The Best of Glacier National Park’s West and East Sides
Glacier National Park in northwest Montana is known for its stunning scenery, plentiful wildlife, and rewarding hikes. With so many beautiful and exciting things to do, it’s hard to know what to prioritize!
Don’t miss out on the best that Glacier has to offer. I’m Linnea and I have lived and worked in Glacier National Park every summer of my life. I have spent the past decade guiding hikes and giving educational talks to park visitors of all ages. In my 25 summers of exploring, I have had many spectacular opportunities and experiences! Here are my top twelve things to do in and around Glacier National Park.
West Side of Glacier
1. Avalanche Lake
Avalanche Lake is one of the most iconic hikes in Glacier National Park. The trail features a lush cedar forest, waterfalls, wildlife viewing opportunities, and stunning mountain views from the trailhead to the lake. I have done this hike in June, August, and October. Each trip up to the lake was different and all were perfectly beautiful in their own way.
Avalanche Lake is one of the most popular trails in the park, for good reason, so make sure you arrive early to secure parking or consider using Glacier’s free shuttle system.
The trail is a 4.5-mile round-trip hike, making it a perfect half-day activity for families. Make sure to pack snacks, water, and your camera!
2. Whitewater Rafting
Just outside Glacier’s west entrance, you will find multiple raft companies offering both scenic and whitewater rafting trips:
- Montana Raft Company offers whitewater trips, some of which even include lunch or dinner! You can also reserve a private overnight rafting trip. This is the company I have rafted with, and I have always had a great time!
- Glacier Raft Company offers scenic floats, whitewater trips, and even longer 3-4 day trips on the North Fork of the Flathead River.
- Great Northern Raft Company offers whitewater floats with and without meal service. With so many trip options, you can’t go wrong!
- Wild River Adventures offers a variety of family-friendly whitewater and scenic float options. They also provide guided fly fishing trips for any avid anglers hoping to catch a Montana trout.
Whitewater rafting is a fun and exciting way to experience the environment around Glacier. When I went whitewater rafting with my family, we took a float with Montana Raft Company. The water was so clear and the scenery was beautiful. The raft guides are knowledgeable, fun, and experienced which means you’re sure to have a great time!
3. Park Ranger Programs
One of the most wonderful things about visiting a national park is the opportunity to attend ranger-led programs. Interpretive park rangers lead guided hikes and give educational talks for anyone who wants to join, entirely for free!
Ranger-led activities help you to create a stronger connection to the land through education and unique experiences. These programs are also a fun way to meet and get to know other park visitors from all around the country and the world.
You can use the national park website to browse the ranger-led activities that will be going on while you are in Glacier. There are many options each day during the summer, so you will surely find something you enjoy!
4. Boating on Lake McDonald
I have spent hours and hours on a paddleboard in Lake McDonald and it never gets old. Lake McDonald is one of the most iconic locations in Glacier National Park. My favorite way to enjoy the views at this lake is to view it from the water! As you paddle around, you will be treated to views of spectacular mountains. Underneath, you will see rainbow-colored rocks through the crystal-clear water. Luckily, you don’t have to bring your own watercraft to Glacier for this experience.
Glacier Park Boat Company offers boat rentals in Apgar Village, at the foot of Lake McDonald. You can reserve your rental watercraft online ahead of time, or you can walk up and get a rental when you arrive. You can choose from kayaks, canoes, rowboats, motorboats, and paddleboards.
- Don’t miss out on the many boat tours they have in Glacier.
- Visiting Glacier National Park and need a game plan? Check out our itinerary.
5. Pastries at Polebridge Mercantile
If you enjoy delicious baked goods, spectacular mountain views, and friendly people, you should add Polebridge Mercantile to your Glacier itinerary. Polebridge Mercantile is located one mile outside of Glacier National Park and is renowned for its delicious pastries and quaint atmosphere.
The Mercantile is open from April to November and is accessible by a gorgeous (but slightly bumpy) drive up a dirt road toward the North Fork area of Glacier. Because the Mercantile is outside the park, there is no reservation required to get there. Make sure to get a huckleberry bear claw when you visit!
6. Going-to-the-Sun Road and Logan Pass
The Going-to-the-Sun Road was completed in 1933 after two decades of planning and construction. When you drive this iconic road, you will understand why it took so long to dream up and construct!
The Going-to-the-Sun road is the only road that cuts through the center of Glacier National Park and you can drive it from either the east or west side of Glacier. This beautiful, winding, mountain road takes you around cliffs, through tunnels, and over the continental divide.
The high point of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is Logan Pass. At Logan Pass, there is a visitor center where you can get information, restrooms, and a couple of great hiking trail options. Logan Pass is also a common place to view wildlife like mountain goats and bighorn sheep, so make sure you bring your binoculars!
Because the Going-to-the-Sun Road traverses such treacherous, high-elevation terrain, it is not unusual for the road to remain closed due to snow hazards until well into July. Before your trip to Glacier, check the park website to make sure the road is open. If it isn’t, don’t worry! There is plenty to see and do in Glacier without driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Additionally, the Going-to-the-Sun Road requires a reservation during certain parts of the season and specific times of day. Visit the Glacier National Park Website to find the latest information on the vehicle reservation system.
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East Side of Glacier
1. Boat Tour in Many Glacier and Grinnell Glacier Hike
Enjoy a relaxing guided tour of Many Glacier’s famously pristine lakes aboard historic wooden boats. Come aboard the Chief Two Guns and the Morning Eagle for a 90-minute round-trip cruise exploring Glacier’s robust history and stunning natural resources. Make your reservation here.
For those feeling more adventurous, disembark the Morning Eagle at the head of Lake Josephine and go for a hike to Grinnell Glacier. A short but strenuous 3.5-mile hike through fields of wildflowers and glacial moraine leads you to a beautiful viewpoint of the glacier. Be sure to bring your binoculars and keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife that populates this valley!
For more detailed information, check out our article about the Grinnell Glacier Boat Tour and Hike!
- Find out if you need to bring bear spray with you while you hike.
2. Dinner at Two Sisters Cafe
After a long day of hiking, you will crave a delicious, filling meal. Dining options are limited on the east side of Glacier, but you can’t go wrong at Two Sisters! The atmosphere is fun, the food is great, and the location is convenient.
My favorite dinner items to order at Two Sisters are the pork banh mi sandwich, the red burger, and the chicken fried chicken. If you save room for dessert, make sure you order a huckleberry milkshake! Or, use my favorite strategy, and order dessert first.
Two Sisters is open from 4 pm to 9 pm most days, but make sure to check their schedule online before your visit.
Two Sisters is often very busy in the summer because good food is all anyone can think of at the end of a strenuous day of hiking. Be prepared to wait! Service is generally very quick though and I have never had to wait more than 45 minutes. While you wait for a table, you can order a drink and spend time outside with the restaurant’s resident dog, a sweet black lab.
3. Sunset at Wild Goose Island
While you are in Glacier, you will want to maximize your time spent outside by catching a sunrise or a sunset whenever you have the chance. Sunsets from the Wild Goose Island overlook on the Going-to-the-Sun Road are spectacular.
Wild Goose Island is a unique geological feature that exists in the middle of St. Mary Lake and is a very highly photographed location in the park. Chances are, you will recognize it when you see it!
Reservations are not required on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in the evening, so you don’t have to worry about that when you take a cruise up to Wild Goose Island for sunset.
Check the sunset time when you visit. It is probably later than you think! For a good portion of the summer, the sun sets well after 9 pm.
If you can’t make it to Wild Goose Island, Swiftcurrent Lake in Many Glacier or St. Mary Lake near the visitor center are both alternative and equally beautiful sunset locations to choose from. Truly, you can’t go wrong in Big Sky Country. Montana got that nickname for a reason!
4. Sun Tour on Going-to-the-Sun Road
If you would like to experience Going-to-the-Sun Road without doing all of the driving by yourself, consider taking a Sun Tour. Sun Tours offers daily Blackfeet interpretive tours through Glacier National Park on the Going to the Sun Road.
The Blackfeet called northwestern Montana home long before Glacier was ever a National Park. Learning about the park through that lens is not an opportunity to be overlooked.
I took a Sun Tour this past summer and it was an experience I will never forget. Even though I have lived in the park for my entire life, I learned so much and had a ton of fun. Our guide also happened to be a singer-songwriter, so he performed at a few of the stops along the road. It was fantastic!
Book your tour at Sun Tours to experience spectacular scenery, history, and culture.
5. Museum of the Plains Indian
If you have a day of dreary weather on your trip, consider making the drive out to the town of Browning just outside of Glacier to visit the Museum of the Plains Indian.
The Department of the Interior operates the Museum of the Plains Indian. The museum was founded in 1941 and displays richly varied arts of Northern Plains Tribal peoples including the Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Sioux, Assiniboine, Arapaho, Shoshone, Nez Perce, Flathead, Chippewa, and Cree.
Historic clothing, horse gear, weapons, household implements, baby carriers, and toys highlight the exhibits.
I visited the Museum of the Plains Indian this past summer and was blown away by the quantity and quality of artifacts.
For more information, visit the Museum of the Plains Indian site.
6. Sit Still, Be Quiet, and Let Nature Relax You!
In all my years working in Glacier, I have noticed that people visiting the park are often running around, stressed, pressed for time, and overwhelmed. Your vacation should not feel that way, though I understand why it does feel like hard work on occasion.
One of my favorite things to do when I am leading a guided hike in Glacier is to ask my group to sit or stand in silence with their eyes closed. It is uncommon that we, as humans in modern society, have a chance to exist in a space free from human noise and technological distractions. Glacier is one of those rare spaces!
I encourage you to find a serene location, sit down, close your eyes, and let your senses absorb the world around you. You’ll feel the cool breeze on your face and the warm sun on your skin. You will smell the rich earth and pine and you will hear bird song and wind in the trees. Soak it up and enjoy the stillness.
Remember, no matter what you do on your trip to Glacier, it will be an unforgettable experience. You really can’t go wrong!
What Else Do I Need to Know?
Planning a vacation shouldn’t be stressful. We created a step-by-step itinerary so you can visit the best places at the right times.
Not only that, but we’ll tell you about the park while you drive with our audio guide! Stop planning and start having the vacation of your dreams now!
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO GLACIER
GLACIER TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about Glacier National Park, check out our Glacier Homepage
WHERE TO EAT: Don’t miss the best places to eat in Glacier National Park
WHERE TO STAY: Learn all about where to stay when visiting Glacier
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Find out which entrance is best for Glacier National Park as well as what to do when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed and if you need bear spray while visiting or if swimming is allowed
WATCH: Enjoy videos of gorgeous Glacier National Park while learning our best tips for visiting by watching our Glacier YouTube Playlist