Glacier national park, located in the northern part of Montana, near the U.S.-Canada border, shares its northern boundary with Canada's Waterton Lake National Park. The park's landscape, once sculpted by extensive glaciers, has resulted in the stunning mountains, lakes, and waterfalls we see today. With over 700 miles of hiking trails within the park, it can truly be described as a hiker's paradise.
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Glacier National Park | Overview
Glacier National Park is divided into five main areas:Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, North Fork and Goat Haunt, St. Mary, and Two Medicine. Among these, Lake McDonald and St. Mary are traversed by the famous Going-to-the-sun road, with the scenic highlight being Logan Pass in the middle, attracting the most visitors. Many Glacier, situated in the northeast, is also highly popular. (Map available here)
The Lake McDonald area encompasses the entire western half of the park and is centered around the large Lake McDonald. It starts at the western park entrance and extends along the Going-to-the-Sun Road through the Trail of the Cedars area. Within this area, you'll find the Apgar Visitor Center, one of the three visitor centers in Glacier National Park, as well as the nearby Apgar Village, Lake McDonald Lodge, opportunities for boat tours on the lake, and 12 hiking trails.In terms of itinerary planning, if you're looking for a quick visit, a half-day trip can suffice in this area. However, if you want to explore at a more leisurely pace, hike additional trails, or enjoy a boat tour on the lake, you could plan for a 1 to 2-day visit in this area.
Logan Pass is undeniably one of the most popular and crowded destinations within Glacier National Park. Situated at the pinnacle of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, this section of the road is renowned as one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the United States. While Logan Pass is only open during the summer season (typically from late June to October), its breathtaking views ensure a constant stream of visitors during those months.
The Hidden Lake Trail and Highland Trail in this area offer spectacular scenery and excellent opportunities for wildlife sightings, making them highly sought-after attractions.
St. Mary, in comparison to the western Lake McDonald area, tends to have fewer visitors and is relatively less commercialized, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of St. Mary Lake. The best place to admire St. Mary Lake is Sun Point, and in addition to the stunning lake views, there are three beautiful waterfall trails to explore: Baring Falls, St. Mary Falls, and Virginia Falls, providing more than enough to fill a day's worth of adventure.
The Many Glacier area, located in the northeastern part of Glacier National Park, may be somewhat remote, but it's often considered the heart of the park. This is because Many Glacier boasts the most active glaciers, abundant wildlife, and some of the most stunning hiking trails in Glacier National Park.
The hiking trails in Many Glacier tend to be quite lengthy. If you wish to complete the more renowned hikes like Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake, it's best to plan for a two to three-day itinerary in this area.
The Two Medicine area, situated in the southeast, requires a personal vehicle to access. During the era of the railroad, Two Medicine was once the primary destination for visitors to Glacier National Park because it provided access to popular high mountain hiking routes deep into the park's interior.
Today, Two Medicine is more suited for those seeking tranquility in their mountain adventures or those looking to leisurely enjoy an afternoon by the lakeside. You can plan for a half-day visit or even spend a night camping in this area to fully appreciate its serene beauty.
Glacier National Park | Transportation
On the Going-to-the-sun road, taking the park's shuttle buses is a very convenient option. The shuttle bus routes are divided into two segments: the western segment runs from Apgar Village at the west entrance to Logan Pass, and the eastern segment runs from Logan Pass to the St. Mary Visitor Center at the east entrance. Because the Going-to-the-Sun Road can be narrow and winding, especially near Logan Pass, each segment has a midpoint transfer point where you switch from larger buses to smaller shuttle buses.
If you plan to travel from the west entrance to the east entrance directly, you would need to transfer three times. However, it's important to note that these transfer points are often popular attractions themselves, so with well-planned timing, you won't waste too much time during the transfers.
As for the other areas within Glacier National Park, it's generally recommended to have your own vehicle for convenience.
Glacier National Park | 6 Days Itinerary
Glacier National Park is quite extensive, and if, like us, you're visiting in the summer when the entire park is open, it's actually best to plan a trip of about a week. For our trip, we allocated six days within Glacier National Park, along with an evening flight arrival on the first day and a morning flight departure on the last day. This itinerary allowed us to fully enjoy our time. The specific itinerary is as follows:
- Day 0: In the evening, we flew to Glacier National Park airport, rented a car, and drove to the West Glacier Motel located just before the west entrance for an overnight stay.
- Day 1: We started early at 5 AM, heading straight to the west entrance. First, we visited the Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake. Then, after waiting until 8 AM for the visitor center to open, we returned to Apgar Village to pick up our shuttle tickets and rent bear spray. Next, we took the shuttle to Logan Pass to hike the Hidden Lake Trail. In the afternoon, we returned to Lake McDonald. We stayed overnight at the Lake McDonald Lodge.
- Day 2: We caught the shuttle early in the morning to reach Logan Pass. Most of our day was spent hiking the Highline Trail, making a round trip. Afterward, we returned to Lake McDonald to rest, and we stayed overnight at Lake McDonald Lodge once again.
- Day 3: We opted for a road trip along the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road. We hiked the St. Mary Lake Trail in the St. Mary area in the morning and spent the afternoon exploring Two Medicine. We stayed overnight at St. Mary Village, just before the east entrance.
- Day 4: We drove into Many Glacier early in the morning. We spent the better part of the day hiking to Iceberg Lake and then returned to Many Glacier Hotel to relax and enjoy the lake view. In the evening, we visited Fishercap Lake to observe wildlife. We stayed overnight in the Many Glacier hotel.
- Day 5: We dedicated the entire day to hiking from Many Glacier Hotel to Grinnell Glacier. Afterward, we returned to Many Glacier hotel to savor the lake views and relax.
- Day 6: Finally, a day to sleep in a bit! The weather was at its best on this day. After checking out, we revisited the viewpoints near St. Mary Lake that we had explored before. In the afternoon, we took the pre-booked St. Mary Lake boat tour. Afterward, we drove along the Going-to-the-Sun Road towards the west, exploring along the way, and eventually left Glacier National Park. We stayed overnight at Grouse mountain lodge that evening.
- Day 7: We departed early at 7 AM for our flight home.
We took a flight to Glacier National Park Airport, which is quite close to the park. The drive wasn't long, and we had planned to spend six days within the park. This itinerary wasn't overly packed, and there were even moments when we could leisurely revisit certain places. Personally, I believe the entire itinerary could be condensed into five days. For example, Day 6 could be omitted if we skip the boat tour, allowing us to leave the park the previous evening. If we aim for a four-day plan, we could remove the hiking in St. Mary and part of Two Medicine. If we only have three days, we could reduce one night's stay in Many Glacier, spend less time at Lake McDonald, or even skip Many Glacier altogether and focus solely on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
- Exploring Glacier National Park in 6 Days | Top Attractions and Tips
- Half-Day Exploration of Two Medicine Area in Glacier National Park
- Many Glacier | Glacier National Park's Most Scenic Hiking Trails
- What to Do in Glacier National Park's St. Mary Area? Top Eight Must-See Attractions
- Logan Pass | Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTTS) | America's Premier Scenic Drive in Glacier National Park
- What to Explore in Glacier National Park's Lake McDonald Area?
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