Lodges and Glamping

Glacier National Park in One Day

The red tour buses are things to do in glacier national park with kids.
The Rubies of the Rockies glide along the Going-to-the-Sun Road as the Jammer, or tour-guiding driver, finds all the best views. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Glacier National Park along the border of Canada and the U.S. is known as the Crown of the Continent. With over one million acres in Northwestern Montana, explore this gem in July and August . Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, visitors can hike, bike or take a boat cruise. See wildlife, take a horseback ride or attend a star party on your getaway. through the backcountry, rich with wildlife. Glacier National Park is part of an international peace park with neighboring, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. Read on for how to explore Glacier National Park in one day.

Table of Contents

What Makes Glacier Spectacular

Logan Pass Visitor Center is one of the things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
A stop at Logan Pass Visitor Center along the Going-to-the-Sun Road tops my list for must-dos for families in Glacier National Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Glacier National Park sits at a convergence of the Rocky Mountain, the Pacific Northwest and the prairie ecosystems, each bringing their specific species. From the Triple Divide Peak rain flows into the Pacific Ocean, the Hudson Bay or the Gulf of Mexico, depending on which side of the mountain it falls.

Glaciers carved the mountaintops then gouged the valleys thousands of years ago. Today, the majestic pointed spires rise up from the alpine meadows painted with summertime wildflowers. Glacier National Park features 26 glaciers and 130 named lakes.

Glacier At a Glance 

Year Established: 1910
Located: Montana
Size: over 1 million acres
Top Features: Going To The Sun Road

Glacier National Park in One Day 

It’s a large national park though Glacier can be explored in one day, if you start early. Spend the night on the western side of the park in the Apgar Village, Lake McDonald or outside the park in West Glacier.

Stop by the Apgar Visitor Center, located 2 miles east of the West Glacier Entrance. Grab Junior Ranger booklets, walk through the interpretive area.

Open daily from mid-May to September and weekends only for the rest of the year. Hours are 9 a.m. 4 p.m. Apgar Nature Center is housed in at 1929 log cabin and open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from mid-June to late August. 

Head to the Lake McDonald, arrange for a  boat tour on the lake. Afterwards, tour the Lake McDonald Lodge a historic property built in 1913 to 1915. Or have lunch at Jammer Joe’s. For an after lunch walk, consider the Apgar Bike Path, a level 1.5 mile walk.

One of the top things to do in Glacier National Park is driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50 mile (80 km) scenic byway that travel east-west through the park. At Logan Pass, stop and enjoy the view and walk through the Visitor Center.

Continue driving Going-to-the-Sun Road to the St. Mary entrance, e eastern portion of the park. Exit Glacier National Park head north on U.S. Highway 89 to Babb. Many Glacier Hotel is located along the Many Glacier Lake. Stroll through the Many Glacier Hotel. another historic hotel. If you have the opportunity, have dinner at the Many Glacier Hotel, or nearby Swiftcurrent Inn.

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Top Spots in Glacier National Park

Going-to-the-Sun Road
Lake McDonald Valley
Logan Pass 
Many Glacier Valley 

Going-to-the-Sun Road

The scenic byway travels 50 miles (80 km) east-west from the Apgar area west across Glacier National Park to the St Mary entrance. The highest portion of the road closes for snow and usually opens in late June or early July and stay open until mid-October. 

Completed in 1932,  it provided better access into the wilderness. The Going-to-the-Sun Road was later named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. 

To drive the entire length of Going-to-the-Sun Road takes at least 2 hours without stopping, usually more due to summer construction delays along the way.

Road restrictions—Vehicles and vehicles combinations (RVs and travel trailers) must be under 21-feet (6.4m) in length. 

Lake McDonald Valley

Carved by glaciers, Lake McDonald is 10-miles long (16 km) and 500-feet deep (152 m) and is the largest lake in the park. Located near the western entrance of the park, it’s a hub of activity in the summer on the western part of Glacier National Park. 

Find boat tours on Lake McDonald (reservations and tickets required). Guided horseback riding is available too. Tour the Lake McDonald Lodge, a historic lodge.

Logan Pass 

At 6,646 feet (2,025 m) it’s the highest point along the Going-to-Sun Road. Surrounded by peaks, it’s a popular area to explore.

Stop by the Logan Pass Visitor Center and explore the interpretive displays. This is also a popular hiking departure point for glacier hikes. 

Opens in late June or early July and remains open until October. 

Many Glacier Valley

Located on the eastern side of the park, find Many Glacier Hotel along with Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. The location of several popular hiking including Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier. 

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Red Bus Tours 

One of the iconic sites of Glacier National Park is the Red Jammer. A restored White Motor Company touring bus from the 1930s. The Ford Motor Company rebuilt the buses using modern van chassis and converted to propane. 

Glacier National Park offers a fleet of 33 buses. Each bus offers a roll-top viewing roof and seats 17 passengers, with four on each row of bench seats. 

Tours depart from Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, Many Glacier Hotel, Rising Sun Motor Inn, Apgar Visitor Center, Village Inn at Apgar and Lake MacDonald Lodge along with locations outside Glacier National Park.

Advance reservations are required. 

Hiking in Glacier National Park

Find 700 miles of hiking trails in Glacier National Park, including 110 miles of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail traverses through Glacier National Park for 52 miles.

Boat Tours in Glacier National Park

Find guided boat tours at Glacier National Park during the summer season. Reservations and tickets are required.

  • Many Glacier
  • Two Medicine
  • Rising Sun
  • Lake MacDonald

Horseback Riding in Glacier National Park

Take a horseback ride in Glacier National Park from Many Glacier, Lake MacDonald and Apgar. Find rides from 1 hour to all day.

Night Skies 

With dark skies overhead, Glacier National Park is an International Dark Skies Park. It offers night sky programming during the summer at the Logan Pass Star Parties. Check in at the visitor centers for more information on seasonal ranger programing.

Glaciers in Glacier National Park

In 1850, 80 glaciers were counted in the area. As of 2015, only 26 glaciers remain in the park.

See Jackson Glacier from the Going-to-the-Sun Road Overlook, located 5 miles east of Logan Pass. Salamander Glacier is visible when entering the Many Glacier area and looks like a Salamander. 

Family Fun in Glacier National Park

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet. 

Pick up a booklet at any visitor center then complete the age-appropriate activities. Return for a souvenir badge and certificate. 

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History of Glacier National Park

Tour the historic Lake McDonald Lodge for things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Walk through Lake McDonald Lodge to appreciate the building. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

European trappers arrived in the late 1800s after the Louis and Clark Expedition of 1804 to 1806. Interest in preserving the area came early, before the formation of the National Park Service in 1916. 

George Bird Grinnell hired a guide for a hunting trip in 1885. Soon after he and railroad president Louis Hill proposed the area be protected a national park. The Boone and Crockett Club helped secure the national park status in 1910 by President William Howard Taft. 

The Great Northern Railway

In 1891, the Great Northern Railway crossed the Continental Divide at Marias Pass, just south of Glacier National Park. Shortly after in 1910, the area was dedication a national park. 

The Great Northern Railway started construction on lodges and chalets to promote tourism and train travel to the area. Nine chalets were constructed and only three remain, Belton, Sperry and Granite Park. Great Northern Railway built several lodges, all utilizing design cues from Swiss architecture, including Many Glacier Hotel and Glacier Park Lodge.

Since it shares a border with Parks Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park, the two countries agreed to manage the land in collaboration. Created in 1932 this area became the first international peace park in the world. 

Additionally, Glacier National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. It is also an International Dark Skies Park, offering dark skies for night sky viewing along with light mitigation.

The People of Glacier National Park

People have been recorded in the area of Glacier National Park for over 10,000 years. The mountains of Glacier divided people since it’s snowbound for the majority of the year.   

The Blackfeet 

Located on the eastern side of Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Nation lived in the grasslands and prairies. Today, the Blackfeet Nation lives in the 1.5-million acre reservation, the largest in Montana. The Blackfeet people own and operate several tourism-based businesses on the eastern portion of the park.  

The Flathead 

Located on the western side of Glacier National Park, the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai lived on the more forested western portion. Today, descendants live on the 1.3-million acres confederated Salish and Kootenai Flathead reservation, along the Flathead River. 

The Civilian Conservation Corps

A group of young men arrived at Glacier National Park in 1933. Part of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Program, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on conservation projects across the U.S. 

During their tenure, the eight CCC camps were established in the park. They worked on clearing the debris from forest fires in 1929 and 1936. The CCC also laid telephone cable to Logan Pass. Additionally they developed camp grounds within the park. 

An International Peace Park

Explore Glacier National Park in the northwest corner of Montana.
Glacier National Park along the Canadian Border is a Top 10 National Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park was created in 1895, just north of Glacier National Park. In 1932 the world’s first International Peace Park.

In 1995, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique landscape. Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park features its own seasonal border crossing. Located along the Chief Mountain Highway and open from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Wildlife Viewing in Glacier National Park

  • Bears—Grizzly and black 
  • Beaver
  • Big horn sheep 
  • Elk
  • Lynx
  • Mountain goats—the park symbol
  • Mountain lions
  • Wolverines 

Bears in Glacier 

Glacier National Park is home to the largest grizzly bear population in the continental U.S. Though encounters are rare, Park Rangers offer some guidelines to reduce bear encounters:

  • Remain observant. 
  • Hike in groups.
  • Keep campsites clean.
  • Make noise while hiking by wearing bear bells and talking.
  • Don’t approach bears or let bears approach you. 
  • If a bear notices you, you are too close. Back away slowly and if attacked, fight back. Don’t play dead.

Where to Eat in Glacier National Park

Lake McDonald Lodge 

Jammer Joe’s Grill & Pizzeria serves a lunch buffet, soups, salads, sandwiches and create-your-own pizza. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the season. 

Lucke’s Lounge offers a bar menu burgers, sandwiches, salads along with appetizers. Find a full bar along with regional wines and micro-brews. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the season.

Russell’s Fireside Dining Room serves a breakfast buffet along with continental options. Find a lunch and dinner menu infused with local flavors, like elk burgers. Open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. with hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner during the season. 

Apgar Village 

Since 1946, Eddie’s Cafe and Mercantile has offered Glacier classics breakfast, lunch and dinner with Open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the season.

Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins 

Two Dog Flats Grill serves up American favorites like build-your-own burgers, soups, sandwiches and salads. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the season. 

Many Glacier Hotel

Swiss Lounge features a small plates menu with salads, sandwiches and burgers. Enjoy a cocktail, wine or micro-brew from the full bar. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the season.

Heidi’s Snack Shoppe brews up espresso drinks along with several grab-n-go items like baked goods and sandwiches. Open daily during the season. 

Ptarmigan Dining Room starts the day with a continental or deluxe breakfast buffet. Find a lunch and dinner menu stocked with local flavors, like smoked trout and bison short ribs. Open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. with hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner during the season.

Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins

Nell’s at Swiftcurrent Restaurant serves up American breakfast favorites, like eggs dishes and cereal. Lunch and dinner menus feature burgers, wraps, pizzas and salads. Open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. with hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner during the season.

Tour a historic hotel as one of the things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Many Glacier Hotel along the shores of Many Glacier Lake.  Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where to Stay Inside Glacier National Park

Each of the lodges and motor inns offers activities, like hiking or organized tours. Properties near lakes offer boating. True to National Park lodging, the properties in Glacier National Park do not offer TV and air-conditioning. 

Apgar Village Lodge and Cabins

Just inside the West Entrance of Glacier National Park, Apgar Village offers motel rooms and equipped cabins for budget travelers. Each cabin is unique and some off equipped kitchens with refrigerators, ranges and coffee makers. Motel rooms feature one or two queen beds. 

Open seasonal from mid May until early October. Reservations required.

Village Inn Motel

Located a few miles inside of the west entrance in the Apgar Village, Village Inn motel was built in 1956 and renovated in 2015. Find units equipped with basic kitchens as well as family units that accommodate five or six people. 

Open seasonal from mid May until late September. Reservations required.

Motel Lake McDonald

Located 10 miles inside Glacier’s west entrance, Motel Lake MacDonald is along the shores of the largest lake in Glacier. It offers basic motel rooms with one or two double beds with private bathrooms.

Open seasonal from early June until mid-September. Reservations required.

Lake McDonald Lodge

A classic Swiss chalet along the shore of Lake McDonald, it was built in 1913 and features a three-story lodge building with lodge rooms. The interiors feature historic furnishings and log-style design elements. 

Also find cabins, a hostel-style dormitory and Cobb House, a collection of suites. This property underwent a renovation in 2015. 

Open seasonal from early May until late September. Reservations required.

Many Glacier Hotel 

Built by Great Northern Railway in 1914 and 1915, it’s the largest property in Glacier National Park. Inside of its central lobby, find National Park Service Parkitecture elements throughout, like rough-hewn logs used for columns. 

The Many Glacier Hotel features 205 guest rooms, two suites and seven guest rooms. All rooms offer a private bathroom. 

Open seasonal from early June until mid-September. Reservations required. 

Swiftcurrent Motor Inn

Located within a mile of Many Glacier Hotel, find 95 cabins, some historic, and motel rooms along with  restaurant and camp store. This property was recently renovated. 

Open seasonally from early June until mid-September. Reservations required. 

Rising Sun Motor Inn

West of St. Mary Visitor Center, Rising Sun Motor Inn was built in 1940 and renovated in 2015. It offers 72 motor lodge rooms along with cabins. Find a restaurant and a general store in the complex. 

Open seasonally from mid-June to mid-September. Reservations required.

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When to Visit Glacier National Park

Drive the Going-to-the-Sun-Road for things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road offers epic scenery. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The park is open year-round though the Going-to-the-Sun Road  remains closed until late June most years.. Since it’s closed from Lake McDonald Lodge to St. Mary, I suggest visiting Glacier no earlier than late June.

Tours, lodging and activities begin in June too. If avoiding crowds, consider visiting Glacier in September before the snow falls and the seasonal lodging closes.

Weather in Glacier National Park

Winter: Highs 30s F (single digits C), Lows teens (-single digits C)

Spring: Highs 50s F ( teens C), Lows 30s (single digits C) 

Summer: Highs 70s F (20s C), Lows 40s (single digits C) 

Fall—Highs 40s F (single digits C), Lows 20s (-single digits C)

Precipitation average between one and three inches year-round. Snow can fall at anytime of the year. On average, temperatures are 10 to 15F degrees cooler at higher elevations. 

Glacier Gateway Towns

It’s always best to load up on essentials before heading into a national park. Gas is not for sale in Glacier National Park so top off your tank before heading into the park. 

West Glacier 

Find a host of lodging just outside of the west entrance of Glacier National Park, like the historic Belton Chalet along with RV parks. West Glacier offers an assortment of dining along activities including golf and outdoor outfitters. 

St. Mary

Located on the eastern side of the Glacier National Park, find lodging, RV parks along with gas stations and small grocery store. St. Mary is the smaller of the two main gateway towns. 

Glacier National Park Shuttle

During the summer, Glacier National Park operates a seasonal shuttle with numerous stop at popular destinations. With limited parking at some areas, the shuttle offers a popular option for hikers. 

Find shuttle stops at Visitor Centers, Campground, Lodges along with popular hiking trails. Check in with the Visitor Center for most up-to-date shuttle information. 

Check out how to plan your day.

Where’s Glacier National Park

Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) Kalispell, Montana is the closest airport to Glacier National Park. It is serviced by Alaskan Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. 

Take the Amtrak to Glacier National Park on the Empire Builder line that travels from Chicago to Seattle, Washington, or Portland, Oregon. Find Amtrak stations at West Glacier and East Glacier and Amtrak offers vacation packages.  

Glacier National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or other annual pass. Purchase a 7-day pass for $35 per vehicle for a 7-day summer pass (May 1 until October 31) or $20 per vehicle for a 7-day winter pass.

Glacier National Park offers two main entrances. The west entrance near Apgar Visitor Center and the east entrance near the St. Mary Visitor Center offer lots of travel services.

Note: The St. Mary and Many Glacier entrance are closed until further notice.

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Note about Bear Safety:

Two types of bears live in Glacier National Park, black bears and Grizzly bears. Since each species uses different behavior to communicate, knowing the difference is important.

I suggest attending a ranger program to learn more about bears in Glacier National Park. I did and my boys loved the bear program and I felt more confident afterwards.

Park Rangers offer some guidelines to reduce bear encounters:

  • Hike in groups of 4 or more.
  • Keep a clean campsite.
  • Make noise while hiking by wearing bear bells and talking.
  • Carry bear spray. Keep it accessible when you hiking and know how to use it.

Know Before You Go

  • Make reservations as early as possible.
  • Lodging reservations are available 13 months in advance.
  • Visit popular spots early or late in the day since parking is limited.
  • Don’t feed wild animals and give them space. The NPS recommends 25 yards between you and most animals and 100 yards for bears.
  • Bring food and refillable water bottles for your visit.
  • Dress in layers and carry a rain jacket, even in the summer.
  • Most parks allow adults to complete the NPS Junior Ranger booklets for the same badge or patch.
  • The cell coverage limited to Apgar and St. Mary Visitor Centers and the Lake McDonald Lodge.
  • No Wi-Fi in Glacier National Park.
Located in Northwest Montana, Glacier National Park boasts pristine mountain vistas, historic lodges and scenic boat rides and more. Best of all, you can see Glacier National Park in one day. Travel one way on the Going-to-the-Sun Road to see the park from east-to-west. Find all you need to plan your trip, like dining, lodging and activities. What to do in Glacier National Park in one day | Where to Stay in Glacier National Park | Tours in Glacier National Park #NationalParks #Montana
credit: Catherine Parker

When should you visit Glacier National Park? Packed with pristine mountain vistas, historic lodges and scenic boat rides, Glacier offers lots of national park activities. Find all you need to plan your trip to Montana. #NPS #NationalParks #Montana What to do in Glacier National Park | Where to Stay in Glacier National Park


Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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