Glacier National Park has many claims to fame: not only does it feature actual glaciers, but it’s also a World Heritage Site, a Biosphere Reserve, the world’s first International Peace Park, and the world’s first International Dark Sky Park. It’s also contiguous with Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, leaving that much more land to protect bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and oh yeah – glaciers.
Let’s be honest, I never saw those famous dark skies (that require staying up super late in the summer because I have small children), and I never did step foot on a glacier. But I had a great time exploring this famous national park, and you can, too. Just make sure to check out our handy-dandy list of the best things to do with kids at Glacier National Park below!
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Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road
The Going-to-the-Sun Road bisects Glacier National Park, and most trailheads and sights are found along this road. But even if you never stop along the way, the views from this stretch are spectacular. You’ll see mountains like Heavens Peak, waterfalls like Bird Woman Falls, the famed Weeping Wall (where your kids will all want to get wet out the window), and wildlife such as shockingly tame marmots. Or maybe bears. You just never know.
Drive as far as you want, then turn back…or drive all the way through from West Glacier to Saint Mary (or vice versa) and then take state roads outside of the park back to your starting point, if you don’t want to face the traffic on your way back.
See the Mountain Goats at Logan Pass
At Logan Pass, you can stand with your feet on either side of the Continental Divide (or, as my husband put it to my sons, pee on either side of the Continental Divide). The parking lot here is generally packed, and the line for the restrooms is long, but it’s popular for a reason. The views are jaw-dropping. The alpine meadows are filled with wildflowers, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and marmots. And even if you only hike partway to Hidden Lake, kids will love seeing snow in the middle of summer.
Plus, check out the mountain goats here! I can’t guarantee a goat sighting, of course, but our family had two sightings in two days there on the trail to Hidden Lake Overlook, so your chances are pretty good.
Lunch at Lunch Creek
We stopped at Lunch Creek only because the parking lot at Logan Pass was full, but next time I will definitely plan a breakfast or lunch stop here. This charming creek flows down from the mountain over a natural rock staircase, under the Going-to-the-Sun-Road, then winds around small trees, creating the perfect spot for kids to stretch their legs, splash around or have a snack while you take photos.
Stop and See a Glacier
The glaciers are receding, so it’s tough to see them without a long hike these days. The best place to view a glacier while on your drive (or with kids) is at the Jackson Glacier Overlook, east of Logan Pass. Don’t miss this stop. Not only is the view gorgeous, there are informative signs and historical photos showing what the glacier used to look like compared with today.
Play at Lake McDonald and McDonald Creek
Lake McDonald is found just inside the western entrance to Glacier National Park. Apgar Village is worth a visit with lodges, gift shops, food service, and the visitor center (which you will want to check out for the Junior Ranger Program) and is found at the south end of Lake McDonald.
If you don’t like crowds, there’s still a spot at clear, cold, lovely Lake McDonald for you. Check out the unpaved road that circles the north end of the lake if you want to go exploring.
And don’t miss the McDonald Creek Overlook, just north of the lake, where the blue glacier-fed creek tumbles over the rocks.
Eat Huckleberry Something
Huckleberries are a big thing in this part of Montana — so let your kids go hunting for wild huckleberries in the woods, or at least let them try huckleberry shakes or huckleberry fudge or huckleberry licorice or huckleberry taffy or huckleberry anything else you can think of while you are here!
There are plenty of trails for hikers of all stripes at Glacier National Park, and it’s worth hiking at least a little ways to get off the main road and away from the cars and crowds.
A popular family trail is Trail of the Cedars, a 0.9-mile flat loop that leaves from Avalanche Creek. Other good options are Saint Mary Falls, Baring Falls, and Redrock Falls, all of which are rated as easy hikes by the National Park Service.
Where to Stay at Glacier National Park
West Glacier, Montana, is the tiny town just outside the west entrance to Glacier National Park. If you want to stay super close to the park, check out the cottages at Glacier Outdoor Center or the lovely rooms at Great Northern Resort there.
If you don’t mind driving a little ways to get to the park, you’ll have more options in Kalispell or Bigfork. It’s worth considering options as far as an hour away from the park. We rented a house on Swan Lake near Bigfork, Montana, and loved having time on the lake as well as days we could drive into Glacier National Park.
Tips for Visiting Glacier National Park
The stunning scenery at Glacier National Park draws millions of visitors each year. Most of these millions of people visit during the relatively short summer season (snow blocks the road until mid- to late-June), so be aware that starting your day very early is recommended. If you are entering the park after 7 a.m., you may not find a parking spot at Logan Pass by the time you reach it, if that’s your goal.
Alternatively, we experimented with arriving at Logan Pass around noon and hoping that some of the early birds were leaving about then — and that seemed to work, too.
As with most national parks, if you get off the main roads, and especially if you are willing to explore unpaved roads and/or hike awhile, you can still find solitude and solace in nature here. Go explore!