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Glacier National Park Things to Do: Best Hikes and Awesome Activities

Glacier National Park Things to Do: Best Hikes and Awesome Activities

Glacier National Park is an icon on Montana, and you’ll be surprised about the fun things to do all around the park. Whether you’re interested in hiking or if you need more accessible or mellow options, we have spent so much time in Glacier NP that our ideas for activities and how to spend your time here really are tried and true. I would say that besides Olympic National Park and Yellowstone National Park, Glacier is the park I’ve spent the most time in over the years.

If you have any questions about our favorite things to do here, where to stay in or near Glacier National Park, or just want to share your own recommendations, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re happy to help out as much as we can and are always up for sharing more photos and tips for Montana!

Taylor Family at Two Medicine Lake Glacier National Park Montana 1

Things to Do in Glacier National Park

This is why you’re here! What are the best things to do in Glacier National Park? What do I do if I don’t like hiking? What are the sights not to miss in Glacier NP? We’re got all the answers, and with so many visits under our belts, we speak from years of direct experience in the park. We’ve visited with and without kids, camped and stayed in lodges, done the road trip to Glacier and taken the train. We’re here to help!

Driving Going to the Sun Road

One of the most famous roads in America, driving Going to the Sun Road is one of the best things to do in Glacier National Park simply for the views. There are lots of hiking stops along the way, but the epic landscapes and sheer cliffs are astounding. When the Going to the Sun Road is fully open, you can drive 50 miles from West Glacier, right by the train station across from the Belton Chalet, all the way to St Mary on the east side, and vice versa. Check how much of Going to the Sun Road is open here!

Highlights and stops to make along Going to the Sun Road include:

  • McDonald Falls
  • Red Rock Point
  • Sacred Dancing Cascades (basically all the pullouts along McDonald Creek are beautiful)
  • The Hairpin of Going to the Sun (restrooms and a cool view)
  • Hanging Valley viewpoint and Birdwoman Falls view
  • Big Bend – this is an amazing sunrise or sunset spot
  • Logan Pass – there’s a visitors center, bathrooms and several hiking trails
  • Wild Goose Island
  • Two Dog Flats (my favorite grizzly bear watching area)
  • St Mary Lake

As you go, follow the short trails to different viewpoints and hiking destinations. You’ll find that driving Going to the Sun Road is a more involved experience than just driving on a beautiful road for fifty miles. If you’re driving the westward direction in summer, West Glacier and Columbia Falls are great for ending the day with a good meal or a brewery.

Taylor Family with Fall Colors on Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park Montana 1

Best Hikes with Kids in Glacier

We’ve been hiking with kids in Glacier National Park since they were babies. Our first big camping trip as a family of four was to Glacier and you know it that we were hiking the whole time. Now that our kids are older, they really get into hikes with interesting sights and wildlife. Our top picks for the best hikes with kids in Glacier are all doable with minimal complaints. Not too much elevation gain and plenty to look at along the way make these trail picks perfect for families.

If you’ve done all these hikes and are looking for other Glacier hikes with kids, you can always start a more difficult trail and just not do the whole thing or just play it by ear as you go. Hiking is Glacier is fun and beautiful, so try out whatever trails you think are most interesting!

Taylor Family hiking at Hidden Lake Logan Pass Glacier National Park Montana 9

Trail of the Cedars – West Glacier

You’ll find the Trail of the Cedars at the start of the Avalanche Lake trail. This beautiful boardwalk nature trail is very flat with a cool emerald water stream gorge and forest towering all around. There are signs and exhibits about the different trees and plants you’ll see, as well as poetry installations all along the trail. The Trail of the Cedars is actually wheelchair accessible for the whole loop, and is appropriately maintained to keep it passable. I love this kid-friendly hike for seeing the forested side of Glacier National Park.

Taylor Family Hiking at Avalanche Lake Trail Glacier National Park Montana 1

Upper McDonald Creek – West Glacier

What makes the Upper McDonald Creek trail great with kids is both the ease of the path and the fun sights along the way. This is a great hike along the raging creek with the red rocks, a fun bridge to cross and if it’s a hot day, cool breezes in the canyon. During fall, this trail is one of the most beautiful for fall colors in Glacier National Park. McDonald Creek eventually flow into the Flathead River, which is one of our favorites for rafting or doing a scenic float with kids.

Taylor Family with Fall Colors on McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park Montana 3

Logan Pass to Hidden Lake Overlook – Going to the Sun Road

The Hidden Lake Overlook trail is a more difficult trail because of the stairs, but also great with kids due to the mountain goats and boardwalks. I remember first doing this trail when I was a little kid and now I hike it with my own kids. The views as you climb the hill up away from the Logan Pass visitor center are just amazing, and then the overlook itself has incredible views too.

The Hidden Lake Overlook trail is also where we’ve consistently seen mountain goats when hiking in Glacier National Park. Only once ever did we not see mountain goats ON this trail, but then we did see them in the parking lot. For a bit of a challenge, continue the hike down to Hidden Lake. You’re sure to see wildlife (we just hiked it an encountered a full curl bighorn sheep ram!!) and then if you have stuff for a picnic, the shore of the lake is perfect for it!

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

St Mary Falls – Going to the Sun Road

I love a simple hike that has a nice payoff at the end, and St Mary Falls is just that. On the east side of Logan Pass along Going the Sun Road, this is pretty easy hike to do with kids. It’s short with a nice waterfall at the end. You can continue onto more sights and eventually turn it into a big hike, but keeping it simple and just hiking to St Mary Falls makes it one of the best hikes with kids in Glacier National Park.

St Mary Falls in Glacier National Park Montana

1913 Ranger Station – St Mary

The hike has a funny name, but I really enjoy hiking the 1913 Ranger Station trail. This is a very easy, flat hike from the St Mary visitor center towards the lake. It goes through a bit of meadow, some aspen forest, and has a wonderful view of the lake. This hike is great with young kids and you won’t get any complaints along the way because it’s easy and the scenery changes a lot.

Taylor Family hiking at St Mary Lake Glacier National Park 1

Redrock Falls via Fishercap Lake, continue to Bullhead Lake – Many Glacier

Not that it happens for everyone, but we’ve never hiked this trail and NOT seen a moose. I’ve done the Redrock Falls / Bullhead Lake trail at least four times and every time I’ve seen at least one moose (the most recent hike here we saw three moose). Redrock Falls is pretty and you can get in the water, and you’ll go by two lakes on the way there, so it’s really pretty.

If kids are feeling it, keep on hiking to Bullhead Lake. This is the Swiftcurrent Pass trail and actually continues across the park, but you can just go to Bullhead Lake and enjoy the beautiful, secluded view. This is the best Many Glacier area hike to do with kids.

Taylor Family at Bullhead Lake at Many Glacier in Glacier National Park Montana 1

Swiftcurrent Lake and Josephine Lake – Many Glacier

Also at Many Glacier, Swiftcurrent Lake is a combination nature trail and easy hike in the woods to a second beautiful lake: Josephine Lake. I like this trail because it ventures through a more dense forest, crosses creeks, and then Lake Josephine is just really beautiful. This is a great option for hiking in Glacier National Park with kids because it’s more than just a trail, but there’s little sense of adventure when you come across the creeks. We became really familiar with these trails during one of our camping trips to Glacier when we got stuck in the Many Glacier area due to a forest fire in the main part of the park.

Chris Taylor and LittleMan crossing suspension bridge Glacier National Park 2

Running Eagle Falls (super short) – Two Medicine

I chuckle as I call this a hike, but it really is a wonderful walk in the wood. Just inside the Two Medicine entrance, this is a nature trail with the strangest, coolest waterfall in Glacier National Park. The quarter mile trail leads through the forest, with small signs and exhibits along the way. When you get to the end, the waterfall, Running Eagle Falls, is what they call a trick waterfall. It enters the rock from up above and pours out through a cave. It’s really beautiful and unique!

Taylor Family at Running Eagle Falls Two Medicine Glacier National Park Montana 1

Favorite Hikes in Glacier National Park (not easy)

Hiking in Glacier is one of the most beautiful National Park experiences you can have, and some of the hike can be intense. My top four favorite Glacier National Parks hikes that really present a challenge (and are worth it!) are:

Since we live at sea-level, hiking in Glacier National Park tends to have quite an effect on us. While we have never gotten altitude sickness in Glacier, the elevation absolutely impacts us and our ability to hike quickly and for longer periods of time. We usually spend our first day or two in Glacier doing more mellow activities, including kayaking and enjoying kid-friendly hikes.

Avalanche Creek gorge in the forest in Glacier National Park Montana 4

Avalanche Lake – West Glacier

While the hike to Avalanche Lake isn’t the most difficult hike around, if you have small kids with you or you’re not a hiker normally, this will feel like a challenge. I love hiking to Avalanche Lake because it’s such a woodsy hike, full of interesting trees and many different types of mushrooms and fungi along the way. The reward at the end is one of the most beautiful amphitheater lakes in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Lake is still like glass, clear and crystal and reflects the most beautiful colors. 10/10 worth the hike.

Note: this is one of the most popular hikes in Glacier, so you will see lots of people on the trail. Once at the lake though, you can ditch the crowds by continuing to follow the trail around the lake where most visitors don’t hike to.

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

Ptarmigan Tunnel / Iceberg Lake – Many Glacier

I love the Ptarmigan Tunnel hike, especially when we’ve got the stamina to do it AND Iceberg Lake. This is my #1 favorite hike in Glacier National Park as it has epic views, waterfalls, a lake with actual icebergs in it, and ends at a tunnel through the mountain opening up to the most pristine valley you can imagine. Magical! – It’s a difficult hike, very hard and not something I’ve been able to do with our kids, but we’ve done it on our own several times.

The biggest challenge of the hike is the last stretch up to the Ptarmigan Tunnel. The jackknife trail scales that last ascent for what seems like forever, but then the payoff is remarkable. It’s very doable to pair hiking to Ptarmigan Tunnel with visiting Iceberg Lake. After you hike to the tunnel, when you’re heading back down, just take the trail to the right for Iceberg Lake. It’ll add a little over an hour to your hiking time, but it’s worth it!

View from inside Ptarmigan Tunnel in Glacier National Park Montana

Sperry Chalet / Lake Ellen Wilson – West Glacier

How to describe the Sperry Chalet hike…: a very difficult hike directly up a mountain, but beautiful and full of wildlife. The Sperry Chalet is a great resting spot (reopened in 2020 after it burned in 2017) before heading onto Lake Ellen Wilson. I really enjoy this trail because it is quite the challenge and payoff when you make it to the Chalet is really cool. The original Sperry Chalet burned down in a forest fire so has been reconstructed. We enjoy hiking up and eating blueberry pie and drinking wine here (no alcohol anymore).

If you’re planning a long hike through Glacier National Park, the Sperry Chalet actually functions as a quasi-luxe bunk house along the trail. It’s really nice, albeit rustic. You’ll need to book your overnight here far in advance, and with that each night includes three meals. Getting to have a night at the Sperry Chalet is usually the treat after completing the difficult Gunsight Pass hike across nearly the whole park.

Sperry Chalet Dining Room in Glacier National Park Montana

The Loop Trail – EPIC! – Going to the Sun Road

One of the most iconic hikes in Glacier National Park, the Loop trail is a long hike with sweeping views the whole way. You start the Loop at the jackknife of the Going to the Sun Road. Now, there are two ways to approach this: 1.) from the jackknife parking area and go up or 2.) from Logan Pass on the Highline Trail and come down.

If you choose option one, you’ll have a challenge for sure, but this is the best option if you do not have anyone else to pick you up at Logan Pass. You can do this hike when the shuttle is running in the summer, but you’ll run the risk of there not being room on the shuttle when you’re trying to catch it.

Hikers on Highline Trail at Logan Pass Glacier National Park Montana 1

Grinnell Glacier and Grinnell Lake – Many Glacier

I love this trail for the solitude and the beauty that waits at the end. One of the best hikes in Glacier Natioanl Park, the Grinnell Glacier trail is awesome. Continuing trail from Josephine Lake in Many Glacier, this is one of the most popular hikes in the park but is also very difficult so isn’t too heavily trafficked in comparison to other famous national park hike, like doing Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Grinnell Lake with Clouds in Glacier National Park Montana

Upper Two Medicine Lake – Two Medicine

A much less trafficked trail, Upper Two Medicine Lake is a hidden gem in Glacier National Park. It’s a trek, but beautiful! Two Medicine is one of the less visited areas of the park, so you’ll need to be extra aware of wildlife on the hike to Upper Two Medicine Lake. The trail is pretty gradual, but it’s long. Small ponds, waterfalls and streams along the way make it an interesting trail and then the lake at the end is perfect. I love hiking here!

Upper Two Medicine Lake Glacier National Park Montana

Best Lakes to Visit in Glacier NPS

It is so difficult to choose my favorite lake in Glacier National Park. The best lakes are both small and that you must hike to, as well as large and popular to visit. So how I’ll break it down is be the easiest to get to and enjoy, and the best for hiking to.

If you’re looking for some peaceful kayaking in Glacier National Park, Bowman Lake and Kintla Lake in the northwest corner of the park are both beautiful. Visiting these lakes is all about the scenery with some uncrowded hiking trails.

Taylor Family at Two Medicine Lake Glacier National Park Montana 3

The other lakes you’ll fall in love with that are easy to get to are:

  • Lake McDonald (just inside the West Glacier entrance)
  • St Mary Lake (east entrance)
  • Two Medicine Lake (Two Medicine entrance)
  • Swiftcurrent Lake (Many Glacier entrance)

Each of the above lakes offer boat tours on vintage boats during the summer months. Doing a boat tour is a great way to hear about the history of the area, the National Park itself and to learn about the geology that makes Glacier NP so special.

Morning reflection on Lake McDonald Glacier National Park 11

There are lots more lakes in Glacier National Park, but these next ones are all ones to hike to. These are some of the more popular hikes in the park, but that doesn’t mean they’re crowded all the time, but just that a lot of visitors will put these lake hikes on their Glacier itinerary.

  • Avalanche Lake – probably the most popular hike in the park; near Lake McDonald
  • Hidden Lake – hiked to from Logan Pass
  • Upper Two Medicine Lake – beautiful hike with an amphitheater style lake
  • Lake Josephine – easy hike or a part of Glacier National Park boat tours in Many Glacier
Lake Josephine Boat Dock Glacier National Park 1

Two more lakes to call out, and I mentioned these above in my list of favorite hikes, are Grinnell Lake and Iceberg Lake. Both are very unique in that they have glaciers in close proximity which calve off into the lakes, making it so icebergs actually float in them. This can be observed all year long at Iceberg Lake and for most of the year at Grinnell Lake. It’s just one of the many interesting sights that make Glacier National Park such a unique place to explore.

Grinell Lake and Glacier in Glacier National Park Montana

Visitors Centers and Ranger Stations to Visit

Glacier National Park has three visitor centers and several ranger stations. You’ll find visitor centers at Apgar (West Glacier), Logan Pass (middle of the park) and St Mary (east side entrance). In parts of the park without visitor centers there are ranger stations for getting up-to-date information and permits. When you look at a Glacier National Park map Many Glacier, Two Medicine and Polebridge don’t have visitor centers, but they do have ranger stations. Ranger stations are not always manned, and after summer season, visitor centers aren’t also. Apgar is open for the longest season of any of the visitor centers.

Taylor family at St Mary Visitors Center Glacier National Park 1

Stopping into the Apgar visitor center before heading out on Going to the Sun Road will help you plan your time in Glacier NP well. The same can be said of stopping into the St Mary visitor center. While here, you can get information on trail closures, get updates on any road construction in the park, and confirm how much of the Going to the Sun Road is open. Also, if you have a Junior Ranger packet that you’ve completed, you can get these signed off at any manned ranger station or visitor center.

There are lots of great educational displays and exhibits the visitors centers in Glacier. We like the St Mary visitor center the most, and it’s also got the most epic view of the three locations.

Map of Glacier National Park with Visitor Centers

Day Trip up to Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada

Something unique about Glacier NP is that it shares a border with Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park, making the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. If you’re staying in the Many Glacier area, doing a day trip up to Waterton Lakes National Park is a great idea. You will need a passport for crossing the border into and from Canada, but the crossing is usually pretty swift.

Once at Waterton Lakes National Park, you’ll have lots of hiking options. There are beautiful waterfalls, the lakes are awesome (of course!) and there’s a lot of wildlife to watch for. On one visit to Waterton, I saw seven bears in about six hours!

Waterton Lakes National Park Alberta Canada

Another cool thing to do when visiting Waterton Lakes National Park is checking out the historic railway hotel, the Prince of Whales. Built in 1927, it’s like a gingerbread castle overlooking the lake. If you want to actually stay at the Prince of Whales Hotel, plan on booking it about a year in advance, as reservations go quickly and at a premium price (prices always listed in CAD).

Prince of Whales Hotel at Waterton Lakes National Park Alberta Canada

Fun Facts and Tips for Glacier National Park

Clearly we love hiking in Glacier National Park and enjoying all the things to do in summer and fall. Understanding the layout of the park though, that’s very important if it’s your first visit. Here are our tips and extra insights to make visiting Glacier NP easier for you.

Map of Glacier National Park Areas

Like Yellowstone NP, Acadia National Park or Yosemite, Glacier National Park has several areas to visit. The most common entrance is in West Glacier near Apgar Village, but there are lots of ways to enter the park. In the West Glacier area, you’ll find lots of places to stay, awesome rafting on the Flathead River, and plenty of restaurant and activity options during the summer.

On the east side there are three primary areas to visit: Two Medicine, St Mary and Many Glacier. The Going to the Sun Road connects West Glacier to St Mary, but both Two Medicine and Many Glacier are entered from outside the park. Each of the east side entrances are about a half hour apart, so visiting multiple areas in one day is doable, but we like to do one area each day so we can take our time and hike as much as possible.

Map of Glacier National Park with Areas Labeled

Shuttle Service in Glacier National Park

Like Bryce Canyon NP or Zion National Park, during peak summer season Glacier National Park offers shuttle service along Going to the Sun Road. This free service (with park entry) runs from July 1 until Labor Day (first Monday of September), and then service is reduced for another week or so until it ends.

For hikers and bikers, there is shuttle service up to Logan Pass starting in May (as long as the Going to the Sun Road is passable). Check with the National Park Service for current schedules before hinging all your hiking plans on the Glacier NP shuttle service.

Glacier National Park Entrance Signs for Photos

There are quite a few Glacier National Park entrance signs to get great souvenir photos when you visit. The easiest one is at the West Glacier entrance, which is your first park entrance if you’re coming from Kalispell or Missoula, MT. You can’t miss it and there is a pull off from the road to be able to take photos of the park entrance sign safely. The St Mary and Cut Bank entrances on the east side of Glacier National Park also has an easily accessible park entrance sign for photos.

The Many Glacier entrance sign is more difficult to stop and get pictures during the summer months, as this is a busy part of the park, but in the fall or when Many Glacier first reopens in spring, you can safely stop to take pictures at the national park entrance sign.

There are also national park signs at Two Medicine and Polebridge, but these parts of the part can be more difficult to access due to their remote nature and that they aren’t maintained with the same haste as West Glacier and St Mary are.

Taylor Family at Glacier National Park sign 3

Animals to Watch for in Glacier

We absolutely love wildlife watching in National Parks, and Glacier is one of the best! You might not get the alligators and turtles of Everglades National Park or the snorkeling of Dry Tortugas National Park, but you do get all the amazing wildlife of the Rocky Mountains. In Glacier National Park you have some BIG animals to watch for:

  • Moose
  • Grizzly bear
  • Black bear
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Mountain goats
  • Bald and Golden eagles
  • Wolverines
  • Badgers and more!

The most consistent places we’ve seen moose in Glacier National Park include the Many Glacier area and just outside of the Two Medicine entrance. We’ve seen them at Fish Creek and Polebridge too, but the east side of the park is usually a hit. If you come across a moose on a trail (or multiple moose), even though you’re going to be excited to see one, you need to be safe. Give the moose as much distance as possible and if you cannot, put a large tree between you and the moose. The more distance the better.

Bull Moose at Aster Falls Trail Two Medicine Glacier National Park Montana 7

For bears, they really do cover the whole park. In general, the best way to spot a bear is to look on the hillsides where there are lots of berry bushes. They live for berries and tend to roam the hillsides chowing on blueberries and digging. If you are on the west side of the park, head towards Polebridge and Bowman Lake early in the morning and you may be lucky!

If you do come across a bear on a trail, do not approach them. If it’s a bear cub, that’s a huge warning to be extra alert because a cub is NEVER without a mama bear nearby. Distance and staying alert are the best ways to stay safe if there’s a bear.

Grizzly Bear at Two Dog Flats St Mary Glacier National Park Montana 2

While the mountain goats do have free range of Glacier National Park, they are most concentrated and prolific in Logan Pass on both sides of Going to the Sun Road. If you miss out on them during the day, they actually like to wander through the Logan Pass parking areas at night, so you’re nearly guaranteed to see some after dark. And where there are mountain goats there are likely bighorn sheep, so keep your eyes and ears open!

The best time of year to see wildlife in Glacier National Park is late spring, before the main summer tourist season begins, and then again as fall sets in. In addition to amazing fall colors at Glacier NP, you can see the wildlife become more active as they get ready for winter.

Mountain Goat at Hidden Lake Logan Pass Glacier National Park Montana

Is Glacier in Montana Different from Glacier NP in British Columbia, Canada?

Canadian Glacier National Park is very different from the one in Montana. At Canadas Glacier National Park you’ll find very dense fir forests, waterfalls deep in the woods and mountains rising from the forests. Glacier National Park in Montana (USA) is much more of the fir or cedar forest landscape on the west side and then very low, deciduous forests on the east side. You can visit Canada’s Glacier National Park when you do a Canadian Rockies road trip, including visiting Banff!

Also, this park is NOT THE SAME as Glacier Bay National Park. That’s in Alaska and it’s also beautiful and interesting, but not even remotely similar. Check out our UnCruise page to learn more about visiting Glacier Bay NP and small-ship sailing in Alaska. And no, Rocky Mountain National Park is NOT adjacent to Glacier NP; that’s in Estes Park, CO. I know it may seem confusing with so many wonderful National Parks to keep track of, but you’ll get the hang of it!

Taylor Family at Entrance Sign Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado 2

Wow! Even though we’ve been to Glacier National Park so many times I’m ready to go back! If you have any questions about visiting Glacier, hiking or other things to do in the park, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to help other plan awesome adventures!

Having visited Glacier National Park in Montana so many time, we know the best hikes, great trails with kids, and most fun things to do in the park. This guide is ideal for planning a family or solo trip to Glacier NP!
Having visited Glacier National Park in Montana so many time, we know the best hikes, great trails with kids, and most fun things to do in the park. This guide is ideal for planning a family or solo trip to Glacier NP!

Susan mccutcheon

Tuesday 16th of April 2024

You don’t mention the glacier institute. Have you ever explored their facility and group hikes?