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Easy Things To Do Around West Glacier, Montana

Easy Things To Do Around West Glacier, Montana

Visiting Glacier National Park means hiking and wildlife, but it also means crowds in the peak of summer. Here are a bunch of easy things to do near Glacier National Park, some that go into the park and some that are in the general vicinity, that are fun and beautiful. Also, these Glacier country activities are good in spring, summer or fall!

Montana is one of the largest states in the USA and it’s crazy diverse. It’s Big Sky Country, for sure, but it’s also big mountain country and ridiculously still lake country and ride-a-horse-through-the-woods country. Basically, Montana is everything you could hope for except the beach. Flathead and Glacier Counties of Montana have all of this and more, and they encompass the entire area around Glacier National Park, so you know you’re set to experience so much.

Updated October 2023

The best things to do near Glacier National Park include easy hikes, cool breweries and beautiful views in the National Forest. Top picks for activities near Glacier NP in any season.

We’ve always felt like Glacier National Park is a bit overlooked within the National Park Service. Not that it doesn’t get tons of visitors already, but just that Yellowstone and Yosemite really get the spotlight.  Glacier NPS and the surrounding area are really beautiful and incredible, particularly when visiting with kids.  When was the last time you immersed yourself or your family in… beauty and relaxation? Okay, the Glacier National Park area is for you.  Go now.

Where is Glacier National Park?

If you’re a west coaster, it’s pretty easy to get to the area around Glacier National Park.  There are daily flights into Kalispell or Missoula, Montana.  You can take Amtrak from Seattle or Portland via its Empire Builder line (train travel with kids is fun) into either Whitefish or West Glacier, or from the east take the same route on the reverse trip from Chicago or the Twin Cities. Easy-peasy.  

And then there is the epic road trip, which you know we love.  Depending on what you want to see or do along the way, you can either bust it out in a really long day’s drive from Seattle on I-90 or you can take Highway 2 from the Puget Sound area and make stops in Leavenworth, Grand Coulee Dam, Lake Pend Oreille and Kalispell.  Seriously, you can make the most awesome road trip by driving to the Glacier National Park area.

Check out our Western Montana Road Trip Itinerary!

Fall is the perfect time to explore around Glacier National Park as the colors change and the first snow falls. Rafting, breweries and scenic drives are just some of the ways to enjoy Montana in autumn.

Where to Stay at Glacier National Park

Vacation rentals by Glacier National Park are few and far between. They exist, but you need to get closer to Columbia Falls, MT or Kalispell for the best choices. Glacier Country hasn’t been swept up by the vacation rental market the way Florida beaches or the towns around Olympic National Park have been.

If you want to stay on the east side of Glacier National Park, there are a few fun lodges and teepee campgrounds, but again, not a ton of vacation rentals. You’ll find small, rustic cabins and rentals in Babb or near East Glacier, but they are few and far between. (zoom out on the map below to see options)

Glacier Guides Lodge in West Glacier, MT

Having been to Glacier National Park several times, we’ve done the mix of accommodations, from camping to cabins to houses. Our two favorites have been staying at the Glacier Guides Lodge and the the Belton Chalet. When we arrived in West Glacier, via the Amtrak Empire Builder we stepped off the train, we looked up and saw the sign for Glacier Guides Lodge right there. Perfect! Just to the left is the Belton Chalet.

We checked in and got the lowdown on our home away from home for the week at Glacier Guides Guest House.  It was exactly what we needed both for a home base and for having space for the kids to unwind (and us dads to get some work done too).  A full kitchen, several bedrooms, three bathrooms, a rec room, a yard… the Glacier Guides Guest House couldn’t have suited us better.

Tip:  Glacier Guides also has a lodge if you’re not a family of four (or if you are).  It’s even more centrally located in the tiny town of West Glacier than the Guest House is.

Book the Glacier Guides Guest House here! (sleeps up to 10) – or lodge here

Taylor Family at Glacier Guides Guest House West Glacier 4

Staying at the Belton Chalet Vintage Railroad Hotel

I’m always a sucker for a vintage hotel, especially a National Park lodge. Built in 1910, the Belton Chalet has kept its historic flare and is really perfect for adding some character to your Glacier NP visit. If you’re visiting with kids, you’ll find that the historic nature of the Belton isn’t great for having a spacious family room, so you’ll need to book two rooms or one of the cottages. The Belton Chalet is wonderful for a couples or solo trip.

Besides the awesome location right by the train station (remember that it’s a vintage railway hotel), something I love about the Belton Chalet is the restaurant. It has a great, local menu and there’s even a Tap Room connected if you’re not in the mood for the dining room and just want to sit at the bar.

Book the Belton Chalet hotel here!

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

Where to stay IN Glacier National Park

There are actually several National Park lodges within Glacier National Park. If you are only planning on hiking and relaxing within the boundaries of the park, these may be good places to stay, but the NPS lodges in Glacier are expensive and book FAR into the future.

At Apgar Village on Lake McDonald, just inside the West Glacier entrance, you’ll find the Village Inn. A sixties style lodge (looks like a motel), it’s got shops and restaurants directly adjacent, making for an easy place to stay in Glacier National Park.

The Lake McDonald Lodge is beautiful and very near the Avalanche Lake hiking trail and near the seasonal gate for the Going to the Sun Road. It’s one of our favorite National Park Lodges to visit and just sit in.

The Many Glacier Hotel and Swiftcurrent Motor Inn are within the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park on the east side. We love this area for its amazing views, ample wildlife and the full run of hikes, both easy with kids and genuinely challenging. When it comes to convenience, West Glacier wins, but this northeastern section of the park is really wonderful to visit too.

Many Glacier Hotel and Swiftcurrent Lake Glacier National Park 3

Camping in Glacier National Park needs to be reserved far in advance as it’s very rare to actually score a same day walk up campsite. Fish Creek is our least favorite campground, but the nearby Avalanche campground is awesome!

On the east side of the park, the St Mary and Many Glacier campgrounds are both great, with good sized sites and awesome things to do just beyond the campground.

Rob Taylor and Dudes at Bullhead Lake Glacier National Park 1

Easy Things to do in on the West Side of Glacier National Park

Just like any prime destination, Glacier National Park has its surroundings to add to the experience or to be the supporting players for visitors to the Park.  We took full advantage of the outlying towns to ensure a great week in West Glacier and found some great ways to enjoy the area around Glacier National Park.

Explore Lake McDonald and Apgar Village in Glacier NP

Yes, this is totally within Glacier National Park, but if you’re in the area, it’s a good stop if it wasn’t really in your plans.  In keeping with the autumn ghost-townish feel, Apgar Village, set on the banks of Lake McDonald, is a great spot to wander… in the summer.

In fall everything closes late September, but it is still picturesque.  There’s also a wonderful Visitors Center in the Apgar area, so if you need to get the lowdown on what’s happening in the Park or Lake McDonald area, stop in to chat with the rangers.

Note:  this is also where you can get your Glacier National Park passport stamp and complete your Junior Ranger program. We also found out all about road conditions around the park.  The rangers were awesome and helped up reshape a bit of our itinerary to access the open areas.

Morning reflection on Lake McDonald Glacier National Park 11

Remote Glacier NP – the Polebridge Area

One of the less visited areas and really one of the best places to kayak in Glacier National Park, we love spending time in the Polebridge area. Driving through Glacier National Park and then the Flathead National Forest and then back into the Park, Polebridge is a ways out there. You’ll pass many meadows, willow groves, the North Fork of the Flathead River and more. It is breathtaking and in autumn, the fall colors are beautiful.

Stop into the tiny settlement of Polebridge to get some cookies and bread aat the Polebridge Mercantile. If you’re visiting in summer, there’s a really cool old west saloon to hang out at too. From there continue onto Bowman Lake.  Even though Bowman Lake is only 6 miles in on the dirt road, it has some epic views and tends to have even more epic potholes.

Once there though the sight of the perfectly still Bowman Lake is incredible.  This is one of those spots that we hesitate to share because it’s immaculate and untouched and we don’t want to contribute to tourists flooding in, but since it is so remote, it’s okay to share.

Taylor family at Bowman Lake Polebridge Glacier National Park 3

Drive the Going to the Sun Road – may be closed Sep – June

An epic road if ever there were one, the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful drives in the USA. I does close when the snows start to accumulate, but if you are able to visit at the start of fall, you may get to experience some of the best sights on Going to the Sun Road. It’s amazing!


Rafting or Floating the Flathead River with Glacier Guides Montana Raft

How could we possible drive along and admire the Flathead River, both the north and middle forks, without getting onto the river itself?  We were sure to carve out a day for it and an afternoon on the Middle Fork Flathead River with Glacier Guides was perfect.  We did a float trip vs rafting since the river was low (fall is at the end of dry dry weather). We weren’t totally sure what to expect since it was similar to kayaking, which we do a lot, but also totally different.  Having rafted the Flathead, I know that there are rapids… but not in fall!

The kids both loved being on the river in a raft. They had endless questions for our awesome guide, KT, and the fall colors were beautiful. The geology of the route we went was also really cool, winding through some braided areas, a rugged canyon and eventually the confluence of the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River.  We’ll share more, but know that getting onto the river in the fall is an absolute MUST, with or without kids.

Tip: if you want an exciting rafting trip with Glacier Guides, visit the Glacier National Park area in June or July when there is a lot of snow melt and the river is much higher.

And yes! Rafting the Flathead River does mean you’re in Glacier National Park, as it forms a part of the boundary of the park.

Fall Colors Flathead river float trip Glacier Guides Montana Raft Glacier National Park 3

Day Trip to Eastern Glacier National Park

There are plenty of things to do in West Glacier and on the western side of the National Park, but taking a day to drive to the eastern side is very much worth it. Even when the Going to the Sun Road is closed, you can still access the east side of the .

Scenic Drive through Flathead and Lewis & Clark National Forests

You know that we’re addicted to road trips. Take a drive through the Flathead and Lewis and Clark National Forests, as they are stunning!  A seemingly untouched paradise in the Rocky Mountains, these two conjoined National Forests cross the Continental Divide. The changing colors paired with a fresh, light dusting of snow make this mini road trip the actual most beautiful drive we’ve EVER done, and if you’re visiting West Glacier in fall, you should plan to do it.  

Fall colors and snow on Flathead River Flathead National Forest Montana 9

Highway 2 winds along the Middle Fork Flathead River creating a good deal of the border between the Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park. After the Continental Divide, the road hugs Summit Creek into the town of East Glacier. Absolutely gorgeous… and the Empire Builder train route we were on goes this way too!

We tried to stop at every picnic area and pull off available through both the Flathead and Lewis and Clark National Forest and we were so glad we did. Our two favorite stops are Cascadilla Flat River Access on the north side of Highway 2 and where Bear Creek meets the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.  You cannot imagine up a prettier spot than these two access points. 

Fall Colors reflecting on River Flathead National Forest Montana 3

Epic Views and Hiking in East Glacier

Since you’ve done the scenic route through the National Forests now you can explore some of the most colorful spots around Glacier National Park.  Being on the east side of the Rocky Mountains the trees are very different from what you’ll find in West Glacier. Primarily deciduous trees, when the color starts to turn it’s crazy!

In addition to the amazing colors you’ll see as you go through the Flathead and Lewis & Clark National Forests, the Two Medicine and St Mary areas of Glacier National Park are beyond striking. You don’t even have to go hiking to get the full wonder of the changing fall colors (or brilliant spring greens if that’s your time-frame).

Running Eagle Falls Two Medicine Glacier National Park 2

Driving into the Two Medicine entrance you can easily check out Running Eagle Falls or Two Medicine Lake with limited time and minimal effort. 

At the St Mary entrance to Glacier National Park you’ve got views around every bend, particularly showcasing the jagged mountains and wonderfully still lakes. For a simple hike, do the 1913 Ranger Station trail along the south side of St Mary Lake. It’s beautiful, is a great spot for wildlife, and the views of the lake are lovely.

Tip:  if you’re visiting the Glacier area in fall, be sure to have plenty of snacks/lunch stuff in your vehicle as most services near the Park are closed. West Glacier has more stuff open near the town and park entrance than St Mary or Many Glacier. The town of East Glacier has a few convenient stores that stay open through most of the year, but you’ll be limited until summer.

While we do love the Many Glacier area of the Park, if you’re simply doing a day trip to the east side while staying in West Glacier, you’ll find that your time is best spent at Two Medicine and St Mary. Many Glacier is AWESOME, but it’s an additional drive and you won’t be able to fit in much if you’re visiting the other areas.

Taylor Family hiking at Two Medicine Lake Glacier National Park 11

Things to Do in West Glacier and Columbia Falls

There are town things to do when you’re in West Glacier as well. Yes, the National Park is the driving force of a visit, but the town is fun too, especially if you’re tired from your drive or hiking all day.

Enjoy the Town of West Glacier, Montana

West Glacier, Montana is where you disembark your train to Glacier NP, or it’s also most peoples’ road trip destination.  In the summer it’s a bustling hub of tourists, hikers, rafters and locals. Fall travel to Glacier National Park sees the town as a silent snapshot of 1950s road trip tourism. Vintage storefronts all shut down from early fall until spring.

In addition to all the huckleberry products you’ll need to eat, there are fun activities in town. One of our favorite things to do in West Glacier (after a day of hiking) is mini golf at Golfing To The Sun. It’s walking distance from everything else in the West Glacier area.

PS: the Glacier National Park entrance sign is just past the town area, so be sure to stop and get your picture!

Taylor Family at Glacier National Park sign 3

Visit the Crown of the Continent Discovery Center

One of the few places to stay open as fall sets in, the Crown of the Continent Discovery Center is a great thing to do with kids. We’ve visited in the summer when they’re serving huckleberry ice cream and sandwiches in their cafe, but also in fall when it was only the educational areas we got to do (which is always cool with us). You get to learn about the formation of the Rocky Mountains, the watershed of the Glacier National Park area, and even snap a selfie with a mountain goat.  We always love our educational stops so the Crown of the Continent Discovery Center is a good one to prime up the trip.

Taylor Family at Crown of the Continent Discovery Center West Glacier Montana 2

Visit Glacier Distilling Company

We visit all kinds of places when we travel, including breweries and distilleries.  Glacier Distilling Co is located just outside of town (technically in Coram, MT) and it is a great addition to things to do in West Glacier.  We always look for family friendly wine tasting and such, so Glacier Distilling is a nice stop.

The kids loved watching the guys working with barrels, bubbling brew and pressure washing who knows what. For the kids they had mocktails and bottomless pretzels to round out their experience. For the adults there are whiskey and spirit flights, and they are delicious. It is great to try a variety of high quality spirits that are also truly unusual.  Boutique distilleries may be our new fav thing.  We left with a bottle of Bad Rock Rye and Huckleberry Gin.

Check Out Hungry Horse – the Town and Dam

Growing up and driving through Hungry Horse, I’ve always known this as the spot to stop and get all things huckleberry at any number of berry themed shops.  It still is that, but there are also some cool/beautiful sights to see in the area. The Hungry Horse Dam and Lion Lake are just outside of town and offer a nifty side-trip either on a drive through town or as an afternoon activity..  Both were beautiful with the moodiest weather.  We had snow, rain, fog, sun…  Lion Lake was perfectly still with lots of picnic spots around it.  We were hoping to spot some wildlife but didn’t.  Pretty Anyways.

The Hungry Horse Dam is also quite the structure.  If you haven’t been to any dams it’s a good one to be able to see just how grand of an operation it is, but then also to put into perspective how it impacts and changes the land.  Behind the Hungry Horse Dam is a large reservoir that filled an enormous, winding valley.  Imagine that valley without the Hungry Horse Dam…

Tip:  if you in Washington State and find yourself on the Olympic Peninsula, check out the Elwha area of Olympic National Park. It’s the largest successful dam removal project in the USA and it’s really a sight to behold, particularly its recovery.

Craft Beer at Backslope Brewing and Columbia Falls, Montana

The town of Columbia Falls is small but cute. And FYI: Columbia Falls is apparently the land of playgrounds, and if you drive through with kids, be prepared to stop at one of them. You’ll also find some beautiful Montana murals in town.

In Columbia Falls, be sure to stop into Backslope Brewing on Highway 2. From the get-go we were totally happy at Backslope Brewing since they had a kids play area with some pretty awesome magnetic building toys. The beers were great too.  What really made this brewery stand out against the many we’ve visited this summer was that they offered their own interesting menu options. For kids it wasn’t just mac and cheese, but healthy bowls with chicken and veggies. It is a refreshing, hearty stop after a day up in the mountains.

Tip:  with the way that brewing culture has taken off all around the USA, you’re almost always guaranteed great local options when you see a brewery you don’t recognize. Venture into the random ones that aren’t huge tourist draws and you’ll most likely have a great brewsperience.

If you’re in Columbia Falls in the summer, there is more to do than grocery shopping and breweries, including horses, rafting and even a waterpark.  Who knew you could have so many types of fun just outside a national park?

Taylor Family at Backslope Brewing Columbia Falls Montana 2

Whitefish Area Things to Do

One more great town to visit near West Glacier is Whitefish, Montana. There are lots of things to do here and it could be you sole purpose of a visit to Glacier Country, but if you want to add a day trip or set aside time before or after your Glacier National Park time, you’ll love Whitefish!

Go Horseback Riding at Bar W Guest Ranch

Get started at the Bar W Guest Ranch outside of town. The Bar W was the first time either of our kids got to ride horses. Now we’ve ridden so much that the kids are pros, but their love of horses started here.

While the boys did their thing, a simple cow poke ride, us parents got to go on a ride up the mountain. This is actually a great way to help a family mellow out during a longer trip. Since we are experienced horsemen a challenging ride is always nice, and it was also good to get a break from all four of us being together all of the time. Not that we don’t love it, but being on horseback without having to worry about how the kids are doing is amazing.

Taylor Family at Bar W Guest Ranch Whitefish Glacier County 12

When we got back down to the ranch the kids ran out to greet us and we’re so excited tell us about their horse ride. They had also been doing arts and crafts with some of the ranch hands while we were still up on the mountain.

Tip:  If your kids haven’t been on horses before, a cow-poke experience like our little guys did, may be ideal. It’s very mellow and doesn’t go through any complex trails. Also the kids are led closely and are wearing appropriate helmets just in case. Check out our horseback experiences in Big Sky, Montana too!

Taylor Family horseback riding at Bar W Guest Ranch Whitefish Glacier County 15

Hang Out in Downtown Whitefish with kids

If the cool old west style downtown of Whitefish, Montana didn’t sell us on this cool city, the parks definitely did. Visit Baker Park, Riverside Park, River Trail Park, and Depot Park (because kids love to run free) all in an afternoon. One of our strongest travel tips for any family is to make time to let kids run free. It really does save everybody especially during a longer trip.

Beyond the parks though, downtown Whitefish is kind of awesome when you get hungry. It’s not short on breweries or restaurants that want to make food interesting. There’s even a bar, the Great Northern Bar and Grill, that has an area where you can bring kids. Seriously, the restaurants of Whitefish are more awesome and hip than we expected.

And we’re not big shoppers, but the downtown core is loaded with cute places to get anything from Montana-appropriate clothing to huckleberry goods and knickknacks. There is a cool DIY art shop on Central Ave, Stumptown Art Studio, that created some really incredible public art mosaics that hang on 2nd (a thoroughfare) that we couldn’t help but stop and admire. Downtown rocked with so many things to do in Whitefish!

Taylor Family with mosaics downtown Whitefish Montana 1

Fall Bonus: Oktoberfest in Whitefish near Glacier NP

Being from the Pacific Northwest, when we hear Oktoberfest we automatically think about Leavenworth, WA and all of the amazing beer and brats they serve up. Oktoberfest in Whitefish was also awesome. The brats and Kraut were absolutely delicious Beyond delicious.

Polka Band at Oktoberfest Whitefish Montana 1

The beer was hosted by Great Northern Brewing Company who actually has a pretty awesome Brewery building right on Central Ave in downtown Whitefish, and then there was the standard / traditional polka music that no Oktoberfest is complete without.

The town plans well for lots of people to show up and has ample seating inside in the beer hall as well as outside where there was kids space end games set up. It really seems like everybody in the town turned out for the Oktoberfest celebration. we were lucky to be there on just the right day.

Tip:  If you happen to be in Whitefish for their Oktoberfest it’s much more than just an evening Beer Garden. They have lots of family-friendly activities over the weekend that we were not able to participate in.

Great Northern Beers at Oktoberfest Whitefish Montana 1

The Glacier National Park area is so much more than just what you find within the park boundaries, and being based in West Glacier opens you up to so many things to do. In no way are we discrediting the breathtaking wonder that is Glacier National Park but the whole area deserves its own time to do everything from a day to explore Whitefish and go horseback riding, to just enjoying all of the beauty and nature that makes up Glacier MT.

With so many trips to Western Montana, from Missoula to Glacier Country, we have lots of tips and ideas for things to do. If you have any questions or want to share your own recommendations, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to help plan awesome adventures!

The best things to do near Glacier National Park include easy hikes, cool breweries and beautiful views in the National Forest. Top picks for activities near Glacier NP in any season.

Agness of Fit Travelling

Friday 17th of November 2017

Wow! The Glacier National Park seems so picturesque and astonishing, Rob and Chris. I would love to go hiking there. How many days would be enough to explore the park?


Friday 17th of November 2017

Oh boy, we could spend ten days doing a different hike everyday. Ideally though, 5 to 8 days if you have access to most of the park.

Dawn Hart

Monday 30th of October 2017

You make me wanna go there.