Glacier National Park Road Trip (+ Amazing Things to do Around Glacier National Park)

beautiful view of the turquoise glacial water and mountains inside Glacier National Park

Looking for the perfect Glacier National Park road trip? We got you! Glacier National Park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and popular national parks in the country not to mention one of the best things to do in Western Montana in the northern pocket of this incredibly beautiful state. 

Within this guide, we will cover great stops during your road trip to Glacier National Park including some of the best places to visit and things to do around Glacier National Park including great destinations to use base during all of your outdoor adventures and exploring – which will mostly base around West Glacier access. 

If you’re a fan of mountains, outdoor activities, incredible scenery every which way you look, unique stays, and cool cities with great food and shopping then you’re in for a treat. There are so many amazing things to do in Western Montana, our road trip to Glacier National Park will start in Missoula with scenic stops along the way and a few options for where to base during your trip to experience more of the best things to do around Glacier National Park.

Full disclosure, this trip featuring all the amazing things to do in Western Montana was done in partnership with Visit Montana. As always, all opinions and experiences are our own! 

Suggested Glacier National Park Road Trip Itinerary:

barn in a field along the roadside in Western Montana with clouds covering the mountains in the backdrop

We recommend building and customizing your Glacier National Park road trip itinerary based on our suggestions and experiences from our visit! We realize no one way of doing a trip is for everyone, so we have a breakdown of the itinerary we enjoyed. Further on in this guide, we will cover more of the best things to do in Western Montana near Glacier National Park to help you fill/create your itinerary with suggestions for what to do and see at each of the points of interest and destinations we recommend.

We started our trip in Missoula, which is where we will start our suggestions in case you’re coming in from Missoula or want to see what this fun city has to offer and visit more Western Montana locations. If you want to adjust to stay ad enjoy the things near Glacier National Park only, you can easily start from Kalispell at Glacier Park International Airport (FCO).

Depending on how much time you have, you may want to add more days in Glacier National Park, especially if you plan on adding more of East Glacier and the other areas of the park that aren’t around the West Glacier entrance.

And while it’s easy to plan an entire visit for just the national park, we highly suggest enjoying all the things to do outside Glacier National Park nearby too.

  • Day 1: Missoula
  • Day 2: Start Road Trip to Glacier National Park (stops in the Flathead Indian Reservation) and overnight in Essex
  • Day 3: Glacier National Park activities & overnight in Essex
  • Day 4: Glacier National Park & Kalispell
  • Day 5: Kalispell

Tips for Glacier National Park

Park Ranger walking along the Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park in Montana

You might be asking yourself when the best time to visit Glacier National Park is and the answer is shoulder season!! The park is open year-round but due to weather conditions, the areas that are accessible for visitors vary.

The peak season is the heat of summer from July through the end of August. This will be the best chance of being about to complete the full Going-to-the-Sun Road via Logan Pass connection to the west and east sides of the park via the road traversing the Contentinal Divide.

Although, Logan Pass often stays open through early October your chances decrease as if it snows or the weather changes, they will close it for safety. Logan Pass often doesn’t open until sometime in June, which varies year after year as it takes weeks to clear the roads of some 50-80 feet of snow drifts!

To curb over visitation and protect Glacier National Park, visitors now must register their vehicles to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor from West Glacier/Camas/Rising Sun and the North Fork at the Polebridge Ranger Station to limit the number of cars and visitors in the park and to help protect these natural areas for years to come.

The peak summer months are going to be the MOST crowded and competitive time to visit, which is why we recommend checking out the spring and fall seasons which is far less crowded and competitive to get your vehicle registration to visit the park.

A few things to keep in mind. If you can’t obtain a vehicle registration pass don’t cancel your trip quite yet. There are other ways you can enjoy your Glacier National Park without them.

One would be entering the park after 4:00 PM when they stop requiring vehicle registration for the day, we visited in the spring and it was still pretty light out until 9:00 PM, so that still gives you a few hours in the park to enjoy as well as use that time during the day to explore all the awesome things to do outside of Glacier National Park and things to do in Western Montana nearby.

Another option is to book a tour that takes place inside the park whether you’re enjoying a classic Red Bus Tour, boat tours on the scenic lakes, or a guided tour like biking or hiking with a company. If you book these in advance you will be able to enjoy the experiences (some pick up outside of the park and bring you inside with your guide). Booking one of the experiences count as your vehicle registration, so as long as you book these in advance you’re able to enter the park – just be sure to check with each activity that you’re looking at to confirm.

The last option would be to go to a less visited area of the park that doesn’t require the vehicle registration including Many Glacier and Two Medicine on the East side of the park which offers hiking opportunities, boat rides on the scenic lakes, and no shortage of views.

The vehicle registration is different from the park pass admission. You will still need to pay for your admission to the park which you can do online beforehand or if you plan on visiting more national parks (hint hint, Yellowstone National Park is just a few hours drive away) you can buy the annual National Park Pass for $70 which gets you into every national park without having to pay any additional entrance/admission fees.

And to ensure the safety of all guests on your visit, please brush up on safety in Glacier National Park. From wildlife encounters with bears and moose (and other critters) to drownings (which are common in the park, caused by hypothermia) due to the cold glacial water, avalanche safety, and more.

Best Places On the Way & Things to do Near Glacier National Park

view of the Swan Mountains in Creston Montana from Clark Farm Silos

There are so many great things to do outside of Glacier National Park to complete your incredible Montana road trip. Starting with Missoula (since that’s where we started) and including all the stops we made on our way to and around Glacier National Park. 

Each of these suggestions will include destination highlights including things to do, see, eat, drink, and stay to help you best plan your Glacier National Park road trip. 

Missoula

Stockman Cafe and Bar in Missoula Montana

Distance to Glacier National Park: 137 miles, ~ 2.5 hour drive nonstop 

Missoula is a hip city and great starting point on your Glacier National Park road trip or if you’re doing the Yellowstone to Glacier drive, this is a great stop and stay along the way. Missoula is home to the University of Montana, which directly results in the ‘hip’ scene you will find here.

One of the best places to check out is the Missoula Hip Strip which is found directly across the Clark Fork River over the Higgins Avenue Bridge. This is where you’ll find cool, independent shops like Betty’s Divine (509 S Higgins Ave) and fun hang-out spots to grab a drink like Gild (515 S Higgins Ave).

If you’re into shopping, you won’t want to miss Rockin’ Rudy’s (237 Blaine St). This gift store emporium started out in the early 1980s as a small independent record store and evolved into the “Original Hipster Department Store,” where you can find a labyrinth of room after room of all kinds of trinkets, gifts, and goodies under the sun you could imagine plus more. We’re not kidding! You can easily get lost in here, but in the same vein, you can find a gift for just about anyone in here too!

surfers on Brennans Wave in Missoula Montana

Did you know that Missoula has a surf scene? We were surprised too. Be sure to visit Brennan’s Wave (right under the Higgins Avenue Bridge) where you’ll likely spot local surfers or kayakers practicing on this manmade wave where the confluence of three rivers meets.

If you’re looking to get some great exercise in, plus a great view, hike up to the “M” you can’t miss on the hill overlooking the city. The M stands for the University of Montana and the trailhead can be found on Campus Drive across from Aber Hall.

One of the best things to do in Western Montana is EAT. There are no shortage of great places to eat, especially if you’re a fan of steak or burgers as Montana is home to ranches and beef cattle. For dinner, we highly recommend making reservations for 1889 Steakhouse (104 N Higgins Ave) where you’ll want to try one of their many cuts of steaks to choose from.

For breakfast or lunch, head to Market on Front (201 E Front St) for freshly made market meals that are quick and delicious. They also have an artisan grocery store here if you want to pick up any snacks for your Glacier National Park road trip. If you are looking for dessert, head to Big Dipper Ice Cream (631 S Higgins Ave) which has even been named America’s Best Ice Cream!

Where to Stay in Missoula:

We stayed at the AC Hotel by Marriot Missoula Downtown which was a great base during our time in Missoula as the location is right off of Higgins Avenue between Main and Front Streets which are full of great options for where to eat, shops, and walking distance to many of the best things to do in Western Montana in Missoula. This upscale hotel has beautifully designed minimalistic rooms. Book here.

St. Ignatius

exterior of St Ignatius Mission in the Flathead Reservation in Montana

Distance to Glacier National Park: 96 miles, ~ 2 hour drive nonstop 

Another great stop on your road trip to Glacier National Park is St. Ignatius on the Flathead Indian Reservation if you’re coming from Missoula. This small town only has a population of less than 800 and while there aren’t a ton of activities to do or see here, you are rewarded with a breathtaking backdrop of the Mission Mountains as well as an opportunity to pay a visit to the St. Ignatius Mission (300 Beartrack Ave).

The current structure dates back to the late 1890s and inside you’ll find 58 original artwork paintings by Brother Joesph Carignano as well as two paintings of the Salish Lord and Lord’s Mother depicted as Native Americans.

If you want add to your stop, nearby in Moiese you can find the National Bison Range which serves as an 18,500 acre refuge under the management of the indigenous Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes which serves as a protected range for the American bison as well as other species including deer, elk, eagles, bighorn sheep, and black bear to name a few. Visitors can pay admission to enjoy the scenic drives through the range via their car.

Ninepipes

the view from Ninepipes Lodge and Gray Gifts in Montana

Distance to Glacier National Park: 87 miles, ~ 1.5-hour drive nonstop 

Technically in Charlo, but next to the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge is another scenic and a great stop on your road trip to Glacier National Park. On a clear day, you’re greeted with the majestic views of the Mission Mountains.

Visitors can stop at Great Gray Gifts (69316 US-93) which is a small gift shop selling local products and goods as well as a cafe next to Ninepipes Lodge. This is a great place to stretch your legs and enjoy the view of the Mission Mountains from the pond.

You can also stop at the Ninepipes Picnic Pullout just down the road which has a great view of the Ninepipes Reservoir in the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge.

Flathead Lake

Kayaking on Flathead lake at Somers Bay in Montana

Distance from Polson (south end of Flathead Lake) to Glacier National Park: 71 miles, ~ 1.5-hour drive nonstop 

Distance from Big Fork (northeast end of Flathead Lake) to Glacier National Park: 39 miles, ~ 45 minutes drive nonstop 

One of the best places to visit and things to do in Western Montana is visit Flathead Lake. Whether you have time to enjoy activities on the lake or only have time to take a more scenic route driving past it en route to Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake is a must.

Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River (outside of Alaska) with 187 miles of shoreline formed by glacial movements in the Flathead Valley. 

The southern half of Flathead Lake is on the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes which requires visitors to purchase a tribal recreation permit to enter.

On our road trip to Glacier National Park, we stopped at Finley Point towards the southern end of Flathead Lake. There’s a secluded campground and picnic area visitors can pay a day fee ($8 vehicle fee paid at the gate). Along the lakeshore here you’ll spot the beautiful rainbow rocks this area is known for. The coloring is due to the mineral content and levels in the different rocks and are found around many bodies of water in the area including Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

One of the best things to do in Western Montana is to look out for these! They tend to look more colorful when the sunlight is hitting them right and the water is a bit calmer. 

There are many different highlights and options for enjoying Flathead Lake, one activity we really enjoyed was a guided kayaking tour with Sea Me Paddle from Somers Bay (northwest tip of Flathead Lake) which lasted two hours and offered gorgeous views of 5 different mountain ranges right from the water as well as paddling around the Juniper Islands.

They also offer various kayak and stand-up paddleboard tours throughout the year including winter kayak tours and kayak tours of Wild Horse Island on Flathead Lake. 

Essex

starry night at Izaak Walton Inn in Essex Montana

Distance to Glacier National Park: 30 miles, ~ 30 minutes drive nonstop 

Essex is a really great stop to use as a base during your Glacier National Park road trip. It’s most well known for the Izaak Walton Inn, a historic inn that dates back to 1939 built by the Great Northern Railway as lodging for railway workers. It’s actually the influence of Great Northern Railway that created Glacier National Park!

Something we wish the US had more of was access to more train travel route options throughout the country – which you still can do easily in and out of Glacier National Park by the way via Amtrak.

Today, Izaak Walton Inn still offers lodging for those exploring all the best things to do in Western Montana (and northwestern). Because of the strong connection between Great Northern Railway and Glacier National Park, one of the best things to do outside of Glacier National Park is stay at one of the renovated train accommodations (or cabins) here!

You can find cabin stays or for something a bit unique, especially if you’ve got a choo-choo train megafan in your road trip group, you can book one of the refurbished caboose train cars or the luxury locomotive as your room for the night or nights!

interior of our luxury locomotive at Izaak Walton Inn in Essex Montana

We spent two nights in the luxury locomotive, which is a former GN Locomotive 441 that’s been converted into a spacious lodging option that’s fit to be a home! It was actually pretty impressive how spacious the space was complete with heated floors, a fireplace, full kitchen, a bathroom with a bathtub, a living room, a King-size bedroom, and even extra storage spaces not to mention you can pretend to be the conductor in the front of the train.

The cabooses are smaller, but still are designed with space in mind complete with a bedroom, two twin size beds, a living area with a kitchen, and a bathroom.

What’s even better is that Essex is situated halfway between the West Glacier park entrance and the East Glacier park entrance meaning that if you want to explore beyond the West Glacier entrance (which this guide is heavily focused on), this is the perfect location and opportunity to base for both.

There are also trails you can enjoy at Izaak Walton Inn, mountain views, a sauna, hot tub, and a restaurant on site.

Goat Lick Overlook near Essex Montana

Just a short drive from Izaak Walton Inn is one of the best things to do near Glacier National Park if you want to try to catch a glimpse of the mountain goats is visit the Goat Lick Overlook. After parking your car, you will take a short walk to the observation area which overlooks the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

The river current has always been strong here which has helped expose the minerals, which the mountain goats from Glacier National Park travel miles to get here to lick these minerals and nutrients, hence the name ‘Goat Lick.’

If you didn’t see a goat inside the park, which we didn’t! This is a great place to spot them, especially if you’re staying in Essex.

Kalispell

Western Outdoor and Antique Shop in Downtown Kalispell Montana

Distance to Glacier National Park: 33 miles, ~ 45 minutes drive nonstop 

One of the best things to do outside of Glacier National Park is hit up Kalispell not only for their dining and shopping options but also for the outdoor activities that are available here! We used Kalispell as a base for 2.5 days during our road trip and exploring all the best things to do near Glacier National Park – so we have quite a few recommendations for here!

Downtown Kalispell is full of 19th-century storefronts that feel straight out of an old Western. Be sure to set aside some time to hit up some of the great shops available downtown including The Western Outdoor Store & Antique Shop (48 S Main St) which has a huge selection of cowboy boots for anyone and everyone along with apparel, head to the lower level to check out the impressive antique collections on sale.

For more outdoorsy outfitters and shops check out The Toggery (327 S Main St) which has a huge selection of casual and outdoorsy apparel as well as footwear, gifts, and related gear to the outdoors! Or if you need strictly outdoor adventure gear and apparel, check out Rocky Mountain Outfitter (135 S Main St), you can’t miss the ‘rock climber’ on the exterior of the store downtown!

Honey Home (136 S Main St) has a beautifully curated collection of vintage and new home furnishings and decor and a must-visit spot in downtown. 

shops in Downtown Kalispell Montana

For food and drink, you’re in a great spot! Kalispell has a really great culinary scene with several great options for every meal of the day. For the morning or breakfast, check out Montana Coffee Traders (111 S Main St) which serves up breakfast menu items from the kitchen as well as baked goods, coffee drinks, teas, and even has a little souvenir shop with a few locations around the area (one of our favorite things to do in Western Montana for breakfast was stopping at their locations we found as all had different menu items as well!). Or check out Ceres Bakery (318 S Main St) for fresh baked pastries and great coffee drinks to start your day.

For a fun lunch stop, don’t miss Norm’s Soda Fountain (34 S Main St). This old-school soda fountain serves up shakes, baskets of fries, and burgers in a casual setting surrounded by all types of candy you can purchase! Bonelli’s Bistro (38 1st Ave) is a great lunch spot offering paninis and other Italian dishes with a nice outdoor patio seating area. SunRift Beer Company (55 1st Ave) offers great local brews on draft and a great lunch menu with everything from salads to wings.

If you’re a fan of craft beverages, don’t miss enjoying a dinner at Big Mountain Ciderworks (1051 Old Reserve Dr) which is located outside of downtown with a backdrop of the surrounding mountains. This gorgeous taproom and restaurant serves up a variety of their own craft cider. If you can’t decide what to try, opt for one of their cider flights. Their menu also has great food from great shareable starters, to bowls, sandwiches, burgers, flatbreads, and more.

Another great place to grab a pre-dinner cocktail is KM Bar (29 3rd St E) then making your way over to the connecting restaurant, Mercantile (30 2nd St E) for a great steakhouse dinner. The filet mignon here was hands down one of the best steaks we’ve ever had. We also were huge fans of the cilantro-serrano battered onion rings, the pop-over bread, and lobster mac n cheese.

There are no shortage of activities in the Kalispell area to enjoy either. Some of the best things to do outside of Glacier National Park are around here from cultural attractions to more outdoor activities.

We recommend taking a guided tour of the Conrad Mansion (330 Woodland Ave), this historic home from 1895 was a modern marvel of its time featuring modern amenities that weren’t common in homes of the same period. The Conrad family founded Kalispell and were very influential in early days of Montana as a state. The home is an absolute stunner and is filled with original furniture as well as rare collectibles from that time.

mountain views from the scenic overlook at lone pine state park in Kalispell Montana

For those itching to enjoy more of the great outdoors, one of the best things to do in Western Montana is take advantage of all the lakes, mountains, hikes, and scenic overlooks! There are two great spots in Kalispell worth checking out including Foy’s Lake Park for a serene waterfront area to enjoy or hike around nearby Herron Park which has their 7.6-mile loop trail that you can just enjoy the first section of if you’re not looking for a long hike.

Lone Pine State Park is another option for hiking with over 7.5 miles of trails as well as scenic overlooks with views of the Flathead Valley just a short walk from the parking area making it a great quick stop or take a longer hike depending on the type of activity you’re looking for. 

Overnight at Clark Farm Silos

Megan and Scott enjoying a campfire outside Clark Farm Silos in Creston Montana

Exploring all the best things to do in Western Montana around Kalispell we stayed at around a 20-minute drive from the city in Creston. This is where we enjoyed views of the Swan Mountains from our luxury grain bin silo stay with Clark Farm Silos. The property has five 2-story silos equipped with kitchens, living rooms, and premium amenities like whole coffee beans with multiple ways to make your cup of joe in the morning and Pendleton Glacier National Park blankets.

There are also hiking (or snowshoeing trails if you visit in the winter) trails, fire pits, outdoor chairs overlooking the backdrop of the Swan Mountains, and of course things like flashlights, firewood, and bear spray in case you encounter one! Book here.

Whitefish

downtown Whitefish in Montana

Distance to Glacier National Park: 26 miles, ~ 35 minutes drive nonstop 

I couldn’t list out the best things to do around Glacier Park and not mention Whitefish. While this destination is seeing the effects of overtourism, visiting still might be of interest during your Glacier National Park road trip as it is well-liked for a reason. This resort-town in the Rockies is a premiere winter getaway destination for those who want to hit the slopes and with it’s proximity to Glacier National Park you get visitors flocking here year-round.

The beautiful downtown has great shops to choose from, including an additional location The Toggery (122 Central Ave) for all your casual and outdoorsy needs, Meriwether (115 Central Ave) has a great selection of fun gifts and souvenirs, and The Montana Scene (148 Central Ave) which has Montana-inspired clothing and accessories for sale to name a few of the shops you can find here.

One not-to-be-missed meal in Whitefish (and one of the best things to do near Glacier National Park food-wise) is eat at the famous Loula’s Cafe (300 2nd St E) featuring plenty of great breakfast and lunch dishes sourced from the finest local ingredients. But what Loula’s is most famous for are their pies, if you need help for what to order get the award-winning peach huckleberry pie.

If you’re craving pizza, check out Jersey Boys Pizza (500 E 1st St) which is the local’s favorite pizza spot and also a great take-away meal if you want something quick to take back to your hotel. 

And for the outdoors, beyond skiing and snowboarding in the winter, visitors can enjoy Whitefish Lake State Park. Whether you’re going on a hike or just want to take in the gorgeous Montana beauty, this is another one of the best things to do outside Glacier National Park. 

As mentioned earlier on this list of amazing things to do in Western Montana at Flathead Lake, Sea Me Paddle offers their guided kayak and stand-up paddleboard tours at Whitefish Lake too.

Columbia Falls

Distance to Glacier National Park: 17 miles, ~ 20 minutes drive nonstop 

For things to do around Glacier National Park, one of the last stops before actually getting into the park is the town of Columbia Falls along the Flathead River. We really only stopped for a meal, which was one of the several locations in the area for Montana Coffee Traders (30 9th St W) which ended up being one of our favorite mornings stops on our trip.

We noticed that the different Montana Coffee Trader locations had slightly different menus, but it’s worth highlighting how delicious the breakfast burrito was at the Columbia Falls location which is a great place to fuel up before entering Glacier National Park. 

Nearby Columbia Falls is also the town of Hungry Horse, where you can find the Hungry Horse Dam (around a 15 minute drive away). The town was named after two hungry horses, seriously! The Hungry Horse Dam is one of the largest concrete arch dams in the country and located on the South Fork of the Flathead River surrounded by a backdrop of Montana mountain landscape. Visitors can check out the exhibits here as well as tour the dam.

West Glacier

Going to the Sun Mini Golf in West Glacier just outside Glacier National Park in Montana

Distance to Glacier National Park: .5 miles, ~ 2 minutes drive nonstop 

Technically located just outside the entrance is where you can find more of the best things to do around Glacier National Park. West Glacier Village has a few places you can eat, shop for things you might need inside the park or souvenirs, fuel up, and where you may meet for some of your adventures through the park if you book a tour.

The West Glacier Cafe (190 Going-to-the-Sun Road) is a great breakfast spot before enjoying a full day of adventures. This was another spot that served incredible breakfast burritos with a portion fit for helping keep your body fueled before a big hike, bike ride, or whatever adventures you get into.

The Belton Chalet (12575 US-2) is a popular lodging option just outside Glacier National Park, but even if you don’t stay here having dinner at the Belton Tap Room is a very popular choice!

For some fun, check out Golfing-to-the-Sun Mini Golf (200 Going-to-the-Sun Road) where you can 19 themed holes with educational tidbits about Glacier National Park! The course is incredibly cute and is a perfect activity for families or those young at heart like us (we seriously love a good mini-golf course!). Plus if you get a hole-in-one on the 19th hole you get a free huckleberry sundae!

Speaking of huckleberries, did you know that this area of the Rockies are famous for wild huckleberries? You’ll find all kinds of huckleberry flavored goodies on menus and in gift shops throughout your road trip to Glacier National Park and you should take advantage of trying them while you’re here, especially the huckleberry cocktails and desserts!

If you want to pick up some huckleberry souvenirs, stop at the Huckleberry Hut (130 Going-to-the-Sun Road) where you can find all kinds of huckleberry goodies from jams to teas and candies! This is a great stop if you need to bring home gifts for anyone.

rafting on the Flathead River near Glacier National Park in Montana

One of the best things to do in Western Montana is to take advantage of rafting on the Flathead River as it’s one of the best rafting destinations in the country. None of the rafting tours actually start in the national park, but just outside of it through the Flathead River.

We enjoyed a scenic float with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft company located in West Glacier through the North Fork of the Flathead River, which was a much more relaxing experience than the adrenaline-rushing Middle Fork where the same company also offers white water rafting tours. And if you’re up for an even bigger adventure, you can book one of their guided overnight rafting trips too.

Fun fact: The 1994 thriller film The River Wild starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, and John C. Reilly is set on the Flathead River and some scenes were filmed here on the Flathead River and on the Kootenai River in Western Montana.

What to do In Glacier National Park

As mentioned earlier in this guide, don’t forget to plan your visit to Glacier National Park accordingly as the seasons are a bit tricky and require planning well in advance as well as securing an online reservation to be able to enter the park in effort to help curb over visitation.

Also, we will note again that we highly encourage you to plan your visit around the shoulder season to avoid peak summer travel crowds. The spring and fall are great times to enjoy a Glacier National Park road trip.

We spent two and a half days enjoying activities in Glacier National Park, keep in mind if you book a tour they help you get access into the park if you didn’t make a reservation. 

Most of these recommendations will be around the West Glacier entrance, however, if you have extra time (especially when you’re staying in Essex) we recommend checking out East Glacier too which I will briefly mention below.

Going-to-the-Sun Road 

Megan and Scott having fun biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

One thing you won’t be missing during your Glacier National Park road trip, especially if you’re coming in from West Glacier, is the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is the only road that traverses the park that passes through the Continental Divide and Logan Pass.

Stretching 50 miles, there are a few different ways you can enjoy the epic views from this famous road including hiking, biking, driving, and joining a Red Bus Tour. Something to keep in mind is that sections of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are often closed, the season to drive the full road from West Glacier to St. Marys (around 2 hours drive) is only open a short window of the year typically around late June/early July through early October but closes if weather is rough or if there’s a snowstorm as they need to plow the road.

The opening and closing dates to complete Logan Pass are never concrete as its affected by weather and each spring they have to plow the entire road through some 50-60 feet snow drifts!

It just so happens that when Logan Pass is open, it also happens to be peak season to visit Glacier National Park. Both times we went, we visited on the shoulder season of spring (late May) and fall (mid-late September). However, there are still sections of the Going-to-the-Sun Road open for visitors who come around the shoulder season too, as a matter of fact – that’s one of the best times to bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

There are times when the Going-to-the-Sun Road past Avalanche campsite are closed to vehicles and just open to cyclists. We went during the vehicle closure which allowed us to bike all the way to The Loop via e-bikes, which I highly recommend as this is a mountain you’re biking up.

We did a 5-hour small-group guided e-bike tour with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Company, which is the way to go because you have a knowledgable guide with you (which was good for us in case we encountered a bear – always feels better when you have a ‘local’ with you in those situations) as well as a mighty e-bike to help you get up the mountain without completely kicking your own butt, a packed meal, and helmets for guests to use.

Another awesome part about booking a guided biking tour (they have regular bike *non e-bike tours available too) is that they get you to the starting point, deal with the bike, pack you a meal, and if Logan Pass is an option, they will make you aware of that option. You basically just get to show up and enjoy the activity without all the planning. This was one of the best highlights of our trip and one of the top things to do in Western Montana.

Apgar 

Megan enjoying the view of Glacier National Park mountains across from Lake McDonald at Apgar in Montana

One of the best stops right inside the West Glacier park entrance is Apgar, one of the main villages within the park that has a variety of shops for items you might need on your trip or souvenirs, places to grab a bite to eat (even ice cream), and gorgeous views from the end of Lake McDonald.

There is a famous viewing spot and photo spot of Lake McDonald from the pier at Apgar with those famous rainbow stones too overlooking the mountain peaks at the end of the lake. Be sure to stop here and soak up the views before moving on your Glacier National Park road trip.

Lake McDonald Lodge

Interior of Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park

One of the best unmissable spots to enjoy on your Glacier National Park road trip is Lake McDonald Lodge which is around a 20-minute drive along Lake McDonald from the West Glacier entrance of the park. This is one of three historic lodges in the park which offers rustic lodging for those who want to stay in the park, or visitors can enjoy the restaurant on site, gift shop, and stunning views overlooking Lake McDonald.

the historic boat ride on Lake McDonald at the lodge in Glacier National Park in Montana

From Lake McDonald Lodge, you can join the one-hour scenic boat tour of Lake McDonald, which is a must if you ask us. There are multiple departure times per day, we highly encourage you to get tickets in advance as this is one of the mot popular things to do in the park.

Red Bus Tours

Red Bus Tour at Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park in Montana

One of the best things to do in Western Montana hands down is hop aboard one of the historic 1930s Red Bus Tours in Glacier National Park! This fleet of historic cars is the oldest touring fleet of vehicles in the world! 

Visitors can enjoy a tour of the park in one of these cool vehicles that has a rollback roof enjoying the fresh mountain air on your face as you sit back and relax on the Going-to-the-Sun Road taking in the majestic views. 

The Red Bus Tour routes vary depending on how much of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is open, if you happen to be visiting when Logan Pass is open, the buses do make that journey so you can sit back and relax taking in the views without having to worry about keeping your eyes on the road.

There are routes starting from West Glacier and East Glacier, be sure to read all about the tours and decide which one is best for you. When you book a tour on the Red Bus Tours you don’t need to have a reservation for Glacier National Park, so that’s one perk of seeing the park if you weren’t able to get a reservation in advance.

Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Creek

Megan walking through the Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park in Montana

Whether you’re looking for an easy (and accessible) short loop or you want to set off on a day adventure and hike to Avalanche Lake, you’ll be starting at Avalanche in Glacier National Park.

From the campground at Avalanche, you can walk along the boardwalk on the .9 mile loop passing the towering cedar forest that surrounds you along with the turquoise-colored water rushing by from the Avalanche Creek. This is one of the most serene and scenic walks.

For those who wish to continue on the half-day adventure to Avalanche Lake, the trailhead starts along the Traill of Cedars at Avalanche Creek.

More Time on Your Road Trip to Glacier National Park?

Megan and Scott enjoying the amazing view at Two Medicine in Glacier National Park in Montana

If you have more time on your Glacier National Park road trip, be sure to check out other parts of the park as this trip mostly focuses on things to do around Glacier National Park (and inside) from the West Glacier entrance. If you stay in Essex, which we highly encourage you to do so, you’ll be halfway between the West Glacier and East Glacier park entrances.

If you’re coming into the East Glacier park entrance on your Glacier National Park road trip, you can visit another one of the historic lodges of the park. The Glacier Park Lodge dates back to 1912 and is located just outside the park steps away from the East Glacier train station (which is where you can bring an Amtrak train here to!).

If Logan Pass is open, you can actually take the Going-to-the-Sun Road all the way to St. Mary’s, or if Logan Pass isn’t open for the season, you can drive around the park to visit St. Mary’s another scenic spot on the Eastern side of the park. There’s also a scenic, guided boat tour on St. Mary Lake with multiple departures daily and St. Mary’s Village with a backdrop of the Glacier mountains.

Another great stop one the eastern end of the park is Two Medicine. Two Medicine Campground on Two Medicine Lake is home to one of the historic chalets of Glacier National Park that dates back to 1914. You’ll be greeted with a stunning view of mountains from across the lake, and like Lake McDonald and St. Mary Lake, there’s a scenic boat tour you can take here as well with options for a 45-minute scenic journey or a 3-hour journey that includes a hike to Twin Falls.

Last but not least, one other excellent area in the park to add to your Glacier National Park road trip if time permits is Many Glacier. This is actually one spot we haven’t made it yet on our visits but it’s high on our list! The Many Glacier Hotel is another one of the historic lodges of Glacier National Park dating back to 1914. This is also a great opportunity to walk along Swiftcurrent Lake.

And like the other lakes in the park, you can also embark on a scenic 1.5-hour guided boat tour on Swiftcurrent Lake or you can opt for one of the longer excursions which include a hike to Grinnell Lake.

While the entire area and park has no shortage of wildlife sightings, Many Glacier seems to be a spot where there’s a higher concentration of wildlife sightings from bears to moose.


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