Magnificent mountains, stunning lakes, and picturesque skies —what’s not to love about Glacier National Park? This Glacier National Park Travel Guide has highlights and tips for you to plan a trip to this Montana wonderland.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is an incredible place to explore in Montana. The park features epic mountains, magnificent lakes, beautiful trails, and wildlife.
This park offers hiking trails, scenic drives, camping, boating and paddling, swimming, fishing, and several outdoor activities.
Glacier National Park Travel Guide
After hearing so many awesome reviews about Glacier National Park, I knew I needed to plan a trip to Glacier to experience the beauty for myself!
Our plan was to explore all we could in a few days. We planned to camp in a few campgrounds, backpack and camp in the backcountry, find alpine lakes to swim, and do a few day hikes.
We knew we only had a few days so we wanted to see a little bit of everything, which would also help plan future trips!
Glacier National Park Plan
Because Glacier is such a big park with several areas to explore and activities to do, you need to decide how you want to spend your time!
Our plan was to primarily hike, backpack, camp, and swim, so those were the activities that were our focus. We only had 4 days so plans were made to do a mix of everything and spend a little bit of time in each area.
What we did in Glacier National Park
Where we did hike & camp:
Where we did NOT hike or camp:
Many Glacier - didn’t have enough time to get there
North Fork Area - closed due to wildfires
We spent one day hiking in McDonald Valley and then camping in Apgar Campground. We did a sunrise hike, found a first-come, first-serve site in Apgar, and then did a few more hikes and swam the rest of the day.
Apgar Campground is located in McDonald Valley, making it a really easy and convenient place to camp!
We wanted to take a scenic drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Road so we drove up to the Logan Pass area and did a hike in the area. We had originally planned on hiking more in this area and the Many Glacier area, but the hikes on our list were closed due to bear activity and then we just couldn’t fit it back into our schedule to go back again. (It’s a long drive to get up to that area!)
We spent one day camping and hiking in the Two Medicine Area as well. This area is more remote and located on the east side of the park. It was so beautiful and offers several hikes and a campground.
Plan Ahead of Time!
There really is SO much to do so if you can make a plan ahead of time, that’s great! Keep in mind the factors that might change your plans — wildfires closing areas, bear activity shutting down trails, or campgrounds not have available sites. If you’re willing to be flexible, there will still be so many options for you to enjoy the park!
What is the best month to visit Glacier National Park?
The summer months offer the best access to the trails in the park! The snow melts in lower elevations by April and is usually gone in higher elevations by July and August so you’ll be able to hike on more trails.
However, the summer months are BUSY. The park is the busiest in July and August so visit outside that time to avoid crowds.
Regardless of when you visit in the summer, it’s going to be crowded. Plan in advance to get the trip you wish or be willing to show up and be flexible!
Weather in Glacier National Park
In the summer months, the weather at Glacier National Park is awesome! It is warm during the day (80s) and cool at night (40s and 50s).
Glacier National Park Backcountry
Glacier National Park has over 700 miles of trails that lead to tall mountains, pristine lakes, and epic overlooks to explore. To really explore the beauty of the park, I love to go into the backcountry.
The backcountry is the area of the park that is remote, isolated, and more difficult to access. To get to the backcountry areas in Glacier National Park, you can backpack.
I love to spend time in the backcountry because there’s less people, more solitude, and you can experience so much more of the park!
You must plan ahead for a backcountry trip. Obtain permits, plan campsites, pack gear, and prepare for your time in the wilderness.
Glacier Backcountry Permits
We wanted to spend time exploring the backcountry of the park but it's very difficult to receive the backcountry plan you request unless you submit permit applications the day applications open in March.
You can get permits in advance BUT you might not receive your specific request. If you want backcountry permits, you must get them in advance OR get walk-up permits for what is available within 24 hours of starting your trip.
At each National Park, there are backcountry campsites set aside for walk-up permits. It’s a little risky and you never know what you’re going to get. If you’re willing to be flexible, you’ll almost always be able to get something! The park rangers working the permit station are awesome and can help you figure out a plan.
Read more about backcountry permits here.
Glacier National Park Frontcountry
If the backcountry is not where you want to spend your time, there are plenty of amazing experiences available in the frontcountry!
The frontcountry of Glacier National Park are the areas that have established campgrounds, bathrooms, roads, and access to water and amenities.
Glacier National Park has several lodging and camping options available. There are several campsites available in the park. Some campgrounds offer reservations and other are first-come, first-serve availability.
If you want to make reservations in advance, make sure to do it early because the campgrounds fill up fast! However, people cancel everyday so you might be able to find something the night you need it.
There are also several first-come, first-serve campgrounds (you cannot make reservations at these campgrounds) that have campsites available everyday. In the peak summer months, I was able to find campsites at first-come, first-serve campgrounds. Spots were filling up fast, but I made sure to arrive in the morning and found a spot with success.
What do you need for the backcountry?
PermitsIf you’re going into the backcountry, you need permits. You can get backcountry permits in advance or the day you arrive (walk-up permits) from the Backcountry Office.
SkillsGoing into the backcountry requires a particular set of skills. You need to know how to build shelter, use maps, cook food, uphold Leave No Trace Principles, and perform safety skills. You need to know what you’re doing so you respect the park as well as the rangers who would have to rescue you if something went wrong.
Leave No Trace KnowledgeThere are Leave No Trace Principles you need to follow to respect the land you’re exploring. Make sure you understand & follow these!
Backpacking GearPack everything you need for a backcountry trip. Here’s my backpacking gear list!
Glacier Backcountry Plans
I submitted an advanced backcountry permit at the end of May for our trip at the end of July. Unfortunately, the 5 options of trips I planned were not given to me because of availability.
(The backcountry office had over 3500 applications submitted in March when applications opened… that is A LOT so it’s no surprise I wasn’t given my picks).
My requests for nights in the backcountry were:
Dawson Pass - Pitamakan Pass
Two Medicine North Shore/Pray Lake - No Man Lake - Old Man Lake
Cutbank - Atlantic Creek - Red Eagle Lake - St. Mary Old Ranger Station
Old Man Lake - No Name Lake - Morningstar Lake - Cutbank
What We Received:
North Fork Area: Bowman Lake & Lower Quartz Lake
Since that is what we were given in advance, we were planning on that option.
HOWEVER, when we arrived to the park, the North Fork area of the park was closed due to wildfires, meaning our advanced reservations didn’t really do anything for us. We were basically functioning as walk-up’s at that point and getting any backcountry sites available.
For your reference, every park holds backcountry sites for backcountry campsites for people who walk-up that day. They are first-come, first-serve and you never know what you’re going to get. This is usually the option I choose if I’m not able to submit permits when they open (which I usually don’t because I don’t plan that far in advance).
Walk-up permits are actually fun because you never know what you’re going to get and the rangers are super knowledgable to help you plan a great trip.
For us, we ended up getting permits in the Lake McDonald area around the lake (per the request of the ladies I backpacked with).
There’s a lot of information online about backcountry permits! I recommend giving the rangers a call for specific questions (this is what I did!)
Future Backcountry Plans
From talking to Park Rangers, doing research, and having plans cancelled, we were able to come up with a list of plans for the future! These are all places I want to explore in a future trip:
Dawson Pass - Pitamakan Pass
Two Medicine North Shore/Pray Lake - No Man Lake - Old Man Lake
The Two Medicine Area really stole my heart so I would love to backpack ANYWHERE in that area.
Camping at Glacier National Park
There are 13 campgrounds in Glacier National Park. In order to get a campsite, you must make a reservation online or claim a campsite the day you arrive.
If you would like to make a reservation ahead of time, you must do so way in advance because the campsites fill up fast! If there aren't any advance reservations available, there are several first-come, first-serve campsites you can reserve the day you arrive.
Keep in mind that campsites in reservation-based campgrounds open everyday due to cancellations. Check online beforehand or when you arrive to find a spot!
Lodging at Glacier National Park
There are several lodges available in Glacier National Park. I did not stay at a lodge, but these would be a great option for families or those not wanting to camp.
Best hikes at Glacier National Park
Here’s a roundup of the best hikes in Glacier National Park! To read in more detail about day hikes and multi-day hikes in the park, read this supplemental post.
To decide hikes on our trip, we used the AllTrails App along with talking to Park Rangers in the Visitor Centers. Both are helpful resources to choose hikes that meet your needs!
Scenic Drives at Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park offers several scenic drives. You can drive all around the park with incredible views everywhere you look! Drive around lakes, next to mountains, and over passes… it’s highly worth it!
Lake Activities at Glacier National Park
Rent a paddle board, bring your own canoe, or just swim in the lakes! McDonald Lake has a few great swim spots I would highly recommend jumping in the water and playing for the afternoon.
There are also several campsites on the lakes that you can paddle to so it is a unique way to explore the park.
Swimming at Glacier National Park
If you're going to swim at Glacier National Park, there are several options! My two favorites were:
Lake McDonald. We swam here after hiking in West Glacier and it was great! It's very easy to access and there are boats you can rent or spots to swim. This is a great family spot or spot to hang out for a few hours in the afternoon.
Two Medicine Lake & Pray Lake. These two lakes are in the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park. Both offer pristine water and are very easy to access!
Wildlife at Glacier National Park
There is so much wildlife in this park! Be prepared because you’re almost guaranteed to see something if you’re paying attention!
A few notes about wildlife:
Respect the animals!Don’t feed them, know how to identify them, and be aware of what to do if you encounter one.
BearsA quick note about these guys: they’re out there! I was skeptical about carrying bear spray but quickly realized why it was required. There are bears. Make sure to have bear spray, use bear canisters or bear bags, and know what to do if you run into a bear.
Meals for Camping
Here are some brief notes for the meals while camping.
We kept our meals easy & simple during our trip.
Breakfasts – Kodiak Cakes Protein Oatmeal Love starting my day with this hot, protein-packed, and delicious breakfast.
Paired with a lot of coffee.
Lunches – Snack lunches with tuna packets, crackers, dried fruit, nuts, Chomps (code JORDO15 for a discont), & G2GBars (code JORDO for a discount) were our go-to during day hikes and backpacking. We kept lunches easy because we usually stoped and grabbed food during breaks while hiking during the day.
Dinners – Backpackers Pantry Meals & Mountain House Meals These are both companies that make dehydrated meals where you just have to add hot water and let it soak. They are really easy, light, and convenient!
How many days do you need for Glacier National Park?
I would recommend 4-6 days at Glacier National Park. There is so much to do! You'll want to make sure to prioritize the activities you want to do and areas of the park you want to explore most.
Consider driving through Logan Pass, going on a few day hikes, camping, exploring the Two Medicine Area, swimming in some lakes, stopping at a Visitor Center and more!
Is Glacier National Park crowded?
Yes. The summer months are very busy at the park! If you hit the trails early or go into the backcountry, you can easily avoid the crowds.
Where should I stay when visiting Glacier National Park?
I would recommend camping or staying in a lodge! Choose your own adventure for this.
Is Glacier Park in Canada or the USA?
Glacier National Park is located in the USA in northwest Montana.
Glacier National Park Ticketed Entry
Certain entrances of Glacier National Park require a ticketed entry. This means that not only do you need a park pass for entry into the park, but an additional Going-to-the-Sun Road ticket (or service reservation).
You do not need a ticket to get into EVERY entrance of the park, ONLY the entrances at West Glacier, St. Mary, or Camas Road. If you don't have a ticket reservation and still want to get into one of these areas, you must arrive to the park before 6am when the gates open.
Make sure to do your research ahead of time so you're able to get into the park when you want!
Is Glacier National Park Worth Seeing?
100% yes. I loved my trip and I will definitely be making another trip in the future!
Glacier National Park Planning Tips
If you're planning a trip to Glacier National Park, here are some additional planning tips:
Go to a visitor center. Get maps, learn about wildlife, ask about open trials, get maps, and learn! Plan your days using knowledge from here.
Talk to a park ranger. Ask a ranger about snow melt, their favorite hikes, backcountry opportunities, and anything else you can think of. They are your park experts and are always very helpful!
Plan ahead of time or be willing to be flexible. We went to the park having an idea of what we wanted but not having a set plan. We figured out as we went and that worked for us! If you want to know exactly what you’re going to do, just plan it ahead of time.
Refer to this Glacier National Park Travel GuideSuccess!
Recommendations Near Glacier
Whitefish City Beach - Fun, free spot to swim
Flathead Lake - Great for boating & swimming
Kalispell Spots - My good friend, Linnea, lives in Kalispell & has a post with her favorite recommendations in the area!
Overall Experience at Glacier National Park
I absolutely loved Glacier. We had an awesome trip to Glacier National Park and will definitely look forward to another trip in the future!
This trip was a little bit of everything for us. Our visit was filled with backpacking, car camping, day hikes, swimming, and more. We used this as an opportunity to scout out areas for future trips as well! We learned a lot and now know exactly what we want to do next time we visit.
I can’t wait to visit again! I hope you enjoyed this Glacier National Park Travel Guide!