Glacier National Park is one of the most popular, and most beautiful, national parks in the United States. Because of its location, it has a short peak season, meaning it can be very busy but it is worth facing the crowds to experience the beauty of the mountains, glaciers, and alpine lakes. It is a fantastic park for both hiking and wildlife watching. There is even time in this Glacier National Park 3 Day itinerary to explore the charming nearby mountain town of Whitefish.
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Is Glacier National Park in the US or Canada?
Glacier National Park, along with Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, meet at the border to create the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Both sides are beautiful and worth visiting if you have the time and a passport to visit this expansive area of wilderness.
How Many Days Do You Need in Glacier National Park?
You will need a minimum of two days to see the park, however we recommend at least 3 days in Glacier National Park so that you can complete one great hike, experience Whitefish, and see all of the main sights.
Is Glacier or Yellowstone Better?
Both Yellowstone and Glacier are unique and beautiful with very different things to see. Both are amazing and great for seeing wildlife, especially bears, but the landscapes are quite different. Glacier is the best choice if you want to see towering mountains, glaciers, and stunning alpine lakes. Yellowstone is better if you want to see more variety of wildlife, geysers and hot springs, and rolling hills surrounded by mountains.
Grand Teton National Park is also right by Yellowstone so you could visit two parks in one trip quite easily. You could also easily visit both (or all three) on one trip as they are just a few hours’ drive apart. You really cannot go wrong with either choice!
Directions to Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is fairly remote and requires some driving to get to, unless you fly into Kalispell, but wherever you are coming from, it will be beautiful. All of these directions are to the West Entrance of Glacier, getting to anything in the park will take a bit longer.
Kalispell to Glacier National Park
If you are just visiting Glacier National Park, Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell is the best place to fly into as it is very close to the west entrance of the park. It is just under an hour drive, about 40 miles (64 km), and a great place to base yourself for your visit to the park, though Whitefish is a bit closer to the entrance.
Bozeman to Glacier National Park
If you plan to visit both Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is a great place to fly into. It is close to Yellowstone and about 5.5 hours, 326 miles (524 km), from Glacier. The drive will take you through the Flathead National Forest and right to Kalispell before the park entrance.
Spokane to Glacier National Park
The drive from Spokane International Airport to Glacier National Park is just under five hours and covers 275 miles (442 km) through part of Washington and Idaho before entering Montana. You will drive through the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and the Lolo National Forest, so expect a very scenic drive on your way to Glacier National Park.
Ultimate Glacier National Park 3 Day Itinerary
This itinerary for 3 days in Glacier National Park is perfect for getting a taste of what the park has to offer and takes you to the best sights while allowing for time to hike and relax in nearby Whitefish.
Day 1 of 3: Glacier National Park 3 Day Itinerary
Glacier is a large park with stunning views and there is a lot to see and do. Day 1 of your 3 days in Glacier National Park will have you doing a short hike, driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road and enjoying its sights, and finally, getting out on the water at Lake McDonald.
Hike the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail
We start off with hiking the most popular trail in the park. In order to get here though you need to drive all the way up the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road to the highest pass before you can begin your hike. Given how popular Glacier National Park can be, it is best to get a start on the day as early as possible.
The Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is a great short and easy 2.9 mile (4.6 km) hike to start your visit to Glacier National Park. It is about halfway along the Going-to-the-Sun Road so you will start here then drive back out to Whitefish. This is a popular hike since it is on the shorter side. There will be crowds, but do not let that convince you to skip it. The trail is primarily boardwalk and well-marked but it does have a fairly steep incline. The trail takes you to both an overlook of Hidden Lake and down to the lake itself.
Depending on the time of year that you visit, the trail may still be covered in snow. This is a good area for spotting mountain goats and big horn sheep. The trail does close occasionally in the summer if there is a lot of grizzly bear activity in the area.
Location on Google Maps: Hidden Lake Overlook
Facilities: Logan Pass Visitor Center with snacks, restrooms, and a gift shop
What to Bring: Bear spray, camera
Helpful Tips: This is extremely popular with everyone due to its accessibility and short length. Parking is limited so you will want to arrive early to be sure you get a spot and can avoid some of the major crowds.
Drive the Going to the Sun Road
After your morning hike, you will head back the way you came and drive the famous park road heading back downhill towards Whitefish making stops along the way. Thanks to your early start, you will get a more relaxing experience at the viewpoints because most people will still be heading up the road, not down.
Stop at Paradise Meadow
Paradise Meadow is a beautiful stop right along the road with amazing mountain views. This is a great place to see colorful wildflowers from late June to early August. You can take a stroll through the meadow, just be careful of where you walk and do not trample any wildflowers.
Location on Google Maps: Paradise Meadow
Drive by the Weeping Wall
The Weeping Wall is a famous stop on the Going-to-the-Sun Road where the rock wall ‘weeps’ water. The amount of water varies as it is fed by snowmelt, so the best time to see it is earlier in the season when it is more like a waterfall, but you can still see it later in the year, it will just be weeping more then. While the waterfalls look natural, they are actually a remnant of the construction of the road.
Location on Google Maps: Weeping Wall
Stop to View Bird Woman Falls
Between Mount Oberlin and Mount Cannon sits Bird Woman Falls, the famous waterfall seen on many of the Glacier National Park postcards. It is not the falls going right along the road, but the one seen far off on the other side. It is 492 feet (149 meters) high and always changing. The bowl-shaped valley it pours from is the result of glaciers. The best time to see this is late spring and early summer as the snow melts as it can cease flowing almost entirely by August.
Location on Google Maps: Bird Woman Falls
Watch the River Banks for Animals
As you drive further downhill and along the river, keep your eyes peeled as this is a great area to spot feeding bears in the spring, summer, and fall. Some bears spend certain times of the year in different areas and they are wildlife, so nothing is guaranteed, but this is a good place to look for them. Big horn sheep, mountain goats, and elk are other large animals to keep an eye out for as you drive.
Location on Google Maps: River along Going-to-the-Sun Road
Facilities: Depends on where you are. There are various rest stops and pull outs all along the river.
Get Out on the Water at Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald is the largest lake in the park at ten miles (16 km) long and nearly 500 feet (152 m) deep. It is great for SUP and kayaking, a way to experience the park from a new vantage point. There are many different places to stop along the road to admire the lake and some areas have picnic tables and a beach as well. This is a great area to do some paddling out on the lake for an incredible experience. There are paddleboards, double kayaks, rowboats, and motorboats available for rent at Lake McDonald ranging from $16 USD to $30 USD per hour with a 1 hour minimum.
Location on Google Maps: Lake McDonald
Facilities: Lake McDonald Lodge, coffee shop, general store
What to Bring: Dry bag for electronics, bear spray
Helpful Tips: If you can stay for sunset this is a great time to see the lake at its calmest and see the setting sun on the mountain tops, which is incredibly beautiful. With extra time you can easily have a nice picnic dinner along the waterfront as well.
Day 2 of 3: Glacier National Park 3 Day Itinerary
Day two on this Glacier National Park 3 Day Itinerary includes one of the most incredible hikes in the park and a relaxing afternoon in the nearby town of Whitefish. It is a good way to break up the busy days one and three on this itinerary.
Hike the Highline Trail
The Highline Trail is one of the flagship trails in the park offering incredible scenery and views all along the hike. This is a long one-way hike, 11.6 miles (18 km), from Logan Pass to the Loop. You can hike as far as you would like on here but if you do the entire thing, you will either need a second car, to hike the whole trail back, or to use the park shuttle to get back to your car. The shuttle is definitely the best option.
You will want to get here nice and early because the parking does fill fast in the peak season. Since most people just hike the first section from Logan Pass, the further you hike, the fewer people you will likely see. It is one of the most popular trails in the park so it will almost always be busy. If you are hiking the whole trail, it is worth the additional, but difficult, 1.6 mile (2.5 km) side trail to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. This is an incredible hike but it can close due to grizzly activity. If you only have time for one long hike on your Glacier National Park 3 Day Itinerary, it should be this one.
Location on Google Maps: Highline Trail Trailhead
Facilities: Logan Pass Visitor Center at the trailhead, pit toilets at Granite Park Chalet
What to Bring: Bear spray, snacks, water
Helpful Tips: This is an out and back hike that is great because you have views the entire way. You can decide how far you want to hike but if you do the entire thing, you will either need a second shuttle car or to take advantage of the park shuttle to get back to your car. As you hike, be sure to keep a look out for bears on or near the trail.
Kick Back in Whitefish
After a long day of hiking, enjoy a hearty meal on the town back in Whitefish. There are a lot of great low-key places such as the Buffalo Café, MacKenzie River Pizza Co., and Bonsai Brewing Project. There are also higher-end places with delicious Italian food if you prefer that. Spend some time wandering through town checking out locally owned shops and galleries or relax at Whitefish City Beach.
Location on Google Maps: Whitefish
Day 3 of 3: Glacier National Park 3 Day Itinerary
Finally, day three of your Glacier National Park 3 Day Itinerary. This is a day with a lot of driving as you see the second half of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. You will get to enjoy so many incredible views that it will make up for all of the time spent in the car.
Drive the Second Half of the Going to the Sun Road
Make your way back up to Logan Pass, just as before but this time you will keep driving to the other end of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This will be a more relaxed day but it will also options for hiking if you would like.
Stop to Enjoy the View Near Big Drift
Just after Logan Pass, the first downhill area has a number of tunnels, a large drop-off and amazing views. Big Drift gets its name from the amount of snow that can accumulate here, up to 80 feet (24 m), and it can sometimes take an entire month just to clear this 1 mile (1.6 km) section of road.
Location on Google Maps: Big Drift
Check Out the Jackson Glacier Overlook
The Jackson Glacier Overlook is one of the easiest ways to see a glacier in the park. The actual glacier is a couple of miles away but it is still a beautiful view. There are some hiking trails in the area if you want to stretch your legs at all. Jackson Glacier is not the biggest glacier in the park, it is the 7th biggest of 25, and was first documented in 1850 when there were about 150 glaciers in the park. At that time, it was joined with Blackfoot Glacier, and covered about 1,875 acres. It has lost almost a third of its acreage from 1966 to 2005 when it was last measured at about 250 acres.
Location on Google Maps: Jackson Glacier Overlook
Admire the View at Sun Point
The Sun Point Nature Trail is a great place to stretch your legs while enjoying the views of Saint Mary Lake. It is a 1.7 mile (2.7 km) trail to Sun Point and back to the parking area. It’s a wonderful easy trail with other short trails that all connect to each other. You can hike to three different waterfalls if you are feeling up to the 6.5 mile (10.4 km) trek. It would also be a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch with a view.
Location on Google Maps: Sun Point
Facilities: Picnic area, restrooms
Stop to See Wild Goose Island
Wild Goose Island Lookout is another stunning viewpoint in Glacier overlooking St. Mary Lake and Goose Island. You can enjoy views of towering peaks around the lake with Wild Goose Island right in the middle. There is a large parking area at this spot that is popular for photographers. There are a few different viewing areas so you can enjoy it from all angles.
Location on Google Maps: Wild Goose Island
Fuel Up at St. Mary Village
There is not much in St. Mary Village, but if you need fuel, water, or food this is the place to get it before heading back to Whitefish. There are quite a few trails here if you want to get any more hiking in before the end your 3 days in Glacier National Park.
Location on Google Maps: St Mary Village
Facilities: Campground, food
St. Mary’s Scenic Overlook
St Mary’s Scenic Overlook is technically outside the National Park, but offers expansive views of St. Mary Lake and the surrounding mountain range. This is a nice quick stop not far from the village of St. Mary.
Location on Google Maps: St. Mary’s Scenic Overlook
Visit Two Medicine Lake
Two Medicine Lake is another famous lake and view in the park but this one is not on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The lake has pristine water and plenty of hiking trails if you want to do any more hiking. If not, this is a great place to enjoy the view and just relax. Keep an eye out for mountain goats and big horn sheep here.
This area is not quite as busy since it is a bit further from the Going-to-the-Sun Road where most people spend their time, but this is worth any extra effort to get to. You can rent kayaks and canoes here if you want to get out on the water. This is a wonderful way to end your 3 days in Glacier National Park itinerary.
From Two Medicine Lake, you can either exit the park and head south/east or return on Highway 2 to the Whitefish area for a relaxing night back in town.
Location on Google Maps: Two Medicine Lake
Facilities: Campground, picnic area, washrooms, camp store
What to Bring: Bear spray if you plan to hike
Helpful Tips: This is a beautiful area to enjoy the sunset if you are still in the park around that time. If you are here in the afternoon with plenty of time and want to see the sunset here, there are a few hiking trails to pass the time.
Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is open year-round, but accessibility and activity availability vary by season. For most visitors, summer is the best time to visit but each season has its perks.
Winter in Glacier National Park
There are far fewer crowds in Glacier in winter, but services and park access are incredibly limited. You will need to plan ahead for your visit and be entirely self-sufficient. Camping is available year-round at Apgar and St. Mary Campgrounds but you will need to be prepared for low temperatures. A lot of businesses around the park are also closed in the winter. Bears may still be active in winter so stay bear aware and keep bear spray with you. If you enjoy solitude and don’t mind the cold temperatures, it can be a great way to get out into nature, however if the goal is to fully experience Glacier National Park, we don’t recommend visiting in winter.
Spring in Glacier National Park
Services and access to the park are still very limited in the spring due to heavy snowfall in the winter. Most services do not open until late May or early June. Higher elevation trails can still be covered in snow and the Going-to-the-Sun Road is plowed as conditions permit. The road may only be open to hikers and bicyclists. Spring in Glacier is usually considered early May through June, sometimes into early July. If you are visiting in the spring or summer, you will need a timed entry permit that is separate from the park entry fee.
Summer in Glacier National Park
Summer is the most popular time to visit Glacier which also means it is the busiest. All services are available in the summer season which is generally considered late May through September. July and August are the busiest months, so visiting in June is a great option if you are flexible on when you go, though the Going-to-the-Sun Road may not be fully plowed until late June or early July. Having a backup plan or two is a good idea in case areas are restricted because of crowds.
Fall in Glacier National Park
Fall is also a great time to visit Glacier because it is usually less busy, but wildlife is still active and trees will start changing in mid-September. Official closing dates vary from mid-September to mid-October and can often be dictated by the weather. If you want to visit in the fall, earlier will more likely be easier since weather can be more unpredictable later in the season.
Best Place to Stay Near Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is easily accessible from both Whitefish and Kalispell, Montana. There are quite a few hotels to choose from in both but you will want to book them in advance so you aren’t just left with the really expensive options, which there are plenty of. There are also quite a few campgrounds in the park if you would prefer to rough it for a few days.
Hotels in Whitefish near Glacier National Park
There is not much available for budget options in Whitefish but booking in advance could definitely help you avoid some of the pricier options you may otherwise be left with on a last-minute trip. The Pine Lodge on the Whitefish River is a great choice not far from downtown but right on the river. Even better, it is a pet friendly hotel.
Outside of town, right by Whitefish Lake, is Kandahar Lodge at Whitefish Mountain Resort, a great year-round choice. It is a few miles from the town of Whitefish, so you cannot walk there from the hotel but it is a short drive and great if you want a rustic feeling stay.
Glacier National Park Camping
There are 13 front country campgrounds totaling at a little over 900 campsites in Glacier National Park, some require reservations, others are first-come, first-served. Fish Creek, Many Glacier, Apgar, Sprague Creek, and St. Mary campgrounds take reservations for the peak season. It is highly recommended to book those in advance. Camping season is not terribly long here and most are open from late May or early June through mid to late September.
The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for a 3 Days in Glacier National Park Itinerary
These tips for visiting Glacier National Park are sure to keep you comfortable and safe while you explore everything the park and its surrounding area have to offer. The most important is to be bear aware since you are in bear country.
This is Bear Country
Glacier National Park is in the heart of bear country and you will want to be prepared with a bear bell, bear spray, and common sense. Know how to use the bear spray and keep it somewhere easy to access, not at the bottom of your backpack. Do not spray it on yourself to keep bears away as it is more like pepper spray than bug spray. If you are camping, keep food and any other scented products out of your tent and in a bear box if the campground has them, in a bear canister, or a bear bag in a tree.
Plan a Half Day in Whitefish
Whitefish is a quaint town with great restaurants, breweries, and shops. Plan to spend half a day enjoying the town on your trip to Glacier National Park.
The best part of Glacier is hitting the trails and enjoying nature and comfortable footwear is essential for the enjoyment of the park, particularly for trails that are long, such as the Highline Trail.
Bring Bug Spray
There are plenty of bugs at Glacier National Park during the summer months and you will definitely want to keep them at bay with bug spray on the trails. Mosquito bites can make a trip much less fun, so get ahead of the bugs and use that bug spray.
Enjoy the Park from MacDonald Lake
Be sure to get out on the water to enjoy the park from a different perspective. This is one of the best ways to experience the park and is sure to make your trip that much more memorable. It also a great way to get away from crowds on trails and parking lots.
Glacier National Park 3 Day Itinerary Summary
Did we cover all of the best places to visit during a 3 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary? Leave us a comment and tell us how you enjoyed this wonderful park!
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