If you chat with avid travelers about their favorite national parks, Glacier is almost always near the top. The combination of hiking trails, wildlife, and scenery is hard to beat. I’ve been lucky enough visit Glacier two times, most recently in 2016, and I’ve been meaning to write about my experiences for awhile. This list of things to do in Glacier National Park highlights some of my favorite spots, and it also serves as a general introduction to Glacier and the type of experience you’ll have if you’re able to visit. I’ve included as many photos as possible, and I hope you’ll enjoy them!
5. Going-to-the-Sun Road
Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road is an experience that’s as awe-inspiring as it is anxiety-inducing. It is 50 miles of narrow mountain roadway surrounded by gorgeous views, sheer cliffs, waterfalls, and wildlife. There are several pull-off areas along the road where you can stop and take in views like this:
If you want to drive the entire length of the road, it will take at least a couple hours. You can start off at the East Entrance (St. Mary) or on the west side, near the Apgar Visitor Center. As you drive along, you’ll notice changes in the climate, surroundings, and wildlife . You’ll also appreciate the road itself – building a roadway into a mountain is an impressive feat of engineering.
And while I mentioned above that it can be a nerve-racking drive, you’ll never feel like you’re in any real danger. There are guard rails and man-made rock barriers to keep you from tumbling over the edge. The views are worth the stress, and it’s a necessity for reaching certain parts of the park.
Note that while portions of Going-to-the-Sun Road remain open year-round, snow plowing is described as a “monumental challenge.” As a result, the road typically fully opens in June or July. You can check the status on the National Park Service’s website.
4. Avalanche Lake Trail
Avalanche Lake Trail is a great choice for hikers of any skill level. It’s 4.6 miles roundtrip with moderate changes in elevation, and it serves as a nice warm-up if you’re planning on tackling more difficult trails. As you hike this trail, you’ll get some great views of Avalanche Gorge:
But the real reward is at the end, where the forest opens up onto Avalanche Lake, surrounded by impressive mountains and waterfalls:
If you’re planning on doing this trail, I definitely recommend taking along some snacks. While the hike isn’t super difficult, it is almost five miles roundtrip. It’s nice to sit by the lake, refuel, and rest for a little while. The good news is that the walk back is almost all downhill!
3. Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery / Northern Lights Saloon and Café
This is the one item in this post that you won’t find in a lot of other “things to do in Glacier National Park” lists. Polebridge and Northern Lights are hidden gems that sit side-by-side just outside West Glacier National Park. They are “off-the-grid” and you’ll have to drive a considerable distance on a dirt road to reach them. But don’t worry, it’s not too difficult to get there!
What exactly are they? Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery is a general store that looks like it’s straight out of an old Western movie set. Here’s a shot I took with my phone, which includes one of the most amazing rainbows I’ve ever seen:
While Polebridge has some great baked goods, Northern Lights Saloon and Café is the main attraction. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the food, but believe me that it greatly exceeded my expectations. The menu is creative and full of local ingredients, like trout, elk, bison, and huckleberries, in addition to a great beer list. There’s really nothing like a hearty meal and strong beer after a long day of hiking, and Northern Lights does it as well as anybody.
2. Logan Pass and Hidden Lake Overlook
Logan Pass is the highest point on Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is also the highest point accessible by car in the whole park. It has a great visitors center and is the starting point for some amazing trails. You might even seen some bighorn sheep in the parking lot, like I did:
From Logan Pass, I recommend that you take the trail to Hidden Lake Overlook. It’s a fairly mellow hike through open alpine meadows that most people, including kids, can tackle with a little determination. The reward is an amazing view of the lake and surrounding mountains:
Also, you’ll almost certainly encounter some mountain goats on this trail – they’re not shy and will sometimes cross over the trail right in front of you.
Note that Logan Pass is a really popular point of interest, so it can be tough to find a parking space during the day. Get there early if you want to guarantee yourself a spot – and to catch the sun rising from behind the mountains!
1. Iceberg Lake Trail
The hike to Iceberg Lake is my favorite of all. This nearly 10-mile roundtrip trail is a bit more difficult than the other trails on this list and is classified as “strenuous.” However, after the sharp gain in elevation during the first quarter-mile, it’s not bad at all. And this is your view as you hike:
Eventually you’ll see the lake in the distance, surrounded by mountains that extend into the clouds:
And as you get closer, you’ll see the chunks of ice and amazingly clear (and cold!) water. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can take a dip – but most are content to have a snack and take in the scenery.
If you read more about this trail, you’ll probably come across lots of warnings about bears in the area. Remember you can always check with rangers about bear activity, and if bears are especially active, they will close down the trail. It’s also a good idea to rent or buy bear spray, which is widely available in and around the park. With all this being said, I was surprised to see how popular this trail was. You’ll pass by a good amount of people, and there will be a considerable crowd at the lake. When the weather is nice, hundreds of people hike to Iceberg Lake every day, so don’t let fear of bears keep you from tackling this trail.
I hope you enjoyed my list of things to do in Glacier National Park. If you’re planning a trip and have any questions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!