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.
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 on to 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.
- 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.
The park is also implementing a reservation system for anyone who wants to use the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The reservation is an additional $2 and MUST be made ahead of time. Go here for more.
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 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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