Glacier National Park, Montana. You can spend weeks here, and after visiting once you might even want to stay for months. However, you can see so much of GNP and its neighboring towns in less than week. From cruising the elevated trails to brewery-hopping in Whitefish, here’s how to make the most of your trip in 4 days.
Fly Into Glacier International Airport
Glacier International is the closest airport to your destination point. It’s a cute, small airport decorated with Midwest-style exhibits and shops, a couple of restaurants, and places to rent bear spray. Glacier International is also only a half hour drive from Columbia Falls and a 20 minute drive from Whitefish.
If you’re hungry, make sure to stop by Jagz Restaurant, Sacred Waters Brewery, or Waters Edge Winery & Bistro.
Explore your lodging
The lodging game in and around Glacier National Park will hugely contribute to your trip experience. While it’s important to spend the majority of your time outside, you’ll want to enjoy your hotel’s offerings as well. Chances are, your hotel or lodge will have fantastic views of Montana’s unrivaled mountain scene.
Best Hotels in Whitefish:
- Grouse Mountain Lodge
- The Lodge at Whitefish Lake
- The Firebrand Hotel
- Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge
- The Pine Lodge on Whitefish River
Best Hotels in Glacier National Park:
- Lake McDonald Lodge
- Many Glacier Hotel
- Granite Park Chalet
- Sperry Chalet
You can also resort to one of the area’s many VRBO or AirBNB stays, like the Montana Luxury Treehouse Retreat.
Pack Up for Going-to-the-Sun Road
This iconic road stretch is basically a requirement of visiting Glacier Park. It’s considered to be one of the top scenic routes in the entire country, and cuts through the main section of the park. Going-to-the-Sun Road is a perfect introduction to your stay at the park, because you get to see glimpses of the intense vista that awaits.
Important note: You must get tickets for Going-To-The-Sun at least two days in advance. The road closes during the late evening, so plan your visit accordingly. You can get tickets from Recreation.gov.
Scenic overlooks, short hikes, and water rafting
Set the alarm for early morning, to fit the most into your day – it won’t be too hard to wake up and step into the midst of Glacier Park. Start with one of the less lengthy trails that offer amazing views.
Two of the best scenic routes in the park include Avalanche Lake, which is around 4.5 miles round trip, and Hidden Lake Overlook, clocking in at 3 miles round trip. Both of these absolutely astounding hikes should only take a couple of hours to complete, and are the perfect start to the day.
Important Note: You will have to take a shuttle from Apgar Visitor’s Center to approach these trails. Apgar Visitor’s Center is right near the entrance of Going-To-The-Sun Road, which you can park your vehicle and hop on a shuttle.
Once you return to Apgar Village, grab a bite to eat at one of Glacier’s Restaurants, like Eddie’s Cafe & Mercantile. Eddie’s Cafe features some fun, mountain themed dishes such as Flattop Mountain French Toast, and amazing cocktails.
Day hike, sunset views, and enjoying the lodge
Day 3 is where the real adventure begins. Prepare for an all day hike around one of Glacier’s wild scenic routes. In addition to the park’s jaw dropping geography, you’re likely to see deer, mountain goats, moose, and more.
Grinnell Glacier is a top pick for many travelers. This strenuous hike is all worth it once you arrive at the picture perfect mountainous setting, glowing with lavish greenery and crystal lakes. It’s about 10.5 miles round trip, with unbelievable scenery on every corner.
Another great alternative to Grinnell Glacier is a slightly shorter route named Two Medicine. Two Medicine is a near 10 mile stretch that loops around a crystal lake and boasts wild views of wild flower fields, glaciers, and wildlife.
In addition to Grinnell and Two Medicine, Lake McDonald is one of the most accessible points from the park’s Western entrance, with equally as jaw-dropping views. It borders Going-To-The-Sun Road and can be hiked or biked to from Apgar Village following Fish Creek Road.
Many experienced athletes and hikers visit Glacier for some of its well-known, crazy routes, and Dawson Pitamakan Loop fits the profile. This 17.5 loop from the Two Medicine North Shore over Dawson and Pitamakan pass is about as strenuous as it gets. If your stamina is up to speed and you’re ready for an all day challenge, the sites on this hike are absolutely incredible. Pass through deep forest terrain for miles before reaching the 7,600 feet high peaks, historically cultivated glaciers, barren lakes, and more. Many travelers run into wildlife such as mountain goats while trekking the near 18 miles.
It’s recommended to begin a long hike before 7:30AM, so you can complete a few hours in cool weather, with a boost of morning energy. Additionally, you shouldn’t attempt hikes at nighttime, although if you make it back by late evening, the sunset boasts some killer views. Give yourself ample time during the hike for breaks and picture taking.
If you still have some energy left in you by the end of day, consider taking up a relaxing paddle boarding session as the sun begins to set. Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, consider white water rafting near the park.
Explore Whitefish and West Glacier
Finish off the trip by touring the small rustic town of Whitefish. Whitefish is a dreamy mountain town with tons of gift shops, retail stores, bars, breweries, cafes, and restaurants. A rocky landscape and freshwater lake makes up the City Beach of Whitefish, which is perfect for swimming, wading, and paddle boarding.
West Glacier is home to some charming, inspiring shops as well. Be sure to stop by Montana House, The Cedar Tree, and West Glacier Mercantile.
Wildlife Safety and Tips
It’s very likely that you’ll run into some wildlife on your journey, which can be an phenomenal experience. With that being said, bears are scattered along the park, and while it’s not as common to see a bear in person here, there is still a fair chance. Try to hike along a route where there are other people, or in a group. On quiet trails, periodically make loud noises, and always bring bear spray. Note that bear spray is not permitted in luggage at airports, so it’s best to make this purchase once you arrive. Don’t get too close to any wild animals (25 yards is recommended, for bears 100 yards).
Packing List for Glacier National Park
First and foremost, bring a reliable, protective backpack to bring on any hikes. Osprey Daylite Plus Pack is a perfect example. A DSLR camera and tripod for landscape photography is a fantastic option if you’re experienced in this area. Durable hiking boots such as these are a must-have for your trip. Boots should be able to withstand tough weather conditions, and provide utmost comfort during long trails. Pack lots of warm clothes, extra layers, rain jacket, athletic clothes, and lounge wear. Bring powerful sunscreen like SunBum SPF 70 and a non-comedogenic option for the face.