Glacier National Park is one of the most jaw-dropping destinations in all the USA. From the stunning scenery to incredible hiking trails and beautiful alpine lakes, there’s so much to see. So here’s an ultimate guide to Glacier National Park: things to do on an amazing vacation!
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So if you’ve seen photos of Glacier National Park and it’s on your bucket list, then you know it’s absolutely gorgeous. You could spend all your time hiking the trails in the park, and if that’s your think then hop on over to this hiking guide:
And if you’re not into hiking, there’s still tons of things to do in Glacier National Park. It’s an incredible destination – let’s dive in!
But first, I want to address the best time to go to Glacier National Park. Because of the weather in northern Montana, there’s a short window of time that’s the absolute best time to go if you want to see most of the park.
Best time to visit Glacier National Park
The best time to see the full park in all it’s glory is mid-July to mid-September.
However, that’s when most people go to Glacier National Park, so expect the park to be busy. Alternatively, you can go earlier in the spring or later in the fall, just expect parts of the park to be closed. (Read more in the Going-to-the-Sun Road section below.)
The changing fall leaves in September and October are gorgeous, too! It’s one of the reasons Glacier NP is one of the best places to visit in the USA in September. I visited during late July and the weather was absolutely perfect, with the majority of the trails open.
But enough chatting, let’s get to the guide!
Glacier National Park: top things to do
1. Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road
One of the most scenic roads in all of the USA, driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road absolutely must to be on your list when visiting Glacier National Park!
Completed in 1933, this 50-mile road was carved through the mountains, and at points is still only a one-lane road!
You can typically access the road though the east or west entrances, although it’s only open in higher elevation when the snow has melted for the season. The Going-to-the-Sun Road passes through the highest point in the park, at the Cedar pass visitor center and has some of the best views!
With dozens of overlooks and points of interest along this road, you’ll want a full day to explore it! I drove it multiple times and each time the park looked a bit different, based on the way the sun bounced off the mountain peaks.
Visit the official park website to see any Going-to-the-Sun Road closures.
Pro tip: RV’s and wide vehicles cannot do the full route, as the narrow road doesn’t support large vehicles. So consider getting a rental car or bringing a smaller vehicle if you want to take the whole route.
2. Bonus: experience the Going-to-the-Sun Road on 2 wheels!
I mean, on 2 wheels is a completely new way to experience this stunning route! And the last time I was on a moped it was non-stop joy, so I can only imagine the Going-to-the-Sun Road on one. 🙂
3. Hike the Avalanche Lake Trail
Okay, so for full details of all the hikes I recommend in Glacier National Park, check out this Glacier hiking guide. But if you have limited time or aren’t that interested in hiking, make an exception for this one hike!
It’s 10000% worth the time and energy to hike to Avalanche Lake! You will not regret this hike.
The hike is 4.6 miles and it has a moderate incline. However, the views are phenomenal! It’s a great way to spend an afternoon.
Make sure to check out the stunning mossy stream at the Trail of the Cedars on your way to Avalanche Lake Trail (pictured above).
4. Check out Apgar Village
Apgar Village in Glacier National Park is one of the few places you can stay in the park (aside from camping). It’s a cute little village full of all the touristy things you’d expect.
Fun things to do in Apgar Village:
- Check in at the Apgar Visitor Center (near the village)
- Stay at the lodge or cabins
- Grab food at the café and ice cream shop
- Walk the pier on Lake McDonald
- Take a park tour and or go horseback riding
- Shop for souvenirs
- Rent equipment for water activities
5. Go paddle boarding on Lake McDonald
Speaking of water activities on Lake McDonald, this is an awesome way to get a unique perspective of Glacier National Park! Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier NP and is honestly so stunning!
Paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing, canoeing – it’s simply a gorgeous backdrop for some fun water activities!
6. Check out the best viewpoint in Glacier National Park
Just before you get to Logan Pass (from the west side of the park) is a popular viewpoint that’s a must-see. It’s a gorgeous view of the Garden Wall and the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The Garden Wall is the sharp, jagged mountain peaks on the right side of the photo above. It’s part of the Continental Divide, which is listed at #7 below. The Garden Wall got it’s name for the lush greenery and wildflowers that lie on the sides of the steep cliffs.
It’s truly hard to describe the beauty here. Glacier National Park is nicknamed the ‘Crown of the Continent’ because of it holds some of the most impressive mountain scenery in all of North America. These mountain ridges appear to be that crown.
The scale of this place can only be understood when trying to find the Going-to-the-Sun Road in the photo above. See the fine gray line on the right side of the photo, 1/2 way down? Yep, that’s the road.
Geez this place is stunning!
More of Glacier National Park: best things to do
7. Stand on the Continental Divide
While you’re driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier NP, make sure to check out the Continental Divide at Logan Pass.
Okay, so at this point you might be asking…
What’s the continental divide at Glacier National Park?
Or why is it interesting to see?
Well, when it rains (or as snow melts) right on the continental divide, when the rain falls on the mountaintop and runs down the east side of the mountain, it will end up in the Atlantic Ocean. If the raindrop runs down the west, it will ultimately end up in the Pacific Ocean.
So the mountain ridge in Glacier National Park creates a divide which tells the water where to flow. Pretty cool right?
8. Hike the Hidden Lake Trail Glacier National Park
Okay, this is the last hike I’m going to talk about in this article. (Head here for the full Glacier NP hiking guide.) But this hike is definitely worth adding to your list.
One of the most fun hiking trails my family did was the trail to Hidden Lake. And news flash: the lake is no longer hidden since it’s one of the most popular trails in Glacier National Park!
We hiked just to the overlook, which was 2.6 miles (5.0 miles down to the lake). Even in the summer, the trail was packed with snow. It’s one of the highest elevation hiking trails in the park.
The Hidden Lake Trail was a very adventurous hike with lots of wildlife. This is the area of the park that we saw the most mountain goats and marmots.
9. See a glacier in Glacier National Park
If you only have a few days in Glacier National Park and you want to see a glacier, the best glacier is going to be Jackson Glacier. There’s a viewpoint from the Going-to-the-Sun Road between Logan Pass and Saint Mary Lake.
From the viewpoint, you can see Jackson Glacier off in the distance. From the overlook you can opt to hike a 10-mile round trip to see the Jackson Glacier up close, if you’re hard core like that. 🙂
If you have a bit more time to visit the east side of the park (and the park is completely open), the Grinnell Glacier is another spectacular glacier to see in real life. But I’ll warn you: the hike to get there is strenuous.
It’s a 10+ mile hike with an elevation gain of 1,600 feet. So if you have a day to devote to seeing a glacier, Grinnell Glacier is a beauty!
10. See the famous Wild Goose Island Viewpoint
One of the most iconic views in the park, Wild Goose Island is a fun stop on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It can be a quick stop by hopping out of your car and grabbing a photo at the viewpoint. Alternatively, there’s a path down towards the lake that you can get a slightly closer photo.
The tiny island in the middle of Saint Mary Lake is named after a tale of two Native Americans from separate tribes, falling in love on the island. Read more about the tale of Wild Goose Island here.
You may also recognize this tiny island from the intro scene of the classic movie The Shining by Stanley Kubrick.
11. Go rock hunting at Lake McDonald
Okay so I know this is random, but please know that the rocks found at Lake McDonald are seriously stunning.
Never heard of a bunch of rocks called stunning before? Now you have. You’re welcome.
Some of the most unique, fun rocks I’ve ever seen live in Glacier National Park. My kids loved finding the most interesting ones and they were sad that they couldn’t take any home (park rules!).
12. A must-do: eat huckleberry ice cream
Okay, so this one’s not in the park, but it’s part of the Glacier National Park experience! Huckleberries grow in the park, and years ago the locals figured out it made delicious ice cream.
I’m just going to put this out there….you need this ice cream in your life. If you like sweets. Or things that taste delicious. Maybe you’re just a foodie that likes to try new things.
Eat the huckleberry ice cream! We had it multiple times. 🙂
You can find it at the local ice cream spots. You can also find huckleberry pie, smoothies, jams, etc. in the area. Just go for it!
13. Hunt for huckleberries
Speaking of huckleberries, a fun activity (especially for kids) is hunting for huckleberries in Glacier National Park. When we visited in July, they were plentiful throughout the park.
On several different hiking trails in Glacier National Park we stumbled upon huckleberry bushes.
But just be on the lookout for bears. Grizzly bears and black bears also love huckleberries, so you may see them hunting for the same thing!
By the way, if you don’t have bear spray on your packing list, grab it now. This is the bear spray from Amazon that I took to Glacier NP.
14. Go white water rafting
If you’re into high-adventure travel, then white water rafting must be on your list! One of the best ways to experience the park is on the water.
And bonus – you’ll see scenery different than what’s on the Going-to-the-Sun Road! One of the best tours in the area is rafting the Middle Fork section of the Flathead River.
White-water rafting is a 1/2 day adventure, and one that any adventure-lover is going to love!
15. Explore a roadside waterfall
These are fun! You’ll find lots of roadside waterfalls while driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Depending on the season, of course!
There are several waterfalls that are so close to the road they splatter on your car! Some of the best waterfalls in Glacier National Park are visible from the road but require a short walk to get to.
Take some time to make a stop at a roadside waterfall, especially if you aren’t planning to hike to any of them. On one particular day on our trip to Glacier, we saw, swam in and explored 7 waterfalls in 1 day!
My favorite roadside waterfall is Lunch Creek. My family spent about 30 minutes exploring the trails nearby. And yes, it’s a great spot for a picnic lunch. 🙂
16. Find out what a gorge is (Sunrift Gorge)
Maybe you already know what a gorge is! Or maybe you’re like me, and you have no idea.
Well the Sunrift Gorge in Glacier National Park was a pleasant surprise. Near Saint Mary Lake, it’s actually on the side of the road. Or at least part of it!
Walking down the path to the stream, we thought we were seeing it all. But then we walked up the path further and realized the gorge was an alley cut in the mountain by the water.
It was a really cool sight to see in real life. (Don’t ya hate it how pictures never do a place justice?!) And the water made a loud, intense noise as it passed through the narrow gorge.
17. Swim in an alpine lake
Okay so previously we talked about water activities on Lake McDonald. But honestly, just hanging out and swimming at any of the gorgeous lakes is a fantastic way to spend and afternoon, too!
All the lakes here have rocky bottoms, just remember to pack your water shoes! These are my favorite water shoes from Amazon and have literally traveled all over the world with me – including Glacier NP!
My family hiked with water shoes in our backpacks and swam in nearly every lake and stream we saw. It was one of our favorite things to do in Glacier National Park!
Glacier National Park: things to do that are pretty laid back
18. Have a rock-skipping competition
So this activity can really take place at any lake, but it’s a lot of fun if you can catch a day where the water is still and reflective. Lake McDonald is one of the most photographed lakes in the park because of it’s reflective nature.
Seeing rocks skip 5, 6, 7, 8, or more times along the water, leaving ripples in the glassy water as they skip is a cool sight! So grab your kids or traveling companions and get to skipping some rocks!
19. Explore the West Side Tunnel
The West Side Tunnel is – as you guessed it – on the west side of Logan Pass. An honestly, it’s the first really interesting landmark after Avalanche Lake as you begin to climb the 3,000 feet incline to Logan Pass going from west to east.
This is a 2-lane tunnel (the east tunnel is just 1-lane!) but it’s unique features are these ‘window’s carved out of the side of it. It’s accessible with a small pull-off to stop nearby, and a small sidewalk to go into the tunnel.
Walk through the tunnel to a window and catch breath-taking views of the valley. I mean, this park just keeps getting more and more stunning with every turn!
My kids especially loved the tunnel echoes and the waterfall that’s immediately beside the tunnel.
20. Get some beach time at Saint Mary Lake
This was one of my favorite activities in Glacier National Park! Saint Mary Lake is a gorgeous alpine lake on the east part of the park. There are many spots to head down to the lake to swim in the water.
We enjoyed an afternoon of beach time after hiking to Baring Falls. The trail continues on after the falls, and if you pivot to the left, you’ll find a peaceful beach to relax on.
Oh, and you’ll also see the stream where the falls enter the lake. And let me tell ya that water is frigid! For this lake spot, you’ll need water shoes and bug spray to fully enjoy your time on the shore.
21. Go stargazing at night
Glacier National Park is a designated Dark Sky Park. Which basically means it’s an amazing spot to see the milky way with your bare eyes! You’ll see the brightest, clearest stars from Logan Pass to Lake McDonald.
And because Glacier NP is so far north, it’s even possible to see the northern lights! It’s most spectacularly seen from Lake McDonald.
Getting ready for your vacation to Glacier National Park
Eeeek! I’m so excited for your trip to Glacier! You’re going to have the best time! Just one more quick recommendation: make sure you have the right gear.
Here are the things that I used, loved, and needed for my trip to Glacier National Park:
- Bear spray (seriously, every adult traveling with you needs to carry it at all times)
- Water shoes! The lakes are rocky, and it’s quite refreshing to dip your toes into it.
- Good quality hiking boots if you’re planning to do any hiking. These are the ones I wore – affordable and durable.
- Trekking poles. Definitely needed if you’re expecting snow while you’re in glacier. But honestly, they’re great for stability and momentum on any terrain!
- Bug spray and sunblock, especially during the summer months. It was so buggy in the park that my kids nicknamed a trail mosquito forest for all the bugs.
Glacier National Park: top 20 things to do (a recap)
- Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Experience the Going-to-the-Sun Road on 2 wheels
- Hike the Avalanche Lake Trail
- Check out Apgar Village
- Go paddle boarding on Lake McDonald
- Check out the best viewpoint in the park (near Logan Pass)
- Stand on the Continental Divide
- Hike the Hidden Lake Trail
- See a Glacier in Glacier National Park
- See the famous Wild Goose Island Viewpoint
- Go rock hunting at Lake McDonald
- Eat huckleberry ice cream
- Hunt for huckleberries
- Go white water rafting
- Explore a roadside waterfall
- Find out what a gorge is (Sunrift Gorge)
- Swim in an alpine lake
- Have a rock-skipping competition on a glass lake
- Explore the West Side Tunnel
- Get some beach time at Saint Mary Lake
- Go stargazing at night
Whew! This is a long list but dang it’s such a good time. My family absolutely loved Glacier National Park and we cannot wait to go back!
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