The Ultimate 3 to 5 Days in Glacier National Park Itinerary


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Glacier National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States. Located in northern Montana, with sections of the park stretching into Canada, Glacier National Park boasts outstanding scenery. Picture towering mountains, deep valleys, crystal clear lakes, lush green forests, and some very, very old glaciers. When you visit, you should plan to spend around 3 to 5 days in Glacier National Park. The park is divided into sections, which you can use to your advantage when scheduling your trip. 

Here, we’ve compiled a list of everything you need to know for your visit to Glacier. Whether you’re looking for tips on getting around the park or example Glacier National Park itineraries to use as inspiration, we have it here. Keep reading for the ultimate 3 to 5 day Glacier National Park itinerary. 

How Many Days in Glacier National Park?

Figuring out how how many days to spend in Glacier National Parks can be a tough question to answer when you consider just out big the park is and how much there is to see and do.

Every national park has the highlights as well as the lesser-known spots, and Glacier is no exception. Really, you could spend any amount of time in Glacier and never tire of the exceptional natural wonders living within the park. 

However, if you’re in the market for a brief foray into the park, 3-5 days is ideal.

This provides you with enough time to see the most popular sites, along with some extra time budgeted in to explore sections of the park that see fewer people. Glacier National Park is divided into sections that make it easier for you to plan a trip of any length.

If you’re planning 3 days in Glacier National Park up to 5 days in Glacier National Park, it is relatively easy to plan because of this. Make sure to also take into consideration travel days to get to the park.

Glacier is a popular national park with lots of things to do, but it can be hard to decide between visiting here or other nearby parks, such as Yellowstone or Glacier. It is essential to ensure you budget enough time to do any of these places justice.

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

Getting To and Around Glacier National Park

As far as national parks go, Glacier National Park is quite remote. The closest airport is Kalispell, Montana. Even then, flying into Kalispell requires visitors to rent a car in order to reach the park.

Alternative options are driving to Glacier from Seattle, Calgary, Alberta, or from Denver. Regardless of where you’re visiting from, you will want a car to get around the park. If you need to rent one, you can browse Rentalcars.com for options. The best way to experience Glacier NP is on your own terms. 

The best time to visit Glacier NP is during the summer, mid-June to mid-September. It’s during these months that the roads are accessible and the entire park is open for your exploration. One of the most popular attractions, the Going-to-the-Sun Road, is only open three to four months of the year during the summer.

If visiting during the winter, you’ll still be met with spectacular views, but plan to stick to the west side of the park. This is where most roads and sites remain accessible.

Make sure to do your research before booking your trip to ensure you’ll have access to the parts of the park you want to visit, depending on the season when you’re traveling. 

Driving The Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park
Driving The Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park

3 to 5 Days in Glacier National Park Itinerary

Many of the sites listed here are only open to the public during summer. However, summer is also the busy season for the park, so you might be bumping up against many other visitors.

No matter when you visit, make sure you’ve packed for all kinds of weather, have access to a sturdy pair of hiking shoes, trekking poles, and a water bottle. All that’s left is to enjoy your time in the park. 

Day 1 – Lakes and Glaciers

Iceberg Lake

There are 9.3 miles between the trailhead and Iceberg Lake, but the trek is well worth it when you reach the lake. This moderately-challenging route is quite popular among visitors, so you might encounter several other hikers here. Iceberg Lake sits below Iceberg Peak.

When you see pictures of the lake, you’ll understand how it got its name. The lake is filled with floating pieces of ice. The hike follows from the Swiftcurrent Auto Camp Historic District before continuing 4.8 miles until you reach the lake.

Consider starting your Glacier National Park itinerary early in the morning and packing a lunch. Stop at the lake to have a picnic before trekking back to the trailhead. This helps ensure you avoid midday crowds as you’re walking toward the lake. 

Iceberg Lake
Iceberg Lake

Grinnell Glacier/Highline Trail

In all your early research for visiting Glacier National Park, you probably read about Grinnell Glacier. Grinnell is the most famous glacier in the entire park.

You can access the glacier from the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead. However, you can also take the Highline Trail starting from Logan Pass.

The trail begins on a smooth trail that gradually increases in its steepness over the first 7.5 miles. You’ll eventually reach the Overlook Trail, and here’s where the climb gets steep. You gain 1,000 feet of elevation in about half a mile.

Make sure to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. This section of the trail is completely exposed. Once you reach the top of this climb, you’ve made it. You’re standing on the Continental Divide and looking at Grinnell Glacier.

With binoculars, you might spot a mountain goat, and on a clear day, you can see all the way down to Many Glacier Hotel. Ensure you give yourself a well-deserved break upon reaching Grinnell – you’ve earned it. 

Grinnell Glacier
Grinnell Glacier

Swiftcurrent Lake

Swiftcurrent Lake is found in the Many Glacier section of Glacier NP. Many hikes kick off from the lake and you can choose to take a scenic boat tour as well.

The aforementioned Grinnell Glacier feeds into Swiftcurrent Lake, along with several other glaciers, giving it the clear water that so perfectly reflects the staggering mountains behind.

Mount Gould, Grinnell Point, and Mount Wilbur are the three mountains visible from the lake. Many Glacier Hotel rests on the eastern shore of the lake.

The lake itself is divided into two basins that range from 15 to 30 feet deep. Swiftcurrent Lake is a great place to stop for an afternoon break during your 3-5 days in Glacier National Park. 

Day 2 – Aster Falls & Two Medicine Lake

Aster Falls

Beginning on the South Shore Trailhead at Two Medicine Lake is the trek to Aster Falls. A short and mild hike at 2.8 miles roundtrip makes the hike to Aster Falls great for everyone traveling with you.

As you walk along the lake, you’ll catch views of Painted Tepee Peak, Sinopah Mountain, Lone Walker Mountain, and Mt. Helen. You arrive at Paradise Point after hiking only a quarter of a mile – a location famous for the impressive views it offers hikers toward the lake and mountains behind.

Continue a little further to arrive at a series of beaver ponds that are usually prime locations for spotting moose. Just a short walk further takes you to Aster Falls, a zig-zagging cascade of water nestled between two slabs of rock and reaching 20 feet. 

Aster Falls
Aster Falls

Two Medicine Lake

Here is one of the most pictured places in Glacier National Park, and a must-visit on your Glacier National Park itinerary.

Two Medicine Lake is the jumping-off point for many hikes in the park, including Aster Falls. It’s located in the southeast section of the park and tends to be less visited because of this.

You can rent a kayak, canoe, or rowboat to explore the lake by water or take the boat shuttle across the lake. Those with keen eyes might be able to spot a bighorn sheep, mountain goat, or a bear in the mountainside around the lake.

Two Medicine Lake is a great place to spot for a picnic or spend a leisurely afternoon. 

Two Medicine Lake
Two Medicine Lake

Day 3 – Going-to-the-Sun Road & Logan Pass

Going-to-the-Sun Road

This scenic road offers visitors some of the best views of the mountains and valleys of Glacier National Park. The Sun Road is the only road that traverses the entire park, over the Continental Divide and through Logan Pass.

While the road itself is only 50 miles long, you should budget at least two hours to drive the Sun Road, but allow for more if you plan to stop along the way, which it’s highly recommended that you do. Many short hikes kick off from small parking lots along the road – lots that fill very quickly in the day, so it’s best that you get an early start and pack a lunch.

Because this is an exceptionally difficult road to plow in the winter, it usually remains closed for most of the winter months. In some sections, the Sun Road is narrow and winding, so make sure to drive carefully. 

Note that, beginning when the season opens in 2022, that tickets will be required to access the Going-to-the-Sun in order to limit the number of people driving on this road. Be sure to plan in advance and you can book tickets when they open here.

Logan Pass

Logan Pass is the highest place in the park that you can reach by car. It’s well-known for its field of wildflowers along rolling hills and backdropped by towering mountains.

These meadows are home to many species of wildlife, so it’s you’re trying to spot mountain goats, bighorn sheep, or a grizzly bear without venturing into the backcountry, definitely pay Logan Pass a visit.

Keep in mind that Logan Pass parking lot fills up very quickly. Try to be there early in the morning and plan to spend a sizable part of your day exploring the area. 

Views from Logan Pass
Views from Logan Pass

Day 4 – Iconic Waterfalls

St. Mary’s Falls

If you’re looking for a quick hike that takes you to a picturesque three-tiered waterfall, here’s your trail. St. Mary’s Falls is one of the most famed waterfall hikes in Glacier NP.

You can access the trail from the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which makes it a great detour if it’s high on your to-see list and you’re driving the road.

Make sure to keep an eye out for signage along this trail as there are cutoffs that take you to the falls. St. Mary’s Falls drops 35 feet across three tiers. Should St. Mary’s Falls pique your interest in waterfalls and you want more, consider hiking even further along the trail until you reach Virginia Falls. 

Virginia Falls

When it comes to waterfalls in Glacier National Park, St. Mary’s Falls and Virginia Falls go hand-in-hand. Less than a mile beyond St. Mary’s Falls, you’ll arrive at Virginia Falls.

The trail ascends on the west side of Virginia Creek toward the falls. You will pass two smaller waterfalls alongside the trail that are unnamed, but worth a quick stop to admire.

Continue on the trail before arriving at Virginia Falls. This is another multi-tiered waterfall whose main section drops 50 feet. If you decide to walk closer to the falls, proceed with caution. No matter what time of year you’re visiting, the rocks at the base of the falls are incredibly slippery. 

Virginia Falls
Virginia Falls

Day 5 – Lake McDonald & Trail of Cedars

Lake McDonald

At ten miles long and 500 feet deep, Lake McDonald is a beloved part of Glacier National Park. If you only have a few days to spend in the park, make sure this lake is on your itinerary.

These clear waters reveal colorful pebbles. Mountains backdrop the lake and you’ll find them mirrored in the water on a clear day. Visitors can get up close to the lake by renting stand up paddle boards or kayaks to take out on the water.

Lake McDonald Lodge was built alongside the lake in 1913 and serves as a great place for a meal or to rest after a long day spent hiking and exploring the park. Several hiking trails are accessible from the lake, so you could easily spend an entire day around Lake McDonald with plenty to see and do. 

Trail of Cedars

If you’re looking for a hike that shakes up the scenery from mountains to forests, the Trail of Cedars is your best bet. It’s one of two wheelchair-accessible trails in the park. The trail itself is a boardwalk through a lush green forest for one-mile round trip.

You’ll reach a footbridge that provides lovely views of the lower Avalanche Gorge. If you continue another 1.6 miles forward on the trail, you’ll arrive at Avalanche Lake. The entire Avalanche Basin area is a favorite area to explore that usually sees fewer people. 

Trail of the Cedars
Trail of the Cedars

Where to Stay Near Glacier National Park

Whether you’re spending 3 days in Glacier National Park or plan to spend five or more days here, you are going to need to find a great place to stay near the park entrance or within this beautiful natural area itself. If you’re wondering where to stay, have a look at these suggestions:

The Ridge at Glacier – These luxury cabins close to the Glacier National Park entrance are a fantastic option if you’re looking for a plush stay near the Park. There are a number of wonderful places to choose from that can suit all kinds of visitors. Click here to see their availability

Under Canvas Glacier – If you’ve been keen to try your hand at glamping, then incorporating it into your Glacier National Park itinerary is an excellent idea and this unique accommodation option is a great choice. Located close to the Park entrance, there are countless plush safari-style tents available to suit any party size and lots of other amenities to help your stay be a great one. Click here to see their availability

Private Rental – If you’d rather stay in a private place near the Park, there are myriad options on offer. Places like this mountain view cabin within the National Park are plentiful. Click here to browse more Glacier National Park private rentals

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels near Glacier National Park!

Avalanche Lake
Avalanche Lake

The 3 to 5 days that you spend in Glacier National Park will be memorable and the sites and activities are plentiful. Whether you’re traveling with friends, family, or solo, you’ll never cease to be impressed by what the park has to offer. Now, armed with all the information you need to start planning your trip to Glacier National Park, it’s time to get going!

Are you planning a Glacier National Park itinerary? Have any questions about planning your trip? Let us know in the comments!

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Audrey Webster is a writer for The World Was Here First. She is an Oregon native who has visited countries across the globe and currently spends her weekends exploring the Pacific Northwest. Her approach to traveling combines exploring famous tourist sites and wandering off the beaten path to discover new destinations.

Comments

  1. If I cannot get a Going-to-the-Sun Road pass (they are sold out when I plan to be there), will I still be able to visit other parts of the park? Especially Lake McDonald?

    Reply

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