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Easy 5 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary (w/ fantastic places to stay)

Easy 5 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary (w/ fantastic places to stay)

I’m excited to share my 5 day Glacier National Park itinerary. I’ve been to Glacier NP and Yellowstone more than any other National Parks, so have 30+ years of experience hiking and exploring this amazingly beautiful place. Having visited with kids (and as a kid) and hiked all over the park on my own, this 5 day Glacier NP plan is perfect for enjoying the best hikes, seeing the most beautiful view, and spotting the most incredible wildlife.

If you have any questions about planning a trip or want to tweak this 5 day Glacier National Park itinerary to be longer or shorter, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to help other plan awesome vacations, and a place like Glacier is ideal for falling in love with Montana and the Rocky Mountains!

This Glacier National Park itinerary is perfect for spending 5-7 days exploring Montana's best park. From hikes all around Glacier to where to stay, this itinerary is a great plan for summer.

Getting to Glacier National Park

Unless you’re flying in early from someplace like Seattle or Denver, plan to have your first day of travel just simply be getting to Glacier National Park. You can stay near the Park in one of the small towns, like Columbia Falls or Whitefish and get acclimated to being in the mountains. When you’re planning a Glacier NP trip, you’ll no doubt want to see a little of the area outside the park too, so spend a day before and after doing that.

For those flying to Glacier Country instead of driving, you’ll be coming into one of four potential airports:

  • Glacier Park International Airport – FCA – 40 minutes away
  • Missoula, Montana – MSO – 2.5 hrs away
  • Great Falls, Montana – GTF – 3.5 hrs away
  • Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport – BZN – 5 hrs away

It’s easiest to fly into Missoula (and it’s a fun city!) as they have lots of flights to most west coast cities, and then you can do a little road trip from there up to Glacier National Park. If you have a whole week, spend a day or two in Missoula and enjoy the college town vibes and really good food.

You’re smart to stay in Whitefish for a night, because it is a cool town with good food and lots of things to do. It’s a good place to prep for Glacier. Bar W Guest Ranch is wonderful for beginner to intermediate riding (they were great with our kids too). I’m sure they’ll have a ride when you’re looking for one, but if not, there are other Whitefish horseback and activity options too. Glacier Country is full of full things to do! Also, if the river is right consider rafting the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Glacier Guides Montana Raft is our top pick for getting on the water here.

Taylor Family at Missoula Airport Montana 1

Can I take the train to Glacier National Park?

Yes! We’ve taken the Amtrak Empire Builder train route to Glacier National Park in fall and it was beautiful! This route goes eastward from either Seattle, Washington or Portland, Oregon; you can also head west on the Empire Builder train route from Chicago, Illinois or Minneapolis, Minnesota. From the West Coast, the train takes a full day / overnight, and from Chicago it’s about three days. If you do this, you can rent a car in East Glacier or Whitefish, so don’t write off taking the train to Glacier National Park!

Taylor Family dining on Amtrak Empire Builder 2

5 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary

Once you get to the park you may discover that you want to make many more stops than we have outlined. The way this 5 day Glacier National Park itinerary is built, you’ll be able to add the fun stops and even some other short hikes to each day, making the plan customizable once you’re there and surrounded by the beauty of the mountains.

Day 1 – Glacier National Park West Side Hikes

We tend to start on the West side of the Park entering from West Glacier. Be sure to get your Glacier NP entrance reservation. Since you’re coming from the West Glacier side a reservation is required for accessing Going to the Sun Road, which is where you’ll find Avalanche Lake and Logan Pass. The Avalanche Lake hike is beautiful, but very popular, so be prepared for people. It’s best with good lighting in the late morning or mid-day.

Plan to have lunch at the Lake McDonald Lodge and then maybe do the boat tour from Apgar Village. You can also add other hikes in the area including, the Upper McDonald Creek Trail or part of the Flattop Mountain Trail. Return to your lodging / campground for the evening and get some good sleep to start tomorrow early.

Reflections on Avalanche Lake in the Fall Glacier National Park Montana 1

Day 2 – Hiking Logan Pass and Going to the Sun Road

I like to get up really early to be able to watch sunrise from Logan Pass or just beyond. It’s gorgeous and is one of the most iconic sights in the Rocky Mountains. Logan Pass hiking is the quintessential Glacier experience. This is where you’ll find mountain goats and bighorn sheep on the Hidden Lake Trail. You can also do some of the Highline Trail from Logan Pass, which has amazing views as you lookout over the Going to the Sun Road. Heading down the east side, you can do the easy St Mary Falls hike if you’re relocating to the East side of the park for the next few days.

We do recommend changing up your home base after day 2 of our 5 day Glacier National Park itinerary because the next few days focus on the east side of the park. Also, if you plan on adding a visit up to Waterton Lakes in Alberta, CA, you’ll want to have a shorter drive back to your bed at the end of that day.

Taylor Family at sunrise at Logan Pass Glacier National Park Montana 5

Day 3 – Exploring Many Glacier

Many Glacier has my favorite hikes and is my favorite part of the park. I think this will be YOUR favorite part of our 5 day Glacier National Park itinerary. Many Glacier is where you’ll find the Cracker Lake trail (awesome), as well as Grinnell (super popular and busy), Bullhead Lake (always moose or bear) and Ptarmigan Tunnel / Iceberg Lake. If you can have two days of hiking here, that’s my top suggestion to editing this travel plan. Like I said, it’s my favorite part of the park.

Many Glacier also has a boat tour that goes on both Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes, it’s got the Many Glacier Hotel (beautiful) and Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, which both have dining rooms, and there are kayak rentals as well. The Many Glacier campground is my favorite camping spot in Glacier NP too, so if you’re lucky enough to camp here, you’ll be set!

Many Glacier Hotel and Swiftcurrent Lake Glacier National Park Montana 12

Day 4 – Hiking and Wildlife at Two Medicine in Glacier National Park

Two Medicine has some beautiful hikes and it’s less crowded than the other areas of the park. Running Eagle Falls is a short walk and it’s beautiful, then Aster Falls takes you through MOOSE COUNTRY. There are also Upper Two Medicine Lake and Oldman Lake, which are rarely busy and are beautiful.

Fun fact: when President Roosevelt was doing his famous Fireside Chats during the Great Depression, his first one was done at the Two Medicine Lodge (now General Store).

It may seem like an unusual thing to plan, but if you want to have an on-the-water experience at Two Medicine, there are actually options for renting kayaks at Two Medicine Lake, which beautiful. Kayaking in Glacier National Park is very special, and the view from Two Medicine Lake is one of my favorites. This is a great place to potentially observe wildlife from the water too! Kayak rental option here!

Kayak Rentals at Two Medicine Lake Glacier National Park Montana

Day 5 – Relaxing in Glacier NP, Final Hikes and Sights

After several days exploring Glacier National Park and doing lots of beautiful hikes, you may want to chill time. I know when we visit with our kids we have to have a recovery day after two or three days of hikes. St Mary has some nice walks to the lake and the old fire lookout, and then you can hit more stops along Going to the Sun Road heading west (no reservation required).

I also like the Polebridge / Bowman Lake area (North Fork area) for zero people and beautiful views. It’s a ways out there though, so if you haven’t spent as much time in the main areas as you want, just fill the day with nice stops and short hikes. And as I’ve mentioned, you can also do boat tours on St Mary, Two Medicine, Swiftcurrent and McDonald lakes.

Taylor family at Bowman Lake Polebridge Glacier National Park 3

Bonus: Day Trip to Waterton Lakes NP in Canada

First off, if you don’t have a passport with you or Nexus Card, you can’t go from Montana to Alberta, Canada. You do have to do a customs border crossing both into Canada and back into the USA. If you do want to though, Waterton Lakes National Park is awesome! It’s small but beautiful. I love Waterton for the views, the BEAR POPULATION, waterfalls, and of course, the gorgeous Prince of Whales Hotels. A day trip is perfect to experience this cool park.

Tip: if you want to add even more onto your Glacier National Park itinerary, you might as well continue northward past Waterton Lakes NP and onto Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay and Canada’s Glacier National Parks in Alberta and British Columbia. The Canadian Rockies road trip is one of our favorites!

Waterton Lakes National Park Alberta Canada

Where to Stay with this Glacier National Park Itinerary

When it comes to where to stay, there are a few options. The Belton Chalet is my favorite of the old Great Northern Railway hotels, and it’s just outside the West Glacier entrance. West Glacier Village is also right there, and is fine, being the most convenient of all lodging outside of the park (in summer). I also really liked staying with Glacier Guides Montana Raft at their little lodge, and they’re the coolest people.

If you are able to get a place in the Park, the Lake McDonald Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel are the two coolest spots with the most vintage National Park vibes. The Apgar Village Inn is fine, but not astounding, and the same with the cabins at the Rising Sun Motor Inn. I like the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn (Many Glacier) because it’s in the best location for multiple days of hiking, but it’s usually booked up by early spring for the season.

Taylor Family at Belton Chalet Railway Hotel West Glacier National Park Montana 3

Booking links for hotels:

I hope this is helpful. Here are links for more articles from us, as we love spending time in here. I know that our Glacier National Park itinerary will get you the best, most comprehensive visit to the park, but it’s your trip! Feel free to update the plan as you need for your amount of time and interests.

Taylor Family hiking at Two Medicine Lake Glacier National Park 11

FAQ for our Glacier National Park Itinerary

For the people out there that don’t spend a lot of time out in nature or visiting National Parks, here’s some helpful information to help you get ready to enjoy our 5 day Glacier National Park itinerary.

When is the best time to visit Glacier National Park?

The best time to visit Glacier National Park is typically from late June to early September when the park’s facilities are fully open, and the weather is best for outdoor activities. Going to the Sun Road usually opens fully in the 3rd week of June, but if you visit and it’s not fully open, you can still access both sides of the park, just not Logan Pass.

Are there entrance fees to enter Glacier National Park?

Yes, there are entrance fees for Glacier National Park. The fees are $35 per vehicle for a seven-day pass, or you can pay as a pedestrian/biker if you’re entering without a car. However, there are also annual passes and other options available, including the Interagency Pass (that’s what we have) which grants access to National Parks and Wildlife Refuges.

What are the 5 best hikes in Glacier National Park?

Others might have different recommendations, but the most popular hikes in Glacier National Park include the Highline Trail (Logan Pass), Grinnell Glacier Trail (Many Glacier), Iceberg Lake Trail (Many Glacier), Hidden Lake Trail (Logan Pass), and the Trail of the Cedars/Avalanche Lake (Lake McDonald). These trails have beautiful scenery and a range of difficulty levels, with the Grinnell Glacier Trail being the most challenging.

Are there bears in Glacier National Park, and how can I stay safe?

Yes, Glacier National Park is home to both black bears and grizzly bears. Visitors may want to carry bear spray, always make a little noise while hiking, and properly store food when picnicking or camping to reduce the risk of bear encounters. It’s also essential to follow park guidelines for bear safety. Check out our Wildlife Safety in National Parks article for more tips.

Can I camp in Glacier National Park?

Oh yes! There are several wonderful campgrounds in Glacier National Park, including car-camping and backcountry options. Some campgrounds require reservations, while others operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Wilderness camping permits are required for backcountry camping. Fish Creek and Many Glacier are our two favorite campgrounds to stay at.

Are there shuttle services available in Glacier National Park?

Yes, Glacier National Park operates a shuttle service called the Glacier National Park Shuttle System. It runs along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and makes stops at popular trailheads and attractions during peak summer season, usually ending service after Labor Day weekend. Double check with the park before making plans to rely on the shuttle system.

What wildlife can I see in Glacier National Park?

Glacier National Park is home to so much wildlife! We are never skunked for animals when we visit and usually see more wildlife on the east side of the park. Our favorites include bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and moose. You should always observe wildlife from a safe distance and never approach or feed them. Listen to our podcast episode all about our crazy moose encounter on our day with 13 moose!

Are there many food options inside Glacier National Park?

Yes, there are dining options available within Glacier National Park, including restaurants, cafes, and snack bars located at each of the National Park lodges and visitor centers. It’s a good idea to check ahead for operating hours and availability, and keep in mind that many options shut down immediately following Labor Day weekend. My favorite dining in Glacier National Park is the Ptarmigan Dining Room at the Many Glacier Hotel.

Can I fish in Glacier National Park?

Yes, fishing is permitted in Glacier National Park, subject to certain regulations and licensing requirements. You can fish in the park’s lakes, rivers, and streams, but they must adhere to catch limits and other guidelines. Be aware of specific fishing tackle and seasonal requirements (and the rules here vary to fishing rules in Yellowstone NP).

What are some alternative activities to hiking in Glacier National Park?

If you’re not up for or able to go hiking, visitors to Glacier National Park can enjoy scenic drives along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and up to Bowman Lake, wildlife viewing, Glacier National Park boat tours on the park’s lakes, photography, ranger-led programs, and guided horseback riding (limited). There’s something for everyone to enjoy from late spring to early fall.

Are you ready to visit Montana and have a great time? Please feel free to use and change up our Glacier National Park itinerary to make it just right for your own travel.

This Glacier National Park itinerary is perfect for spending 5-7 days exploring Montana's best park. From hikes all around Glacier to where to stay, this itinerary is a great plan for summer.