Lodges and Glamping

The Best Glacier National Park One Day Itinerary

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

Straddling the border with Canada, Glacier National Park protects one million acres in Northwestern Montana. Covered in snow for a chunk of the year, it is known as the Crown of the Continent and best explored in July and August. With epic Rocky Mountain vistas, some of the best views can be found along its scenic road, Going-to-the-Sun. Visitors can go hiking, biking and take scenic boat cruises as well as enjoy wildflowers, wildlife viewing and even spot a glacier or waterfall. Part of an international peace park with  Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, visitors can even cross the border during the summer. Here is the best Glacier National Park One Day Itinerary.

Table of Contents

Why Visit Glacier National Park

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 of must-dos for families in Glacier National Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Located at the convergence of the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest and the prairie ecosystems, Glacier National Park features the best of each, including wildlife and wildflowers. Rain that falls into the Triple Divide Peak can flow into the Pacific Ocean, the Hudson Bay or the Gulf of Mexico, depending on where it falls.

Glaciers carved the mountaintops then gouged the valleys thousands of years ago. Visitors will see this glaciation across the park, especially the alpine region. Glacier National Park features 26 glaciers and 130 named lakes. The majestic pointed spires rise up from the alpine meadows painted with summertime wildflowers.

Planning Guide for Glacier National Park

Glacier At a Glance

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

How to see Glacier National Park with a One Day Itinerary

It’s a large national park, though Glacier can be explored in one day with an itinerary. Visitors need to start on one side of the park and head to the other, spending the night on both sides. Reservations are essential for lodging and camping in the park. For 2024, vehicle permits are required to drive the Going-to-the-Sun road.

For visitors heading into Canada after Glacier, it is best to spend the night on the western side of the park in the Apgar Village or Lake McDonald. Then, drive to the eastern side before heading north into Canada.

Details on the Vehicle Permits

To enter Glacier National Park from the West Side, a 3-day vehicle permit is required. This permit is in addition to the park’s 7-day entrance fee. It must be secured in advance via Recreation.gov. Each costs $2 per permit.

Permits are required from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the busy summer season. For the west side of the park, permits will be required from May 24, 2024 until September 8, 2024.

Additionally, Many Glacier entrance requires one-day vehicle passes from July 1 to September 8, 2024, to enter from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. North Fork entrance requires a one-day vehicle permit from May 28, 2024 until September 8, 2024 to enter from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For visitors with reservations inside the park, like lodging, camping and concessionaire-led tours, a permit is not required. For campers that secure a first-come, first-serve campsite, a permit can be obtained after registering.

Note: It is a different one day vehicle pass for each entrance.

ProTip: Cell coverage in Glacier National Park is non-existent, so online reservations need to be made before entering the park. Glacier National Park is not a destination that you can see without advance reservations.

Yellowstone National Park Guide 

Top Things to Do in Glacier National Park

  • Visit one of Glacier’s Visitor Centers
  • Stop in Lake McDonald Valley
  • Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road
  • Logan Pass 
  • Stop in the Rising Sun Area

Glacier National Parks’s Visitor Centers

Apgar Visitor Center

Most visitors stop at one visitor center during their road trip. I usually stop at all the visitor centers in the national park since each ofter different exhibits. A visitor center usually features the most equipped restrooms (think flushing) with water fountains and hydration stations.

Located 2 miles east of the West Glacier Entrance, the Apgar Visitor Center is housed in a 1929 log cabin. Inside, rangers offer tips and maps, along with the National Park Service Junior Ranger booklet for kids. This is also where the Ranger-Led programs meet.

The Apgar Visitor Center is also one of the main stops for the Glacier National Park West Side shuttle. It is offered during the summer and travels the Going-to-the-Sun road to Logan Pass. Visitors will find one of the parking lots in Glacier located here as well.

It is open daily from mid-May to mid-September and weekends only in the spring from mid-April to mid-May and in the fall from mid-September until mid-October.

Logan Pass Visitor Center

This is the destination for restrooms, a water fountain and bottle fillers in the Alpine region. It also offers a bookstore and an interpretive area. Ranger-led activities meet at the Logan Pass Visitor Center.

Visitors will find the trail to the Hidden Lake Overlook, where they can see mountain goats (a symbol of Glacier National Park) and summertime wildflowers.

It is open daily from the summer when the road clears until the end of September. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is home to the popular Logan Pass Star Parties.

ProTip: The Logan Pass parking lot fills up quickly and stays filled during the day.

St. Mary Visitor Center

Located near St. Mary’s east entrance, the St. Mary Visitor Center features interpretive information on the American Indian Nations along with a park film. It is open daily from late May to early October.

Stop at Apgar and Lake McDonald

After stopping by the visitor center in Apgar, head to the Lake McDonald.

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 Apgar Visitor Center, it’s a hub of activity in the summer on the western part of Glacier National Park. It is also the location of the Lake McDonald Lodge.

Visitors in Glacier for one day should head to the Lake McDonald Lodge for a quick walk-through and maybe a quick to-go coffee. Then, head to the lake for a look.

Lake McDonald Lodge

The Lake McDonald Lodge, built in 1913 along the shore of Lake McDonald, is a classic Swiss chalet and a popular place to visit. The three-story lodge building features historic furnishings and log-style design elements, a hallmark of historic National Park Service lodges.

Visitors can walk through the lodge, and there are even places to eat inside. Outside, there is a patio with rocking chairs overlooking the lake, which is a popular place for a quick break.

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

Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road

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.

This scenic byway travels 50 miles (80 km) east-west from the Apgar area west across Glacier National Park to the St. Mary entrance. Visitors will pass the Weeping Wall, a rock face with melting snow run-off glistening in the sun. The Garden Wall area is also visible, a rock face with plants clinging to its sides.

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. The highest portion of the road closes for snow and usually opens in late June or early July and stays open until mid-October.

Note: Vehicles and vehicle combinations (RVs and travel trailers) must be under 21 feet (6.4m) in length. 

Drive the Going-to-the-Sun-Road for things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Going-to-the-Sun Road offers epic scenery. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Stop at 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 to explore the interpretive displays. This is also a popular hiking departure point for glacier hikes. It opens in late June or early July and remains open until October. 

This is a good place to get out and take a quick hike, like the Hidden Lake Overlook trail. Though the trail is too long to hike with limited time, you might see mountain goats (a symbol of Glacier National Park) along with summertime wildflowers.

Continue driving Going-to-the-Sun Road towards the St. Mary entrance in the eastern portion of the park. Glaciers can be seen from the Going-to-the-Sun road. The Jackson Glacier is visible from the Going-to-the-Sun overlook, 5 miles east of Logan Pass. Other glaciers are visible on the east side of the park.

3 Day Itinerary for Glacier National Park

Rising Sun and St. Mary Area

After Logan Pass, the road heads back down to the east side of the park. This area is anchored by St. Mary Lake and the Rising Sun area.

Rising Sun is “where the mountains met the prairies” and offers a good place for a hot meal along with lodging. It offers some signature hikes in the area along with waterfall viewing.

Top Things to Do at Rising Sun and St. Mary Area

Boating on St. Mary Lake 

Guided boat tours in Glacier National Park are a popular activity during the summer months. On St. Mary Lake at Swiftcurrent, guided boat tours depart on the hour until 6 p.m. Perfect for a late afternoon excursion. Advance reservations and tickets are required.

Hiking Trails near St. Mary Lake

Lace-up those hiking boots; here are the top hiking trails in the St. Mary area.

St. Mary Falls—A 0.8-mile hike (one-way) with a 260-foot elevation loss.

Sun Point Nature Trail—A 0.8-mile hike (one-way) with a 250-foot elevation loss.

Where to Eat on the East Side of Glacier National Park 

Since there are few food options in the Logan Pass area, visitors should be prepared to picnic for lunch. Picnic tables are available at Avalanche Creek, Rising Sun and the Sun Point Nature Trail.

For a hot meal, Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins offers the Two Dog Flats Grill with American favorites like build-your-own burgers, soups, sandwiches and salads. Open daily at 4 p.m. for dinner during the season.

Rising Sun Motor Inn

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

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

Night Sky Viewing in Glacier

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

Kids 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. 

Junior Ranger Guide
Best National Park Books for Kids 
Junior Ranger Badges to earn on an Alaskan Cruise 
Best National Parks for Fall Color

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 as 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 divide people because they are 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 a telephone cable to Logan Pass and developed campgrounds 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. The park features its own seasonal border crossing. It is located along the Chief Mountain Highway and is open from June 1 to the end of October from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Horseback Riding in Glacier National Park

For another way to see the Crown of the Continent, visitors can take a horseback ride in Glacier National Park from Lake McDonald and Apgar. Rides range from one hour to all day. All-day horseback rides to Sperry Chalet are also available.

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 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the season. 

Lucke’s Lounge offers a bar menu featuring burgers, sandwiches, salads, and appetizers. The full bar also offers regional wines and microbrews. During the season, the restaurant is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Russell’s Fireside Dining Room serves a breakfast buffet 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 for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the season.

Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins 

Two Dog Flats Grill serves American favorites like build-your-own burgers, soups, sandwiches and salads. It is open daily at  4 to 9 p.m. for dinner during the season. 

Many Glacier Hotel

Heidi’s Snack Shoppe brews espresso drinks and offers several grab-and-go items, such as baked goods and sandwiches. It is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the season.

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 a.m. to 8 p.m. 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 egg dishes and cereal. Lunch and dinner menus feature burgers, wraps, pizzas and salads. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. with hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner during the season.

Picnicking in Glacier

On the West Side, picnickers will find developed picnic areas with tables at Apgar Village, Avalanche Creek, Sprague Creek and Fish Creek. Visitors will find general stores at Apgar’s Eddie’s Mercantile and Lake McDonald’s Lodge campstore.

Since there are few food options in the Logan Pass area, visitors should be prepared to picnic for lunch. Picnic tables are available at Avalanche Creek, Rising Sun and the Sun Point Nature Trai.

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. 

One thing to note, two different concessionaires operate within Glacier National Park: Xanterra and Pursuit.

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 are equipped with kitchens, including 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 the west entrance of Apgar Village, the Village Inn motel was built in 1956 and renovated in 2015. It offers units equipped with basic kitchens and 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 have private bathrooms. 

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.

Top National Park Lodges

When to Visit Glacier National Park

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 averages between one and three inches year-round. Snow can fall at any time 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 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 a 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 stops at popular destinations. With limited parking at some areas, the shuttle offers a popular option for hikers. 

Shuttle stops are located at Visitor Centers, Campgrounds, and Lodges, along with popular hiking trails. Check in with the Visitor Center for the most up-to-date shuttle information. 

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 summer pass (May 1 until October 31) or $20 per vehicle for a winter pass.

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

National Park Pass Guide 

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 is limited to Apgar and St. Mary Visitor Centers and the Lake McDonald Lodge.
  • No Wi-Fi in Glacier National Park.


Get an early start and see Glacier in One Day from one side to the other with this 1 Day Itinerary for Glacier National Park. Get the best activities along with the best places to stay and eat. How to Glacier National Park in 1 Day | Touring Guide for Glacier National Park | National Parks in Montana

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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