Guide to Glacier National Park in Western Montana. Read on for best hikes, what to do and where to stay in this FREE travel guide!
Glacier National Park is a wildly beautiful place. It’s one of the few publicly accessible places left in the contiguous United States that truly feels remote.
Sadly, shortly after our visit, Glacier National Park was in the news due to devastating forest fires. According to recent reports the fire is still less than 12% contained, but many Eastern parts of the park remain open. Some of our favorite experiences were in Many Glacier and the eastern parts of the park so I highly recommend exploring this area.
My thoughts are with Glacier and the brave firefighters. This guide is my love letter to Glacier.
Read on for my Glacier National Park guide!
When to Visit Glacier National Park
Parts of Glacier National Park are open year round, but peak visiting times are April to October. The Going to the Sun Road opens in late June/early July. Forest fires tend to be worse at the end of summer, from late July to early September. That means if you want to do the Going to the Sun road, July is the best month to visit! If not, mid-June is a good time to beat the crowds and still see most of the park. We visited the last week of June and the timing was perfect. The weather was warm but not hot and mostly sunny.
Helpful Websites for Visiting Glacier National Park
The best way to find hikes in Glacier National Park is AllTrails. We’ve used this site over and over when we travel (like Zion National Park and the Bitterroot Valley) and we’re never disappointed. I’ve included an AllTrails link for every hike we went on with the information about the hike.
Western Montana & Glacier Tourism:
Glacier National Park Conditions:
Glacier Forest Fire Updates:
Glacier National Park Webcams:
Glacier National Park Instagram:
Bark Ranger Glacier National Park:
What to Pack for Glacier National Park
(so you can look as cool as that guy )
- Bear Bell
- Bear Spray
- Mosquito Spray
- Water Filter
- Water Resistant Hiking Boots (Trail running shoes with thick tread might also work depending on the level of hiking you are doing)
- Wind Jacket
- Sun Hat
- High Powdered Flashlight or Headlamp
- Polarized Sunglasses
Guide to Glacier National Park
Two Medicine Lake Glacier National Park
If you’re looking for the best place to catch sunset in Glacier National Park, I highly recommend Two Medicine Lake. Watching the sun fall behind Rising Wolf Mountain is truly spectacular.
If you really want a treat, Two Medicine is also the best place to catch sunrise in Glacier National Park! In the morning, the sun lights up Rising Wolf Mountain, making it look orange. It’s not easy waking up early, but it’s definitely worth it! The beach was deserted and we had the entire area to ourselves.
The Two Medicine area is great starting point for both day hikes and longer backpacking adventures. You can also do a historic boat ride across the lake – more on that below.
Two Medicine Lake
Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park
We were so, so lucky to be in Glacier the day the Going to the Sun Road opened. We were in Whitefish the days leading up to the opening, and the entire town was abuzz with excitement. It was so fun to be a part of it. Although there are rumors on when the Going to the Sun Road are going to open, no one knows for sure the exact date. Plow crews start from East Glacier and West Glacier and work to clear the road until they meet in the middle. It tends to be the last week of June or the first week of July.
The road was designed to fit into the mountain landscape. The drive is stunning with view after amazing view as the road winds through the mountains. If the road is open, I highly recommend driving it from both directions as it really makes you appreciate the views. If you can, start early so you won’t be stuck behind the crowds of people driving slowly along the winding mountain road. It takes about 2 hours to drive, plus stops at the pullouts along the road.
Going to the Sun Road
Apgar Village Boat Dock at Glacier National Park
The boat dock at Apgar Village is one of the most iconic spots in all of Glacier National Park. The village behind you is very busy, but when you stare over Lake McDonald, it’s easy to forget. Apgar Village is just beyond the West Glacier park entrance, near the start of the Going to the Sun Road, so I’d recommend doing this at the start or end of your day in the park.
The best time to visit is early morning or early evening when the boats are all docked up on the pier. Next time I’d like to rent a boat and have a paddle around Lake McDonald.
Apgar Village West Glacier National Park
Iceberg Lake Hike in Many Glacier
The Iceberg Lake Hike is long but we loved every minute of it. It had everything – panoramic views, waterfalls, wildlife and of course beautiful Iceberg Lake at the end. Apparently it is “rated A+ for grizzly viewing” so you absolutely must bring bear spray and a bear bell. We didn’t see any bears, but maybe that’s a good thing?
Other than a steep section at the start, the majority of the 9.3 mile hike (out and back) is wide and easy to navigate.
As you move along the path, the rocks lining avalanche lake rise up from the earth ahead of you.
The path requires some scrambling and also walking over snow, at least when we went at the end of June.
The entire hike took about five hours, including a stop to brew some tea at the lake’s edge. Bring a water filter as there is plenty of water along the trail that you can filter and drink.
Iceberg Lake Trail Hike at Glacier National Park
This little light of mine. ? Shoutout to my amazing partner in crime and best Instagram husband around @thepatfiles who didn’t leave me on the side of the road when I decided our Western Montana adventure wouldn’t be complete without the purchase of a @colemanusa lantern. ?And yes you better believe I brought it home with me in my suitcase! ???
Trail of the Cedars
Trail of the Cedars is unreal. This short hike winds through ancient towering red cedars that give the trail its name. Most of the trail is lined with wooden planks making it very accessible. Clocking in at less than a mile, this is Glacier National Park’s easiest hike. I highly recommend tacking on the Avalanche Lake Trail (below).
Trail of the Cedars Hike – Glacier National Park
Avalanche Lake Hike at Glacier National Park
The Avalanche Lake hike is…otherworldly. The path breaks off from trail of the cedars and winds through hemlock forests. It was our favorite hike in Glacier. We aren’t the only ones! The Avalanche Lake hike is ranked the #1 hike for all of Glacier National Park on All Trails. The path is wide and easy to walk and is doable for most abilities, as long as they can handle walking 6 miles (round trip).
Because of the popularity, timing your hike outside of peak hours can make this amazing experience even better! Even if you don’t get there early enough to avoid the crowds, the overwhelming consensus is this hike is well worth it.
We lucked out and did the hike when it was lightly raining, which scared away the majority of the people. The trail is covered for the most part, so we hardly noticed the rain.
Some of the path follows a river which offers a few waterfalls and scenic views. Avalanche Lake at the end is absolutely breathtaking. In the early evening it was shrouded in mist and the mountains were reflected onto the lake surface. It was too chilly for us, but apparently people will wade and swim when it’s nice out.
Pro tip – There are more spots to see Avalanche Lake beyond the first one and the crowds thin out, so definitely keep walking past the first beach.
Avalanche Lake Hike – Glacier National Park
It’s always a good day for an adventure. ? Our first day in Glacier National Park was a little grey and misty, but that didn’t stop us from tackling our first hike! We chose Avalanche Lake which turned out to be the perfect choice. It had tree cover for a lot of the hike which offered shelter from the rain and at the end was the magnificent shimmering Avalanche Lake with a perfect reflection of the peaks on the opposite side.
Two Medicine Boat Tour at Glacier National Park
A historic boat ride is a great way to see Two Medicine lake. Our guide did a nice job of explaining the history of the area, including the Native American legends that give Two Medicine its name. The ride was comfortable and offered a unique view of the lake.
We saw a moose on shore during the ride. Moose can be aggressive, so having a body of water between us was the perfect way to admire one. There is the option to stop for a short guided hike on the opposite side of Two Medicine Lake before catching the boat back.
Two Medicine Historic Boat Ride in Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald Lodge
Lake McDonald Lodge is a beautiful Glacier National Park historic lodge on the shores of – you guessed it – Lake McDonald. The lodge is over 100 years old and very charming. Just like the other lodges in the park, this one offers comfortable, but modest, accommodations in a lovely historic setting. Even if you aren’t staying at the lodge, it’s so beautiful it’s worth stopping to grab a bite to eat or a drink. The view of Lake McDonald from Lake McDonald lodge was one of our favorites.
Lake McDonald Lodge at Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald Historic Boat Ride at Glacier National Park
While you’re at Lake McDonald Lodge, you can take advantage of the historic boat tour that picks up behind the hotel. The DeSmet was my favorite of the historic boats, mainly because of its beautiful teal color and the two decker seating.
Lake McDonald Historic Boat Tour at Glacier National Park
Glacier Park Lodge
Glacier Park Lodge is in East Glacier, making it a great spot for exploring Many Glacier and Two Medicine Lake. The lodge is comfortable and clean, but very basic. It’s more about staying in a historic place with easy access to Glacier National Park than it is living in luxury. After all, you’ll want to spend as much time outside of your room as possible given how much there is to see in Glacier National Park!
The rooms check all the basic boxes and the hotel was quiet at night. There is a display in the lobby that shares a collection of Glacier National Park memories from over the years that I highly recommend checking out.
Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier National Park
East Glacier Park, Montana 59434
Whitewater Rafting in Glacier National Park
Whitewater rafting is a fun and unique way to experience Glacier National Park. We booked a half day trip with Glacier Guides & Montana Raft and I cannot recommend them enough. The entire experience was easy, efficient and stress free. The tour is family friendly as there is nothing that takes too much skill or strength to navigate. The category II-III rapids were exciting, but not scary, which was perfect. We sat at the front of the raft and got quite wet, but the rental includes jackets, wetsuits and river shoes that will help you stay warm.
Our guide was funny and friendly and knew a lot about the wildlife in the area. Here she is giving us a paddling demonstration on the bus ride to the river.
Glacier Guides & Montana Raft
11970 Highway 2 East
West Glacier, MT 59936
St. Mary’s Lake at Rising Sun Boat Dock
If you’re driving back from Many Glacier, I highly recommend stopping at the Rising Sun Boat Dock at St. Mary’s Lake to take in the views and snap a photo. The water is a beautiful sparkling view and the peaks in the background are really spectacular. Glacier Park Boats also offers a historic boat ride on St. Mary’s Lake.
Wildlife in Glacier National Park
One of the most common questions we get asked is, “What animals did you see in Glacier National Park?” Although it’s very common to see black bears and grizzly bears all over the park, the only one we encountered was while driving on the Going to the Sun Road. You can see proof above. Yes, it’s that little speck that I circled. 🙂
As I mentioned before, we saw a moose on our Two Medicine Lake boat ride. In both instances, I felt very safe and was grateful to be able to see these dangerous animals in their natural habitat without disturbing them. We also saw countless mountain goats and bighorn sheep. These were all very far away, so I would highly recommend getting a pair of binoculars for your trip. It made a huge difference for us. It’s the difference between seeing a speck in the distance and being able to observe the animal’s behavior.
Safety is paramount, so also keep bear spray and a bear bell with you any time you are hiking. Visitors are required to keep a distance of at least 100 yards from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from any other wildlife including nesting birds. This is for both your safety and the safety of these amazing animals that call Glacier National Park home!
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