Known for some of the best hiking and most scenic drives in the United States, in this post I'm going to cover the best things to do in Glacier National Park.
I've had the opportunity to spend nearly 10 days exploring the park over the span of two visits. During these trips I hiked over 50 miles (80 km), canoed on Swiftcurrent Lake, drove the length of Going to the Sun Road multiple times and much more!
If you're planning a trip to Glacier National Park let this post serve as your guide to planning your itinerary. I've spent countless hours researching, planning and experiencing the park firsthand and this is a curated list of my favorite activities that I experienced.
Once you're done reviewing this list of top activities to do within the park, I'd recommend heading over to read my guide covering a number of useful facts and tips to know before visiting Glacier National Park.
In that post I'll get into more detail about pitfalls to avoid when securing lodging within the park, what to pack, the best time of year to visit and much, much more!
If you're interested in watching a video version of this guide check out my best things to do in Glacier National Park Montana video on YouTube.
You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!
1. Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail
Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park is a nature walk with centuries-old giant red cedars and hemlocks lining the path. The 1-mile loop (1.6 km) is wheelchair accessible with a boardwalk, making it perfect for small children or visitors not planning to hike much. The trail is a staple in the park and connects to the popular Avalanche Lake Trail.
I'd recommend you complete this hike while doing the longer hike to Avalanche Lake since they're connected. As a pro tip, even if you plan to skip Avalanche Lake, visitors can enjoy direct access to the rushing waters of Avalanche Creek a quarter mile up the hill where the trail splits off.
2. Avalanche Lake
Glacier National Park is home to many beautiful areas, including Avalanche Lake. This stunning lake is surrounded by towering mountains and lush forests, making it a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers alike. The hike to Avalanche Lake is a moderate 5 mile round trip (about 9 km) that takes visitors through some of the park's most incredible forest area.
The hike to Avalanche Lake begins at the Trail of the Cedars, a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that winds through a forest of centuries old cedar trees. From there, hikers will follow the Avalanche Lake Trail, which climbs gradually through the forest and along Avalanche Creek. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, with plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the scenery along the way.
Once hikers reach Avalanche Lake, they'll be rewarded with stunning views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The lake is a popular spot for swimming and picnics as it boasts a large beach area for visitors to spread out and relax. The relatively low difficulty of this hike paired with an incredible payoff mean it should be on every visitor's itinerary!
I've also compiled a video guide highlighting a number of things to know before hiking to Avalanche Lake that you should check out as well.
3. Drive Going to the Sun Road
Going to the Sun Road is a 50-mile (80 km) scenic mountain road that serves as the main artery of Glacier National Park, providing access to many popular areas. The road crosses the Continental Divide and is considered a sub-area of the park that requires its own timed entry reservation.
If you're unfamiliar with how the National Park Timed Entry System works I've published a full length post dedicated to the subject. It covers how the system works along with tips and tricks to utilize if you ever find yourself without a reservation.
The road is usually open from late June to September, but weather conditions vary each year. It's important to time your visit carefully to enjoy the activities you want to see. During my first visit to the park the road didn't open until mid July! This nearly prevented us from reaching Logan's Pass altogether.
The road may also close due to construction, and visitors should check the National Park Service website for updates before and during their trip.
4. Take in views of Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park. It is approximately 10 miles long (16 km) and over 400 feet deep (120 meters), and surrounded by towering mountain peaks and dense forests. It's located near the West Glacier entrance and Apgar Village area.
Lake McDonald is known for its stunning beauty and crystal-clear waters, which offer excellent opportunities for canoeing and swimming.
The historic Lake McDonald Lodge is located on the shore of the lake, and offers accommodation, dining, and recreation opportunities for visitors. If you're interested in staying at the lodge, be warned that it typically sells out a full year in advance!
5. Challenge yourself with a hike to Mount Brown Lookout
This is an experience that isn't suitable for everyone. If the distance of 10 miles roundtrip (16 km) wasn't enough, this hike features 4,200 feet (1280 meters) of elevation gain.
The trek to Mount Brown Lookout starts harmlessly enough, as guests begin along the trail towards Sperry Chalet through a wooded area of the park near Lake McDonald Lodge.
As you hike keep an eye out for the Mount Brown Lookout spur which veers off from the main trail. This is where the trail takes a turn for the worse and the uphill climb begins.
Visitors who can endure nearly a full mile of elevation gain and 30+ switchbacks will be rewarded with the best views of Lake McDonald in the entire park from atop the fire lookout structure.
It won't be easy, but this is a great challenge hike and less trafficked due to its difficulty. Just don't forget your trekking poles for the journey back down, your knees will thank you!
6. Keep an eye out for the Weeping Wall
The Weeping Wall is a natural feature in Glacier National Park located along Going to the Sun Road. It's a rock face where water seeps out and runs down the wall, creating a waterfall-like appearance.
It's a popular photo op located between the Avalanche Creek and Logan's Pass areas. If you're driving along Going to the Sun Road, you can't miss it.
The Weeping Wall's proximity to the road means visitors can splash their vehicle in their water when driving by during periods of heavy snow melt!
7. Hike to Hidden Lake
The Hidden Lake Overlook trail is an easy hike with no difficult or dangerous sections. The 2.7 mile (4.3 km) roundtrip hike to the overlook is one of the most visited areas in Glacier National Park and for good reason.
Once you reach the overlook you can enjoy views of Hidden Lake and Bearhat Mountain which prominently towers above it.
During my first trip to Glacier we were able to see bighorn sheep and marmots near the trailhead, a wolf and even heard about bear activity nearby earlier that morning. Hidden Lake and the surrounding Logan's Pass area are known as one of the best spots to see wildlife in Glacier National Park.
Late July or August is the best time to visit Hidden Lake, since snowfields can still exist in this area well into summer, while during September you may experience hazy conditions due to wildfires.
8. Test your fear of heights along the Highline Trail
The Highline Trail in Glacier National Park is a must-do hike for outdoor enthusiasts. The trail offers stunning views as you hike along the Continental Divide, and is a great way to experience the beauty and remoteness of the park firsthand.
There are multiple variations to this hike but the route I cover in my guide involves beginning at Logan's Pass, hiking up to the Grinnell Overlook, past the Granite Park Chalet and finishing at the Loop.
This option is about 14 miles (22 km) in length, has about 2,600 ft (800 meters) of elevation gain and will take most visitors 7-8 hours to complete with some stops along the way.
The Highline Trail is one of the most rigorous day hikes in the park due to total length, elevation gain, sun exposure and because you'll hike along sheer drops for most of the day.
If you can stomach the heights and endure the difficulty, it's one of the most spectacular activities you can do during your trip to Glacier National Park.
9. Hike to Grinnell Glacier
Grinnell Glacier is a mountain glacier located along the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park. It is one of the largest and most famous glaciers in the park and is named after George Bird Grinnell, a conservationist and early explorer of the area.
Grinnell Glacier is the most accessible glacier in the park and doesn't require any type of technical climbing ability to reach. There are two ways to catch a glimpse of the glacier, but both involve a bit of hiking.
The first and most direct method is to do the Grinnell Glacier hike which originates in the Many Glacier area of the park, near the Many Glacier Hotel. This 11 mile (18 km) roundtrip hike will lead visitors directly to the glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake.
The alternative viewing opportunity presents itself by taking the Grinnell Overlook Spur located along the Highline Trail. This spur will provide hikers with a birds eye view of Grinnell Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake. However, the 1 mile (1.6 km) spur to the Grinnell Overlook has roughly 1,000 feet (305 km) of grueling elevation gain before you reach the viewpoint.
Neither option is easy. But the glacier is quickly receding and won't be around forever, it's worth the struggle to catch a glimpse of this Glacier National Park icon while you still can!
10. Stay at Granite Park Chalet
The Granite Park Chalet is a historic backcountry chalet located in Glacier National Park. It is located in a completely remote section of Montana backcountry and can only be reached by a challenging hike along the Highline Trail.
The chalet was built in 1914 and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. It provides basic accommodation for backcountry hikers, including dormitory-style rooms, meals, and access to outhouses.
This idea isn't for everyone since the chalet is only accessible by foot and requires a fairly rigorous hike to reach it. If you're interested in doing the Highline Trail but think it could be too challenging, staying the night at Granite Park Chalet would allow you to split the trek over two days.
11. Take an iconic Red Bus Tour
One of the most iconic activities you can do in Glacier National Park is to take a Red Bus Tour! The significance of these red touring buses dates back to the 1930s. Their large windows and roll back top design allows for panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.
Each bus can carry up to 16 passengers. The tour company describes the seating as cozy and if you don't get a window seat, you'll likely be squished against your fellow riders so keep that possibility in mind.
The scenic drive through Glacier National Park allows riders to learn about the park's history from knowledgeable guides.
Guests can choose from options departing from the western or eastern sides of the park. Just be mindful that these bus tours sell out regularly so the further out you can reserve a seat the better!
12. Photograph Goose Island
Wild Goose Island is a small island located in St. Mary Lake which resides near the eastern park entrance.
The island is considered one of the most iconic and picturesque places in the park and is an extremely popular spot for professional photographers to setup. If you're a fan of the movie The Shining, you might recognize this area as it's featured in the films opening scene.
There are pull offs along Going to the Sun Road which means you can easily view Wild Goose Island during a brief pit stop as you travel across the park.
13. Swim with Icebergs at Iceberg Lake
Glacier National Park's Iceberg Lake Trail is a must-see destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts. The trail is a 9.3 mile round trip hike (about 15 km) that leads to a stunning alpine lake that sits in the shadow of Iceberg Peak and Mount Wilbur.
The trailhead is located in Many Glacier near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn parking lot. The hike takes approximately 6 hours to complete. The trail is rated as moderate, with a gradual incline and well-maintained path, making it accessible to hikers of all skill levels if you're not deterred by the length.
The highlight of the Iceberg Lake Trail is, of course, Iceberg Lake itself. The crystal-clear lake can often be seen with large icebergs floating in the water.
For the best chance to see icebergs floating in the water you'll want to visit during midsummer. This allows time for the lake to partially thaw, but not completely melt like it can by late summer.
There's no better way to cap off your hike to Iceberg Lake than by taking a dip in the icy cold water so don't forget to pack a swimsuit!
Swimming in the freezing water and climbing on a chunk of ice floating in the lake will go down as one of my favorite memories from visiting Glacier National Park.
14. Swim under Angel Wing at Grinnell Lake
Visitors looking for an easier difficulty hike in the Many Glacier area of the park should consider the hike to Grinnell Lake. This trail is 7 miles (11 km) in length but has a negligible amount of elevation gain making it suitable for most visitors.
If that's still out of your wheel house, there are ways to cut the hiking distance down by pairing it with a boat tour from Many Glacier Hotel. I discuss that option in my lengthier post on Grinnell Lake which is hyperlinked above.
More specifically referred to as Lower Grinnell Lake this body of water is partially created by ice melt from the Grinnell Glacier which is located directly above the lake. To be clear - you can't see Grinnell Glacier from Lower Grinnell Lake and you'll need to attempt a separate and more rigorous hike to reach the glacier itself.
Once you reach the lake you'll have the opportunity to swim, eat a picnic on the beach and take in views of one of the most prominent mountains in Glacier National Park, Angel Wing which towers over the lake.
15. Spend an afternoon at Many Glacier Hotel
Many Glacier Hotel is a historic hotel located in the Many Glacier portion of Glacier National Park. It is situated on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape, with Grinnell Point dominating the horizon.
The hotel was built in 1915 and offers the largest and most luxurious accommodations inside of Glacier National Park.
During my second trip to Glacier we stayed at this historic hotel and it did not disappoint. Our balcony offered incredible views of Swiftcurrent Lake, which was just steps away. The hotel is designed to have a Swiss mountain chalet feel and it definitely passes the vibe check.
The hotel boasts a restaurant, gift shop and canoe rentals making it a worthwhile stop even for guests who aren't physically staying at the hotel.
If you're interested in staying at Many Glacier Hotel during your trip, which I highly recommend, be prepared to reserve your room a full year in advance. Since peak season in Glacier National Park is so short, rooms here tend to sellout quickly!
16. Take a boat tour
Did you know that guided tours of Glacier National Park are available? The Glacier Park Boat Company offers trips on Lake McDonald, St Mary, Two Medicine and Many Glacier.
The best way to book one of these tours is directly through The Glacier Park Boat Company's website.
If you'd like to do this activity during your visit, I recommend booking far in advance. Most tours sell out well before their departure dates, so don't expect to grab a last-minute seat or ride standby!
17. Go canoeing on Swiftcurrent Lake
Earlier in the post I alluded to renting canoes at Many Glacier Hotel, which leads us to our next must do activity during a trip to Glacier National Park. Renting a canoe on Swiftcurrent Lake will surely go down as one of your favorite activities during your visit to Glacier.
When we visited rentals were on a first come, first serve basis but we didn't have any issues securing a rental around early afternoon on a beautiful July afternoon.
Pack a lunch and a few drinks then head across the lake to beach along the shores of Grinnell Point for a truly unforgettable picnic experience.
18. Hike to Redrock Falls
Redrock Falls Trail is a popular and easily accessible waterfall hike in Glacier National Park. The 3.6 mile roundtrip hike (5.8 km) to the falls is well maintained and flat, with only 200 ft (60 meters) of elevation gain.
This hike takes about 90 minutes to complete, but visitors should budget additional time to enjoy the falls, continue on to Bullhead Lake or try their luck at spotting wild moose during a detour to Fishercap Lake.
Don't forget to pack a swimsuit as you'll encounter Redrock Lake shortly before reaching the falls which you'll spot some visitors swimming in.
The hike was buggy when we visited in the late afternoon so be sure to pack bug spray.
The waterfall provides a unique experience compared to other hikes in the park which typically involve hiking to a lake.
19. Spend an evening stargazing
It might come as an after thought, but not a surprise, that Glacier National Park has some of the best stargazing in the United States due to its extremely remote location and dark skies.
If you're staying at accommodations in the park then you're in luck since you won't need to travel far from your lodging to reach the darkest areas of the park.
Visitors staying in Whitefish will need to be more strategic about their stargazing since you could easily spend 2 hours driving roundtrip to get into the heart of Glacier National Park and back out.
Be mindful that wildfire conditions in the late summer, even elsewhere in the United States, can create hazy conditions that could impact the quality of stargazing during your stay.
20. Spot wildlife throughout the park
Visiting Glacier National Park offers an excellent chance to see wildlife, including animals like bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wolves, moose, marmots and even bears.
Glacier's backcountry is home to an active bear population, so I'd highly recommend reviewing the National Park Service guide on bear safety before your visit. If you're flying in from out of state, you can rent bear spray at the Kalispell Airport near baggage claim. Always have bear spray with you when hiking in Glacier National Park. During my last visit we had two separate bear encounters when hiking.
If you're looking for the most active wildlife areas in the park, Many Glacier and Logan's Pass are excellent areas to look. During our hike to Hidden Lake from Logan's Pass alone we saw marmots, bighorn sheep, a coyote and heard of bear activity near the lake that morning.
Looking for suggestions on what to pack for hiking?
Chances are if you're visiting Glacier National Park you'll be doing quite a bit of hiking. If you're doing some hiking you'll want to have the right gear handy in order to have the best experience possible.
For your convenience I've put together an extremely thorough hiking checklist to make sure you don't miss anything.
That guide is geared towards lengthier day hikes such as The Highline Trail or trek to Mount Brown Lookout, so if you're doing something more casual like Redrock Falls or Trail of the Cedars you probably won't need everything on that list. But rest assured you won't overlook a thing!
Check out my Timed Entry Reservation Guide
There's one mistake you cannot afford to make when visiting Glacier National Park. Showing up without a timed entry reservation is a surefire way to blow up what should be an otherwise stress free day exploring the Crown of the Continent!
Glacier National Park has one of the more complicated timed entry reservation setups, so you'll want to brush up on the process before visiting.
Fortunately - I've put together a thorough guide walking you through that process. I also provide useful tips on how to get the best time slots and what to do if you find yourself without a reservation.
You can access my Timed Entry Reservation Guide here.
Hopefully you find this guide covering the best things to do in Glacier National Park helpful during your trip planning process!