Beginner’s Guide to Glacier National Park


“Wander here a whole summer, if you can. Thousands of God’s wild blessings will search you and soak you as if your were a sponge…Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven.”

John Muir

With Glacier NP, you can spend one day driving the Going-to-the-Sun road, or you could spend many days hiking and exploring all over the place. You can even go to the Canadian side, to Waterton Lakes National Park.

This isn’t a definitive guide to Glacier, but really a basic beginner’s guide. We went with three little kids, so we did things a little differently than we might have if it was just me and my wife.

Things to know in 2020

First things first: if you read this in 2020, know that Coronavirus is affecting things. The Blackfeet Indian Tribe has a reservation on the east side of the park. They have closed the reservation due to Corona, and won’t let anyone in the east entrance to the park.

That means the west entrance will be even more crowded. The visiting season for Glacier is already short, which makes for a crowded summer. Now the crowds will be worse.

The National Park Service is considering a ticketing system, which would require you to get reservations to go into the park before you go. So check the park website for details.

Also, the Many Glacier road will under construction, so it will be closed or delayed throughout much of 2020 and I believe 2021. Check this page for details.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

The highlight of the park is the Going-to-the-Sun road, which is one road that travels west-to-east through the park. It ascends to Logan Pass, the high point, and then back down to Saint Mary Lake.

The road typically opens mid-July and closes mid-October. Check this website for the status of the road, as it opens gradually, as they plow the road. It takes about 2.5 months for them to plow the road completely!

This is the Crown of the Continent. Stop at Logan Pass at the top and take the little walk out from the visitor center to see mountain goats. We also saw a marmot there.

Other activities in one day

We went there with little kids, and we like to vary our trips to keep it interesting from them, rather than hike them to death.

So we rented a boat in Apgar Village and cruised around Lake Macdonald. I don’t remember it being very expensive, and it really added to the enjoyment of our trip.

We also hiked the Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail. This was a beautiful little walk through towering trees with a stream nearby.

We stayed in Kalispell, which is about 45 minutes away from the park. So keep that in mind when planning your day — it takes time just to get to and from the park.

So in one day, we did:

  • A boat ride
  • Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail
  • Logan Pass & Hidden Lake Nature Trail
  • Drove from one end of the park to the other and back

When we were finished, we ate dinner outside of the park and got some huckleberries, which are grown in that area.

Suggestions

I wish we would have planned on TWO DAYS, at least. There is so much more to see and do there. I really wish we would have allotted time to visit the Canadian side, but we didn’t have passports at the time.

So plan early and get passports!

Next time I go, I’ll visit Many Glacier, Waterton National Park, drive the Inside North Fork Road, and visit Two Medicine Lake.

My wife said Glacier was the most beautiful place she’s ever seen. You NEED to visit this park at least once in your life!

Recent Posts