Julie United States 19 Comments

How many days do you need in Glacier National Park? How do you plan the perfect Glacier National Park itinerary?

The answer to these questions depends on several factors. How much time do you have? Do you want to get out and hike the trails or simply visit a few viewpoints and highlights? What time of year will you be traveling?

The short, easy answer would be to spend as much time as you can in Glacier National Park. With its stunning alpine scenery, scenic drives, thrilling hiking trails, and numerous chances to spot wildlife, you could spend a full week here and never run out of things to do.

Most likely, you don’t have that kind of time. In this post, get an overview on the best things to do in the park, when to visit, and get sample Glacier National Park itineraries, depending on your interests, travel style, and available time.

Whether you have just a day or two, or an entire week (lucky you!), we have some great options to share with you.

 

A Quick Overview of Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana, on the border with Canada. Just across the border is Waterton Lakes National Park. Together, these two parks form Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the world’s first international peace park.

There are several regions of Glacier National Park. Going-to-the-Sun Road twists and turns through the center of the park and this is the most popular and most crowded section of the park. Just to the north is Many Glacier, a wildlife rich, gorgeous area where you can hike some of the best trails in the park. Two Medicine and the North Fork are more remote and less crowded areas. If you want to journey into the backcountry, visit Goat Haunt.

Important Update for 2021: There are numerous construction projects in and outside of the park. The road to Many Glacier will be open, but due to a major construction project, expect delays of up to 40 minutes. The road to Many Glacier will close on 9/19/21. There is also road construction near St. Mary and along Going-to-the-Sun Road, which could cause minor delays. Visit the NPS website for full details.
 
If you will be visiting the park between May 28 and September 6, you will need a timed entry ticket to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road. Learn more here.

Best Hikes in Glacier National Park

Hiking to Grinnell Glacier in Many Glacier

Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park

The park is open all year. However, Going-to-the-Sun Road, the main thoroughfare through the park, is only open during the summer months (typically from late June/early July through mid-October).

If you want to go hiking in Glacier National Park or if you want to be able to visit the entire park, you will have to plan your visit during this narrow window of time.

July and August are the busiest months to visit Glacier National Park. Crowds begin to lessen in September. For good weather and low crowds, plan your visit between the end of September and early October.

The itineraries I list below are for the months of mid-July through mid-October, when everything is open in Glacier National Park.

Best Things to do in Glacier National Park

Here is a list of the top things to do in Glacier National Park. For more information, and many more photos, check out our post about the best things to do in Glacier National Park.

How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

1. Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is a 50-mile road that cuts through the center of Glacier National Park. If it is your first visit to Glacier NP, this should be on the top of your to-do list. If you will be visiting the park in the late spring and summer months, you will need a timed entry ticket to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road. Learn more here.

2. Visit Logan Pass. This is the highest point on Going-to-the-Sun Road. From here you can hike the Highline Trail and hike to Hidden Lake.

3. Go Hiking. This is the best way to experience Glacier National Park. With short, easy trails to all-day adventures, there is something here for everyone. Full the full list, check out our Glacier National Park Hiking Guide.

Hiking in Glacier National Park

Highline Trail

 

Hidden Lake Overlook

Hidden Lake Overlook

4. Visit Many Glacier. This is a gorgeous area of the park. Numerous trails start here and this is one of the best places to see wildlife in Glacier National Park.

5. Visit Two Medicine. Two Medicine is less crowded than Many Glacier and Going-to-the-Sun Road. It’s also filled with wonderful day hikes.

6. Visit Lake McDonald Valley. Lake McDonald is the largest lake in the park. Visit the historic lodge, take a boat tour of the lake, or go hiking.

7. Take a Red Bus Tour. Ride a vintage 1930’s bus for a tour of the park. Take a scenic ride along Going-to-the-Sun Road, visit Many Glacier, or Two Medicine. Tours can last up to 9.5 hours, depending on which one you choose, and prices go up to roughly $50 per person.

8. See Wild Goose Island. Wild Goose Island is a tiny island located on Saint Mary Lake and it is one of Glacier’s most photographed spots (it was used in the opening scenes of the movie The Shining). Wild Goose Island is the cover photo for this post.

9. Take a Boat Tour on One of the Lakes. In Many Glacier, you can sit back and take a boat tour of Swiftcurrent or Josephine Lakes. You can also rent kayaks at the Many Glacier Hotel and kayak on Swiftcurrent Lake. Lake McDonald, Two Medicine Lake, and Saint Mary Lake are also popular places to go on a guided boat tour or to rent kayaks.

10. Visit Waterton Lakes National Park. Waterton Lakes is located in Canada and it feels like a quieter, mellower version of Glacier National Park. You can visit it on a day trip from Glacier National Park or spend a night or two here. For more information, visit our Guide to Waterton Lakes National Park.

Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park

How to Get Around Glacier National Park

The best way to get around the park is by car. This allows you to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road at your own pace, stopping for photos along the way.

If you will be visiting the park between May 28 and September 6, 2021, you will need a timed entry ticket to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road. Learn more here.

There are parking areas at many of the trailheads and in the visitor center and lodges.

During the summer months, these parking lots fill up early. To make sure you get a spot, it’s best to start your day early. During our visit to Glacier National Park in August, the Logan Pass parking lot was full by 8 am.

There is a free shuttle service that runs along Going-to-the-Sun Road, between Apgar (in West Glacier) and St. Mary (in East Glacier). This is a great way to get around during the busy summer months because you can avoid the hassle of parking. In 2021, you will need to reserve a time slot to use the shuttle.

Click here to learn more about the shuttle service. 

Logan Pass from Highline Trail

View of Logan Pass and Going-to-the-Sun Road from the Highline Trail

How Many Days Do You Need in Glacier National Park?

Ideally, plan on spending at least two to three days in Glacier National Park. This gives you enough time to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road, hike one or two trails, and visit the Many Glacier or Two Medicine areas.

If you have just one day, and it is your first visit to Glacier National Park, drive Going-to-the-Sun Road, visit Logan Pass, and hike one or two short hikes (Hidden Lake and Avalanche Lake are great options).

With two days in Glacier National Park, either add on a big day hike (the Highline Trail is amazing and starts at Logan Pass) or day trip to Many Glacier. In Many Glacier, you can either hike one of the spectacular trails (most hikes in Many Glacier average 10 miles round-trip) or go for a boat ride on Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes, if hiking is not your thing.

Beyond this quick two-day itinerary, every day you add to Glacier National Park gives you more time for hiking, to explore more regions of the park, or day trip to Waterton Lakes National Park.

Trail of the Cedars

Trail of the Cedars

Glacier National Park Itinerary

Here are sample Glacier National Park itineraries, starting with a one-day itinerary.

One Day Glacier National Park Itinerary

With one day in Glacier National Park, you will spend your time on Going-to-the-Sun Road. I recommend staying in West Glacier. West Glacier has several restaurants and hotels to choose from and it is just a short drive into the park. We stayed at Great Northern Resort and had a great experience.

You can also stay in St. Mary, which is on the east side of Glacier National Park. If you stay here, do this itinerary in the reverse order.

6:30 to 7 am: Drive to Logan Pass. I know this is very early, but if you only have one day in Glacier National Park, getting an early start gives you plenty of time to visit all of the sights along Going-to-the-Sun Road. Also, parking at Logan Pass can be a nightmare in July and August.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: If you want a parking space at Logan Pass Visitor Center, you need to get here no later than 8 am (but even earlier is better). In August, at 7:45 am, we got one of the last parking spaces at the Logan Pass Visitor Center.
 
In 2021, I have heard reports that the parking lots are filling as early as 6 am. Visitors without timed entry reservations are entering the park before 6 am, which is before the first timed entry time slot. Because of this, parking lots are filling much earlier than “typical” years. So, even if you have an early timed entry slot, you might want to enter the park early to make sure you get a parking spot.

It takes just over an hour to drive to Logan Pass from West Glacier. Enjoy the views along the drive, and it will be tempting to stop for photos, I know. But I recommend driving directly to Logan Pass to ensure that you get a parking space. You will repeat this drive later in the day and have plenty of time for photos.

8 am: Logan Pass. Enjoy the views and hike to Hidden Lake Overlook (2.8 miles, 1.5 hours). If you only have energy for one hike today, this is the one I recommend. It’s a beautiful walk and not only do you get to see a beautiful lake but there is also a very good chance that you will see mountain goats along the way.

10 am: Drive to St. Mary. Continue the scenic drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road until you get to St. Mary. Along the way, enjoy the view of Wild Goose Island and you have the option to hike to St. Mary falls.

St Mary Falls

St. Mary Falls

11:30 am: Lunch. In St. Mary, have lunch at one of the restaurants or have a picnic lunch, if you packed one.

12:30 pm: Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road. Drive towards West Glacier on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Now you have plenty of time to stop at the overlooks, enjoy the spectacular views, and take hundreds of photos. It takes 2 hours to drive the entire length of Going-to-the Sun Road (St. Mary to West Glacier), longer with stops for photos.

4:00 pm: Hike to Avalanche Lake via Trail of the Cedars. This hike is 4.6 miles round trip and takes 2 to 3 hours. It ends at a very pretty lake. If you are not up for a hike this long, you can simply walk the flat, easy, 0.7-mile Trail of the Cedars.

6:00 to 7:00 pm: At Lake McDonald, have dinner and enjoy sunset views over the lake.

Two Day Glacier National Park Itinerary

With two days, you can split your time between East and West Glacier, basically splitting the above itinerary into two days, so you travel at a more leisurely pace. On day 1, hike Avalanche Lake and go for a boat ride on Lake McDonald. On day 2, explore the east side of the park and visit Logan Pass, hike to Hidden Lake, see Wild Goose Island, and hike to St. Mary Falls.

Another option is to do our one day itinerary on day 1 and take your pick between these options for day 2:

Hike the Highline Trail. This is a spectacular hike that starts at Logan Pass. It is a point-to-point trail and you will hike high above Going-to-the-Sun Road for some of the best views in the park. Get the full details here.

Day Trip to Many Glacier. Spend the day in Many Glacier. Many Glacier sits to the north of Going-to-the-Sun Road and you can only enter Many Glacier from the east side of the park. If you do this, it is best to stay in St. Mary or Many Glacier. If you stay in West Glacier, you will spend about 4 hours driving back and forth along Going-to-the-Sun Road. While in Many Glacier, go hiking or take a boat tour of Swiftcurrent Lake and/or Josephine Lake.

Mountain Goat

Three Day Glacier National Park Itinerary

Day 1: Follow our one day in Glacier National Park itinerary (above). Stay in West Glacier or St. Mary.

Day 2: Hike the Highline Trail. Stay in St. Mary or Many Glacier. If you do not want to hike the Highline Trail, split your time between East and West Glacier on the first two days of this itinerary.

Day 3: Day trip to Many Glacier. Hike one of the trails or take a boat tour of the lakes.

Glacier National Park Hike

Hiking to Avalanche Lake

Four Day Glacier National Park Itinerary

Day 1: Follow our one day in Glacier National Park itinerary (above). Stay in West Glacier or St. Mary.

Day 2: Hike the Highline Trail. Stay in St. Mary or Many Glacier. If you do not want to hike the Highline Trail, split your time between East and West Glacier on the first two days of this itinerary.

Day 3: Many Glacier. Hike one of the trails or take a boat tour of the lakes. Sleep in Many Glacier.

Day 4: Many Glacier. Hike one of the trails or take a boat tour of the lakes. This is a gorgeous area of the park and it’s well worth your time to spend several days here, especially if you like to go hiking. There are several spectacular full day hikes to choose from in this area of the park so if you are big into hiking, you could easily spend four to five days in Many Glacier. Sleep in Many Glacier.

Grinnell Glacier

Grinnell Glacier

Five Day Glacier National Park Itinerary

Follow days one through four of the four-day itinerary.

On day five, either day trip to Waterton Lakes National Park or to Two Medicine. In Two Medicine, I recommend hiking Pitamakan Pass and Dawson Pass, if you like the idea of another big day hike. In Waterton Lakes, I recommend cycling Red Rock Parkway, having tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel, and taking a boat cruise on Waterton Lake. Sleep in St. Mary, Many Glacier, or Waterton.

Where to Stay

Many Glacier

Many Glacier Hotel. This is a grand, historic hotel. It looks amazing on the outside and has an enormous, rustic lobby with stunning views of Swiftcurrent Lake. Kara and I stayed in a standard room. It was a very basic room with a double bed and private bathroom. There is no air conditioning, but it is cool at night so that was not an issue. However, it’s an old hotel. The floors creak and the walls are thin, so if you are a light sleeper, bring ear plugs.

Many Glacier National Park Itinerary

Many Glacier Hotel

Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. I liked it here. Again, it’s very basic, with no Wi-Fi, cellular service or air conditioning. But we stayed in a building tucked away in the trees and it was very nice. Our room was enormous, the beds were comfy, and it felt more peaceful than staying at the Many Glacier Hotel.

West Glacier

Great Northern Resort. This place is wonderful. It is located in West Glacier, so it is a great place to stay to be near Lake McDonald and Avalanche Lake. We had an enormous room with two beds, air conditioning, and great Wi-Fi. I would stay here again.

St. Mary

Babb Cabin. This two-bedroom cabin can accommodate up to six people. It comes with a kitchen, living room, and a washing machine.

Whitefish

Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge. Whitefish is located west of Glacier National Park. If you have a flight home the next day, this is a great place to stay, since you will be near the airport. Unless you are having a hard time finding accommodations inside the park, I wouldn’t recommend staying in Whitefish. It’s a 40-minute drive just to get to the west entrance and can take an hour and a half or longer to get to Logan Pass. However, after your visit, Whitefish is a great place to stay. There’s a lot to do here, with outdoor activities and family-friendly experiences.

How many days do you need in Glacier National Park

Hiking to Grinnell Glacier in Many Glacier

Practical Information

Park Entrance Fee: $35, valid for 7 days

Visit the National Park Service website for more information on hikes in Glacier, as well as to check trail status and get important updates. Some trails can close due to Grizzly Bear activity and this is most common in the Many Glacier area.

Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

More Information about Glacier National Park

Glacier Travel Guide


If you have any questions about this Glacier National Park itinerary or how many days you should spend in Glacier, let us know in the comment section below.

More National Parks to Visit:

 

Glacier National Park Travel Guide

Glacier National Park Itinerary Travel Guide

 

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Comments 19

  1. Thank you so much for this wonderfully informative website.
    I am a healthy and relatively fit 71 year old, how difficult (or easy) do you think the Highline trail would be for me. Also I would be traveling alone. Are there any additional considerations of which I need to be aware?

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      Author

      If you do the full hike, point-to-point, it is just under 12 miles. It’s not all that strenuous, since it is mostly downhill, but there is some climbing at the beginning of the hike. It’s really not so much about age as it is being fit. If you are in good shape and think that you will have no problems walking 12 miles, you should be just fine on this hike. Bring bear spray and be prepared to talk to yourself a lot, since there are bear on the trail. And check the NPS website before you go, because sometimes the Highline Trail will close due to bear activity. Cheers, Julie

  2. Thanks for all the efforts you have put into this page that helped a lot to arrange my 6-7 days of visit at Glacier National Park in-advance for my FY2022 visit. This is totally incredible with a lot of useful information you have shared. Need your advice to avoid crowd, does September 1st week is a good time to visit GNP and do all activities such as hiking, scenic drive, etc.? Can you please share must-to-see list (photographic places, lakes, hiking trail less than 3 miles) that we can cover during 6 days of visit at GNP.

    Thanks in advances !

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      Author

      By September, the crowds begin to lessen. And the weather is still warm so it is a nice time to go. 6 days sounds awesome! As far as things to do, take a look at our Things to Do in Glacier post and Best Hikes in Glacier for more info. Early 2022, keep checking the NPS website for updates on tickets for GTTSR run and shuttle reservations. You have a huge advantage since you are planning your trip so far in advance. Cheers, Julie

  3. Hi there, I’m planning on doing a 2 day trip to Glacier NP. Because of the vehicle size restrictions, we can’t take our van on Going-to-the-sun-road, so will have to rent a car for at least the first day. Do you think it’s possible to get a full second day in while avoiding GTTS road, or is it too much of a central road of the park to make that possible? We’d be staying/coming in from the west entrance. Thanks!

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      It takes an hour and 45 minutes to drive from West Glacier to St Mary via Highway 2. Google Maps says it takes the same amount of time to drive between these 2 spots on Going to the Sun Road. However, if you went via Highway 2, it would take an additional 30 minutes to drive into the park to see Logan Pass.

      Here is what I recommend. If you can, pick up your rental car the night before. If you pick it up the morning you plan to use it, you will get too late of a start to have a good experience in the park. With your one full day, start at sunrise and visit everything between West Glacier and Logan Pass, and also see if you can get out to Wild Goose Island and St. Mary Falls, if these two places interest you. The trick will be your scheduled time to return the rental car. You might only make it to Logan Pass and have to head back to the rental car facility. On day 2, drive Highway 2 to the sights on the east side of the park and see these.

      Having the rental car for 2 days gives you a lot more flexibility for your schedule, so this is ideal, but it is still possible to get by with a rental car for 1 day and a van for the second day.

      Cheers, Julie

  4. As of June 6th, “Going to the Sun Road” is not open all the way. You can go as far as just beyond Lake McDonald Lodge on the west side. Parking is allowed in the campground (no camping) and you can walk or bike the road. Between 6am and 5pm, a $2 ticketed entry fee is required (good for 7 days) in addition to the NPS park pass. We tried for weeks to get the entry ticket without luck. But on the advice of a park ranger, we went after 5pm (along with hundreds of others) and walked a few miles on the closed road. It was beautiful! Take your bear spray. You can drive around the park on Hwy 2 to the east. Two Medicine is not as crowded and does not require the ticketed entry.

  5. Thank you for these blog posts. I worked at Many Glacier Hotel in college and have been back for employee reunions and there have been places that you mention that I 1.) didn’t know about – we worked 6 days a week so not a lot of time off! or 2.) had forgotten about – I worked there in the 1970s, so it’s been a minute.

    Anyway, you may already know about the new, upcoming timed entry plan for the Going-to-the-Sun road. Tickets come with some of the park lodging, but not Many G or Swiftcurrent. For those, application must be made online and starting date for this summer is April 29. Details below:

    Going-to-the-Sun Road Ticketed Entry – Glacier National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

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      Author

      Hello Sallie. Thanks for writing in. I think it is a great idea that they are starting to have ticketed entry to help control traffic on Going to the Sun Road. Thanks again! Cheers, Julie

  6. Your website is totally incredible. Thanks for all the efforts you have put into it. Am using many of your suggestions for our 2 month road trip to some of the parks this summer. Great “to do” lists for each park.

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      Author

      Thanks!! I love being able to do this…share our experience with others through this website. I hope you have a great trip this summer! Cheers, Julie

  7. If we are thinking about following your plan for 5 days what areas would you recommend staying in and for how many nights. If the east side doesn’t open how would you adjust?

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      Author

      If the east side does not open this itinerary gets to be very challenging. You wouldn’t be able to get to Many Glacier, unfortunately. Hopefully this year will not be a repeat of 2020. I would expect that it won’t be, but that could just be my optimistic thinking.

      If you take a look at the 4 day itinerary part of this post, I list where I recommend staying for the first 4 nights. The very first night (before you start day 1) West Glacier is the most convenient area to stay in. For the fifth night, stay in Many Glacier since it is easy to get to and from Waterton Lakes and Two Medicine from here. Or, spend the night in Waterton…this lets you take an evening boat ride on the lake without having to do a long drive back to Many Glacier afterwards.

      If the east side of the park does not open up, you will have to skip everything in Many Glacier and Two Medicine, unfortunately. If the border with Canada does not open, you will have to skip Waterton Lakes. That would leave you with the west side of the park. You really only need 2, maybe 3 days total to see the west side. Drive Going to the Sun Road on the first day, hike to Hidden Lake and Avalanche Lake. On day 2, hike the Highline Trail and take the spur trail so you can see Grinnell Glacier.

      Cheers, Julie

  8. My friend just directed me to your site and it is amazing – thank you! We are looking into a trip to Glacier National Park this summer. Do you have any information/advice about where to park/stay if we are renting an RV for our trip?
    Thanks in advance!

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      Author

      Unfortunately, I don’t know much about traveling by RV. I know that there are size restrictions for Going to the Sun Road, which you can get on the national park service website. If you RV is too large, you could park in Apgar Village and take the free shuttle. Just note that last year the shuttle was not operating due to COVID. Maybe this year will be different. If your RV is small enough to drive Going to the Sun Road, you could also park at the Logan Pass parking lot…but parking is limited so you should try to arrive by 7:30 am. You might be able to get more info on the NPS website, about parking and where to stay with an RV. Cheers, Julie

  9. Last year I was planning a trip for my family around the highlands of Scotland and used your site to plan that. Now I google our trip out west this summer and here you are again! Thanks for providing great content for family travels.

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      Author
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      Author

      We have only gone back and forth on Going-to-the-Sun Road so we have not driven highway 2 yet. There are some hiking trails that have trailheads on this road but I am not familiar with them.

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