Glacier is one of the best National Parks in the United State for exploring incredible mountains, lakes, and wildlife. From epic mountain hikes to boat trips across the lakes and scenic drives, there is something for everyone in Glacier.
We loved exploring Glacier during the summer of 2023 and spent days planning our 3 Day itinerary for Glacier National Park. In this post we’ll share everything you need to know to plan your own 3 day itinary including what we did as well as suggestions for other activities.
With just 3 days you will need to pick and choose your activities and we’re here to help!
Overview for a 3 Day Itinerary for Glacier National Park
In the second half of this post, you can find complete details for this 3 day Glacier National Park itinerary but here is a snapshot of a 3 day itinerary: This itinerary assumes that you will be spending the night prior to the first day near Glacier so you can get an early start on the first morning.
Day 1: Get an early start and explore the Going to the Sun Road, hike the Highline Trail and visit some waterfalls. While you can do this from either the east or west entrance, we started on the west side of the park and spent the lasst 2 night on the east side of the park.
Day 3: Finish up your visit to Glacier with a morning hike or visit the Two Medicine area. Consider hiking to Grinnel Glacier or Iceberg Lake.
Before we dive deeping into the 3 day itinerary Glacier National Park, there are some important logistics you need to know to plan your visit, most importantly that Glacier has a reservation system. Hopefully you have plenty of time to book your reservations but you still have a few options in case you are planning your trip last minute.
In the next section you will see exactly what you need to know to plan your visit.
Logistics for Visiting Glacier National Park
NEED TO KNOW - Glacier has a reservation system that needs to be booked well in advance. - In addition to your reservation, you also need a park pass to enter the park - Bears are common in the park - carry bear spray and follow all trail warnings. Trails are sometimes closed for bear activity - Glacier National Park has several different entrances and you will need several days to see different parts of the park.
Glacier National Park Reservation System
Glacier National Park has a reservation system for your car to enter the park – you can get updated information on the NPS site. You will need to make a separate reservation to enter each part of the park for the following dates (as of 2023):
- Going-to-the-Sun Road (May 26 – Sept 10)
- North Fork (May 26 – Sept 10)
- Many Glacier (July 1 – Sept 10)
- Two Medicine (July 1 – Sept 10)
Reservations are available starting 120 days prior to your visit at 8 am at recreation.gov. They often are fully reservated within seconds or minutes. A portion of the tickets are held and released 24 hours in advance starting at 8 am. Reservations are just $2.
Reservations are good for either 1 or 3 days depending on the part of the park you are visiting. If you have a ticket or lodging booked within the park, you can use this in lieu of the vehicle reservation.
In addition to the reservation, you ALSO need a park pass to enter the park.
If you don't get a Glacier Park reservation You can still get into the park if you arrive before 6 am or after 3pm. This is a great option if you want an early morning hike or have flexibility in the afternoon. Due to the reservation system, many people are entering the park before 6 am and parking lots are often filling up much earlier. At Logan Pass on the Going to the Sun Road, the car park was full by 7:00 am when we visited. Even if you have a reservation, you may want to consider entering the park before 6 am.
How to Get to Glacier
Glacier is located in Northern Montana right on the Canadian border. The easiest way to explore Glacier is by car.
Getting to Glacier National Park is an adventure in itself, with various routes offering access to this pristine wilderness in Montana. If you’re arriving by air, the nearest major airports are Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell and Great Falls International Airport (GTF). Both airports offer rental car services, allowing you to easily transition from the tarmac to the park’s wonders.
Alternatively, Amtrak’s Empire Builder train route provides a picturesque rail journey, stopping at the park’s West Glacier station.
Below are some common driving times to Glacier:
- Grand Tetons to Glacier: 8 hours
- Yellowstone to Glacier: 6 hours
- Rainier to Glacier: 9 hours
- Calgary to Glacier: 4 hours
How Many Days Should I Spend in Glacier National Park?
You could easily spend 1 whole week exploring Glacier National Park. If you have the time and love to hike, this is a great option. Most people spend between 3-5 days in Glacier National Park. With this much time you can do a few excellent hikes and other activities.
How to Get Around Glacier National Park
The easiest ways to get around Glacier are by car or the parks free shuttle. It is also possible to bike or hike throughout parts of the park or you can take a ride on the red jammer buses.
- Personal Vehicle: Having your own vehicle gives you the most flexibility to explore the park at your own pace. The Going-to-the-Sun Road, which crosses the park from west to east, offers incredible views, but note that it can be narrow and winding in parts. During peak season, parking can be limited, so arrive early to secure a spot.
- Shuttle System: Glacier National Park operates a free shuttle system along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is an excellent option if you want to avoid parking hassles and focus on the scenery. Shuttles run from Apgar Visitor Center on the west side and St. Mary Visitor Center on the east side. The shuttle service typically operates from July to Labor Day.
- Red Jammer Buses: These historic buses offer guided tours along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, providing informative commentary and allowing you to fully enjoy the views without the stress of driving.
- Biking: Biking is a popular way to explore the park, especially on the Going-to-the-Sun Road before it fully opens to vehicles in the early summer. Biking allows you to cover more ground than walking, and you can enjoy the scenery up close.
Wildlife in Glacier National Park
One of the most exciting things in the park is the amount of wildlife. While many of the animals are cute and harmless (like marmots) other animals (like bear and moose) can be dangerous. We saw bear, moose, marmots, plenty of birds, goats and deer on our visit.
Below are a few safety precautions to take when hiking or exploring the park:
- Never feed animals in the wild
- Maintain your distance from all animals and do not approach or scare animals – follow posted signs about how far to stay from animals on the trails
- Carry bear spray (and read the directions on how to use it)
- Talk when you are walking in bear country and hike in groups. If you see a bear, make noise and back away slowly.
We surprised a grizzly bear during one of our hikes and were only about 50 feet from the bear. We had bear spray and slowly backed away with no incident. Other people continued to approach the bear along the trail despite not having bear spray and it was frusterating for everyone else as this put the rest of us at risk – don’t be that person!
When is the best time to visit Glacier National Park
The best time to visit Glacier National Park is during the summer months of late June through early September. This window offers the most accessible and enjoyable conditions, with open roads, trails, and facilities. During this period, the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is typically fully accessible, allowing you to experience the park’s breathtaking vistas and alpine scenery. Wildflowers bloom, wildlife is active, and outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and boat tours are at their peak.
If you visit during this time, also be prepared for larger crowds during this popular season. If you prefer fewer crowds and are equipped for colder weather, the shoulder seasons of late spring and early fall can also provide a serene and picturesque experience, with the added advantage of potentially spotting wildlife during their migrations. Winter enthusiasts can visit for unique experiences, like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, but many areas of the park are inaccessible due to heavy snowfall and seasonal closures.
Below you can see the typical weather throughout the year in Glacier.
3 Day Itinerary for Glacier National Park
There are so many amazing Glacier 3 day itinerary options and many ways to adjust your schedule based on your interest. This 3 day itinerary for Glacier National Park is best for people who love to hike and have a car to explore the park. For this itinerary you will need reservations for Going to the Sun Road (for the first day) and Many Glacier for the next two days.
Day 1: Going to the Sun Road
We started on the west side of the park for this day, but you can also enter the park from the East and simply retrace your steps. Going to the Sun Road is the most scenic drive in the park and you can find incredible views as well as access to many of the best hikes in the park.
From the either side, enter the park as early as possible (we got to the gate at 5:40 am). Even if you have a reservation to enter, parking lots fill up early so try to enter as early as you can.
Enjoy the drive along Going to the Sun Road, but drive straight to Logan Pass without stopping along the way. This parking lot fills up early and since you will be hiking from here, you should ensure that you get a parking spot.
Park at Logan Pass and hiking the Highline Trail. This incredible trail follows the edge of the cliff with steep drop offs to the side and cables to hold onto along the trail. The trail is 11.5 miles and you have the option of adding on a 2 additional (and challenging miles) to the Grinnel Glacier overlook. I highly recommend this lookout unless you plan to hike the Grinnel Glacier Trail on the last day of this itinerary.
This hike will take a good part of the day, especially if you bring along a picnic lunch! The trail ends at a lower parking lot at the loop and from here you can catch a shuttle back up to your car at Logan Pass.
After hiking the Highline Trail, continue easy and take your time stopping a few of the scenic overlooks. If you still have hiking legs left, consider the shorter walks to Virginia Falls or Baring Falls, St. Mary Falls, and Virginia Falls.
Finish your day by staying in the St. Mary’s area or head on to Many Glacier for the night. There is a great place to grab and ice cream in St Marys.
Day 2: Many Glacier Boating and Waterfall Hike
On this morning you should still try to enter the park early, but it’s not quite as important to arrive quite so early since the parking lot is less likely to fill up.
Park behind the Many Glacier Hotel and you can find the boat rental right on the lake in front of the hotel. Spend the morning on the lake! You can rent kayaks or rowboats or book a ticket on the tour boat that leaves from this dock and heads towards Grinnel Lake.
See exactly how to enjoy the morning on the lake.
Enjoy a picnic lunch or grab some food at the hotel and then drive over to the Swiftcurrent Inn and take a hike to Redrock Falls. This roughly 4 miles hike has several good swimming holes and follows along the lake before reaching the pretty Redrock Falls. Spend some time enjoying the falls before retracing your steps.
We saw a bear along this route, so keep your eyes open!
See more about how to hike to Redrock Falls.
Day 3: Hike in Many Glacier or Visit Two Medicine
Since we were heading north to Banff late on the 3rd day, we decided to spend our last day hiking in Many Glacier. There are several excellent longer hikes in Many Glacier but several were closed during our visit (including the hike to Grinnel Glacier).
Choose one of these hikes, such as the gorgeous hike to Iceberg Lake. This 9.8 mile hike follows along the side of the valley with incredible views the entire hike. The hike ends at Iceberg Lake where you are likely to see chunks of ice floating on the lake surrounding by cliffs.
We started this hike at 6 am and were the first people to reach the lake in the morning, but you can also visit later as the parking lot in Many Glacier is not as crowded as Logan Pass.
See more about hiking to Iceberg Lake.
If you are heading south, another option on your last day is to head to the Two Medicine area. Check out the hikes to Dawson Pass or Firebrand Pass.
Spend your final night in Glacier, or head off on your way to your next destination.
Where to Stay in Glacier
For this itinerary, the best place to stay is on the east side of Glacier. We were camping when we visiting and spent one night in the KOA on the west side and the other nights on the east side in the St. Mary’s area at the Divide Creek Campground.
There are several hotels and places to stay in the St Marys area and even more places to stay in West Glacier.
You can search for some of the best deals on booking.com and using the map function to search.
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