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16 Top-Rated Things to Do in Glacier National Park, MT

Written by Brad Lane
Nov 28, 2019

When planning your trip to Glacier National Park, it's best to book as many days as you can. Encompassing snow-crusted mountain peaks, deep glacial valleys, and shimmering alpine lakes bobbing with icebergs, Glacier National Park draws over three million people each year—particularly during the peak season between July and September. While the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road that spans the park from east to west is a mainstay of many visits, other areas like Many Glacier and Two Medicine are well worth a visit.

Among the many must-see sights in Glacier, iconic park attractions like Grinnell Glacier, Logan Pass, and Lake McDonald belong on top of the list. Hiking is one of the most popular things to do in Glacier, and with over 700 miles of hiking trails, Glacier represents a true choose-your-own-adventure when it comes to day hikes and overnight trips. Other popular recreation activities include boating, fishing, stargazing, bicycling, and taking guided excursions like the park's iconic Red Bus Tours.

Glacier National Park is home to many species of wildlife. Common sightings include marmots, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep, as well as grizzly and black bears.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road and majority of the park's front country receives startlingly big crowds throughout the summer, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road free shuttle helps alleviate traffic concerns.

Glacier National Park is open every day of the year, with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing serving as some of the most popular activities in winter. For more outdoor adventures, read our list of the top things to do in Glacier National Park.

1. Going-to-the-Sun Road

Going-to-the-Sun Road

The only road that spans the interior of the park from east to west, the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road is often a centerpiece of any visit, connecting Apgar Visitor Center on the west side of the park to the Saint Mary Visitor Center on the east. A third visitor center is located along the road's highest point at Logan Pass. Five of Glacier's 13 campgrounds are also located along the road, as well as numerous picnic areas, pull-offs, and stunning views of enormous glacier valleys.

Visitors are welcome to drive their personal vehicle along the road for no additional fees, and alternative transportation options like a free shuttle make potential issues like parking easy to navigate. The park service also offers Red Bus Tours in the park's iconic 1930s "Rubies of the Rockies" open-top vehicles. The entire road is open seasonally, weather dependent, and prior to opening for vehicle traffic in the spring, bicyclists have two weeks where they can ride the road vehicle-free.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/goingtothesunroad.htm

2. Grinnell Glacier Editor's Pick

Grinnell Glacier and the Garden Wall | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

One of the best hikes in Glacier National Park, Grinnell Glacier is an iconic landscape at the heart of the region. The round trip to Grinnell Glacier and back is just over 10 miles of hiking with over 1,600 feet of elevation gain. Visitors can cut down on those miles by taking a fee-based shuttle across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Both approaches deliver with massive mountain views and lush valley landscapes before you even set sight on Grinnell Glacier.

Upon taking the last steep steps up to Upper Grinnell Lake, the Garden Wall, part of the Continental Divide, dominates the backdrop of the iceberg-filled lake and holds a collection of massive glaciers in sight. Alongside the vertical Grinnell Glacier melting into the lake, The Salamander glacier also reflects a fractured blue on the Garden Wall.

Passing through prime wildlife habitat for bighorn sheep, marmots, and grizzly bears, the trail to Grinnell Glacier is traveled by hundreds of people during nice-weather summer weekends.

3. Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald

The center of activity on the west side of the park, Lake McDonald is the largest body of water in Glacier and is surrounded by numerous things to do. Four campgrounds can be found in this glacially carved region of the park, including one of the park's best campgrounds, Apgar Campground, with 194 sites available. Visitors can also spend the night at the historic Lake McDonald Lodge that was constructed in the 1910s on the banks of the water.

The nearby Apgar Village features other resources like a visitor center, general store, and a few casual restaurants. Iconic hiking trails in the Lake McDonald Valley include Avalanche Lake and Sacred Dancing Cascade.

Other recreational opportunities provided by concessionaires at Lake McDonald include non-motorized boat rentals and guided horseback rides. Stops for the free shuttle on Going-to-the-Sun Road are located at the Apgar Campground and Lake McDonald Lodge.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/lakemcdonald.htm

4. Logan Pass

Logan Pass

The highest point accessible by vehicle in the park, Logan Pass sits at an elevation of 6,646 feet and is a prominent stop on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Backdropped by the ice-clad Clements and Reynolds Mountains, the wildflower meadows at Logan Pass offer a postcard scene of beauty.

The Logan Pass Visitor Center, next to a parking lot that is consistently full throughout the summer, offers great information about the surrounding landscape. Taking the free Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle to Logan Pass alleviates parking concerns.

Two of the most iconic hiking trails in Glacier start at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. The Highline Trail stretches from Logan Pass to the Granite Park Chalet, and the Hidden Lake Trail meanders through an area known as the Hanging Gardens before reaching a stunning overlook of its namesake feature.

Common wildlife sightings in the area include marmots, mountain goats, and the occasional grizzly bear. Throughout the spring and summer, Logan Pass is often strewn with Bear Grass—the park's signature flora.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/loganpass.htm

5. St. Mary Lake

Wild Goose Island and St. Mary Lake

The defining feature near the East Entrance of Glacier National Park, the 10-mile St. Mary Lake is lined with recreational and scenic appeal. The St. Mary Visitor Center is located near the far end of the lake and entrance station, where visitors can find information about the park and pick up the free Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle. The St. Mary Campground is also located near the banks of the lake and is the second largest campground in Glacier, with 148 sites available.

Going-to-the-Sun Road offers spectacular vistas of the lake, and one of the most photographed features is the tiny Wild Goose Island, seemingly floating in the middle of the water.

Hiking trails stemming from the St. Mary Valley include St. Mary Falls and Siyeh Pass from Sunrift Gorge. Additional camping near St. Mary Lake is located at the Rising Sun Campground, with lodging available at the Rising Sun Motor Inn.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/stmary.htm

6. Many Glacier Hotel

View from Many Glacier Hotel | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the northeast side of the park, the Many Glacier region is a hot spot for hiking trails, wildlife sightings, and lodging opportunities. Alongside the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, which features rustic cabins and motel rooms, visitors can also spend the night at the historic Many Glacier Hotel—first built in 1914 by the Great Northern Railway. On the banks of Swiftcurrent Lake with an iconic view of Mt. Grinnell, the Many Glacier Hotel exudes a natural charm that is infused with the history of the park.

The hotel also features a snack shop, dining room, and a unique Swiss-style lobby with a large billowing fireplace and rustic features. Keeping to Swiss-inspired traditions, many of the employees of the hotel are dressed in lederhosen.

Boat rentals are located just below the hotel's generous patio that overlooks the lake, and nearby hikes include Cracker Lake and Grinnell Glacier.

Other historic accommodations in Glacier National Park can be found at the Lake McDonald Lodge and the Rising Sun Motor Inn.

Official site: https://www.glaciernationalparklodges.com/lodging/many-glacier-hotel/

7. Two Medicine

Old Man Lake in Two Medicine | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the east side of the park, the Two Medicine region was once the main destination for early visitors to Glacier. After the Going-to-the-Sun Road was built, Two Medicine was no longer the central hub of activity, but all its mountain grandeur remained. Now a less-crowded and slightly more off-the-beaten path destination in the park, Two Medicine is centered around the sparkling Two Medicine Lake.

Though less popular than campgrounds like Apgar and St. Mary, the Two Medicine Campground also tends to fill up entirely during the peak summer season.

Several waterfalls are great outlets for adventure in Two Medicine, including the accessible Running Eagle Falls. Burlier hiking trails like Pitamakan and Dawson Pass offer elevated views of the Two Medicine region. Boat tours are also available that ferry visitors across Two Medicine Lake.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/twomedicine.htm

8. Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake

One of the most popular short hikes in Glacier, the trailhead for Avalanche Lake is located near the banks of Lake McDonald on the east side of the park. First traversing alongside the deeply carved banks of Avalanche Creek, the 2.3-mile trail leads through a lush forest to the glacial waters of Avalanche Lake. Alongside this shimmering spectacle, the trailhead also lends access to the less-than-a-mile and family favorite Trail of the Cedars.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/hikinglakemcdonald.htm

9. Bowman Lake

Fall colors at Bowman Lake

In the far northwest corner of Glacier, accessible only by a winding gravel road, Bowman Lake is part of the less-visited North Fork region of the park. Plenty of people with proper vehicle clearance still visit Bowman Lake and the adjacent campground throughout the summer, though the congestion is nothing like you find on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Kintla Lake is a few miles farther north from Bowman Lake, and the only available resources in this part of the park are found in the small and eclectic community of Polebridge.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/northfork.htm

10. Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park

Making up the second half of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Alberta's Waterton Lakes National Park is located directly across the border from the Goat Haunt region of Glacier. The immensity of Glacier National Park extends well into Canada, and Waterton Lakes provides arguably even bigger terrain to explore.

Popular things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park include exploring Red Rock Canyon, visiting Waterton Village, and hiking the 200 kilometers of hiking trails including the iconic Crypt Lake Trail.

Official site: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/waterton

11. Day Hiking

Day hiking in Glacier National Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

With over 700 miles of trails leading to iconic landscapes like glistening glaciers, panoramic mountain passes, and iceberg-topped lakes, Glacier National Park offers a true kid-in-a-candy-shop mentality for hiking and backpacking.

A few signature hikes of the park include the Highline Trail at Logan Pass and Grinnell Glacier in Many Glacier, with other less-crowded hiking trails including Cobalt Lake and Siyeh Pass.

All hiking trails in Glacier National Park meander through grizzly bear country and hikers should plan accordingly.

12. Camping

Camping in Glacier National Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Given its slightly remote location in northern Montana, the best way to experience Glacier is by spending the night. Glacier has 13 campgrounds within park boundaries, and several private campgrounds are located near the park's different entrances.

The largest campground, Apgar Campground, on the east side of the park, often fills to capacity by early morning throughout the summer. Saint Mary Campground, the largest on the east side of the park, also routinely fills to capacity and is one of the few campgrounds that accepts advanced reservations.

On the east side of the park, the Two Medicine and Many Glacier regions both have popular campgrounds connected to a variety of trails. For less crowded campgrounds in Glacier, more remote areas like Bowman Lake and primitive campgrounds including Cut Bank offer campsites that don't fill up nearly as fast.

Glacier National Park also maintains over 60 backcountry campsites available by permit only.

13. Guided Tours

Red Bus Tour in Glacier

Guided adventure opportunities can really enhance a Glacier National Park visit, from Red Bus Tours to hiking endeavors led by Glacier Guides. Both the National Park Service and several concessionaires offer additional guided experiences, including scenic boat ferries and horseback rides. Many of the guided activities in Glacier book up months ahead of time.

For more in-depth and extended guided experiences in Glacier, the private and non-profit Glacier Institute features experiential educational courses for adults, teens, and children.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/guidedtours.htm

14. Backpacking

Backpacking in Glacier National Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

One of the best ways to experience Glacier is via the extensive network of backcountry trails that navigate the interior of the park. Anyone interested in enjoying Glacier's backcountry needs a permit to spend the night, which can be obtained through a lottery reservation system that opens in March, or through a limited walk-up availability during the season.

Glacier's landscape is demanding but very rewarding, with a few highlighted backcountry destinations including Stoney Indian Pass, the Ptarmigan Tunnel, and Hole-in-the-Wall.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/hikingthetrails.htm

15. Bicycling

Bicycling on the Going-to-the-Sun Road | NPS Climate Change Response / photo modified

The best time to bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road is in the spring, when plows have started to move snow and before the road officially opens to vehicles. The exact dates and distances that cyclists can travel vehicle-free on the Sun Road is weather dependent, and cyclists aren't allowed anywhere near where plow crews are working. Glacier National Park's Road Status page keeps up-to-date information regarding opening dates for the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Once the Going-to-the-Sun Road opens to vehicle traffic, cyclists can still travel the entire road until June 15th. Caution and good riding practices, including highly visible clothing and gear, need to apply when bicycling the Going-to-the-Sun Road alongside vehicles.

Between June 15th and Labor Day, certain sections on the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road prohibit bicycling for congestion issues. Mountain biking and trail riding are not allowed in Glacier National Park.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/bicycling.htm

16. Cross-Country Skiing/Winter Activities

Ice climbing in Glacier National Park

The least crowded time to visit Glacier is during the winter. Networks of trails are available for skiing and snowshoeing near the east and west entrances at St. Mary and Apgar. It's important to check trail conditions before heading to Glacier for winter activities, as well as local forecast conditions.

Avalanche danger is real in Glacier, and anyone looking to cross the park's backcountry in winter needs to obtain a permit and understand the risk.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/crosscountryskiing.htm

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

More to Explore in Glacier National Park: Leading to iconic spots like Iceberg Lake, Ptarmigan Tunnel, and Grinnell Glacier, the best hiking trails in Glacier National Park highlight what makes Glacier an international destination. For additional information on the 13 campgrounds within Glacier National Park, as well as additional places to a pitch a tent or park an RV outside of the park boundaries, our guide to the best campgrounds in Glacier National Park has all the details you need.

Best Montana Cities to Discover: The mountain town of Whitefish is right at the front door of Glacier National Park and lends access to other stunning places to visit, including Flathead Lake and the Kootenai National Forest. Approximately three hours from Glacier National Park, the university city of Missoula offers even more outdoor appeal with nearby trailheads in the Bitterroot National Forest and Rattlesnake National Recreation Area. Offering more collegiate appeal and nearby mountains to explore, Bozeman is booming in popularity and is near the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

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