National Parks

A Weekender’s Guide to Glacier National Park

Posted by
Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan
May 16, 2024
Updated May 14, 2024

Sunny day in Glacier National Park
A sunny day in Glacier National Park - Photo: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Cruise a super scenic road, hike to glacial lakes, and scope the park’s best views on this weekend-sized itinerary.

Welcome to the Crown of the Continent, the most dramatic stretch of the Northern Rockies. Here, glacially sculpted mountains crowd the skyline, trout swim clear rivers and lakes, thick forests meet alpine tundra, and wildlife like grizzly bears, mountain goats, and wolverines make their homes. 

The ancestors of Native peoples such as the Blackfeet, Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai served as the land’s original stewards. Now, millions of visitors come to Glacier National Park each year to experience one of America’s most spectacular ecosystems. 

There’s a lot to see at Glacier, including some gorgeous and far-flung destinations off the park’s main corridor. But even if you don’t have the time or interest to trek into the backcountry, you can still get a true Glacier experience. In just a couple of days, this summer tour hits most of the must-see highlights. This route begins from West Glacier, where most people enter the park. Plan for early starts and long days—this will be a weekend to remember.

Hiking in Glacier National Park
Hiking in Glacier National Park – Photo: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

How to Get a Permit for Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park instituted a pilot reservation system for entry in 2021, with updated rules each year. In 2024, visitors need a vehicle reservation to enter the park in certain places between the hours of 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. That requirement is in place for the west side of Going-to-the-Sun Road and the North Fork area from May 24 to September 8, and for Many Glacier from July 1 to September 8. You can them at Make sure to check for the latest regulations here. 

Tip: Reservations go fast, so try for them the moment they’re released (usually 8 a.m. Mountain Time on select days). 

If you follow this itinerary, you’ll only need an entry reservation for your first day (or you’ll have to enter the park before 6 a.m.). Lodging or camping reservations at Many Glacier will get you into that zone without a separate entry ticket.


Day 1 in Glacier National Park

6:00 a.m. Pack a to-go breakfast and fill your coffee thermos: Getting a parking spot at Logan Pass requires an early start. Head east on Going-to-the-Sun Road where you’ll enjoy sunrise views on Lake McDonald before the steep climb to the pass begins. (No luck on landing a coveted entry reservation? Just push your start time to before 6 a.m.) Get ready for some of the most stunning alpine views of your life on the upper stretches of this road. 

7:30 a.m. At 6,646 feet, Logan Pass is the high point of Going-to-the-Sun Road and an absolutely stunning destination with views into both halves of the park. Start with a quick visit to Logan Pass Visitor Center to check out exhibits on wildlife, then embark on the 2.7-mile (round trip) hike to Hidden Lake Overlook. The trail crosses wildflower-filled meadows with up-close views of Clements Mountain and Mt. Oberlin to an aerial look over Hidden Lake. Make sure to pack bear spray, layers, and sun protection—you’ll be exposed to the elements up here.

9:30 a.m. Give some other lucky driver your parking spot and continue east on Going-to-the-Sun Road, descending into the St. Mary Valley. Next stop: the Many Glacier valley, an alpine wonderland surrounded by spiky peaks and dotted with sparkling lakes. The super scenic drive will take about two hours. 

11:30 a.m. Arrive at the Swiftcurrent village at Many Glacier and head over to Nell’s for a casual lunch.

12:30 p.m. Now that you’re fueled up, it’s time to hike one of Glacier’s many stunning trails. Iceberg Lake, a lovely tarn sitting in a  glacial cirque at 6,000 feet, is a quintessential Glacier destination. The 9.7-mile round trip is strenuous and passes through prime grizzly territory with abundant wildflowers. 

6:30 p.m. It’s been a big day—time to chill. You have three options for overnight lodging in Many Glacier: the Many Glacier Campground, the motel-style Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins, and the grand Many Glacier Hotel. Whichever one you choose, see if there’s a ranger program scheduled for tonight at the campground. These fantastic free presentations feature rangers giving talks on everything from wildlife to geology to human history of the park.

Overlooking Glacier National Park
Overlooking Glacier National Park – Photo: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Day 2 in Glacier National Park

7 a.m. Wherever you slept last night, head to Many Glacier Hotel for breakfast at the Ptarmigan Dining Room. Bacon and eggs just taste better with a front-row view of Swiftcurrent Lake.  

9 a.m. Board the Chief Two Guns for a scenic boat cruise across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine (with a .2-mile hike in between). The cruise takes you deep into the Many Glacier Valley with views of Salamander and Gem Glaciers. You can stay on the boat for the return journey, or hop off and hike back. It’s about 2.3 miles from the top of Lake Josephine back to the dock, and about a mile if you start from the top of Swiftcurrent Lake. 

11 a.m. Bid Many Glacier adieu and head back toward St. Mary.

11:30 a.m. Stop at Park Café and Grocery for a quick lunch. Non-negotiable order: the huckleberry pie. Trust us on this.

12:15 p.m. Drop by the St. Mary Visitor Center to check out its exhibit on the many Indigenous cultures with ties to this landscape. Then continue west on Going-to-the-Sun Road, tracing the north shore of St. Mary Lake. Stop at the Wild Goose Island Overlook for a particularly beautiful look at the peaks rising on both sides of the lake, purportedly the park’s most-photographed view. 

1 p.m. Pull into Sunrift Gorge for a short-but-sweet hike to 25-foot Baring Falls. The round trip (just under 1 mile) skirts the steep edge of the lakeshore to the powerful waterfall. 

2 p.m. Make a quick stop at Jackson Glacier Overlook for an excellent view of one of the park’s vanishing glaciers. Then press on west, topping out over Logan Pass once again before dropping back into the Lake McDonald Valley. The vistas are just as jaw-dropping on the return leg.

3 p.m. Hop out of the car at the busy Avalanche Lake Trailhead for your final hike: a 4-mile our-and-back to a lake cradled in a dramatic glacial cirque. This relatively flat journey starts under a canopy of western cedars and traces bright-blue Avalanche Creek to the lake. 

6 p.m. Toast a weekend well-lived with burgers and microbrews at Eddie’s Café in Apgar Village (snag seats on the patio if you can, where you’ll enjoy views of Lake McDonald). Finish up with an ice cream cone and a stroll on the pebbly beach.

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