National Parks

Plan a Perfect Trip to Glacier National Park | Things to Do & More

Nov 18, 2022

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With so many hikes, things to do, and scenic lakes, knowing what to see in Glacier NP and when can feel overwhelming. So it’s no surprise that planning a trip to Glacier National Park can seem tricky—but it doesn’t have to be!

In this blog, we’re going to cover every single detail you need to know before visiting Glacier. That way, you can have a memorable trip there! This is officially your Glacier National Park guide.

So let’s dive right in. And when you’re done with this post, make sure you read these next:

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Disclaimer: Hey explorer! This post contains affiliate links which means I earn a small percentage of each purchase made through my links. I only ever recommend products I believe in and appreciate your support if you decide to use my links—thank you!

Where is Glacier National Park?

Glacier National Park is located in Montana. It includes over 700 miles of hiking trails and covers over 1,500 square miles. 

You can find the park in Northern Montana in the Montana Rocky Mountains, bordering Canada.

Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park

The summer months, July and August, are the best time to visit Glacier National Park. 

Summer is also when there will undoubtedly be the most crowds in the park, BUT it’s worth it because this is also the time when the most activities are available for enjoyment.

But July and August aren’t the only months you can choose to visit Glacier National Park. So let’s dive into what the park looks like during the other seasons in case you want to plan a Glacier National Park trip another time of year!

Winter

Winter can be dreamy in the park if you’re into snow-covered mountains and lakes. You can go skiing or even snowshoeing! It’s important to note, though, that you will experience road closures and will basically be exploring the west side of Lake McDonald Lodge. Still ridiculously pretty, though!

Spring

Spring is a great option for visiting Glacier National Park Montana! Plan your visit to Glacier National Park in late June if you want to catch good weather, but avoid the summer crowds.. 

Keep in mind that Going-To-The-Sun Road fully opens in July, depending on its conditions.

Summer

Again, July and August are probably your best bet to visit Glacier National Park if you want to access the most. Meaning, Going-To-The-Sun Road will be open, and so will most park trails. 

For your best chance at avoiding crowds, try to visit in late summer.

Fall

Fall can be unique in Glacier if you plan it right! The foliage around the park will turn into a golden hue that’s unbeatable! October offers your best chance to see fall colors, FYI.

I’d like to throw in here that I visited in early September to avoid the crowds, and I had an amazing time!

While I didn’t come for fall colors, nor did I see any, I visited Glacier National Park in early September and am SO happy I did. The crowds were pretty much gone, but everything in the park was still open!

Read Next: How to Become an Adventure Photographer

Where to Stay During Your Trip to Glacier

Believe it or not, there are VRBO properties near Glacier National Park — some are INSIDE the park too. Go figure. These can be a bit more expensive but could be a good choice for those wanting a more secluded experience or plan on having a large party with them.

  • Lakefront Cabin on Lake McDonald ($$$) — This charming AF shorefront cabin offers views from just about every window and a private deck you can enjoy using to enjoy the lake. Imagine waking up here with a hot cup of coffee and watching the sunrise. OOf. 
  • Boathouse on Lake McDonald ($$$) — Similar to the above property, this beautiful lakefront home offers your own private deck and view of Lake McDonald that will have everyone else in Glacier thinking you’re park royalty.
  • Pet-Friendly Lodge ($$$) — This pet-friendly property is located in the North Fork area of Glacier and has some AMAZING mountain views. Sleeps 8, so an excellent option for groups!

How Many Days in Glacier National Park is Best?

You can totally see the best of what the park has to offer in a 3 Day Glacier National Park itinerary.

If you plan it right, you could also make a big road trip out of your vacation and choose to drive down to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park!

Getting to Glacier National Park

So how does one get to Glacier National Park? Let’s talk about that now. 

Driving to Glacier National Park

In my opinion, you’re going to have a much better Glacier National Park experience if you have a car! If you’re looking for a rental car, I suggest shopping around for a Glacier National Park rental car service using Expedia!  

Flying Near Glacier National Park

Truth be told, you have several options for flying near Glacier National Park. I’ve laid them out for you with some additional details!

And similar to rental cars, if you want to find reasonable Glacier National Park flight prices, use a service like Expedia.

Glacier National Park International Airport

  • The Glacier Park International Airport is located in Kalispell, Montana.
  • FCA sits about 30 miles west of the Glacier West Entrance.
  • That’s about a 30-minute drive, making it the most popular option.

Missoula International Airport

  • Missoula International Airport is about 130 miles from West Glacier. 
  • That’s about a 2.5-hour drive to the park!

Great Falls International Airport

  • Great Falls International Airport is about 150 miles away from East Glacier (St. Mary). 
  • That’s about a 2.5-hour drive to the park.

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Glacier National Park Fees

Because Glacier National Park is a US National Park, you will be required to pay an entrance fee during your arrival. You can see a list of Glacier park fees on the Glacier National Park NPS site. For individuals traveling in a non-commercial vehicle, you can expect to pay $35.

To save money, purchase an annual national park pass, AKA the “America the Beautiful Pass.” A yearly pass stands at $80 and covers your entrance fees into National Parks, but will also include your day-use fees for other outdoor locations.

In ADDITION to your park entry fee, you will also need a Vehicle Reservation to drive Going-To-The-Sun Road, which we will certainly be doing in the Glacier National Park itineraries provided in this blog.

Glacier National Park Entrances

Like most national parks, Glacier National Park can be entered from multiple locations: West Glacier and East Glacier.

In my opinion, the East and West sides of Glacier are equally as beautiful. They offer some of the best activities to consider when planning your trip to Glacier National Park.

However, they have their differences. I’ll get into them here.

West Glacier

West Glacier offers one of the main attractions to the park: Going-To-The-Sun Road. You will also have access to beautiful lakes like Lake McDonald.

West Glacier is also where you will find activities like whitewater rafting and guide fishing trips.

East Glacier

East Glacier is home to popular blue water hikes such as Iceberg Lake and Cracker Lake.

The Eastside of Glacier National Park is also where you can see Saint Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island — a couple of the most iconic park attractions. If you want to escape crowds, you can head over to Two Medicine Lake for some gorgeous views!

Glacier National Park Regions

Additionally, during your trip, you might hear about some of the sections of Glacier National Park.

Understanding where these are can help give you a sense of direction while you’re planning a trip to Glacier National Park.

  • North Fork
  • Lake McDonald
  • Walton
  • Two Medicine
  • St. Mary
  • Many Glacier
  • Belly River
  • Goat Haunt

I found the below map on Pinterest to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about.

Glacier National Park Sections Map
Map of Glacier National Park Regions

Getting Around Glacier National Park

Let’s take a second to talk about getting around Glacier National Park.

Driving Around Glacier National Park

No matter what season you’re visiting Glacier National Park, always check the National Park Service website for road closures! These can make or break your travel experience. 

To visit East and West Glacier, you will want to have a car. They are nearly two hours away from one another. 

Vehicle Reservation

I’ve mentioned this a couple of times now, but from May 27 to September 11, 2022, you will need a vehicle reservation to drive Going-To-The-Sun Road. The reservations are $2 per vehicle and are required for cars driving from 6 am to 4 pm. They are valid for 3 days and will be much easier to obtain if you book ahead of time! 

I recommend reading more about the vehicle reservations on the Glacier NPS site!

Glacier National Park Shuttle System

BUT, Glacier National Park does offer a shuttle service. Great, right? 

Well…

Okay. The shuttle service in Glacier National Park is free to use, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on it. Shuttles come around their stops about every 30 minutes, and sometimes they get PACKED before they even get to you.

Especially if they’re on their way up Going-To-The-Sun Road.

Have a car to get into the park and get around as you please. Arrive EARLY at the park so that if you want to make a stop and explore, you have some parking spaces available. 

If you have to take the shuttle, expect to wait and expect that you and your party might have to split up a bit so you can all get from point A to B. This is still a convenient option for getting to and from trailheads.

If you plan on hiking, you might find use in the shuttles.

You can read more about the Glacier National Park shuttle system on the NPS website.

Things to Do in Glacier National Park

Let’s quickly go over some things to do in the park!

Drive Going-To-The-Sun-Road—Drive one of the most scenic roads in the US and admire the mountains along the way!

Swim in Lake McDonald—Lake McDonald is an amazing place to watch sunrise or sunset since it’s surrounded by epic mountains.

Hike Iceberg Lake—Hike to a gorgeous glacier lake in East Glacier!

Hike Hidden Lake Overlook Trail—Hidden Lake Overlook will take you up Logan Pass via one of the most scenic trails in the park.

Go Whitewater Rafting—Take a whitewater rafting tour through the river on an epic adventure!

Have a Scenic Float—Admire the beauty the park has to offer through a scenic float through the river.

Hike the Highline Trail—The Highline Trail is probably the best trail in the park! It can take you to gorgeous places like Grinnell Glacier Overlook.

Watch Sunset at Swiftcurrent Lake—Swiftcurrent is on East Glacier and features a unique mountain structure that turns red at sunset.

Walk Trail of the Cedars—Enjoy a peaceful walk through Trail of the Cedars in West Glacier and admire Glacier’s unique Cedar forest.

Hike Sun Point Nature Trail—For an easy hike on an incredibly scenic trail that features and lake and mountain views, come here!

Take a Red Bus Tour—Learn about the park’s history via a famous red bus tour.

Take a Two-Medicine Boat Ride—Take a beautiful boat ride on one of Glacier’s famous lakes!

Highline Trail in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park Add-Ons

While you’re in the area, you might as well explore more of what’s around! Here are some add-ons to consider when planning a trip to Glacier National Park.

Yellowstone National Park

Visit the famous Yellowstone National Park and enjoy the natural beauty America’s first national park has to offer!

Head to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

Head to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park! The park sits on the USA and Canadian borders. 

The Peace Park is where Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, is “combined” with Glacier National Park. 

While you’re there, you can hike between the two countries or admire more lake views. You can learn more about the park on the UNESCO website. Getting to the park from St Mary is about a 1.5-hour drive.

Glacier National Park FAQ

Let’s cap this blog on how to plan a trip to Glacier National Park Montana with some FAQs.

How Many Days Do You Need in Glacier National Park?

3 days in Glacier is enough to see the highlights and a majority of the park’s popular spots.

What is the Best Month to Go to Glacier National Park?

The best month to go to Glacier National Park is July and August.

What City Should I Stay in to Visit Glacier National Park?

You should stay in or near Whitefish Montana to visit Glacier National Park.

Is Glacier Better Than Yellowstone?

They’re just different! Glacier has more hiking and “vast” scenes, but Yellowstone is a must for geology and wildlife lovers.

Planning a Trip to Glacier National Park—My Final Thoughts

And there you have it! Those are all the details you need to know to plan a trip to Glacier National Park.

I hope you found this travel guide helpful!

Make sure you read these posts next:

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I'm a burrito loving explorer who got fired from corporate America and turned that into my dream career as a photographer and blogger. Now I'm here to help you explore life's magic. Thanks for stopping by!