framed National Parks Map: We’re a sucker for maps, this framed national parks map is the best.
Best Things to Do in Glacier National Park
1. Drive Going to the Sun Road
You know when a road is the most highly sought after attraction in a park as beautiful and epic as Glacier, it must really be something. It is.
Widely considered one of the most beautiful roads in the world, the Going to the Sun Road is approximately 50 miles long and will take about 2 hours to drive (depending on traffic conditions). The road itself spans the width of Glacier National Park.
The traditional route starting at the Apgar Visitor Center near the West Entrance and going up to Logan Pass (6,646 feet) at it’s height before heading back down on the other side of the continental divide to the Saint Mary Visitor Center.
I typically like to minimize my time inside the car in national parks but driving Going to the Sun Road is one of the best things to do in Glacier National Park and therefore non-negotiable. This is a rare drive you never want to end.
Going to the Sun Road Fun Facts
- The Going to the Sun Road is one of the most difficult in North America to plow taking up to ten weeks fully complete.
- The park has equipment that can move 2 tons of snow per hour
- Up to 80 feet of snow can be present on Logan Pass during winter
- Construction took about 11 years to complete (1921 – 1932)
- The total cost for construction of Going to the Sun Road was $2.5 million
- The road is named for Going to the Sun Mountain
- Going to the Sun Road was one of the first National Park Service Projects designed specifically to accommodate cars
2. Visit Many Glacier & See Swiftcurrent Lake
No list of things to do in Glacier National Park would be complete without Swiftcurrent Lake. Chances are good that you’ve seen countless photos of this region.
The Many Glacier region of Glacier National Park is one of the park’s most visually striking areas making it one of the most popular things to do and see in the park.
I personally favor this region above the others (and that’s saying a lot here!).
Many of the most popular hiking trails originate in the Many Glacier area including:
- Grinnell Glacier Trail
- Continental Divide Trail
- Grinnell Lake
- Cracker Lake Trail
- Swiftcurrent Pass Trail
The epic Many Glacier Hotel is located here (one of the most beautiful of its kind in America) with a dining room and lobby open to the general public.
Boat Tours & Rentals: Visitors can take scenic boat tours in Swiftcurrent Lake ($35/adult & $17/children) and/or rent kayaks, canoes, & rowboats for around $20/hour.
Camping: Many Glacier Campground is one of the most popular and sought after in the park. There are 110 sites in the campground, 22 of which are able to be reserved, the rest being first come first served.
Given the massive demand you can imagine what it’s like getting one of these coveted spots.
Interested in hiking at Glacier? Check out our article: 15 Incredible Hikes at Glacier National Park
3. Visit Lake McDonald (with the pretty rocks) & Apgar Village
For many folks, the first exposure to Glacier National Park they might get is by seeing a stunning photo of Lake McDonald with its clear water & multi-colored rocks.
The rocks are real and every bit as beautiful in person as they are in the photos. Walking down to the shore and touching these rocks for yourself is a very memorable thing to do in Glacier National Park.
Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park located on the west side of the park just 4 minutes driving from the West Entrance Station.
On the southern end of Lake McDonald is one of the most popular villages in the park, Apgar Village.
At Apgar, visitors will find a host of amenities and conveniences including a backcountry permit office, campground, a few hotels, visitor center, cafe, gift shop, and more.
Boat Tours & Rentals: Visitors can take scenic boat tours of Lake McDonald ($23/adult & $11/children) and rent paddleboards ($15/hour), kayaks ($23/hour), rowboats ($23/hour), and motorboats ($30/hour).
Camping: There are 3 campgrounds located on Lake McDonald including Apgar Campground, Fish Creek Campground, & Sprague Creek Campground. They fill up extremely fast and frankly are not nearly large enough to meet demand.
If you plan on camping in Glacier make sure to reserve a campsite as early as possible or have a solid plan B. Around Lake McDonald there are a growing number of conveniences including a coffee shop, dining room, and lodges.
4. Hike to Grinnell Glacier (Before it’s Completely Gone)
For many folks (myself included) this is the one thing to do in Glacier National Park if you can only have one.
The Grinnell Glacier hike is my personal favorite thing to do in Glacier as the views are epic, the trail is challenging, and all seems right with the world up there (except for the Glacier itself that is which is dying).
- Distance: 11.2 miles
- Elevation Gain: 2200 feet
- Time Required: 6 – 7 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate – Strenuous
The Hike: You can start the hike one of two ways. Option 1 – start at the official trailhead next to the Many Glacier Ranger Station. Option 2 – you can take the boat on Swiftcurrent Lake to Lake Josephine followed by a second boat that drops you off on the far side of that lake.
All the details for the boat rentals you can find here. Taking the boat saves 3.5 miles round trip off the hike.
Once on the far side of the lake the elevation begins up to Grinnell Lake where the best scenery begins to come into view.
Waterfalls, wildflower meadows, turquoise waters, couple with switchbacks, and if you’re unlucky some unbelievably savage mosquitoes.
Finally you’ll reach the Grinnell Glacier viewpoint with incredible views of what’s left of this once mighty and now greatly reduced ice flow.
5. The Trail of the Cedars
The Trail of the Cedars is a great, easy hike, good for all age groups located just north of Lake McDonald on the Going to the Sun Road. The trail is a short, mile long loop featuring a wheelchair accessible boardwalk and massive red cedars.
- Distance: 1 mile
- Elevation Gain: Minimal
- Time Required: 30 minutes
- Difficulty: Easy
The Trail of Cedars is a great thing to do for families and folks looking for a nice stretch of the legs. Bears are occasionally seen from the trail so keep your eyes peeled.
Parking at the trailhead is limited and the trail is popular so depending on availability might have to loop, wait, or keep in the arsenal for the way back!
6. Hike to Hidden Lake
Some of the best Glacier National Park photos come from the beautiful Hidden Lake Trail. Reaching the panoramic vistas of Hidden Lake makes this challenging hike totally worthwhile.
- Distance: 5.3 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1350 feet
- Time Required: 2.5 – 3.5 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate – Challenging
Starting at the Logan Pass Visitor Center hikers will ascend the Hidden Lake Trail through beautiful wildflower meadows. There will be lots of other hikers on this trail (unless you get there really early in the morning).
Some folks just hike the 1.5 miles or so to Hidden Lake Overlook where the best views (and photos) are observed. Take a minute to realize where you are once you reach this epic point before deciding whether you’d like to double your hike or head to the next one!
7. See the Epic Panoramas at Logan Pass
I’ll start by saying if for nothing else, the wildflower displays at Logan Pass are worth the trip alone.
Outside of the Pacific Northwest (thinking Rainier & Mount St Helens) these are some of the most impressive displays of wildflowers I’ve ever seen.
Endless carpets of yellow, pink, magenta, & purple blanket this area in dazzling form. If you’re visiting in the summer then add hiking through epic wildflower meadows to your list of things to do in Glacier National Park.
Logan Pass is also the highest point on the Going to the Sun Road at an impressive 6,646 feet. I recommend visiting Logan Pass early in the morning as the sun begins to grace the mountains for epic photography opportunities with far fewer visitors and great chances to see wildlife on the move.
8. Admire Avalanche Lake
I can smell the alpine scents wafting from here! If you’re familiar with the Maroon Bells in Colorado, I’d say Avalanche Lake is similar in grandeur. The shallow water allows for the crystal blueish green hues to shine through in spectacular fashion.
Combine beautiful water with epic surrounding mountains and relatively easy access and what do you get? Crowds.
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 750 feet
Time Required: 2 – 3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate – Challenging
Avalanche Lake is one of the most popular things to do in Glacier because of these reasons, but not to fret. Wake up early enough and you’ll practically have it all to yourself.
Getting to the Trailhead: The trailhead for Avalanche Lake is located near Lake McDonald at the Trail of the Cedars parking lot sharing the same start as does that hike.
After you’ve passed the Trail of Cedars section the trail begins to climb along Avalanche Creek with increasingly beautiful scenery all the way up to the lake where the trail levels out.
9. Visit Saint Mary Lake
At 10 miles long covering a surface area of nearly 4,000 acres, Saint Mary Lake is the second largest lake in Glacier National Park. Visiting the lake makes for one of the most popular things to do in the park.
Boating: Visitors can take Boat Tours around the lake with rates at $35 for adults & $17 for children.
Approaching the lake from the Saint Mary Visitor Center can be familiar to fans of The Shining as it was this lake in particular that was used as a filming location for the film’s opening scene.
Camping: The Rising Sun Campground is the only one located on Saint Mary Lake. The campground’s 84 sites go for $20/night and are strictly first come first served.
10. Go Camping
You don’t really feel like you’re out in it until the tent is pitched and campfire is lit (when allowed). It’s for this reason that camping is an essential thing to do at Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park has 13 front country campgrounds featuring 1,012 campsites which sounds like a lot but trust me when I say sites fill up FAST.
The good news (in my opinion) is that most of the sites are strictly first come first served meaning everyone has a chance of getting one if they show up early enough.
Campground Fees: Campsite fees range from $15 – $23 with $20 being the average
Food Storage: Proper food storage is essential when camping at Glacier due to the presence of apex predators such as the Grizzly bear. The National Park Service instructs visitors:
“All food, lawfully taken fish, garbage, and equipment used to cook, serve, or store food must be kept sealed in a vehicle, sealed in a camping unit that is constructed of solid, non-pliable material, suspended from any NPS-designated food hanging device…
…secured in any NPS-designated storage locker, secured in an Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) approved bear resistant container, or secured in a structure or dwelling at all times, except when these items are being transported, consumed, or prepared for consumption.”
Pets are allowed in front country campgrounds but must be leashed at all times. They are not allowed on trails.
Ranger Programs are available nightly during Summer in the Apgar, Fish Creek, Rising Sun, St. Mary, Two Medicine, & Many Glacier campgrounds.
Campgrounds in Glacier National Park
- Apgar Camprgound – 194 sites / some reservations
- Avalanche Campground – 87 / first come only
- Bowman Lake Campground – 46 sites / first come only
- Cut Bank Campground – 14 / first come only
- Fish Creek Campground – 178 sites / some reservations
- Kintla Lake Campground – 13 sites / first come only
- Logging Creek Campground – 7 sites / first come only
- Many Glacier Campground – 109 sites / some reservations
- Quartz Creek Campground – 7 sites / first come only
- Rising Sun Campground – 84 sites / first come only
- St. Mary Campground – 148 / some reservations
- Sprague Creek Campground – 25 sites / some reservations
- Two Medicine Campground – 100 sites / first come only
11. Wildlife Viewing
If you’re into wildlife viewing there are few parks in the world with better opportunities to spot incredible creatures than Glacier National Park.
While the park is known the world over for it’s mountain goat population and grizzly bears, there are many other amazing animals you can see here.
Popular Wildlife in Glacier National Park
- Bighorn Sheep
- Black Bear
- Grizzly Bear
- Mountain Goat
- Mountain Lion
- Mule Deer
- River Otter
- so many more…
12. Stay at the Many Glacier Hotel
Once known as the “Gem of the West”, the historic Many Glacier Hotel is a rare site to behold on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park. From the outside the hotel is quite large and remarkably beautiful.
The Many Glacier hotel is modeled in the Swiss Chalet style allowing visitors to believe for a moment that they have somehow been transported to the Alps.
The hotel was part of a greater strategy implemented by the Great Northern Railway to encourage folks to use their services to get to this area they referred to as the “American Alps”.
If the outside of this hotel is remarkable, the inside is just as amazing with a giant lobby and dining room.
There is an excellent dining room here open to the general public which I highly recommend visiting even if you don’t stay at the hotel.
Staying at the Many Glacier Hotel
The Many Glacier Hotel has 215 units for rent in all with a combination of suites and rooms.
Room Rates: Regular rooms go for $155–$255 while suites go for $320–$336
13. Spend a Day at Two Medicine
Two Medicine is the least visited of the main regions of Glacier National Park primarily because of it’s more remote proximity to the more popular areas of the park. Its for this reason that visiting Two Medicine makes for a more isolated thing to do in Glacier.
That’s not to say it will be empty but certainly you’ll find fewer visitors in this southeastern corner of the park than in Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, & Going to the Sun Road.
Getting to Two Medicine requires a 90 minute drive from Apgar, 1 hour long drive from St Mary, and 90 minute drive from Many Glacier.
Boating: Visitors can take a boat tour of Two Medicine Lake with rates at $23/adult & $8/child. Kayaks, canoes, rowboats, and motorboats are available for rent at Two Medicine Lake with prices ranging from $19 – $30 per hour.
I highly recommend hiking to Scenic Point, Pitamakan Pass, & Running Eagle Falls for some epic views while you’re in the area, neither of which are particularly popular hikes but ones that I find to be especially beautiful.
14. See Bowman Lake
At 7 miles long and a half mile across, Bowman Lake is the third largest in Glacier National Park and yet far less visited than many of the lakes in the park.
Similar in grandeur and beauty to Lake McDonald with similar colored rocks blanketing the bottom, Bowman Lake is one of Glacier’s hidden gems.
Boating is allowed on the lake although there are no tours or rentals available like at several of the other lakes in the park. Fishing is allowed in the lake as well.
Getting here: The drive to Bowman Lake is about 90 minutes or so from the West Glacier Entrance down a dirt road which requires some slower, more methodical driving.
Camping: Bowman Lake Campground has 46 sites all of which are first come first served only.
15. Go Backpacking in the Backcountry
Backpacking into the Glacier backcountry is one of the most authentic experiences to be had in the park and one of the few sure fire ways to escape the crowds.
There are over 700 miles of trails to explore in Glacier with a large percentage of these falling into the backcountry category.
There is a backcountry permit office located at Lake McDonald for interested parties with rangers eager to share their extensive knowledge of these lesser-traveled areas. Hole-in-the-Wall, Ptarmigan Tunnel, and Stoney Indian Pass
More Helpful Tips for Visiting Glacier National Park
Getting to Glacier National Park
Closest Airport to Glacier: Kallispel, MT (MSO) – 2 hours 40 minutes (140 miles)
I recommend flying into Glacier Park International Airport (FCA), renting a car, and making the roughly 30 minute drive up to the West Glacier Entrance. If there aren’t any affordable flights into Missoula you can try Spokane, Helena, & Bozeman.
If you plan on road tripping out and are still looking for some inspiration/ideas be sure to check out our Best National Park Road Trips article!
Check out the Flathead National Forest too!
Interested in seeing Glacier without the crowds? Located RIGHT NEXT to Glacier National Park is the equally stunning Flathead National Forest which sees a tiny fraction of the visitation.
Situated in the northwestern corner of Montana, the Flathead National Forest comprises 2.4 million acres of dramatic mountain beauty. In the wild heart of the Flathead lies over 1 million acres of pristine wilderness.
Lynx, grizzly bears, timber wolves, and a vast and diverse array of other wildlife call the Flathead home. With over 1 million acres of wilderness, 2,600 miles of hiking trails, 250 species of wildlife and 22 species of fish, the Flathead National Forest truly has something for everyone.
We encourage you to visit this beautiful landscape and experience this truly unique part of America.
Summary of the 10 Best Things to Do in Glacier National Park
- Going to the Sun Road
- Swiftcurrent Lake
- Lake McDonald (pretty rocks)
- Grinnell Glacier
- Grinnell Lake
- Trail of the Cedars
- Logan Pass
- Avalanche Lake
- St Mary Lake
- Wildlife Viewing
- Many Glacier Hotel
- Two Medicine
- Bowman Lake
Map of Things to Do in Glacier National Park
Helpful Related Articles
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The Wyoming National Parks: 10 EPIC Wyoming National Parks: The Complete Guide (+ Photos)
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Visiting Mount Rushmore: 15 Helpful Tips for Visiting Mount Rushmore
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Tips for Visiting Glacier National Park (or any national park)
Permit Systems and Reservations
Check to see if the national park you’re visiting has a permit or reservation system in place before visiting. As parks become increasingly crowded more has to be done to safeguard them which means controlling the hundreds of millions of people who visit these places each year.
Popular national parks with reservation systems of some kind include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Arches, Acadia, Denali, and more.
Want Less Crowds? Try a National Forest!
Try visiting a national forest while you’re on your trip to avoid the crowds. There are 155 national forests in America, many of which are equally as beautiful as the national parks they neighbor and only see a fraction of the visitors.
For example, try the Flathead National Forest next to Glacier National Park, the Bridger-Teton next to Grand Teton, and the Dixie which borders nearly all of the Utah National Parks.
Practice Safety, Seriously
National parks are amazing but wild places so it is essential to practice basic safety while visiting them. Every year people die while vacationing in national parks. This is easily avoided by:
- Sticking to trails
- Checking the weather before going out on a hike
- Maintaining a safe distance between wildlife which means at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators
- Avoid ledges with steep drop offs
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