I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write this blog post, but in my defense, I started a new school year just a day after this trip ended. Talk about a quick turn around!
Ryan’s family and I flew out to Montana at the end of the summer to spend a week just outside of Glacier National Park. It was an incredible trip filled with great hikes, epic views, terrifying roadways, and Air BNB barbecues. I’ve compiled a mix of information below- notes on where to stay, what to see, what to pack, and a pretty comprehensive guide to our park suggestions. If you’re considering heading out to Montana, I highly suggest it, and I hope some of this information helps!
A Few Notes On…
We flew into Glacier Park International Airport which is quite small. Keeping that in mind, scheduling flights can be tricky and you’ll need to consider that having a layover somewhere is a likely reality. However, once in Montana, it’s pretty easy to get from the airport to wherever you’re headed. You just need one thing- a car!
Ryan’s mom, in a stroke of true luck, located one of the last rental cars available in Montana. Due to the rental car shortage, we were in a panic when MONTHS in advance everyone was telling us there was nothing available. Sensible Auto in Kalispell was minutes from the airport and had a few cars to rent out. We were very impressed with the spacious van we rented (although at times we agreed 4-wheel drive in a jeep would have been beneficial.) It’s worth keeping in mind, when renting a car, that roads like the Going-To-The-Sun Road are fairly narrow.
Having a vehicle made all the difference in our planning and travel within Glacier National Park. I honestly can’t imagine how you could see the park without one.
Again, Ryan’s mom found us a great VRBO in Columbia Falls, Montana. She was our master planner on this one! It had a huge front porch, a grill, and a HOT TUB! You best believe we used that thing every day after hiking.
Air BNB and VRBO are so popular and accessible these days. Our accommodations were about 20 minutes from the west park entrance. I would not suggest staying any farther outside of the park. We were in a great location with easy access to Glacier, as well as the surrounding areas. However, a lot of the “bigger” hikes are on the east side of the park. If we ever went back, we agreed it would be fun to stay on the east side or in the park itself. In that case, you’re talking camper vans, RVs, or tents. There are also a few hotels in the park which you can stay at, for a pretty high price. You’re paying for easy access though, which you certainly get!
We really enjoyed the time we spent in the areas surrounding Glacier National Park. There are a lot of fun little shops (see: everything Huckleberry!) and a few neat attractions. Downtown Whitefish was a great little area to walk through and we loved heading over to the Hungry Horse Damn- one of the five largest in the U.S. We also really enjoyed walking along the river beds and collecting rocks. The landscape is so diverse and so different than what we were used to, it made for a very nice change.
While, thankfully, it wasn’t necessary for us- bear spray is a must when hiking. Everyone we passed had it. If you’re flying, you’ll have to purchase it when you arrive. Our VRBO actually provided a can, which was awesome, but Ryan’s sister also brought a few because they drove to meet us. Otherwise, I found out packing list for hiking to be pretty consistent with the essentials: sturdy hiking boots, water, snacks, and many different layers. The trails were long but not as strenuous as we are used to (see: the White Mountains) and most days, we had water to spare afterwards. The weather was the biggest inconsistency we experienced but having both a packable down jacket and a shell was the perfect combination to switch back and forth between. Overall, it was pretty easy to pack “light” on the trails.
Visiting Glacier National Park
Avalanche Lake via. Trail of the Cedars
Avalanche lake was the very first trail we hiked in Glacier National Park. We knew we were headed to a beautiful glacial lake, however, we loved the trail itself. It ended up being easier than we thought (we had just hiked from Madison to Washington in the Whites two weeks before) and a great introduction to the park. If you start at the Trail of the Cedars, it’s a short way to Avalanche Lake. Anticipate a bit of a crowd and get to the trailhead early to snag a parking spot!
St. Mary’s Lake
After hiking Avalanche Lake, we went back to our car and drove on the Going-To-The-Sun Road to St. Mary’s Lake. The views were amazing on the trail along the lake’s edge. There’s a boat that does tours on the lake and the path along the lakeside leads to three waterfalls. If you’re prepared for a bit of a longer hike, try to hit all three!
The Highline Trail
The Highline was hands down our favorite trail. We woke up at 3:30 am to make it to the parking lot at Logan Pass by 5:00 am. Almost all the spots were already taken. By 5:30 am, the lot was full.
The Highline might be startling for someone afraid of heights. However, I found the trail easy enough to walk along and I was nervous going in. It was incredible walking the trail at sunrise and there were fewer people early on, which was nice. If we had known in advance, we probably would have continued our hike from the Highline to Grinnell Glacier, but we were satisfied going our four mile and then back.
Hidden Lake Overlook
Since we were parked at Logan Pass already, we wanted to explore from our parking spot. We hiked up to Hidden Lake Overlook, which was an open trail with views of a few glaciers and a beautiful lake view. We saw a few baby mountain goats and many marmots. This was a nice hike to follow-up the length of the Highline.
Apgar Lookout Trail
On our third day, we wanted to do a longer trail, closer to the west entrance of the park, in anticipation of a long driving day to follow. Apgar Lookout Trail was perfect. It was a steady yet manageable incline with amazing views on the way up. We were also shaded the majority of the time which was incredibly pleasant. At the top, the lookout tower provided a great spot to relax and enjoy a snack.
Johns Lake Loop
Johns Lake Loop was the perfect follow-up. We spent a bit of time collecting rocks and exploring the shoreline at the beginning of the trail. The loop itself is very easy and you have to make sure you stop to see McDonald Falls. The water was raging and the views were magnificent.
We stopped at the Lake McDonald Lodge to check out the building and after stopping down at the lodge’s beach front area, Ryan noticed they were renting out little motor boats for $30 an hour. We were able to get the five of us in one boat and had a grand time motoring around Lake McDonald. If you have an hour to kill, this excursion was an amazing break for your legs and an awesome way to see the surrounding mountains from a different perspective.
On our final day in the park, poor weather was predicted. That presented the perfect opportunity to head to the east side of the park and on to the Many Glaciers Hotel. If you have a nice day, there are hikes around Many Glaciers and some shuttle boat rides, however, know that it is a hike from the west side to get there.
The Going-To-The-Sun Road takes you through the entirety of Glacier National Park. It’s a small road with startling cliffs and stunning views. It is well worth the drive, even for the time it takes. Just be prepared to stop along the way for plenty of photo ops.
Many Glaciers Hotel
Ryan really wanted to check out the Many Glaciers Hotel due to a million dollar expansion that was commissioned a few years ago. The hotel itself is beautiful and right on the edge of the lake. You can stop and get food or drinks, even if you aren’t guests and it seemed pretty acceptable to walk through and take a peek around. It was a fun, different stop to make in the park and was perfect for a poor-weather day.
We absolutely loved our time in Glacier National Park. If you have the chance, I highly recommend you make the trip. If you have any further questions, please reach out! I guess the only thing left is to decide where to go next…
Trail Suggestions That We Didn’t Hike…
Redrock Falls via. Swiftcurrent Pass
Mount Oberlin Trail
Grinnell Lake Trail
Two Medicine Lake Loop
Iceberg Lake Trail