Looking to plan a trip to Glacier National Park, Montana? Far across the western Rocky Mountains in the extreme north of western Montana, this “Crown of the Continent” is a land of melting glaciers, pristine blue lakes, lush green mountain peaks and abundant wildlife. We visited Glacier in the summer of 2019 in an epic road trip covering 19 national parks in US & Canada in 3 months. In this post, we will get you acquainted with Glacier National Park map, things to do in Glacier in 7 days (or less), and share our detailed itinerary to help you plan your own visit. So without further ado lets get started, shall we?
Here are the topics we will cover in this post and other related posts. Click on any link to skip to the relevant section.
Table of Contents
What is Glacier National Park famous for?
Not to be confused with the Canadian Park by the same name, the United States Glacier National Park is actually located just below the Canadian border and is known for its wilderness and solitude blended with historic chalets and lodges.
It is a pristine park stretching over 1,600 square miles. It still has over 20 active glaciers running through the wild untouched lands, and nature has made sure to spare no expense. Most of these glaciers are receding though, and it is predicted that the park will have lost all its glaciers in the next coming decades. So make sure you visit the park before they are all gone!
The park has almost all of its original native plant and animal species still living there such as grizzly bears, mountain goats, Wolverines, Canadian lynx, and moose. The ecosystems within the park range from tundra and mountainous rocky hills to wide expansive prairies. The park is home to over 130 lakes and over 700 miles worth of pristine hiking trails. If you are hiking and outdoor enthusiast, this land is your paradise!
Glacier National Park Area Map
#1 The Lake McDonald Area (West)
The largest lake in the park, Lake McDonald, is on the west side of the park and home to Apgar Village, Visitor Center and several hiking trails. It is a popular spot for water activities such as kayaking, fishing, boat rides and lot more. If you’re staying on the west side of the park, you will visit this area several times while driving into the park.
#2 Many Glacier Area (East)
The Many Glacier area is located north of the Going-to-the-Sun road and is one of the most popular areas to visit in Glacier National Park. This was our personal favorite area in the park. In addition to the historic Many Glacier Hotel, there are dozens of hiking trails, meadows, forests, lakes, and waterfalls in the area for the people who love to see the natural beauty in full bloom. Some of the best things you can do in the area are taking the tour boats to explore all the popular lakes, a nature hike guided by a skilled ranger, camping, fishing, and horseback riding.
#3 The North Fork Area (North)
Probably the most remote of the four areas in Glacier, the North Fork area is best for those looking for solitude in nature and wildlife. We did not visit this area as it was quite far from where we were staying. There is so much to do in Glacier for a first time visit, that it seems this area is better left for a subsequent visit to the park. Nevertheless, if you’d like to experience true wilderness, with little or no foot traffic, this is the place to be in Glacier National Park.
#4 Two Medicine Area (South)
Two Medicine Lake is far south on Hwy 89. We visited this area on our way from West Glacier to St. Mary. (We did not take the Going-to-the-Sun road because we were driving an RV that’s not permitted on that road). It was a perfect detour for us and we got to spend a couple of hours picnicking by the Two Medicine Lake. If you’re staying in St. Mary, you could do a day trip to this area if you have an extra day. In terms of hiking and wildlife, while the area is just as beautiful as another other place in Glacier, your time would be better spent exploring Many Glacier area, especially if its your first visit to the park.
Top things to see on a Glacier National Park Map
With over 1,600 square miles, Glacier is so vast it can be rather daunting to plan a trip. We created this Glacier National Park map to help you visualize the top things to do on a map. These are the things you want to be sure not to miss when you travel to this jewel of the American west. The pins are in no particular order of priority other than going clockwise from bottom left.
Probably the most famous section of the park is the “Going-to-the-Sun Road”, or as it is called in the park, the Sun Road. This scenic marvel connects the east and west side of the park crossing the middle and heading through some of the most beautiful landscapes in America. It could easily rank among the most scenic roads in all of United States.
The drive is quite nerve wrecking as you’re driving right on the edge in a very narrow road that barely fits two cars, all the while trying to enjoy this kind of scenery all around. There are many turnouts and stopping points though where you can pull over and soak in the beauty. If you don’t feel like driving the whole thing yourself, there is a free to ride shuttle services that use the road between the St. Mary’s visitor center and the Apgar Visitor Center.
The neat thing about the road is that it was specifically designed to blend into the mountains so as not to disrupt the view. However, opening and closing dates for the road vary from year to year as snow tends to cover the mountains in the wintertime making it unsafe to drive. They usually begin plowing the road sometime in early April. For more details and tips, check out our detailed guide on driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The quaint little town of West Glacier is where the west entrance to the park is located. There are a few restaurants, coffee shops, stores and a visitor center here. Make sure to gas up here before you enter the park as there is no gas station on the Going-to-the-Sun road, which is about 48 miles one way. About 2.5 miles into the park, on the edge of Lake McDonald is Apgar Village, a popular campground among visitors.
Lake McDonald is the oldest, deepest and largest lake in the park, and is a fisherman’s paradise with several native species of trout, whitefish, landlocked salmon, and suckers. There are plenty of water activities available to indulge in including kayaking, boating, and of course fishing.
The largest lodge on Lake McDonald is aptly named Lake McDonald Lodge and is a great place for people looking to spend a relaxing vacation in one of the most remote and beautiful valleys in America.
A short 2 mile hike with moderate difficulty (500 ft elevation gain) off of Going-to-the-Sun road, leads to one of our favorite lakes in the entire park. Avalanche Lake has an amazing backdrop of a glacially carved amphitheater. The lake was formed by melt water from several surrounding waterfalls that plunge in to the lake. Low clouds hovering over the mountains, coupled with the mirror reflections in the still water provide a perfect backdrop for those Instagram shots. Do not miss this gem in the park!
Weeping Wall is a popular stop along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It is a natural waterfall formed by seeping melt water off of the Garden Wall, and in summer time the volume of water is so low that it almost looks as if the wall is “weeping”. The waterfall in itself wasn’t all that special, but we found the views of the park from this spot to be out of this world! You will definitely want to stop and take some great pictures here.
Logan Pass & Hidden Lake
Located on the Continental Divide, Logan Pass is the highest point on the Sun Road at about 6,600 ft elevation. The parking lot at Logan Pass can get extremely busy during summer hours, so make sure you arrive here early (8AM-9AM) to avoid having to wait a long time to find parking.
Right behind the Logan Pass visitor center is the trailhead to a pristine lake known as Hidden Lake. This little lake has definitely earned its name as its not visible until the very last minute when you arrive at the overlook after a short 1.5 mile hike. Logan pass is also the starting point for the Highline Trail, one of the most difficult and most trafficked hiking trails in the park.
One of the longest hikes we did throughout our entire trip was the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. Starting from the Logan Pass parking lot, it is a 16 mile round trip hike that has the most spectacular views of the park. We were certainly exhausted by the end of the day, but it sure was one of the most remarkable hikes we have ever done.
There are dozens of hikes in Glacier National Park worth doing, but if you could only do one hike, do this one! This is what Glacier National Park is known for among hikers. Its like the Angels Landing of Zion National Park. You did not visit Glacier if you haven’t done this hike.
Swiftcurrent Lake in east side of Glacier National Park is a must visit spot, especially for the sunrise and sunsets. The Many Glacier Hotel at the lakefront (behind the camera in the photo below) is a great place to enjoy an evening drink and soak in the views. It is incredible how this place is completely shut off for visitors in the winter months as it gets a lot of snowfall. But in summers, this place is like paradise. Your visit to Glacier would not be complete without this.
Lake Josephine is located close to Swiftcurrent Lake, in fact, you can hike from Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake to Josephine in a mostly flat 1-mile hike. Alternatively, you can also take a boat to cross the Swiftcurrent Lake and then hike 0.25 mile to Lake Josephine. We recommend skipping the boat ride as the hike is really short and easy, and lets you experience the area surrounding Swiftcurrent Lake. They do offer some other boat tours around the lake that are worth checking out.
Bullhead Lake is in the Many Glacier area along the Swiftcurrent Pass trail. This part of the park is especially known for animal sightings like bears, deer, and moose. In fact, a majority of people come here just to enjoy the area’s wilderness and sight wild animals. Along the way to Bullhead Lake, enjoy a picnic and lunch along Red Rock falls.
The Grinnel Glacier is one of the most popular glaciers in Glacier National Park. Sadly though, the glacier is rapidly melting and it will disappear in the next couple decades. Make sure you visit it before its gone!
The hike to Grinnel Glacier is 11.3 miles round trip from the trailhead near Many Glacier Hotel, and has a “difficult” rating as it gains over 2000 ft in elevation. There are some spectacular views of Grinnel Lake along the way, and sightings of wild goats, and moose and, if you’re lucky, bears!
After Highline Trail, this was probably our second most favorite hike in Glacier. Although, on our way back, we got completely drenched in rain as we did not have any waterproof gear. Nevertheless, it was a memorable experience and if you’re into hiking, do not miss this one.
Sun Point & St Mary Lake
One of the easiest, yet breathtaking hikes you can do in Glacier starts at Sun Point on Going-to-the-Sun Road, and loops around St. Mary Lake to 3 different waterfalls in the area – Baring, St Mary’s, and Virginia Falls. It is a great way to enjoy the scenery after doing some of the more difficult hikes like Highline Trail and Grinnel Glacier. Your legs will welcome the almost flat terrain!
Logistics of visiting Glacier National Park
Spread over 1500 square miles, Glacier National Park is one of the biggest wilderness places in the US. The park has over 700 miles in hiking trails alone. It also has a lot of beautiful natural landscapes that provide those perfect photo opportunities. Planning a visit for only a limited number of days can be rather daunting as there is so much to see!
How many days to spend in Glacier National Park?
How many days to spend in Glacier really depends on your level of interest in hiking. This place is a hikers paradise and there are over 700 miles of hiking trails for all difficulty levels. While you can spend several weeks here hiking in different areas in the park, we recommend that you spend at least 3 days in the park, ideally 5-7 days in order to fully experience the park.
Where to Stay in Glacier National Park – East or West?
What part of the park makes a better-staying place, east or west? This is one of the never ending debates among the people who plan to visit this wonderful area.
Although all the towns surrounding the park are well equipped with amenities, tourists usually prefer the west side. That is because the town of West Glacier is the starting point of the Glacier experience. Lake McDonald is also best accessible from the west side, and if you stay in Lake McDonald Lodge it is as convenient as it gets.
But if you have more than 3 days, we recommend that you spend equal days on either side of the park. The sun road is the only option to cross from one side of the park to other. While it is the crown jewel of the park, you don’t want to be spending several hours everyday crossing it in order to get to the other side of the park. You’d rather be out of the car hiking in the wilderness!
Thats why we recommend to split your stay, and ideally start with staying on west side. On the day of transit, spend the day driving on the Going-to-the-Sun road to the cross the park to the east side and stay there for rest of your stay.
Best time to visit Glacier National Park
The best time to visit Glacier National Park is, without any doubt the summer time (July – September). Several areas of the park, including the Going-to-the-Sun road, close down in winter season due to heavy snowfall.
Glacier National Park Lodging Options
Here is a list of some places in and around the Glacier National Park which are popular places to stay.
Columbia falls is just 20 minutes away from the west entrance of the park. This small town is perfect if you’d like to hike in the park but don’t want to camp. Hotels like Cedar Creek, Meadow Lake Golf & Ski Resort and Historic Tamarac Lodge are some of the best options to stay in Columbia Falls.
The quaint town of St. Mary, located just outside the park on the east side, is probably the best option if you plan on visiting the Many Glacier area. It is just few miles from the east entrance to the park and has several options for lodging, camping and RV’ing.
You’ve probably heard of the historic Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake, or at least seen pictures of it online. It is only 30 minute drive away, and is another great option to stay if you don’t mind the steep price point. It is open only for 4 months in the summer (May – Sep) though, and reservations are usually sold out several months in advance! If you plan on staying here, make sure to check their website well ahead of time.
On the northern side of the Flathead lake, sits the small city of Bigfork. Stay in this city of you want to easily access both the Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest. Although small, the city has an impressive nightlife, and you can visit one of the many craft breweries the city has developed as a result of the overall boom in its popularity.
Hotels like The Islander Inn, Mountain Lake Lodge, and Flathead Lake Resort are some of the best staying places available in Bigfork.
Whitefish is another resort town just around 30 minutes away from the west entrance of the glacier national park. There are many biking trails in the Rocky Mountains surrounding the city. As a bonus, on the way to Glacier, you can visit Lake Five which is a hidden gem just outside of West Glacier.
Putting it all together: 7 day itinerary
- Day 1: Arrive in west side. Spend the day exploring Apgar Village. Kayak in Lake McDonald.
- Day 2: Do the hike to Avalanche Lake on the Sun Road. This is a moderate hike with a stunning lake at the end.
- Day 3: Plan to spend entire day on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Stop by vista points and Logan Pass Visitor Center. Do the Hidden Lake Trail from Logan Pass.
- Day 4: Stay in east side, and come back to Logan Pass to do the Highline Trail.
- Day 5: Visit the Waterfall Loop near Sun Point in the Sun Road. Have a picnic by Lake St. Mary and watch sunset at Sun Point.
- Day 6: Swiftcurrent Lake and Many Glacier Hotel. Do a short hike to Lake Josephine and Bullhead Lake
- Day 7: Do the hike to Grinnel Glacier and Iceberg Lake.
Are you ready for Glacier?
There are so many places that make up the large and complex ecosystem of this gigantic park. Here are some of the best pictures from our 11 day visit to Glacier.