Glacier National Park, located in northwestern Montana, is known for its rugged mountains, pristine forests, alpine meadows, and serene lakes. Nicknamed the "Crown of the Continent," the park also boasts over 700 miles of trails with numerous hiking options for all levels of hikers. The average visitor spends 2-3 days in the park, but you can definitely spend more time here with all the activities available. We visited Glacier National Park in July 2020 and the park was not fully open due to COVID restrictions. The itinerary below does not include much information on the Swiftcurrent/Many Glacier and Two Medicine areas of the park, as they were closed during our visit. It is also planned out for someone staying on the west side of the park in areas such as West Glacier or Apgar.

LONG WEEKEND ITINERARY

THURSDAY

  • Arrive in West Glacier sometime in the afternoon or evening. Check into your hotel or cabin, or set up your RV/campsite depending on where you are staying. Stop by a grocery store on your way in to pick up food for the weekend if you plan on cooking.
  • If you have a few hours of sunlight and are eager to begin exploring Glacier National Park, some good options of things to do include John's Lake Loop (easy 2 mile hike) and the Avalanche Trail.
  • Head back to your RV or camp site, build a campfire, cook dinner, and enjoy some s'mores. If you are staying in West Glacier or Apgar, you can head back into the park after dinner to watch the sunset at Lake McDonald (the sun sets pretty late in the summer - around 9:30pm in July).

FRIDAY

  • Start the day early to avoid crowds in the park. This will also ensure that you can find parking easily instead of having to wait for a while. Drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is the park's main attraction. This is one of the most scenic drives I have done in the US. You will be stopping at several pullouts to admire the majestic scenery and take several photos. More about this drive is included below. Find a parking spot near Siyeh Bend as that is the trailhead for the Siyeh Pass Trail.
  • Today's main activity will be hiking to Siyeh Pass. There are a couple options for this trail: (1) doing it as an out-and-back from Siyeh Bend or (2) parking at Sunrift Gorge and taking the shuttle (or another car if your group is traveling in multiple cars) to Siyeh Bend if you plan on doing a one-way hike from Siyeh Bend to Sunrift Gorge. The highest point of the trail is 4.4 miles from the Siyeh Bend trailhead. This means if you hike the trail as out-and-back, it is 8.8 miles and if you hike point-to-point, it is 9.5 miles.
  • After the hike, finish driving east on Going-to-the-Sun Road until you reach St. Mary (or as far as allowed), making stops at the various attractions along the way. Spend some time in St. Mary, exploring the village before heading back. If you want to spend more time on the east side, you can head down to Two Medicine Lake and stay until sunset - this is supposed to be one of the best spots in the park to watch the sunset. We unfortunately could not explore this area of the park due to COVID-related restrictions in effect during our visit.
  • Head back to West Glacier to enjoy some huckleberry ice cream before heading back to your campsite for dinner and relaxation. There is a food truck located next to the camp store that sells pretty good burritos if you are not in the mood to cook.

SATURDAY

  • Head back into the park toward's Logan Pass, the highest point on Going-To-The-Sun Road with an elevation of 6,646 feet. From here, you can hike part of the Hidden Lake Trail to the Hidden Lake Overlook (1.4 miles). The trail begins at the Logan Pass Visitor Center where you will climb a series of boardwalk steps. About halfway to the overlook, the boardwalk section ends and you will have to traverse a few snow fields. These can be slippery, so it is encouraged that you wear shoes with good traction or use hiking poles for increased stability. The rest of the hike is on a fairly flat trail until you reach the overlook. If you wish to continue, you can hike all the way down to the lake (2.7 miles from Visitor Center).
  • If you are in the mood for another long, yet scenic hike, you can hike the Highline Trail. If you plan to do this, the best option is to park at "The Loop" and take shuttle to trailhead at Logan Pass so that you can hike the Highline Trail as well as the Loop Trail.
  • If you opt not to do another major hike, another great option is to go whitewater rafting in West Glacier. We booked a half-day trip through Glacier Raft Company and enjoyed our experience rafting down the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The entire experience was 4 hours, with roughly 2.5 hours on the river.
  • In the late afternoon or early evening, head to Lake Five for some swimming. The temperature of this lake is much more tolerable than some of the other lakes in the area, so it is a popular plan for swimming.  
  • After dinner, once it is really dark, you should head to an area with little light pollution for some stargazing. We went to the Apgar Visitor Center's parking lot which had a lot of open space and was a prime location for stargazing.

SUNDAY

  • Check out of your hotel or campsite and drive north to Polebridge. Visit the Polebridge Mercantile where you can grab breakfast. Their bakery offers various breads, pastries, and sandwiches. I recommend trying their huckleberry bear claw which is delicious. You can also shop for some souvenirs here. If you take the outer North Fork Road to Polebridge, be prepared for loose gravel and a lot of dust for most of the drive.
  • Afterwards, drive to Bowman Lake and enjoy the beautiful scenery. You can even hike around the lake and take in views from different angles. The lake is very serene, especially in the early morning when there are no other people. The drive from Polebridge is only 6 miles, but the road is very narrow with loose gravel. Make sure your car has AWD or 4WD and high ground clearance as it is truly off-roading.
  • Fly out from Kalispell sometime in the afternoon.
Going-To-The-Sun Road
Hidden Lake Overlook
Logan Pass
Siyeh Pass Trail

LOGISTICS

BEST TIME TO VISIT

While the park is open year-round, mid-July through September is probably the best time to visit Glacier National Park as the daytime temperatures average in the 60-70s. Snow plowing of Going-to-the-Sun Road is complete by then and many of the best hiking trails are cleared. Check the park's status page to see which areas within the park are open to visitors.

HOW TO GET THERE

The most convenient airport to fly into is Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell which is 30 miles from the west entrance of the park. From here, you can rent a car to get around the region. Gas is not available in the park, so be sure to fill up prior to entering.

Please note that if you choose to stay and use a RV, you may still need a car to access most of Going-To-The-Sun Road as there are restrictions for the types of vehicles that are permitted. According to the National Park Service's website, "Vehicles, and vehicle combinations, longer than 21 feet or wider than 8 feet are prohibited between Avalanche Campground and the Rising Sun picnic area parking. Vehicle and vehicle combinations over 10 feet in height may have difficulty driving west from Logan Pass to the Loop, due to rock overhangs."


WHERE TO STAY

There are plenty of lodging options in and near the park. Peak season is typically May through September, so prices during these months tends to be higher. We chose to stay in the West Glacier RV Park and would recommend it to anyone interested in having an RV experience. It is located in a prime location adjacent to the small town. The park has free Wi-Fi, a front office and general store, campfire rings and picnic tables at every site, and clean bathhouses. We rented the RV through RVshare and had it delivered to our site which made for a great first RV experience since we did not have to deal with driving and maintenance. Some ideas of where to stay are listed below.

  • West Glacier - West Glacier RV Park, Lake Five Resort, West Glacier KOA Resort, Under Canvas Glacier, Great Northern Resort, Glacier Campground
  • Within the Park - Lodging options within the park include Lake McDonald Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel, Granite Park Chalet, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, and The Village Inn at Apgar. Some popular campgrounds include Apgar, Fish Creek, Two Medicine, Rising Sun, and Many Glacier. Backcountry camping is also permitted throughout the park and requires a permit.
  • Saint Mary - Saint Mary Campground, Heart of Glacier RV Park & Cabins, St. Mary / East Glacier KOA Holiday

BEAR COUNTRY PRECAUTIONS

Glacier National Park and the surrounding region is home to grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, and other wildlife so it is important to be aware of precautions you should take to have a safe visit. Be sure to review the NPS site on safety prior to your visit. Make sure your food is stored properly and trash is appropriately disposed of, especially if camping, and be sure to carry bear spray with you while hiking with the canister being easily accessible. Bear spray can be bought or rented in general stores in the area. Maintain at least 100 yards of distance if you see a bear or wolf and never intentionally get close to one.

HIGHLIGHTS

GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD

The Going-To-The-Sun Road is approximately 50 miles (80 km) long and spans the entire width of the park between the east and west entrance stations. If you drive without making any stops, it will take you roughly 2 hours to go from one end to the other. Some of the major attractions along the way include: Lake McDonald, McDonald Falls, Avalanche Trail & Trail of the Cedars, Weeping Wall, Birdwoman Falls, Logan Pass, Jackson Glacier Overlook, Saint Mary Falls, and Wild Goose Island Lookout.

BEST HIKES

With over 700 miles of trails, there are hikes scattered throughout the park for hikers of all levels. Some of the best and highly rated trails are Highline Trail, Siyeh Pass Trail, Grinnell Glacier Trail, and Swiftcurrent Pass Trail. These are rated moderate to strenuous in difficulty and are among the longer options for day hikes. John's Lake Loop, Avalanche Trail, and Trail of the Cedar are some easier options with beautiful scenery for those who do not wish to spend hours hiking on more difficult terrain. A list of additional easy hikes can be found here.

OTHER THINGS TO DO

In addition to what is listed above, some ideas for other things you can do in the park include boating, biking, taking a guided tour, fishing, and participating in ranger-led programs. You can also head into Kalispell or Whitefish to explore the cities.

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