Glacier National Park Itinerary 3 Days
This Glacier National Park itinerary is for 3 days and will take you to many of the famous images you always see on postcards. With such a limited amount of time, I packed as many activities as I could into this adventure. Between the scenic drives and incredible hikes, nature lovers could spend a lifetime here and never get bored.
The park is just that gorgeous and is easily one of America’s best national parks.
So many times I’ve heard the Going-to-the-Sun Road was one of the country’s prettiest drives and it certainly lived up to expectations. Outside of driving this remarkable work of engineering, I spent my time hiking, camping, and crushing on the park’s picturesque lakes.
For anyone who loves escaping city life and witnessing America’s beauty at its finest, this itinerary will leave you begging to discover more of Montana’s rugged wilderness.
I hope you enjoy it!
Glacier National Park Itinerary 3 Days
Day 1 – Secure your Campsite & Going-to-the-Sun Road
Day 2 – Hiking Extravaganza
Day 3 – Cruising on the Lakes
Glacier National Park Itinerary 3 Days
To get the most of your Glacier National Park road trip, I highly advise saving three full days for this itinerary. With limited time, you don’t want to rush any of the activities high on your must-do list.
The closest airport to the park is Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) and is where many people fly into to start their adventure. Located only 30 miles from the West Glacier entrance, FCA is the ideal launching pad to begin your Montana vacation.
If you decide to drive into Montana, you have more flexibility on which entrance to gain access to the park. However, since many travelers fly into Montana to start their trip, I’ve made this itinerary starting from the West Glacier entrance.
After your flight lands or you arrive at one of the towns near the park, make sure you have everything you need and get off to an early start the next morning. And I mean EARLY! You have to be willing to rise and shine before the crack of dawn, but I’m sure that won’t be a problem due to the excitement of finally getting inside Glacier National Park.
Day 1 – Secure your Campsite & Going-to-the-Sun Road Drive
Grab Your Campsite
The first order of business for day 1 is making sure you have a place to rest your head for the duration of your trip. And if you visit during the busy summer months of July and August, you have to be on top of your game.
Glacier National Park has 13 front-country campgrounds with more than 1,000 total campsites. Most campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis, and they are often full by mid-morning (8-9 am). However, don’t be surprised to see some folks lining up their cars before sunrise to secure their spot. If you decide to snag one of these campsites, you’re set for the whole trip you since you’re allowed to camp 14 days during the summer. For an idea of what time each campground fills up, pay close attention to the Glacier National Park Campground Status.
Fish Creek, St. Mary, some campsites at Many Glacier, and half the group campsites in Apgar are the only campgrounds that allow you to make reservations in advance. During summer, these campgrounds are reserved months in advance, and I’d recommend you start looking no later than 6 months before your trip if you wish to camp here.
Backcountry camping is also available, but a permit is required. Check out this page for info on how to obtain permits, where to pick them up, and camping fees.
Although this would be my last resort, there are other campgrounds just outside the park, such as the West Glacier and St. Mary/East Glacier KOA campgrounds.
Now that you’ve secured your campsite and had a filling breakfast, the first main attraction is the Going-to-the-Sun Road scenic drive. Among the most beautiful driving routes in America, you have to dedicate at least one day at Glacier National Park to this epic drive.
The 50-mile road is a two-lane highway that connects each side of the park and spotlights the jaw-dropping scenery along the Continental Divide. Without stopping, it takes two hours to drive the road, but I guarantee you’ll need much longer given the number of scenic viewpoints of jagged peaks, cedar forests, sharp valleys, rocky ridges, and turquoise lakes.
Here’s a rundown of many awe-inspiring places to stop on the Going-to-the-Sun Road:
- Lake McDonald – Just past Apgar Village, Lake McDonald is the largest lake inside Glacier National Park. The crystalline, 10-mile long glacial lake gives a sweeping panorama of the Lake McDonald Valley and the snow-capped peaks on the horizon.
- Lake McDonald Lodge – The road follows the eastern shore of Lake McDonald and passes the iconic Lake McDonald Lodge. Constructed more than 100 years ago, the grandiose chalet provides one of the cosiest stays inside Glacier National Park.
- Trail of the Cedars – Walk amongst nature’s giants on this 0.8-mile trail that courses through an enchanting old-growth forest. Much of the trail is on a raised boardwalk to make this one of the park’s most wheelchair and family-friendly hikes.
- The Loop – If you need to stretch your legs or take a bathroom break, this is one of your best chances when driving the route. Hikers use it as a launching pad for thrilling treks, and the soaring peaks around the parking lot are incredible.
- Weeping Wall – Not exactly a scenic viewpoint, but watching the cascades flow against the rocky wall and spill onto the roadway is a magnificent sight from the car.
- Big Bend – This dramatic vista gives you a front-row seat to several rugged peaks rising high above the valley floor.
- Oberlin Bend – Step onto the boardwalk and gaze at the steep valley climbing to the snow-lined peaks and keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats clinging to the cliffside.
- Logan Pass – Congrats, you’ve made it to the highest point along the road to some of the best views offered in the entire park. The jagged mountains engulf the large parking lot as the viewpoints stare at the Continental Divide. The Logan Pass Visitor Center has restrooms, water fountains, a bookstore, interesting exhibits, maps and guides, and knowledgeable staff to answer any questions you have.
- Jackson Glacier Overlook – Get a stunning view of this mighty glacier hugging the side of Mount Jackson, one of the tallest peaks in Glacier National Park.
- Sunrift Gorge – Just a short walk from the road gives you a close glimpse of Mother Nature’s unfathomable power. The geologic formation shows the result of many years of flowing water slicing its way through the rock.
- Sun Point – Nestled along the mesmerizing St. Mary Lake, this viewpoint gives you a stellar view of the mountains rising above the lake. There’s lots of parking space here, and this pullout is one of the best places to snack on any food you packed.
- Mary Lake Overlook – If there’s enough space, make this quick pit stop for another stellar angle of the jagged mountaintops looming above St. Mary Lake.
- Wild Goose Island – Possibly the most famous image of Glacier National Park, this viewpoint sits directly across from the lonely island sitting in the middle of St. Mary Lake. The forested valleys and craggy peaks create an unbelievable backdrop for a picture that epitomizes the park’s alpine scenery.
The stopping points mentioned here are by no means the only places to see along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. There are several other worthy viewpoints to check out, and that’s why I dedicated the entire first day to appreciating this incredible work of engineering. If you have time, follow the road in both directions for a different vantage of the landscape. Just make sure to reach your campsite before dark to get lots of rest for a full day of hiking.
Day 2 – Hiking Extravaganza
After a full day of driving, you’re probably itching to hit the hiking trails and gain a closer look at the park’s majestic lakes and incredible wildlife. For day 2, you’re going to tackle some of Glacier National Park’s classic treks that reward your effort with stunning views of shimmering lakes. I’ve listed a few additional hikes and alternatives in case you’re a seasoned trekker or want to explore different routes.
Highline Trail – The granddaddy hiking trail that is a must for any trekker visiting Glacier National Park. At roughly 15 miles and rated as difficult, this one is recommended for serious hikers only. The trail connects the Logan Pass Visitor Center to The Loop trailhead and leads to the Granite Park Chalet. The route follows the Continental Divide and presents some of the most dramatic scenery in the park. In addition to glorious mountain vistas, you’re sure to encounter lots of wildlife and spot blooming wildflowers dotting the alpine meadows. Much of this route passes through the heart of bear country, so it’s crucial to adhere to bear safety tips listed below.
Hidden Lake Trail – For a shorter hike from the Logan Pass Visitor Center, consider this 5.3-mile trek that leads to the beautiful Hidden Lake Overlook. The path courses through alpine meadows and gives you a fantastic opportunity to spot mountain goats. Just like the Highline Trail, this route is known for bear activity, and you need to watch out for any ranger warnings or route closures. Once you reach the overlook, rugged peaks dominate the horizon overlooking the turquoise Hidden Lake. The trail meanders down to the shoreline but requires a steep descent.
With more than 700 miles of hiking trails, Glacier National Park is a trekker’s paradise. While the two hikes previously mentioned are enough to fill an entire day, I wanted to give you a variety of options. Below, I’ve listed one long trek and two shorter ones to consider as alternatives to the Highline Trail and Hidden Lake Trail.
Grinnell Glacier Trail – At 11.3 miles, the hike to Grinnell Glacier is one of the park’s toughest but also among the most breathtaking. The route ambles past multiple lakes, alpine meadows, and many chances to spot wildlife. Much of the trail hugs the cliffside and gives you a perfect panorama of the mountains rising above Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. As you gain elevation, the trail reveals hair-raising views of the Continental Divide and onwards to the glaciers. To rest your legs, you can take boat rides across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, but there are fees.
Avalanche Lake Trail – This trail veers off the Trail of the Cedars, and the roughly 5-mile trek is much easier compared to other hikes in the park. The route winds through the enchanting Avalanche Creek Gorge and mossy forests before opening to Avalanche Lake. Snow-lined cliffs overlook the lake’s crystal-clear shores for an astonishing photo.
McDonald Creek Trail – A relaxing stroll that’s great for trekkers of all skill levels, McDonald Creek Trail stretches for about 5 miles and passes the Sacred Dancing Cascades. Take shade beneath the old-growth forest while watching gentle waterfalls flow into the creek. Just make sure to pack bug spray since the mosquitos tend to be vicious along this trail.
Day 3 – Cruising on the Lakes
For the final day of this itinerary, rest those legs after your hiking bonanza and hop on several relaxing boat rides. I’m confident two boat rides are doable for anybody, but I’ve listed three below if you can pack them all into one incredible day on the water.
St. Mary Lake at Rising Sun – Cruising on St. Mary Lake provides striking views that are unattainable from the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The tour lasts about 1.5 hours and sails past the famous Wild Goose Island, enormous glaciers, and jagged peaks in every direction. If you’re still in the hiking mood, two departures allow optional guided walks to St. Mary Falls and Baring Falls.
Many Glacier – Climb aboard two beautiful boats and coast along Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. The journey starts from the Many Glacier Hotel, and a short hike connects the two boat rides. Wildlife sightings are frequent, and the scenery around each lake is beyond beautiful. The cruise by itself is 1.5 hours, but you have the option of adding a hike to Grinnell Lake or Grinnell Glacier. Just know that adding the trek will make this at least a half-day activity.
Two Medicine – If you have time to include a third cruise, then set your sights on the underrated Two Medicine Valley. The boat ride alone is only 45 minutes, and tickets are half the cost ($16.75) compared to St. Mary Lake and Many Glacier ($33.25). The Sinopah Mountain rises above the sparkling lake and creates a heavenly alpine portrait. Unwind and listen to captivating stories of the Blackfeet Tribe while taking in the scenery. Two departures offer optional guided walks to Twin Falls should you have time to squeeze it into your itinerary.
As you can see above, I’ve planned this Glacier National Park itinerary for 3 days, but this covers only a handful of places to see inside this majestic park. You could easily stretch it out to a1 or 2-week itinerary filled with gorgeous treks, lakeside excursions, and scenic viewpoints.
Bear Safety – Bear spray is simply a must-have when exploring the park, especially if you plan on doing lots of hiking. Always have it handy wherever you are and know how to use it in case you encounter an aggressive bear. Also, hiking in groups (ideally 4 or more) is another effective way to deter bears when on the trails. Make lots of noise, avoid trail running, maintain at least 100 yards distance when possible, and stay alert to avoid surprising a bear during your hikes.
Stock Up Outside the Park – Columbia Falls, Kalispell, and Whitefish each have plenty of options to shop for groceries, camping gear, and anything else needed for a few days inside the park. Once you enter the park, your options to get food and supplies are limited compared to the charming towns outside Glacier National Park. All of the towns mentioned are near the West Glacier entrance of the park. There are fewer options for food and supplies near the St. Mary entrance on the eastern side of the park.
America the Beautiful Pass – If Glacier National Park is your only destination in the United States then I wouldn’t worry too much about this. However, this will save A LOT of money should you be visiting multiple sites operated by the National Park Service. The pass grants you access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites, covers your entrance fees and can be used for one vehicle with upwards of three additional adults. For only $85, it’s a big money saver if you’re planning a big American road trip to other national parks. The pass is valid for one year, and you can visit here to scroll through all options.
With only three days inside Glacier National Park, I highly recommend you rent a car. You won’t have to worry about adhering to shuttle times and can spend more time at a spot that enthrals you. If you have a strict budget and a rental car is out of the question, you still have some options.
Shuttle Service – The National Park Service runs a free shuttle service along the Going-to-the-Sun Road from July 1st to Labor Day. The shuttle makes stops at many of the popular stopping points between the Apgar Visitor Center and St. Mary Visitor Center.
Hiker’s Shuttle – For a fee, several lodges have a shuttle catered to hikers trying to hitch a ride to others of the park. The service connects Apgar, Lake McDonald Lodge, St. Mary, Many Glacier, and West Glacier.
Red Bus Tours – These famous cherry-red automobiles provide guided tours while cruising the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The expert tour guides teach you interesting facts about the park and open your eyes to unique sights you might not find otherwise.
Biking – If you don’t have a car, how about biking inside Glacier National Park? Bicycles are permitted on the roadways, but check this page to read up on regulations and summer restrictions.
Accommodation – To save money, camping is your best option when visiting Glacier National Park. Plus, sleeping beneath the stars is a surreal experience that makes you feel an intimate connection to the universe like no other. Camping fees range from $10-$23 during the busy summer season, and you can stay at the campsite for up to 14 days. If your trip is not between July 1st and Labor Day (the first Monday of September), you can camp for 30 days.
There are several modern campgrounds within minutes from the East or West entrance, and fees vary from a few dollars to over $100 per night based on the style of camping you prefer.
Of course, you do have the option of staying in the sumptuous hotels, chalets, and lodges inside the park. Prices for these accommodations can soar to several hundred dollars per night, and you’ll need a much larger budget.
Food – Depending on your preferences, you have the option to eat on a budget or treat yourself to some fine dining inside Glacier National Park. If you have to cut costs, then your best option is to buy enough groceries for all three days before entering the park. There are no full grocery stores inside the park, but you’ll still manage to find general stores that have the necessities. Getting by on $15 or less per day is feasible when cooking your own meals.
For something a bit fancier, there are several lodges, hotels, and cafés where you can enjoy a traditional meal. Located in Apgar Village, Eddies Cafe & Mercantile offers traditional American fare and even has huckleberry ice cream. The Lake McDonald Lodge has a variety of eateries that serve lunch and dinner to help you recharge after a full day of hiking.
Closer to East Glacier, Summit Mountain Lodge Steakhouse whips up meals with locally-sourced ingredients and allows you to dine outdoors on the deck. Speaking of views, Many Glacier Hotel boasts sweeping lakeside scenery while serving Montana-style cuisine.
Your food costs will be a lot higher if you dine out for every meal, and it’s possible to spend over $40 per day if you’re not careful. Meals cost around $9-$10 on average, but this will vary from person to person.
I hope you love your 3-day Glacier National Park itinerary as much as I did. Leave me a comment below if you have any top tips you’d add.
Written by Daniel G
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