Article Overview: Glacier National Park Itinerary
They say a picture is worth a 1000 words, or in this case, a million acres. Glacier National Park is the epitome of alpine beauty and in this Glacier National Park itinerary we plan to give you the best of it all.
The mountain peaks weave in between one another, framed by rolling hills dotted with wildflowers. Their prominent silhouette can be attributed to ancient glaciers carving their way through the Earth early on in its formation.
And just beneath Reynolds Mountain lies a well known secret, and seeing this feature will be the first thing any park regular will tell you to see. We’ve included it in our exclusive 3 day Glacier National Park itinerary that’s equal parts rewarding and challenging.
Table of Contents: Glacier National Park Itinerary
Table of Contents: Best Glacier National Park Itinerary
- Can You See All of Glacier National Park in 3 Days?
- Glacier National Park Timed Entry Permit
- Things to Know Before You Visit Glacier National Park
- Where to Stay in Glacier National Park
- Glacier National Park Itinerary
- 3 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary
- Day 1: Lake McDonald, Going to the Sun Road
- Which Airport for Glacier National Park?
- Do I Need a Car for Glacier National Park?
- Supplies in Kalispell, Montana
- Driving into the West Entrance of Glacier National Park
- Apgar Village
- Lake McDonald
- The Historic Lake McDonald Lodge
- Going to the Sun Road
- Taking a Classic Going to the Sun Road “Red Bus”
- Drive the Going to the Sun Road
- Hidden Lake Trail & Overlook
- Sunset at St. Mary Lake – Wild Goose Island Overlook
- Day 2: Swiftcurrent Lake, Grinnell Glacier & Many Glacier
- Day 3: Two Medicine, Pitamakan Pass, Running Eagle Falls
- Day 1: Lake McDonald, Going to the Sun Road
- Glacier National Park 5 Day Itinerary
- 7 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary
- A Glacier National Park Trip to Remember
- Frequently Asked Glacier National Park Itinerary Questions
- Glacier National Park Itinerary Map
- 3 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary
Can You See All of Glacier National Park in 3 Days?
The answer is no–and not just because this park is so large it comprises a decent-sized portion of the US-Canadian border.
Every single day, Glacier National Park gets smaller. In fact, according to the National Park Service, between the years of 1966 and 2015, every single named glacier in the park shrank due to climate change.
It’s even estimated that some glaciers are almost 80% gone. It’s unclear when the glaciers will completely disappear, but what rangers do know is that the park you see on your camping trip will not be the same one your children see someday.
Fortunately, we can at least say that this area is safe from deforestation and other harmful practices due to the permanent protection offered by national park status.
While it’s impossible to cover the entirety of this jaw-dropping frontier in 3 days, we’ve created an itinerary for Glacier National Park that will still leave you speechless. Best of all, there’s a surprise on day 3 that you will come back to thank us for later!
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.
Glacier National Park Itinerary
Whether this is your first time to Glacier National Park, or your 10th, our exclusive Glacier National Park itinerary covers all the park’s famous sights, including Going to the Sun Road, Many Glacier, and everyone’s favorite well known secret spot (don’t worry, we wouldn’t leave it off the list).
We’ve carefully picked the perfect trails to give you a taste of Glacier National Park in this itinerary without pushing you to your limits.
In addition to a beautiful, semi-challenging hike and excellent accommodations, there’s a small surprise in store for you as a reward for traversing this frozen landscape! You can read more about it when we get to Day 3.
3 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary
Day 1: Lake McDonald, Going to the Sun Road
Highlights: West Entrance, Lake McDonald, Going to the Sun Road, St Mary Lake
Drive Time: 3 hours
Sunset: Wild Goose Island Overlook at St. Mary Lake
On the first day of your Glacier National Park itinerary we’ll be driving from Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, through the park’s West Entrance, around Lake McDonald, over the Going to the Sun Road, and ending the day at St. Mary Lake.
Which Airport for Glacier National Park?
The first part of any decent Glacier National Park itinerary starts with how to actually get to the park. I recommend flying into Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell, Montana. Glacier Park International Airport is located just 30 minutes down the road from the West Entrance to Glacier National Park.
Do I Need a Car for Glacier National Park?
The short answer is – yes. The park is massive and while there are some ways to get around parts of the park without a vehicle it’s no
Supplies in Kalispell, Montana
I highly recommend getting groceries and supplies while in Kalispell which serves as a great jumping off point for the park. The city has boomed in recent years and you’ll find all the conveniences here including: Costco, Albertson’s, Smith’s (Kroger), Natural Grocers, Walmart.
Sadly there’s not yet a Trader Joes or Whole Foods as of the writing of this article.
Driving into the West Entrance of Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is divided into two halves, the West and East sections. For our trip, we’ll be starting on the West side of the park at Lake McDonald. You easily can access Lake McDonald Lodge by car and there’s plenty of parking around the lake.
Lake McDonald is a great jumping off point for the park because it has a lot to offer in the way of guided tours, horseback riding, and general info on other things to do in Glacier National Park.
On the southern end of Lake McDonald is one of the most popular villages in the park, Apgar Village. I recommend starting by heading over to the Apgar Visitor Center to get an overview of the park, chat with a ranger about recommendations, and grab a park map.
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.
If interested, 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).
I recommend passing on this particular boat tour for another, more stunning one later on.
For many folks, the first exposure to Glacier National Park you might get is by seeing a stunning photo of Lake McDonald with its clear water & multi-colored rocks. It was for me at least which is why I’m excited to lead with it on this Glacier Itinerary.
The rocks are real and every bit as beautiful in person as they are in the photos. Walk down to the shore and touch these rocks for yourself (but leave them there as taking anything from a national park other than memories and photos is illegal).
You might have guessed correctly that Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park.
The Historic Lake McDonald Lodge
From Apgar, drive 9 miles down the road and make a quick stop over at the historic Lake McDonald Lodge to see this epic Swiss cottage themed masterpiece. The lodge is situated on the far eastern end of Lake McDonald and makes for great photos on your Glacier National Park itinerary.
If you arrive to the park late in the day I recommend staying at the Lake McDonald Lodge if you can get a room and starting your adventures the following day.
Going to the Sun Road
We’ve arrived at one of the best things to do on our Glacier National Park itinerary already! Going to the Sun Road is an absolute must see on your trip to Glacier National Park. Connecting the West and East halves of the park, Going to the Sun Road will take you right up to the beautiful mountain range in the heart of the park.
There’s only one problem: getting a required vehicle pass can be tricky, and as of 2022, there’s a bit of construction going on along the road.
Taking a red bus tour is inexpensive and guarantees you’ll get a chance to take the famous road through the park (more on that below) but adds some time and potential inconvenience.
I recommend planning ahead, booking the vehicle pass, and driving the Going to the Sun Road yourself if possible. I’ll explain why below.
Taking a Classic Going to the Sun Road “Red Bus”
At Lake McDonald you’ll have the option to catch one of Glacier National Park’s iconic “red buses.”
These red buses look more akin to something like an old Ford Model T, but they’re oh-so-comfortable. On the bus you can kick back and relax as one of Glacier’s 33 red buses takes you on a round trip tour on the famous Going to the Sun Road.
While taking the bus is an iconic must for a lot of folks I don’t recommend it. If you plan on exploring the park further you’ll have to drive right back up the Going to the Sun Road eventually to see the rest of the park.
In my opinion taking the bus only makes sense if you plan to end your trip after a day or two exploring Lake McDonald.
Make sure to book your red bus tour ahead of visiting Glacier National Park so that you can ensure you get a seat!
Drive the Going to the Sun Road
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 the park. No Glacier National Park itinerary is complete without it.
Along the way there are some great spots to stop, explore, and snap some iconic photos. Let’s start with the “secret” that virtually everyone already knows about: Hidden Lake.
Hidden Lake Trail & Overlook
At the base of Mt. Cannon, there’s a pristine lake that gently rests between the park’s towering mountain ranges. This is a must see spot that you’ll regret missing if you don’t stop.
The trailhead for Hidden Lake is located behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center. The trail to the overlook is an easy 2.7 miles round trip with a moderate 460 feet of elevation gain (all on the way there).
For the full trail and details check out: 15 Epic Hikes in Glacier National Park
Sunset at St. Mary Lake – Wild Goose Island Overlook
From Logan Pass, continue down the road until you reach Wild Goose Island Overlook. If you’re hungry and have some time to spare, pop over to the town of St. Mary and grab a bite at Rising Sun Pizza.
Goose Island Overlook is one of the best, and most iconic sunset locations in all of Glacier National Park. This is a great spot to end the first day of your Glacier National Park itinerary. Watch the incredible hues reflect across the lake as the sun fades away.
Day 2: Swiftcurrent Lake, Grinnell Glacier & Many Glacier
Highlights: Swiftcurrent Lake Boat Tour, Grinnell Glacier Hike, Many Glacier Hotel
Sunset: Back porch of Many Glacier Hotel
Day 2 of this 3 day Glacier National Park Itinerary is my personal favorite with the major highlight of a boat tour on Swiftcurrent Lake & hiking to the park’s most famous glacier.
Many Glacier Boat Tour – Swiftcurrent Lake & Lake Josephine
No Glacier National Park itinerary would be complete without a trip to Many Glacier and 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 all the others (and that’s saying a lot here!).
Start with a scenic boat tour across Swiftcurrent Lake ($35/adult & $17/children). You’ll want to get an early start to take advantage of the day and book the 8:30am boat tour (or 9am) a good 8 weeks in advance of your trip. This ensures you’ll get a spot!
The ticket gets you a round trip across the lakes (Swiftcurrent and Jospehine) which is important as we’ll get off at the Lake Josephine dock saving us 3.4 miles round trip on the hike! For those who don’t want to do the fairly strenuous hike, just relax on the boat and take it back to the Many Glacier Hotel.
Grinnell Glacier 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. As mentioned above, 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 aggresive 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.
After you’re done soaking in the views head back down the Lake Josephine dock to await your boat ride back OR continue hiking back to Many Glacier.
Dine at the Famous 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.
The Ptarmigan Dining Room is an excellent one 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
Make sure to book rooms months in advance as they go quick due to the high demand.
Day 3: Two Medicine, Pitamakan Pass, Running Eagle Falls
Highlights: Two Medicine, Pitamakan Pass, Running Eagle Falls
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 rare isolation that I recommend adding Two Medicine to your Glacier National Park itinerary.
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.
Two Medicine Boating
Getting to Two Medicine requires a 90 minute drive from Many Glacier.
Start your day by renting a boat and heading out onto the lake for yourself! Kayaks, canoes, rowboats, and motorboats are available for rent at Two Medicine Lake with prices ranging from $19 – $30 per hour.
Alternatively, there are scenic boat tours of Two Medicine Lake with rates at $23/adult & $8/child.
Hike to Scenic Point OR Pitamakan Pass
If you’re up for a challenging hike then head up to Scenic Point. You’ll probably have the trail mostly to yourself for a change and be able to soak in the epic views in solitude. The trail is 7.4 miles round trip with 2,350 feet of elevation gain.
If Scenic Point is challenging enough for you then consider Pitamakan Pass. The views from the top are breathtaking but getting there will require some effort. The trail is just over 15 miles long with 2500 feet of elevation gain.
Running Eagle Falls
If the two previous hikes are a bit too strenuous for you then consider this one as an easy and rewarding alternative for your Glacier National Park itinerary. Running Eagle Falls is a beautiful waterfall located out of Two Medicine.
The trail is a short and easy .6 mile loop that takes you right up to the falls.
From this point you have the option of wrapping the trip and driving back to Kalispell (2 hours) or extending the trip and continuing on! I’ll include a couple of options for extra days below to add to your Glacier National Park itinerary.
Glacier National Park 5 Day Itinerary
Day 4: The Highline Trail
Continuing into our 5 day Glacier National Park itinerary we move onto another epic trail. To paraphrase Andy Dusfrene from The Shawshank Redemption, “If you’ve come this far maybe you’re willing to come a bit further.”
In this case that means driving back to the Logan Pass Visitor Center at the top of the Going to the Sun Road for one of the best hikes in Glacier National Park, The Highline Trail.
Hiking the Highline Trail
Typically this is a one-way hike. You start off at the Logan Pass Visitor Center and eventually make your way to The Loop where you’ll catch a free shuttle back to the Visitor Center. Having said that though, many people turn back around at a certain point and hike back to their car rather than taking the shuttle.
This hike is not for those with a fear of heights. It’s a pretty steep incline for the majority of the way with drop-offs along the way. There are some safety cables and chains throughout to hold onto in the spookier parts of the trail. It’s one of the best hikes in Glacier National Park because of the view that the higher elevation provides
This trail has grown in popularity recently and can be crowded. I recommend starting off at the visitor center no later than 7:30 for parking and also to maximize your daylight.
Drive Down to Apgar
After completing the hike I recommend driving back down to Apgar and staying at the Village Inn located on the eastern end of Lake McDonald. Up for some camping? Try the popular and large Apgar Campground or the lesser traveled Logging Creek Campground.
Day 5: Avalanche Lake & Bowman Lake
Highlights: Avalanche Lake & Bowman Lake
Sunset: Bowman 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.
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.
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.
For more information on the trail check out our article: 15 Best Things to Do in Glacier National Park
From the Popular Avalanche Lake hike we’ll head to one of the least visited and best hidden gems on our Glacier National Park itinerary.
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.
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.
Those interested in camping will be glad to hear Bowman Lake Campground has 46 sites all of which are first come first served only.
7 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary
Day 6 & 7: Check out the Flathead National Forest!
Continuing on to days 6 and 7 in our Glacier National Park Itinerary we take a peak into one of America’s most stunning and best kept secrets…
If you’re 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.
A Glacier National Park Itinerary to Remember
The dynamic and untouched landscape of Glacier National Park ensures that any trip will have once in a lifetime experiences. It’s sad to think that someday, the massive ice giants that call Montana home will be lost to climate change.
If you only have 3 days to spend in Glacier, this 3 day Glacier National Park itinerary is a great sampler of the park’s most beloved features. There’s plenty more to do, however, including backcountry camping and horseback riding.
Frequently Asked Glacier National Park Itinerary Questions
You need at least three days in Glacier National Park to do it any sort of justice but you can cover the main attractions excluding the best hikes in 2 days.
The best month to visit Glacier National Park is July, if you can book things far enough in advance due to the best weather and park being fully open. The second best month is September when crowds (and mosquitoes) are down.
Yes, the further in advance you can book basically everything in Glacier National Park, the better. Glacier was the 10th most visited national park in 2021 seeing 3.1 million visitors, up nearly double from the previous year.
No, you cannot fly with a can of bear spray in checked luggage or as a carry-on. Your best options are to either rent some bear spray on location or buy some at Walmart for about $40.
Making the Most of Your Glacier National Park Itinerary
What do you think about our itinerary ideas for Glacier National Park ? Is there anything you would change? Let us know in the comments below.
And, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter so you stay up to date on the latest national park info and exclusive guides.
Glacier National Park Itinerary Map
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Tips for Visiting Glacier 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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