Best of Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park remains at the top of our list of places to visit in the U.S. When we were there, my husband and I agreed we have probably ruined ourselves for a lot of other locations around the country that just won't be able to compete with Glacier!
From the gorgeous views to the fresh mountain air and the crystal clear glacial water, this place is simply beautiful! We always considered ourselves beach people, but the mountains of Glacier keep pulling us back. So now we must wonder, is it okay to be beach and mountain people?
There are a variety of things to do in and around Glacier. And, like we always recommend, the way to truly see the park is to get out of your car and go beyond the normal tourist attractions. The best way to do this is with hiking. And don't worry, not all of the hikes are 6-mile, strenuous hikes. All of them were completed by our four kids, ages 4 to 8 at the time.
Here are the top things to do in Glacier National Park:
WOW. Like really, WOW. This may be the prettiest drive in all of the U.S. You start from the Lake McDonald area and drive through a forest of pine trees before beginning to ascend into the mountains.
Give yourself lots of time on this drive because you will likely want to stop at every pull out to take a picture that was better than the one you just took! It is also important to take this drive in each direction, as you get a different viewpoint depending on what direction you are driving.
As you make the climb, you drive through a tunnel in the mountain and pass a waterfall that cascades down and splashes you if your windows are open. Plus, there is a good chance you are going to see some wild animals!
In full disclosure, there are parts of this drive that can be scary. The edge of the mountain is RIGHT there! It is also important to note that there are restrictions on height and width of the vehicles that are allowed to drive up there. So, be sure to check their website before going.
2. Logan Pass Visitor Center
After you make it to the top of the mountain on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, you will want to stop at Logan Pass to have a look around and take the short 2-mile hike to Hidden Lake. This is an uphill hike with stairs, and it is usually heavily populated.
Be aware that Logan Pass can be a good 20 degrees colder than the Lake McDonald area. It is a good idea to bring an extra jacket, hats and gloves just in case (even in the summer).
3. Trail of the Cedars
This is a short, fairly-flat boardwalk hike to a beautiful waterfall. It can be busy due to its easy access, but it is worth it. This is one of those waterfalls where it looks like someone dyed the grass and water because you can't believe the colors are natural!
If you are feeling up to it, you can also go on the Avalanche Lake Trail - which starts right off the middle of the Trail of the Cedars. It is an uphill climb the whole way, but seeing the lake at the top of the mountain is beautiful!
Remember how I recommended getting off the beaten path? Here is one of those opportunities that doesn't include hiking. But it does include a little off-roading (don't worry, I think your car can handle it).
On the West side of the park, drive about 90 minutes from the Lake McDonald area -- some of that is on a dirt road. You will first reach Polebridge Mercantile which is an awesome store with yummy pastries. (In order to get here, you do leave the park for a short time).
From there, you will head back into the park. Then take a dirt winding road through the trees to get to Bowman Lake. Be forewarned, it is a 1-1/2 lane road with two-lane traffic. But, if you drive slowly and stay alert, you will be fine.
They have a campground back there, or you can just park and walk out to the lake area. If you have a kayak or paddleboard, bring it!
5. Many Glacier
Another section of Glacier that will take you outside of the main park is Many Glacier. They have a hotel, campground, and more amazing hikes. Not ready to hike? Even the drive is beautiful, so it is worth a visit.
If you do enjoy hikes, we recommend the Apakunee Falls hike. But, as with any time you hike in bear country, be sure to have your bear spray with you. And check in at the visitor center to see if any trails are closed due to bear activity.
6. Grinnell Lake
Located in the Many Glacier section of the park, you can get to this lake by taking a 7-mile hike or you can opt to take two boat rides to get there. I, of course, will recommend the hike, but totally understand if you want to take the boat.
The boat will drop you off just a short walk to the lake, or you can up the ante and do a 3-mile hike to Grinnell Glacier.
As with all the other hikes in this area, it is breathtaking. And being in the mountains and seeing all the beauty around you makes all the effort worth it!
Looking for a break from all this hiking? Check out Whitefish Resort. It offers a ropes course with zip-line, a luge type of ride and a gondola that you can take up to the top of the mountain. Once at the top, you can enjoy a drink or dinner while looking out over the surrounding mountains and the town of Whitefish.
Whitefish is a quaint little town that is located about 30 minutes from the West Glacier entrance and it has a great selection of shops, restaurants, and festivals throughout the summer. If you are looking to take it easy for a few days, this is a great spot to come!
They also have a public beach where you can rent kayaks and go out on the lake, another fun way to spend the day!
These were a few of our favorites, but Glacier has so much more to offer and we highly recommend staying there for a few weeks, getting your hiking shoes on, and exploring this amazing part of our country!
When we were there, we stayed at an RV park that was about 8-miles from the west entrance of Glacier National Park: Timber Wolf Resort. There were stores, gas stations, internet -- everything we needed. Then we would pack up the car and head into Glacier where there was NO internet or cell coverage, which was fine by us!
To learn more about our trip, check out our page on Glacier National Park where we share a variety of posts on things to do.