Showcasing snow-capped mountains, sparkling blue glacial lakes, and wildlife at every turn, more Americans are making the trip out to explore Glacier National Park every year.
With hundreds of miles of hiking trails and more than 700 lakes spread out over more than one million acres, you could spend weeks in Glacier National Park without running out of things to do. We've narrowed down the best activities, so whether you're visiting for one day or seven, you'll have plenty to do.
Designated as a National Park in 1910, Glacier National Park is one of the oldest National Parks in the country. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, the world's first International Dark Sky Park, and is part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Glacier National Park is divided into several regions. North Fork and Two Medicine are more remote and primitive, and may require driving on unpaved roads. Located in the northeast section of the park, Many Glacier is often considered the heart of Glacier National Park. Going-to-the-Sun Road cuts through the center of the park, and connects these regions. Going-to-the-Sun Road is also the most crowded region of the park, although it is closed west of Logan Pass from October through June due to high snowfall. Take a look at the park maps for more info.
Read on for a list of the best activities to do while visiting Glacier National Park.
1. Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road
Going-to-the-Sun Road is, without question, the most beautiful road I have ever been on. Stretching 50 miles and rising to 6,646 feet in elevation, this road cuts through the mountains, connecting Apgar Village and West Glacier to St. Mary.
For 50 miles, Going-to-the-Sun Road winds its way up the mountains, through tunnels carved into the rock, under waterfalls that splash directly onto the pavement, past mountain goats and bighorn sheep scaling the adjacent cliffs, and alongside crystal clear subalpine lakes.
There are plenty of turnouts along the way, where you can easily pull over along the cliffside to take photos, grab a snack, or read the roadside exhibits. Many of the park's hikes begin from these turnouts as well, so be sure to have a map and look at hiking routes.
2. Observe wildlife
Wildlife is one of the major attractions of Glacier National Park. Within the park’s boundaries, you can find moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, grizzly bears, bald eagles, and more.
The Many Glacier region of the park has less people, and often has the most wildlife. Visitors report regularly seeing moose, bears, and more in Many Glacier.
If you aren't going to Many Glacier, don't worry! Wildlife sightings are still common throughout the park. The best way to improve your chances is to get out and hike a trail.
3. Go on a hike
Hiking is perhaps the best way to experience Glacier National Park. The park contains over 700 miles of trail, allowing for everything from a short day hike to weeks-long backpacking trips into Canada. Some of the best day hikes include:
Avalanche Lake - Starting at the Trail of the Cedars, this 5.9 mile hike takes you from a serene cedar forest to a glacial lake, with views of soaring mountain peaks along the way.
Highline Trail to Grinnell Glacier Overlook (The Garden Wall) - Not for the faint of heart, this 14.7 mile hike begins at Logan Pass and takes you along the cliffside of the Continental Divide. The views of the surrounding mountains are non-stop, and you end your hike with a view of one of the park's most famous glaciers. We saw mountain goats, yellow-bellied marmots, and even had to step off the trail to allow a family of bighorn sheep to pass by.
Cracker Lake - Cracker Lake is a 12 mile hiking trail that begins at the Many Glacier Hotel, and ends at the trail's namesake; picturesque, aquamarine Cracker Lake. This hike offers great views, and more solitude than those that depart from Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Whatever hike you choose to do, be prepared to show up early or hike an extra mile or two, as parking lots tend to fill up by 8 AM.
4. Bike Going-to-the-Sun Road
Biking Going-to-the-Sun road is an absolute must for bikers.
Each Spring, after plowing begins and prior to opening to vehicular traffic, the road is accessible to hikers and bikers. Visiting during this period allows you to bike the road without the stress of sharing the road with vehicles. Visit during late June for the best chance of biking the whole road car-free.
However, if you want to make it to Logan Pass, you'll have to do some serious climbing - 3,500 feet in the 12 miles from Logan Creek to Logan Pass. After that, it's a well earned descent back to your starting point. I began from my campsite at the Sprague Creek Campground, making the ride 44 miles with 4,000 feet of elevation gain.
Vehicular traffic was not an issue for me - most drivers are driving slowly to soak in the views, and there are plenty of turnouts to let them pass. Biking is restricted on certain sections of Going-to-the-Sun Road during peak season. Visit the National Park Service website for biker rules and regulations.
Want to bike Going-to-the-Sun Road without the climbing? There's an option for that, too. During peak season, the park shuttle can bring you and your bike up to Logan Pass, or you can have a friend or family member drop you off. From there it's a nice and easy descent, whether you're going to Apgar (30 miles one-way) or to St. Mary (18 miles one-way).
For more moderate biking opportunities, there is a small paved trail system traversing Apgar Village and the surrounding forest.
5. Take a tour
Get out on the water with a boat tour from the Glacier Park Boat Company! Their boat tour will show you some of the best views of the park, and provide commentary on the geology and history of the park. They offer tours on Lake MacDonald, St. Mary Lake, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier.
For those who prefer bus tours, Xanterra's convertible red bus tours will take you along Going-to-the-Sun Road, stopping along the way to point out significant features, provide commentary, and allow for pictures.
6. Kayak or Paddleboard
Paddleboarding on Lake MacDonald was the perfect way for us to relax the day after hiking the Highline Trail, while still having fun exploring the park.
Glacier Park Boat Company also provides rentals for kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, rowboats, canoes, and small motorboats. These are available at Apgar Village, the Lake MacDonald Lodge, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier.
7. Explore Apgar Village
Apgar Village is another fun break from all of the hiking and biking. Relax on the beach and enjoy the incredible views of the mountains just beyond the lake. Have a meal at Eddie's Cafe, Apgar Village's sole restaurant. Huckleberry-flavored everything is a Montana special, so try some huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry pie, or grab a jar of huckleberry jam to take home.
Afterwards, stock up on food and firewood to take back to your campsite.
Hotels in the vicinity of Glacier National Park are expensive. On our way in from Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we stayed at the Best Western in Shelby, MT (highly recommended if you are coming from that direction). Luckily, the park has over 1,000 campsites, most of which are first-come, first-serve. If you are unable to reserve a campsite ahead of time, your odds of getting a site are still fairly good.
Depending on the day of the week and time of year, you may have to show up by 6 or 7 AM to get a campsite. In general, you are more likely to find a spot at the larger sites and the more remote sites - but not the smaller sites in heavily trafficked areas.
We planned to show up on the last day of Labor Day weekend, so that the holiday weekend exodus would leave us lots of empty campsites. We arrived at 3 PM and were able to find a campsite at Sprague Creek Campground, though the site was full the rest of the week.
Many campsites at Glacier provide easy access to nearby lakes, and the night skies are filled with stars.
Learn more about camping in Glacier National Park here. Remember to follow all bear safety precautions, which are posted at the campsite entrances.
Are you planning a trip to Glacier National Park? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!