If you are planning to visit Glacier National Park, my 5 day Glacier National Park itinerary will give you a great guide for planning an epic family trip.
During the summer of 2020, our family wanted to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors, some adventure, and try something different. Glacier National Park was on our bucket list for some time. And, honestly, it was the perfect time to visit any national park.
While we knew Glacier National Park was going to be special, we were blown away by its beauty, its majesty, and how different it was throughout the park. We also loved seeing animals when visiting Glacier National Park, as some of them we had never seen before!
Montana is a really uniquely special place. It's no wonder so many families flock there year-round. And, my 5-day Glacier National Park itinerary is the perfect destination for families who want to experience Glacier National Park.
Especially for those families who want to hike and enjoy the great outdoors.
If you are visiting Glacier National Park, this Glacier National Park itinerary was our exact trip. Planning a family trip to this national park may seem a little overwhelming, so I wanted to create this post on a 5-day itinerary for Glacier National Park to make it more accessible for your next trip.
Are you ready? Let's go!
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A Note About This Glacier National Park Itinerary
There are so many fun activities to do in this park, like visiting Grinnell Glacier, Going To The Sun Road, Hidden Lake Overlook, and the Blackfeet Reservation, as well as hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, boat tours, and more.
Glacier National Park is so big, that it is impossible to do it all in one trip. But my 5 day Glacier National Park itinerary is the exact trip we took with our kids who were 8, 8, and 11 at the time.
If you are looking for a Glacier National Park 3 day itinerary or even a 2 day itinerary, you can cut out some things on this list. If you plan to be at Glacier National Park longer, you can add to this list and make a Glacier National Park itinerary with additional activities noted at the end of this list.
This Glacier National Park itinerary is full of fun, family-friendly activities that your kids are sure to love. Certainly, you can swap out anything in this list for any of the Glacier National Park itineraries to suit your family, their activity level, and interest.
I have included additional things to do in and around the area to maximize your Glacier National Park trip.
About Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park (Glacier NP) is considered the crown of the continent with its ancient forests, rocky mountains, stunning lakes, alpine lakes, and verdant meadows. The park has over 700 miles of nature trails and is the avid hiker's paradise.
But, don't let that scare you from bringing kids! Glacier National Park is actually fantastic for families and kids.
While there are some hikes that are longer and more advanced, there are many activities and hikes that are great for kids.
For those seeking solitude in a pristine wilderness, Glacial National Park is perfect for adventure seekers. You'll be transported back in time with the infamous Going to the Sun Road and historic lodges and mountain chalets.
The national park service website has more information on the current weather conditions, vehicle registrations, visiting during the off-season, and much more. You can also find a Glacier National Park map here as well.
Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park
Mount Cleveland is the highest point in the park at 10,466,' and Logan Pass is the highest point accessible by car at 6,646′. Middle Fork River in West Glacier has the lowest elevation at 3,215′.
Glacier National Park actually is so big, it goes into Canada, as part of Waterton Lakes National Park. It is south of Banff National Park.
The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was created in 1931 when Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park unified and became the first international National Park, as the beauty and benefits extend across the northern part of Montana into Canada.
It is important to note though that Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park are administered separately and have separate entrance fees.
Why Visit Glacier National Park
Glacier NP has incredible views, a variety of wildlife, and amazing activities for families. The kids will love going hiking and horseback riding while taking in the spectacular scenery. With this Glacier National Park itinerary, you can pick and choose or mix and match to create the perfect family vacation.
With 13 drive-in campgrounds, it's the perfect place to enjoy a family camping trip out in the pristine woods. Stop in one of the three visitor centers to learn more about the park and talk to the rangers that work there every day.
The hiking trails are phenomenal, and you can even go on a guided family hike with park rangers or with a group like Glacier Guides. You can go on chalet hikes, full or half-day hikes, or stay overnight.
Glacier National Park Map
There are three main areas in the park – East Glacier, West Glacier, and Many Glacier. Here is a map of Glacier National Park map to help you.
This area is 17-mile stretch of Going-to-the-Sun Road that begins at Logan Pass. As you travel east, it descends down to the town of St. Mary and St. Mary Lake.
This is the 33-mile stretch of Going-to-the-Sun Road that you access from the West Entrance of Logan Pass. It's the most popular area of the park and you'll find Lake McDonald Lodge, the Apgar Visitor Center, Highline Trail, Avalanche Lake, and the Loop here. This is also where you will find the Hidden Lake Overlook.
This area is a favorite area for hikers. You must leave the park from the east to get to Many Glacier as you can access it off Going-to-the-Sun Road. Then you'll re-enter the park at the entrance close to Babb, Montana.
There are many amazing hikes here as well as several lakes. You can go on Glacier National Park Boat Tours in this area, and it's a great place to watch nature and wildlife like moose, elk, bears, etc.
Epic 5 Day Itinerary for Glacier National Park
With so much to do on your Glacier National Park vacation, it’s important to make the most of your time. You want to take in as many kid-friendly activities as possible, so an itinerary helps you plan for all the things you want to do like Glacier National Park kayaking, hiking, boating, and more.
With so many things to fit in your daily schedule, this Glacier National Park Itinerary for 5 Days can help you maximize your time in the park.
Day 1: Itinerary for Glacier National Park
- Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan's Pass
- Hidden Lake Overlook
- Highline Hike with Glacier Guides
- 8-Mile Hike to Haystack Butte and Back
Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan’s Pass
Going-to-the-Sun Road is the main thoroughfare through the park, but it's only completely open during the summer. Different parts are closed in other seasons.
If you aren't into long hikes, you could certainly drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road on one day of your Glacier National Park itinerary. There are many stops and overlooks where you can get epic views. But if you like hiking, definitely check out some of the hikes on this Glacier National Park itinerary.
Because this road gets very crowded during the summer, I suggest you start your day there early. It's not fun to fight your way down the road only to get to the top of Logan Pass and find you can't find a place to park.
You should plan on starting your first day at Glacier NP no later than 7 AM and even earlier if you can. My itinerary for Glacier National Park has your first goal of getting to the top of Logan Pass first.
You can visit the Logan Pass Visitor Center to learn some park history and the local wildlife and plants.
Just past the Logan Pass Visitor Center, you'll also find Hidden Lake Overlook Trail, which is another popular hiking trail with the Hidden Lake Overlook hike. You can also go to the Jackson Glacier Overlook, where you can see one of the few glaciers you can view from Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Highline Hike with Glacier Guides
Highline Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the whole park because the scenery is gorgeous. But this trail is for the brave because the first part is carved into a cliff edge, and it's narrow – but don't let that scare you off. It is not as scary as it sounds!
For many, it's their favorite hike. Personally, I think this hike should be on any Glacier National Park itinerary if possible. It is that special.
Now, there ARE some parts that are narrow, but people can pass you. The first part has a rope you can lightly hold onto. But my 8-year-olds were able to do it with no problem. In fact, even I could do it (and I am afraid of heights!)
You can access it from the Logan Pass parking area or from The Loop parking lot. I suggest you take the Glacier National Park Shuttle up to the visitor center to the trailhead. Since the schedule changes regularly, make sure you check the shuttle service schedule before you plan your day.
If you go with Glacier Guides, they will bring you to Logan Pass and include lunch!
8-Mile Hike to Haystack Butte and Back
Haystack Butte is part of the mountain located just above The Weeping Wall Glacier. It got its name because it looks like a haystack. The Haystack Butte Trail is approximately 8.20 miles long and is moderately challenging. It's open all year but the best time to hike it is late June – October. This trail takes you to a peak that allows you to look out over the park and mountains.
If you're lucky, you might get to see some mountain goats. Make sure to bring plenty of water and some snacks with you.
Note about Highline Trail
If you have older kids and feel they can handle the whole Highline Trail Loop, which is 11. 8 miles, it actually continues past Haystack Butte. The trail goes on to the Garden Wall, the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail, and the Granite Park Trail.
Honestly, though, this is really ONLY for advanced hikers (who have bear spray!) as it passes through Grizzly country. For kids school-aged and up, I would do the guided hike to Haystack Butte and back which is 8 miles in itself.
Day 2: Itinerary for Glacier National Park
- Polebridge and Polebridge Market
- North Fork Road
- Bowman Lake
- Eat Lunch in Whitefish
- Visit the Whitefish Ski Resort and Ride the Mountain Coaster
Polebridge and North Fork Road
Polebridge is located on the North Fork part of the Flathead River, just 22-miles from the Canadian border. You can get there from West Glacier by taking Camas Road from Apgar Village. After about 11 miles, turn right onto North Fork Road at the Camas Creek Glacier NP entrance. From there, travel 25 miles to Polebridge.
You can also get to Polebridge from the Inside North Fork Road inside the park, but it's very rough and often impassable.
There's a little historic mercantile shop you can stop at on your way to Kintla and Bowman Lake. It was the only outpost for many early explorers of Glacier NP. Make sure you get the Huckleberry Treats!
The Polebridge Mercantile is a MUST stop on your Glacier National Park itinerary!
Bowman Lake offers stunning views and it’s the perfect place to have a family picnic (or treats from the Polebridge Mercantile and hike around the lake. If you can, also take in a sunrise here as it's spectacular.
To get to Bowman Lake, after you stop at the Polebridge Mercantile, you'll continue past the Glacier National Park entrance and watch for the next left turn and follow the signs to Bowman Lake Road. Once you turn onto Bowman Lake Road, you’ll drive for about 20 minutes, you'll stop at the Bowman Lake Day Use Area and Bowman Lake Campground.
Be sure to park in the day-use area as you can't park on the lakeshore.
I highly recommend this stop on your Glacier National Park itinerary. In fact, while we were standing at the lake, we heard the sound of wolves howling. It is very serene and peaceful.
Eat Lunch in Whitefish
Whitefish, Montana is the perfect place to take a break from hiking and outdoor activities on your Glacier National Park itinerary. You'll find plenty of restaurants and shops to visit. Our favorite places to eat are the Craggy Bar, Buffalo Cafe, Grouse Mountain Lodge, and Jalisco Cantina.
You can also eat at the Boat Club inside The Lodge at Whitefish Lake.
Visit Whitefish Ski Resort and Ride the Mountain Coaster
The Whitefish Ski Resort is only 19 miles from the Glacier Park International Airport, and there's also an Amtrak train station even closer. With 200 on-mountain hotel rooms, mountain homes, and condos, the resort is a great place to stay for a ski vacation.
Be sure to add the Alpine Slides (there are two) at the resort to your Glacier National Park 2 day itinerary. Children under 48 inches can ride for free, but they must be accompanied by an adult. It's really fun, and the kids love the fun dips, turns, and ride through tunnels and under bridges.
Day 3: Itinerary for Glacier National Park
- St. Mary and Virginia Falls Guided Hike
St. Mary and Virginia Falls Guided Hike
Every Wednesday, Glacier Guides offers a guided day hike to St. Mary and Virginia Falls. Glacier Guides provides lunch, van transport to the trail, bear management training, first aid, and an interpretive guide. It is a great addition to your Glacier National Park itinerary.
It's an easy to moderate 7-mile hike to the falls and back, and you usually get back around 4:45 PM at the end of the day.
The Glacier Guides website provides the following itinerary for the day. The full day Glacier National Park hike will include a drive nearly the length of the Going to the Sun Road to the Sun Point trailhead.
From there, you hike to St. Mary and Virginia Falls through completely different terrain on the Mary Lake trail. You hike right up to the base of each of these waterfalls. It is an easy hike but it is long, so do wear layers and have good hiking shoes (be sure to add them to your packing list.)
Once you reach Virginia Falls, the guide provides lunch and then you return back. On the hike, you will see majestic views, and possibly wildlife (we saw a moose!). And, the knowledgeable guides provide fascinating Glacier, including the Salish, Kootenai, and Blackfeet Native Americans, as well as the early European trappers and explorers.
Day 4: Itinerary for Glacier National Park
- Whitewater Rafting Trip
- Visit Lake McDonald and Lake McDonald Lodge
- Visit Apgar Village
Whitewater Rafting Trip
In the morning, you can enjoy a whitewater rafting trip with either Glacier Guides or Great Northern Rafting. If your kids are not comfortable with whitewater rafting or are very young, there are calmer river rides you can take.
I highly recommend this experience on your Glacier National Park itinerary.
On our trip, we coasted down the Flathead River, immersing ourselves in the complete beauty and scenery of Glacier National Park. In fact, we saw a bear sitting in the river taking a bath!
He paid no attention to us. But it was an amazing experience to see him up close.
The rapids were fairly calm on the day we were there. But some sort of boat excursion is well worth doing on your Glacier National Park trip with kids.
Alternatively, you could take a Lake McDonald boat tour or horseback ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters during this time.
Visit Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald is one of the most popular lakes in the whole park. You can go on boating adventures, go swimming, and more. It's the perfect place to watch a sunset.
One of the best places to stay in Glacier NP, Lake McDonald Lodge, is located here.
The park offers red bus tours, so this may be the perfect time to hop on a red bus and visit the area. The Glacier Red Bus tours leave from the east, and west sides of the park, and Lake McDonald and Apgar Village are West Side departures in the park. This is a great add on to your Glacier National Park itinerary.
Visit Apgar Village
Apgar Village is located two miles from the West Glacier entrance to the park and at the southwest end of Lake McDonald. You'll find a visitor's center here as well as a camp store, boat rentals, and horseback riding. The largest campground in Glacier National Park, Apgar Campground, is close by.
If you want to add camping to your itinerary for Glacier National Park, this may be the perfect place to stay. You can also rent cabins here. Make sure to book as far in advance as possible as some places require reservations six months in advance, and some require 13 months.
This day would also be perfect for a white water rafting adventure in the Flathead River. The park website lists a few places you can sign up for full or half-day white water rafting tours.
Day 5: Itinerary for Glacier National Park
- Breakfast at Sunflower Cafe Campground
- Hike Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Lake and Back (you can hike Avalanche Lake as well)
- Visit West Glacier Shops
Eat Breakfast at Sunflower Cafe Campground
The Sunflower Cafe is tucked away in the Glacier Campground and serves food inspired by the owners' travels around the world. The history of the location also inspires the cuisine as well.
Breakfast here is a nice addition to your Glacier National Park itinerary. You'll find food like Chilaquiles, a classic breakfast sandwich, and Huevos Bowl for breakfast here.
You can also stay at this beautiful campground. If so, be sure to pack your camp french press for camp coffee in the morning.
Hike Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Lake and Back
After breakfast, hike the Trail of Cedars to Avalanche Lake and back. It's about four miles roundtrip. This trail is an easy hike as it’s one of the two wheelchair-accessible trails in the park.
It's a popular trail, so it can be difficult to park during peak season. You'll see moss, red cedars, and lush green ferns. The footbridge over Avalanche Creek is one of the highlights of the hike.
Now, sometimes the hike to Avalanche Lake is closed if say there is bear activity (which happened to us on one of the days!)
Visit West Glacier Shops
West Glacier has many great places to shop and eat after your hike. The historic West Glacier Mercantile is here, and there's also a gift shop. The Huckleberry Hut has teas, jams, and candies.
You'll also find a few cafes to eat at while you're there.
Other Things to Do in Glacier National Park
There are plenty of other kid-friendly activities to add to your itinerary for Glacier National Park, such as:
Glacier Red Bus Tours
Take a ride on the historic Glacier Red Bus tours, which are part of the history of the park. The roll-back tops of the historic 1930s style busses are perfect for getting ideal views of the mountains. Glacier's Red Bus fleet is the largest of any park in the world. And it is definitely an iconic and memorable thing to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Horseback Riding with Swan Mountain Outfitters
Swan Mountain Outfitters is a family-owned company that offers guided horse tours through the park. They offer the only ones inside Glacier National Park, and we love to go horseback riding every time we go.
Glacier National Park Kayaking
There are plenty of places to kayak inside the park, including:
- Lake McDonald
- Bowman Lake
- Two Medicine Lake
- Swiftcurrent Lake
- St. Mary Lake
You'll also find places close by but outside the park, including:
- Flathead River
- Flathead Lake
- Tally Lake
- Lake Five
Glacier National Park Boat Tours
Take a boat ride on Lake McDonald for a fun but relaxing activity. The Lake McDonald Boat Tour lasts about 60-minutes and begins at the historic Lake McDonald Lodge. The lodge is a swiss chalet located inside Glacier National Park near the west entrance.
You'll leisurely cruise the lake and learn the history of Lake McDonald, and it's a great place to watch wildlife.
Fun Fact – Lake McDonald is the largest lake in the entire Glacier NP and all the rest of the 168 lakes in the park combined do not equal Lake McDonald's size.
There are many other hikes in Glacier National Park including a hike on an active glacier – the Grinnell Glacier hike. If you want to hike a glacier, there is a short Grinnell Glacier hike that is well worth doing. The hike is about 7.2 miles long if you take a boat ride across Lake Josephine and Swiftcurrent Lake.
Otherwise, a longer 10.6-mile hike starts at the main trailhead on the Continental Divide Trail. The longer trail is a strenuous hike and climbs all the way up to the Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake.
Other glaciers include:
- Jackson Glacier
- Salamander Glacier
- Sperry Glacier
- Sexton Glacier
- Piegan Glacier
- Vulture Glacier
Other hikes include:
- Hike Hidden Lake Overlook
- Hike to Grinnell Lake
- Iceberg Lake Trail
- Lake Josephine Loop
- Columbia Falls Trails – Cedar Flats Loop and Apgar Lookout Trail
When you pack for your trip, make sure everyone has hiking boots and comfortable clothes.
Visit Blackfeet Reservation
The Blackfeet Indian Reservation is the home of the Blackfeet Nation. It's the largest population of Native Americans in Montana.
Stop by the reservation and visit the Pikuni Gift Shop, Museum of the Plains Indians, and Blackfeet Heritage Center to learn more about their native culture and the indigenous people of the region. The Glacier Peaks Casino is also on the reservation.
Where To Stay in or Near Glacier National Park
There are plenty of great places to stay in the park. We stayed at the Great Northern Resort and loved it. But here are several of the most popular places:
- Lake McDonald Lodge
- Great Northern Resort
- Many Glacier Hotel
- Swiftcurrent Lake Motor Inn
- Glacier Campground
- Whitefish: Grouse Mountain Lodge
- Lodge at Whitefish Mountain
- Bar W Guest Ranch
Getting To Glacier National Park
If you want to fly to Glacier National Park, the closest airport is in Kalispell, Montana at the Glacier Park International Airport (FCA). It is about 30 miles from the West Entrance of Glacier National Park.
Alternatively, you can take a road trip and drive there!
Search for Flights To Glacier Here
Are 5 days enough for Glacier National Park?
Depending on your itinerary for Glacier National Park, you should consider staying at least five days, especially if you want to hike the longer, more strenuous trails.
How many days do you need at Glacier National Park?
You can make a two or three day trip to Glacier NP, but ideally, at least a five-day trip is better. The longer you can stay, the more you’ll get to see.
It really depends on your specific list of must-see sights and activities.
Can you spend a week in Glacier National Park?
A Glacier National Park Itinerary for 7-days would cover most of the popular activities and places to see. With so many hiking trails and iconic sights, you could take multiple 7-day trips and still not see everything.
There are over 700 miles of hiking trails in the park alone.
Which side of Glacier National Park is best?
Many park visitors consider West Glacier the best area in the park. But the perfect one for your family depends on the activities you want to do and the places that are a must for your family.
The Westside of Glacier NP has heavier forests including a rainforest called Avalanche. Forests on the Eastside aren't as dense.
Both the westside and east side have great hiking trails. There is also plenty of wildlife to see on each side.
Both the Westside and east side have plenty of places to stay.
The weather is wetter in the west than on the east side, and you should always be prepared for rain and cooler temperatures there. The Eastside is warmer but windier.
Should I stay on the east or west side of Glacier National Park?
It depends on the activities you want to do, and once you go, you'll likely find your favorite areas. If you stay in East Glacier park (or the East side of the park,) you're closer to Many Glacier and the main area, which makes it the best side for many visitors.
There are fewer places to stay on the Westside, but this might be your preference. Just know if you decide to stay in West Glacier that it's a two-hour drive one-way to Many Glacier. If you decide to stay outside the park in the Whitefish area, it's more like a three-hour drive one way.
What do I need to know before going to Glacier National Park?
Vehicles must register to enter the park. In addition to the $35 vehicle entrance fee for seven days, you'll also need to buy a Glacier National Park Pass during this time. The winter rate is $25 from November 1 to April 30; otherwise, it’s $35.
Glacier NP offers a few ticket options. If you plan on visiting multiple national parks every year, it's worth it to pay the $80 for an America the Beautiful Pass.
People visiting on foot, bike, or in an organized group in a non-commercial vehicle is $20 per person for a seven-day pass. The winter rate is $20.
You can also buy an annual pass to the park for $70.
How Do You Get from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone?
There are several ways to get to Yellowstone National Park from Glacier. Driving will take you approximately 8 hours. You can also take a train or bus.
You can fly from Glacier Park International Airport, the closest airport to Glacier NP, to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Kalispell.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park?
Many people visit the park from July to September because they want to fish and raft in the rivers, hike, and drive Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Glacier National Park July weather is pleasant for most people with a high temperature of 80 degrees and plenty of sunshine.
Glacier National Park in September has great weather, too, with sunny warm days and nice cool nights. When October comes, it brings snow, and with it, certain road closures inside the park.
How Is the Glacier National Park June Weather?
Many people like to visit in June because the weather is mild, and it is less crowded. So, if you don't mind cooler weather, consider visiting in mid-June.
What Are Some of The Glacier National Park Wildlife?
There are plenty of animals to see in the park, such as:
- Mountain goats
- Grizzly bears
- Black bears
- Various birds
And many more. Because of the bear activity, it's a good idea to bring bear spray, especially if you're camping.
Final Thoughts on Itinerary for Glacier National Park
There is so much to see and do in Glacier NP that you'll never get bored. With over 700 hiking trails and more than 700 lakes and ponds (only 131 are actually named), there are plenty of activities to do.
Like my family, once you visit, you'll want to go again, if for nothing else than trying to see some of the activities you missed during your first visit. I think planning a five to a seven-day trip is best because you'll miss a lot with a trip shorter than that.
And if you plan on visiting multiple national parks every year, definitely consider getting the America the Beautiful Pass. It's totally worth it and can save you a lot of money visiting parks every year.
I just know you and your family will love visiting this grand park as much as we do.
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