Complete Guide to Visiting Glacier National Park
With soaring mountains, stunning landscapes, glaciers and mountain lakes, Glacier National Park is stunning and one of the best National Parks for hiking. Whether you are an avid hiker or simply want to take in the scenery, visiting Glacier National Park should be high on your list.
We’ve visiting Glacier National Park twice and will share everything we learned to help us plan our trip as well as guides to some of the best hikes in the park.
Highlights of Visiting Glacier National Park
- Breathtaking Scenery: Glacier National Park is known for its awe-inspiring landscapes, featuring rugged mountains, pristine alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls, and dense forests.
- Going-to-the-Sun Road: This iconic 50-mile (80 km) scenic drive takes you through some of the most spectacular landscapes in the park. The road offers breathtaking views of mountains, glaciers, and valleys, making it a must-do experience for visitors.
- Glaciers: Despite climate change impacts reducing their numbers, Glacier National Park is still home to several impressive glaciers. These frozen remnants from the Ice Age add to the park’s allure.
- Hiking Opportunities: With over 700 miles (1,100 km) of hiking trails, Glacier National Park provides opportunities for hikers of all skill levels. Some popular trails include the Highline Trail, Grinnell Glacier Trail, and Avalanche Lake Trail.
- Wildlife Viewing: The park is rich in wildlife, including grizzly bears, black bears, moose, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and numerous bird species.
- Lake McDonald: One of the largest and most beautiful lakes in the park, Lake McDonald offers stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains and is a popular spot for boating and photography.
- Many Glacier Valley: This area of the park is known for its beauty and numerous glaciers. It’s a prime location for hiking, wildlife watching, and boat tours on Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.
- St. Mary Lake: Another picturesque lake in the park, St. Mary Lake, is known for its stunning vistas and opportunities for kayaking and canoeing.
- Red Jammer Buses: The vintage Red Jammer buses offer guided tours along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, providing an informative and historic way to explore the park.
- Dark Sky Park: Glacier National Park has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park, making it an excellent location for stargazing and observing the night sky.
Essential Guides to Visiting Glacier National Park
Things to Know About Visiting Glacier National Park
Need to Know About Glacier
Glacier is a very popular park, and visiting Glacier National Park takes a little bit of advanced planning.
The first thing to know is that there is a reservation system to get into the park. You can see up to date reservation information on the NPS website.
When we visited in the summer of 2023, you needed to purchase a vehicle pass to get into the different parts of the park. These passes are good for 3 days (Going to Sun Road) or 1 day (other parts of the park). The passes are just a few dollars but fillup months in advance. A small number of passes are issued the day before but you can’t count on getting these passes.
If you don’t get a pass, you can also enter the park prior to 6 am (before the National Park entrance gate is staffed).
As a result of the pass system, people are entering the park earlier and parking lots often fill up by 7 am. We arrived at Logan Pass on Going to the Sun Road around 6:30 in the morning. At this time, the parking lot was almost full.
If you are planning a long hike, you will want to arrive early, or if you are doing a shorter hike, you can consider waiting until later in the day.
Basic Geography of Glacier
Visiting Glacier National Park takes several days as the park is spread out and the only way to get from the east side of the park to the west side is via Going to The Sun Road (or by driving around the park). Driving Going to the Sun Road takes about 2 hours allowing for some traffic (with no stops).
Below you can see a map with a general overview of the areas of the park.
Many Glacier: Known for its rugged beauty and numerous glaciers, this area offers excellent hiking opportunities and breathtaking scenery.
Lake McDonald: Home to one of the largest and most beautiful lakes in the park, Lake McDonald offers stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains and abundant recreational activities.
Logan Pass: A popular visitor destination, Logan Pass is the highest point on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, offering sweeping views, wildflower-filled meadows, and access to various hiking trails.
Two Medicine: This serene area boasts scenic lakes, striking peaks, and diverse wildlife, making it an excellent spot for hiking, fishing, and nature photography.
St. Mary: Known for its namesake lake, St. Mary is a picturesque location with stunning vistas and opportunities for water-based activities.
Goat Haunt: Located at the northern end of the park, Goat Haunt provides access to boat tours on Waterton Lake and hiking trails that lead into Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada.
North Fork: A quieter and more remote area of the park, North Fork is a haven for backpackers, offering opportunities for solitude and exploration.
Marias Pass: Noted for its historic significance as the location where the Great Northern Railway crosses the Continental Divide, Marias Pass offers beautiful vistas and photo opportunities.
Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park
The best time to visit Glacier National Park is during the summer months. Going-to-the-sun road and many of the smaller park roads are closed during the majority of the year due to snow cover and don’t open until June or even early July. Most of these roads will be close back down by mid-October.
If you want to hike, you should plan your visit for this time period.
The park itself is open year round, so if you are looking for a quieter visit to the park, the off season can be a great time to visit.
Below you can see a table with the temperatures throughout the year.
How to Get to Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is fairly remote. In our opinion, the best way to get to Glacier National Park is by taking a road trip.
The closest airport is Glacier Park International Airport, but you can also drive from a larger airport. Glacier National Park is only about 10 hours from Seattle, 4 hours from Calgary and 4 hours from Spokane.
How Much Time do you Need in Glacier National Park?
To explore Glacier National Park, you should plan to spend 3-5 days in the park. If you have more time, you will find plenty of things to do with a week.
With 3 days, you can drive Going to the Sun Road, hike in Many Glacier and explore another part of the park.
If you are only passing through and don’t have more time for visiting Glacier National Park, you can also spend a day driving going to the Sun Road and hitting some of the highlights.
Lodging Near Glacier National Park
There are several lodges and campgrounds to stay in within the boundaries of Glacier National Park and even more places to stay just outside the gates. West Glacier and St Marys both offer several good lodging options.
Looking for more about visiting US National Parks?
Start by checking out of National Park Pages.
Traveling with kids? Here are our top 10 National Parks for teens.