Glacier National Park has more than 1 million acres to explore. While it’s highly recommended to take your time so you can really see the park, here are some of the top “must-dos” when your time in Glacier National Park is limited.
If you only have one day in Glacier National Park, you’re well-advised to spend it exploring the Going-to-the-Sun Road. If you are entering the park from the west entrance, be sure to stop in West Glacier for gas, a souvenir and any snacks you might want for the day. (If entering from the east side, get your provisions at St. Mary before entering the park.) Once you’re inside the park, make a stop in Apgar Village and peruse the various offerings at the Montana House (open year-round) before taking in the view from the southern end of Lake McDonald (aka, the most photographed spot in the park). After dipping your toes in the lake, travel along the Going-to-the-Sun Road to St. Mary. Take advantage of the various pull-outs and scenic viewpoints along the way. Recommended stops include Trail of the Cedars, Logan Pass Visitor Center, Jackson Glacier Overlook, Sunrift Gorge and Sun Point.
If you don’t have your own car or just want to receive a fun and informative history lesson, reserve a seat on a historic red bus tour. It’s a fantastic way to take in the sights and sounds of the park. The driver is your tour guide and is called a Jammer. Back in the 1930s the drivers would have to jam the gears to get the reds to climb the hills on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. All the reds have been upgraded, but the drivers have kept the name and dress in historic clothing, and they can tell you all about the flora and fauna in Glacier National Park. The reds are operated by and can be reserved through Glacier National Park Lodges. If you reserve seats on the most popular morning tour, called Western Alpine, you will be back in time for lunch at Lake McDonald Lodge. Another option—and a truly memorable experience—is Sun Tours, where you will get the Blackfeet Indian perspective on what Glacier National Park has meant to the Blackfeet Nation, and the beautiful land known as the Backbone of the World. Each guide is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe and tours start by burning sweet grass to bless the trip. Pickup locations vary from the east side of the park to the west side, and advance reservations are needed.
After you return from your Going-to-the-Sun experience, visit Lake McDonald Lodge. Built in 1913, the 82-room historic lodge sits on the edge of Lake McDonald. The front of the lodge—which actually faces the water—was built this way to greet the tourist that would come via rail and then steamship up the lake back in the early 1900s. Step inside this Swiss chalet designed lodge and eat at Russell’s Fireside Dining Room or Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria.
After lunch, grab a seat on the DeSmet (advance reservations highly recommended) with Glacier Park Boat Company. Climb aboard the historic vessel just steps below Lake McDonald Lodge. Cruise the pristine water and listen to the captain or one of the park rangers provide commentary on the scenic tour. Boat tours are offered on five lakes in Glacier National Park including St. Mary Lake, Lake McDonald, Lake Josephine, Swiftcurrent Lake and Two Medicine Lake.
Known as a hiker’s paradise, your time in Glacier National Park would not be complete without a hike into the forest. The park offers 730 miles of trails for every age and fitness level from the novice to the highly skilled backcountry hiker. One of the most popular hikes is the mile-long Trail of the Cedars (which is ADA accessible) followed by the 4.5-mile round-trip hike to Avalanche Lake. If going with a guide is more your style, Glacier Guides offers well-trained guides to lead the way and explain the geology, history and more. Pro tip: If hiking in Glacier, always be bear aware and never hike alone. Also make noise, never leave food out, observe bears from a safe distance and carry bear spay as a precaution.
For the more adventurous, take a horseback trail ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters from their Apgar or Lake McDonald corrals. For a thrilling adventure in late spring and early summer—at the height of mountain runoff—take a whitewater rafting trip with one of the many outfitters in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.
IF YOU GO:
Going-to-the-Sun Road + National Park Service – 406.888.7800 – nps.gov/glac
Sun Tours – 406.732.9220 – glaciersuntours.com
Red Bus Tours – 855.733.4522 – glaciernationalparklodges.com/activities-red-bus-tours
Glacier Park Boat Company – 406.257.2426 – glacierparkboats.com
Glacier National Park Lodges – 855.733.4522 – glaciernationalparklodges.com
Glacier Guides – 406.387.5555 – glacierguides.com/hiking
Swan Mountain Outfitters – 406.387.4405 – swanmountainglacier.com
Rafting in West Glacier – glaciermt.com/west-glacier
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