Last Updated on March 13, 2023 by Maggie McKneely
Need a Glacier National Park itinerary? This flexible 5-day plan will hit all of the highlights of the park and includes alternatives if you’re traveling with kids or non-hikers.
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Glacier National Park Itinerary
Towering rock walls carved by glaciers. Mountain slopes covered in orange, fuchsia, and bright yellow alpine flowers. Snow-covered peaks in every direction and turquoise lakes seemingly tucked between every mountain ridge. It’s also the first park in the world that is shared by two countries, the US and Canada, making it a Unesco World Heritage site. It’s no wonder why Glacier National Park is nicknamed the “Crown of the Continent,” and one of the top 10 national parks in the country. But with over a million acres to explore, planning an itinerary can be a bit daunting.
This flexible 5-day Glacier National Park itinerary will get you to all of the must-sees and highlights and also includes alternative options if you’re traveling with young kids or those who prefer a more leisurely trip.
Glacier National Park Itinerary Day 1:
Land in Kalispell, get a car, go kayaking!
The closest airport to Glacier National Park is the Kalispell Airport (FCA), so for our purposes here we’ll assume that’s where you’ll start your adventure. Once you land, grab your rental car (the easiest way to enjoy the park – here’s a guide on renting a car in the USA), and hit the road!…
For about 40 minutes, until you arrive at Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. I know, I know… “but that’s not in Glacier National Park!” Don’t worry, you’ll be glad you included Flathead Lake in your Glacier National Park itinerary.
Don’t head to the park today because an afternoon won’t give you much time since it’s an hour’s drive from Kalispell. Instead, kick off your Montana trip with a kayak tour on Flathead Lake.
Kayaking is the perfect activity for couples, families with kids, and those who have never actually been kayaking before. With a guide, it’s easy to learn and will give you a taste of the beauty of Montana and the freshness of glacier waters. Plus, if you take a kayak tour with a guide, you’ll get a great overview of the area that’ll be helpful when you do finally venture into the park on Day 2 of your Glacier National Park itinerary.
After your tour, grab a bite to eat and a pint to sip at Tamarack Brewery, or head over to The Raven for waterfront seafood dining. Then, head to your hotel or Airbnb to unpack and rest up for Day 2.
Money-saving tip: hit up a grocery store on Day 1 for snack and lunch items, especially if you plan on doing day hikes. There aren’t many restaurant options inside of the park, except for the ones in the lodges.
Glacier National Park Itinerary Day 2:
Do some hiking, eat some ice cream!
Day 2 of the Glacier National Park itinerary is all about soaking in the beauty of the park from the trail!
Start the day early because, for the casual hikers using this itinerary, this will be a big day – Highline Trail day. The Highline is the most popular trail in Glacier National Park, and for good reason. The trek is filled with epic mountain vistas as the trail winds its way along the Garden Wall. It’s a full day’s hike – 13-16 miles – but the entire trail is relatively level, which means you don’t need to be a seasoned hiker to do it. For those reasons, it’s one of the top 10 experiences to have in Glacier National Park.
The trail starts at Logan Pass, about 1.5 hours from Kalispell.
For full details on the hike, check out my post on the Highline Trail.
If you have kids who can’t do a full day of hiking, or you yourself would rather do something a little less strenuous, you don’t have to stay in the car! There are several other hiking trails that would be perfect for your Day 2.
- Avalanche Lake/ Trail of the Cedars: Trail of the Cedars is a wheelchair-accessible loop trail just 5 miles from the Lake McDonald Lodge. The eastern portion of the trail is a raised boardwalk that travels through a forest of ancient hemlocks and red cedars, with lush ferns and mosses covering the forest floor. You can stick with just the Trail of Cedars, which is flat the entire way. Or, a half-mile from the Trail of Cedars trailhead, you have the option to turn off onto the Avalanche Lake spur trail. The trail has a short, steep section as it follows Avalanche Creek, but levels off once it leaves the creek.
- Avalanche Lake loop: 4.5 miles round trip
- Trail of the Cedars (without Avalanche Lake): 1-mile round trip
- Johns Lake Loop: The Johns Lake Loop trailhead is 1.3 miles east of Lake McDonald Lodge. It’s a very pleasant trail that wanders through dense forests of hemlocks and red cedars. It crosses a footbridge over Sacred Dancing Cascade, a picturesque waterfall on Lake McDonald Creek, before eventually ending up at the powerful McDonald Falls. The whole loop is an easy 1.8 miles.
At the end of your day, be sure to reward yourself with some huckleberry ice cream from Eddie’s in West Glacier Village before heading back to your hotel.
Glacier National Park Itinerary Day 3:
Learn about the Blackfeet in Browning
Before they were part of a national park, the Glacier mountains were (and still are) a sacred spot for the local Native American tribes. Learning about their history is a crucial part of understanding Glacier National Park. A visit to Browning, Montana provides a fascinating way to get a glimpse of the culture of one of those tribes, the Blackfeet Nation.
Browning is located on the east side of the park, a 2-hour drive from Kalispell. You can either take the Going-to-the-Sun Road through the park or Highway 2, which follows along the southern border of the park.
Once in Browning, check out the Museum of the Plains Indian to learn all about the history of the people who lived here long before explorers ever laid eyes on these mountains. Also, stop in at the Lodgepole Gallery to learn about Blackfeet art and culture.
On your way back to the Kalispell area, be sure to drive by stunning Two Medicine Lake and stop in East Glacier Village for dinner. Serrano’s has incredible Mexican food (which I know you would not expect this far north, but just trust me!). You should also explore Glacier Park Lodge, the oldest and most regal of Glacier’s hotels.
Glacier National Park Itinerary Day 4:
Hike to Iceberg Lake OR take a Red Bus tour
Two options today, depending on how you’re feeling.
Option 1: If you’re ready to get out and do more hiking, head over to the Many Glacier area of the park for the hike to Iceberg Lake. Another of the park’s popular trails, the Iceberg Lake hike is 10 miles roundtrip, but with very little elevation gain. You hike a couple of miles through relaxing pine forests before coming out into an exposed alpine meadow at the base of the Ptarmigan Wall.
The entire hike offers commanding vistas of the Many Glacier valley, with Mt. Wilbur and Iceberg Peak dominating the view, as well as a high chance of seeing moose and bears! Iceberg Lake itself is one of the prettiest in the park – because of its constantly shaded location, it has ice floating in it almost year-round.
Although the trail is often a bit crowded, it’s well worth putting up with the other tourists.
Note: Iceberg Lake, and the Many Glacier region, is prime grizzly bear habitat. The trail is often closed for bear activity, so be sure to check with a ranger (or this webpage) to make sure the trail is open when you go.
Option 2: If you’d rather not do a long hike today, take a Red Bus Tour! These are an excellent way to learn the history of the park and take in the views. The fleet of 1930s-era buses are considered to be the oldest touring vehicles in the world, so this is an experience you definitely can’t get anywhere else. But, these tours sell out very quickly, so be sure to make your reservation far in advance.
Glacier National Park Itinerary Day 5:
Grinnell Glacier Hike OR Many Glacier Boat Tour
Last day in the park, last chance to see a glacier up close and personal! This is Glacier National Park, after all. So head over to the Many Glacier area for a variety of ways to see the park’s most visited glaciers, Grinnell and Salamander glaciers.
Option 1: If you really, truly want to stand right next to a glacier, the 10-mile roundtrip Grinnell Glacier hike is the best way to do it. The first 3.5 miles are flat and easy as they go around Swiftcurrent and Josephine lakes, but the second half up to the glacier is all uphill. It’s no walk in the park, so to speak, but it’s well worth the effort. You’ll be rewarded at the top by an impressive view of the Swiftcurrent Valley and all four of its lakes, as well as the opportunity to take a dip in a frigidly cold glacial lake. And, you’ll be right next to both Grinnell and Salamander glaciers!
If you don’t want to hike all the way up to the glacier, you can hike to the end of Lake Josephine and turn around. You’ll have a clear view of Grinnell Glacier here, but without any of the 2 miles of uphill beyond this point. That way, you’ll still get some hiking in without doing the entire trek.
Option 2: Don’t want to do the grueling hike up to the glacier, but still want to see and learn about said glacier? Take a boat tour! From the Many Glacier Lodge, you can board one of the park’s historic wooden boats for a tour of both Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Enjoy the incredibly blue glacial water, learn about the park’s natural history from the boat captain, and take in the incredible view of the Many Glacier valley without lacing up your hiking boots.
Like the Red Bus tours, the boat tours sell out a long time in advance, so make your plans early.
Other important information:
Where to Stay:
The west side of the park has far more lodging options than the east side. Any of the towns – Kalispell, Columbia Falls, Whitefish – will work as good bases for your trip. Alternatively, you can stay in any of the lodges and hotels inside of the park, but know that they are often sold out a year in advance and are more expensive than options outside of the park.
Although most activities are on the east side of the park, there are very limited lodging options. It’s worth doing a little extra driving each day to stay on the west side; there you’ll find plenty of AirBnBs and hotels. Check out where to stay near Glacier National Park.
Glacier Park Admission
A 7-day fee is $35 per car. You can purchase passes at the visitor’s center or at each park entrance. For a full list of fee options, visit the Glacier National Park webpage here.
There is a reservation system for anyone visiting these four areas: the Going-to-the-Sun Road, North Fork, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier. Each area has its own separate reservation fees and registration system. Reservations MUST be made well in advance of your trip. Go here to see the requirements.
Best time of year to visit
The Going-to-the-Sun Road, the park’s only through road, doesn’t open for the season until late June/early July and closes again by mid-September. That means that for most people, July and early August are the best times to visit. The widest variety of activities will be available.
But, Glacier is one of the American West’s most popular national parks, and, like nearby Yellowstone National Park, summer is the park’s busiest time of year. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider early June or late September. Just know that the main road may be closed, and most of the trails are snow-covered.
The park is open year-round, so if you really want to avoid other tourists and see a part of Glacier most people don’t see, break out your snowshoes and skis and visit in the winter.
No matter when you go, you are guaranteed to have an incredible time in one of the most beautiful places on earth!
Have any other questions about this Glacier National Park itinerary? Let me know in the comments!
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Looks like you had a great time! Thanks for sharing your story!
Great itinerary! Can I ask where in the park the Glacier NP sign is? TIA
Yes! It’s at the St. Mary entrance on the east side
I’ve not yet been to any US National Parks because I travel internationally so much. Glacier looks gorgeous and like a ton of adventure to be had!
I have been wanting to go here! Have seen so many photos and it looks amazing!
Great post. I have never really looked into Glacier National Park before but the scenery is stunning! I’m very interested in Native American culture too so I will definitely do some more research.
Gorgeous, Maggie! Knowing me, I’d trip over air hiking these passes lol, esp if they aren’t fully thawed by summer. Grizzly territory. Welp! It looks so amazing and I hope to spend some time in a National Park soon.
What a great itinerary. I really like how you give different options, depending on the kind of people will be going on these hikes! We are really interested of going there, the views are just stunning everywhere, but it’s also good to know you don’t have to be a professional hiker to go!!
Really informative blog, really enjoyed reading it!!
So many breathtaking views, everywhere you look is absolutely stunning! The Red Bus looks really cute – would be fun to take that tour. And, the boat tour would be interesting too. I like taking tour occasionally in order to have the extra input of the guides telling me about the highlights and secrets that I wouldn’t get just from hiking. This is an exceptional guide and will be very helpful for planning a visit here!
Wow this place looks amazing! I have only ever been to Florida in the states and cannot wait to go back and explore more of this continent! I defo need to add Glacier to this list! Thanks for sharing these useful tips!
looks like a full itinerary, sounds like a fantastic trip, beautiful photos!
So many poarks, so little time. GNP in the US has been on my list of NPs we are hoping to visit in the near future. Grizzly Bears, breweries and galcial lakes? Yes Please. We are actually passing through the Canadian portion of Glacier National Park next week – your post has got me all excited. Thanks for sharing!
What a great mix of activities in your 5 day itinerary for Glacier National Park. Love the mix of hiking, bus tour, boating, kayaking, and a cultural learning experience about the Blackfeet.
The Glacier National Park sounds simply epic. The sheer size of the park is in itself awesome and the variety of landscapes is breathtaking. You have described a wonderful itinerary and I really like the Kayaking part, sounds like a wonderful way to get oriented and it also a nice family experience too.
Gosh, there is so much to do there – just incredible! From your pictures, it must be a breathtaking landscape. How nice that it can be enjoyed in so many different ways. Especially the kayaking must be very….cool – literally.
This is a national park we have always wanted to visit, the scenery here is just incredible! I just love the colour of that water too, how does it get more beautiful than this!?
Hiking, kayaking, bus tours, boat tours… what’s not to love?! Glacier National Park is so high on my bucket list. This is such a thorough guide, I really appreciate. Bookmarking 🙂
Pictures are just amazing. The place is added in my bucket list.
FANTASTIC! this is perfect. I assume I’m in your parents age bracket so this let me know exactly what not to do lol. Thanks for This!!!
Oh man, Glacier NP looks AMAZING! We had to miss it on our road trip last year as it was coming in to winter, but I’d love to go back the next time I’m out that way. I love the look of that red bus tour as well, haha.
I’ve been to Kalispell briefly for work but sadly didn’t really get the chance to explore. The landscape, lakes and mountains are stunning and somewhere I would love to go in the future! ?
We stayed 2 weeks at GNP our home base being an awesome RV park right outside the gates – this is such an amazing area, totally gorgeous (we were there in September), the air smelled so good, the lakes were pristine – loved it! You have put together a great itinerary!
Squeeee Maggie this looks amaaaaazing. I am sure Marc and I would love hiking in Glacier National Park, but it is fab to see there are so many other options of non-hiking fun things as well.
Although, who am I kidding, I looked at your post on the highline trail…i’d want as much time out in the wilderness (with my bear-spray) as possible!! I’d be interested in visited a pow wow, but apart from that, i’d want to spend as much time as I can stuffing my eyes with those gorgeous views.
That is so awesome you can actually see a glacier in Glacier National Park! All these hikes have such incredible views, I love your photos! I like that the Highline trail is pretty level, but still gives you some amazing views!
National parks is a great way to unwind your mind.
We loved the west side of Glacier last July with our older kids and teens! Ready to go back for the east side and definitely want to hike to the Granite Park Chalet