Glacier National Park: A 5 Day Adventure

Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana’s Rocky Mountains.  With over 700 miles of hiking trails, you can spend an endless amount of time exploring the park’s gorgeous glacial lakes, lush forests, and majestic mountains.  And if the park’s stunning scenery isn’t enticing enough, there’s not a trail in the park where you are not likely to see moose, grizzly bears, mountain goats, deer, and elk.  Besides the incredible hiking trails, the park also offers the perfect chance to add boating, biking, fishing, camping, and even skiing to your adventure bucket list! This park is easily one of our favorite places to explore, and our current life plan is to find any excuse to visit yearly!😊 Below you will find our 5-day Glacier National Park itinerary to help get your adventure planning started.  Please reach out with any questions!

Entrance Fee:

$35 for a 7-day vehicle pass. 

In addition to a park pass, Glacier National Park also requires a timed entry reservation.

West Glacier- North Fork and Going-to-the-Sun Road require a timed entry reservation from May 26th to Sept 10th, 2023, from 6 am to 3 pm. 

East Glacier- Going-to-the-Sun Road from St. Mary’s, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier require a timed entry reservation from July 1st to Sept 10th, 2023, from 6 am to 3 pm. 

Timed entry reservations for Going-to-the-Sun Road on either side of the park are valid for 3 consecutive days.  Timed entry reservations for North Fork, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier are valid for 1 day. 

Reservations can be found at and are released 4 months in advance.  If you miss the initial release, there is another block of timed entry reservations released at 8 am MST the day prior to the visit date. 

Reservations are $2 and are non-refundable and non-transferable. For more information on the timed entry process, check out this link- Glacier National Park Passes


For this itinerary, I highly recommend staying near West Glacier for days 1 and 2 and then moving to the east side of Glacier for days 3-5.  If you are staying in a hotel or cabin, plan on arriving in East Glacier on the afternoon of day 2.  If you have a trailer or RV, plan on heading to your next campsite on the evening of day 2 or the morning of day 3.  All vehicles on the Going-to-the-Sun Road must be under 21 ft long, 8 ft wide, and 10 ft tall, so those with longer RVs will have to drive the 1.5 hours around the south end of the park to arrive at your east side lodging option.

Lodging options inside the park include:

West- Village Inn Motel, Lake McDonald Lodge, Apgar Village Lodge, and Motel Lake McDonald

East- Rising Sun Motor Inn, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, and Many Glacier Hotel

The park also has 13 campgrounds.  Bowman Lake, Cut Bank, Kintla Lake, Quartz Creek, and Rising Sun do not take reservations.  Apgar, Avalanche, Fish Creek, Many Glacier, St. Mary, Sprague Creek, and Two Medicine Campgrounds all accept reservations at

On the west side, check out West Glacier, Coram, Hungry Horse, and Columbia Falls for lodging outside the park.  We stayed at Mountain Meadow RV Park & Cabins and loved it (we have a travel trailer).  We were at the park in less than 10 min.  They had full hookups, Wi-Fi, laundry services, fire pits, and picnic tables.  We would absolutely stay there again. 

On the east side, check out East Glacier or Browning.  Options on the park’s east side are limited, so you will want to book early.  We stayed at Glacier Grizzly Resort.  Again, they had full hookups, Wi-Fi, laundry services, fire pits, and picnic tables. And they had unbelievable mountain views 😊 


There are many dining options throughout the park.

Outside the park, the west side of Glacier has significantly more dining options than the east side of Glacier. Personal recommendations- Glacier Tap House & Pizza (west), Twin Sisters Café (east), and Rising Sun Pizza (east). 

Must Know Before You Go:

  • Please consider purchasing all boat shuttle tickets ahead of time.  The Glacier Park Boat Company has shuttles and tours at Lake McDonald, St. Mary, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier.  Your boat ticket will also be your vehicle reservation for that specific day.   
  • Bring lots of layers and rain jackets-even if rain isn’t forecasted.  At the end of June, we had snow, rain, and warm weather, all in just 10 hours😊
  • One of my favorite things about Glacier National Park- ALL the wildlife!  Always carry bear spray with you and know how to safely use it.  Also, please review all other wildlife safety here- Wildlife Safety
  • Weather and wildlife can cause road and trail closures.  Going-to-the-Sun Road is open for the 2023 season but typically closes for winter in Mid-October- depending on the weather.  My best advice is to be flexible.  There is not a trail in the park that is not stunning, so I did my best to provide alternate options below if you have a trail closure on your specific visit date. 
  • Every parking lot is small.  You must be at most trailheads before 8 am to secure a spot.  My best Glacier advice- If you are coming from EST or CST, stay on your home time while in Glacier.  Your 7 am is Glacier’s 5 am, making getting up and out the door/tent a little easier and finding a parking spot ALOT easier😊
  • And as always, please remember to Leave No Trace

Cell Service:

There is no cell service anywhere in the park.  Public Wi-Fi is available at the Apgar Visitor Center and St. Mary Visitor Center.

5 Day Itinerary

Day 1

(West Glacier- Going-to-the-Sun Road/North Fork)

Trail of Cedars/Avalanche Lake- We are starting this visit with one of my favorite hikes at Glacier.  Parking is a challenge at the Trail of Cedars, so plan to arrive as early as possible.  Start at the Trail of Cedars trailhead.  It is an easy boardwalk trail with stunning forest views.  At the first trail split, stay to the left to continue the more scenic part of the trail.  Just after the footbridge overlooking Avalanche Gorge, about 0.6 miles from the parking lot, you will see the trailhead for Avalanche Lake on your left. 

The trail up to the lake is easy to follow, and if you walk to the end of the lake, this entire trail, in combo with the Trail of Cedars, is 5.5 miles with approximately 700ft of elevation gain.  In warmer weather, consider bringing your suit and swimming in the gorgeous glacial lake before heading back down.  There are pit toilets just before the lake, if needed.

Lake McDonald- Boat Tour/Rental- From the Trail of Cedars trailhead, the Lake McDonald Lodge is about 6 miles southwest on Going-to-the-Sun Road.  While there are areas to explore the shoreline, the best way to experience Lake McDonald is by getting out on the water😊

To access the lake, park in the Lodge lot and walk around or through the Lodge, where you will immediately see the boat dock on the other side.  We rented a motorboat ($30/hr) to explore the lake, but there are also paddleboards ($17/hr), kayaks ($25/hr), and rowboats ($25/hr) available as well.  Boat tours run at 11:00, 1:30, 3:00, 5:30, and 7:00.  If you want to purchase tickets or rentals before arriving, click here- Glacier Park Boat Company.

Lake McDonald Lodge- After exploring the lake, check out the historic lodge.  There are several places on site to grab lunch before heading to the next stop. 

North Fork- After your boating around Lake McDonald, head up to North Fork to spend the rest of the evening exploring Bowman Lake.  From the Lake McDonald Lodge to the Polebridge Ranger Station is approximately 35 miles.  The scenic drive is a dirt road most of the way, so it will take you over an hour to make the drive. 

Polebridge Mercantile- Just before the Polebridge Ranger Station is Polebridge Mercantile & Bakery, a must-stop when headed up to the North Fork area. It’s also a great place to grab lunch if you haven’t had it yet.  The bakery has sandwiches and pizza, but there is also a food truck and a saloon serving food and drinks.  If you do nothing else, you must head into the bakery for a huckleberry bear claw.  They are SO good.  Also, highly recommend the garlic parmesan pull-apart bread😊 After refueling on all the delicious treats, head past the ranger station and onto Bowman Lake. 

Bowman Lake- Bowman Lake has a lengthy lakeshore trail at almost 14 miles.  We hiked about 5 miles of it the evening we went.  It was an easy trail with beautiful forest and lake views, and we only saw two other groups the entire time we were on the trail.  We had grabbed takeout at Polebridge Mercantile, so we spent the rest of the evening relaxing near the lakeshore, eating dinner, and watching the sunset.  In July and August, the park is likely to be packed with travelers and the North Fork area is the perfect place to escape the crowds😊

Day 2

(West Glacier- Going-to-the-Sun Road)

Today, take your time and drive most of Going-to-the-Sun Road’s 50 miles.  No gas stations are along the 50 miles, so fill up before leaving West Glacier.  Also, if possible, arrive at the gate no later than 7.  It will make finding a spot at overlooks and Logan Pass SO much easier. 

There are SO many overlooks, and they can easily take most of the day.  Below are a few of the pullouts along the way that should not be missed! Try and stop for most of them in this order on the way to Logan Pass. Most overlooks will be on your right on the way there, making it easier to pull off when heading towards Logan Pass.

  • McDonald Falls
  • Silver Dancing Cascades
  • West Tunnel Overlook
  • The Loop Viewpoint
  • Bird Woman Falls
  • Haystack Falls
  • Weeping Wall
  • Big Bend Viewpoint
  • Triple Arches
  • Oberlin Bend Viewpoint

Logan Pass Visitor Center/Hidden Lake Overlook Trail- The Hidden Lake Overlook Trail begins just behind the Visitor Center.  When we were there at the end of June, it snowed most of our hike, and the trail was very icy.  We would not have made it without our winter gear and spikes.  If you go early in the season, make sure you are prepared.  The weather down by Lake McDonald on the same day and time was in the high 50s and sunny, while the Logan Pass area was in the low 30s with a wind chill in the 20s. 

The Hidden Lake Trail is 3 miles roundtrip with 500 ft of elevation gain.  Much of the trail is boardwalk stairs climbing up the mountainside. The overlook of the lake is stunning, and if the path past the overlook is open (it is often closed for bear activity), you can extend your hike and walk down to the lake.  Walking to the lake will add another 2.8 miles and 700 ft of elevation gain.    

*If the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is closed, consider hiking a portion of the Highline Trail (the entire trail is 11+ miles, one way).  The trailhead is just across Going-to-the-Sun Road from the Logan Pass Visitor Center. 

Lunch Creek Viewpoint- After the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail, Lunch Creek is a great place to stop and eat lunch before your final few stops. 

  • East Tunnel Overlook
  • Siyeh Bend
  • Jackson Glacier Overlook

St. Mary Falls/Virginia Falls- There are several ways to reach these 2 stunning waterfalls; however, parking in the St. Mary Falls lot is the easiest and most direct route.  This trail is 4 miles roundtrip with 500+ feet of elevation gain.    

From the St. Mary Falls parking lot it is 1.1 miles to the 35 ft, St. Mary Falls.  Continue past St. Mary Falls and MANY other unnamed waterfalls for another 0.7 miles until you reach the base of Virginia Falls.  The impressive Virginia Falls is over 50 ft tall and my favorite waterfall in Glacier.  After checking out the base of Virginia Falls, head another 0.2 miles to the stunning overlook.   It is absolutely incredible and should not be skipped😊

Next, head back to your car and continue on Going-to-the-Sun Road, towards the last overlooks.

  • Sunrift Gorge

Optional Add-on: If time allows, continue the path past Sunrift Gorge under the arched bridge.  Baring Falls will be 0.3 miles from the bridge via the Siyeh Pass Trail. When the trail splits at the bottom of the hill, stay right and the 25 ft falls will be on your right.   

  • Sun Point
  • Wild Goose Island Overlook

St. Mary Visitor Center- On the way out of the park, check out the visitor center.  They have a movie showing, several exhibits worth checking out, and a small gift shop. 

*If you are staying in a hotel or tent camping, I would bring everything with you on the morning of day 2 and then head straight to your campsite or hotel on the east side of Glacier after St. Mary Visitor Center.  If you have an RV/Trailer longer than 21 ft, like us, head back to West Glacier and either drive the 1.5 hrs. to East Glacier tonight or wait and go early the next morning. 

Day 3

(East Glacier- Two Medicine)

Sunrise At Two Medicine Lake- If you can get up early enough, sunrise at Two Medicine is spectacular.  The lake is just a few steps from the parking lot, and we had no trouble finding a spot. 

Aster Falls/Paradise Point- After sunrise, we headed out to Aster Falls via the South Shore Trail.  Shortly after the trailhead (0.2 mi.), there will be a side trail to Paradise Point that is 0.8 miles roundtrip, with beautiful views of the lake and mountains.  After checking out Paradise Point, head back to the main trail and continue to Aster Falls.  This trail has gorgeous mountain views the whole way and ends with a spectacular 20 ft waterfall.  Moose also frequent the lakeshore and beaver ponds along the way; hopefully, you are lucky enough to spot one! This entire trail is 3.6 miles with over 300 ft of elevation gain. 

Optional Add-on: After Aster Falls, head just past the falls to the Aster Park Overlook.  Hiking to the overlook will add 1 mile and 500 ft of elevation gain onto your trip.  It is a short but steep hike up to the stunning overlook. 

Twin Falls- You could continue the South Shore Trail and eventually make it to Twin Falls, but we love a good boat ride, so that’s what we did.  Plus, the boat captain gave us so much information about the area and its history on our way across the lake. You do need tickets for the boat shuttle from the Glacier Park Boat Company and the boat dock it right next to the parking lot.  After arriving at the other end of the lake, it’s an easy 2 miles roundtrip to Twin Falls with only about 100 ft of elevation gain. 

Optional Add-on: After Twin Falls, the trail continues to Upper Two Medicine Lake.  Adding Upper Two Medicine Lake onto your hike will add another 2.5 miles and 200 ft of elevation gain.  The last boat shuttle back to the parking lot leaves the dock at 5:15 pm.

Running Eagle Falls- Our last stop is Running Eagle Falls, my second favorite waterfall in Glacier😊 It has its own parking lot on the way out of the Two Medicine Area.  It’s an easy 0.6 miles roundtrip with minimal (<20 ft) elevation gain from the parking lot.  This trail is considered stroller-friendly and wheelchair accessible to the overlook of Running Eagle Falls.  Beyond the footbridge and closer to the waterfall is not.   Running Eagle Falls is a 40 ft waterfall cascading into a 20 ft waterfall, and it is a sight you won’t want to miss!

Day 4

(East Glacier- Many Glacier)

Iceberg Lake- The Iceberg Lake Trailhead can be accessed behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, near the cabins.  There is a small lot near the trailhead; however, you are more likely to find a spot near the Inn.  Food and restrooms are inside the Inn, if needed, before heading out for the day. 

This trail is 10.2 miles roundtrip with 1300 ft of elevation gain.  Truthfully, the most difficult part of the trail is the first 0.5 miles.  The assent becomes significantly more gradual after that.  If you have kids that have been hiking for a while, this is a great longer hike for them.  The trail is easy to follow, with unbelievable views the entire way and probably the most beautiful glacial lake I’ve ever seen at the end.  About 2.5 miles in is Ptarmigan Falls.  It is the perfect spot for a quick rest or snack break and is about halfway to the lake.  Once you arrive at Iceberg Lake, the shoreline can get quite crowded.  Follow the shoreline to your right to find a more isolated spot to enjoy the beauty. 

Out of all the longer hikes in Glacier, this hike is the most doable for most hikers; however, only you can determine what is best for you and your crew. 

Fishercap Lake via Swiftcurrent Pass Loop- If your legs are still working after Iceberg Lake, take a quick walk to Fishercap Lake.  We actually went back to our campsite for a rest, grabbed dinner, and headed back to Fishercap Lake closer to sunset.  It’s a wonderful place to spot moose in the evenings😊

Check out these alternate trails if Iceberg Lake is closed for weather or wildlife. Ironically we ended up at Iceberg Lake because Cracker Lake was closed for bear activity the day we went, so we did Cracker Lake another day. 

  • Cracker Lake- 12.8 miles, 1400 ft of elevation gain, trailhead located next to the Many Glacier Hotel. This is the best option of the three alternates if hiking with kids.
  • Grinnell Glacier Trail- 7.5 miles with boat shuttle, 1800 ft of elevation gain, boat shuttle runs from the Many Glacier Hotel
  • Highline Trail- 11.8 miles with use of park shuttle, trailhead located at Logan Pass Visitor Center

Day 5

(East- Many Glacier)

Today, there are a few options for your last day in Glacier.  Depending on your crew’s skill level and trail status, here are the options. 

Option #1 (Easiest)-

Grinnell Lake/Hidden Falls- Start at the Many Glacier Hotel boat dock.  Take the boat shuttle across Swiftcurrent Lake, where you will then walk 0.2 miles to the Lake Josephine boat dock.  Take the boat across Lake Josephine and follow the signs to Grinnell Lake (NOT Grinnell Glacier).  From the boat dock, this hike is 3 miles roundtrip with 220 feet of elevation gain.   You will be able to see Hidden Falls from the suspension footbridge or the short side trail leading closer to the falls😊

Option #2 (Moderate)-

Grinnell Lake/Hidden Falls- Buy a one-way boat shuttle ticket for the way back.  Start the trail on the south side of the Many Glacier Hotel and take the Swiftcurrent and Josephine lakeshore trails to the Grinnell Lake Trail.  This route is 3.5 miles one-way to Grinnell Lake and then another 1.5 miles back to the Lake Josephine boat dock for approximately 5 miles roundtrip.

Option #3 (Difficult)– 

Grinnell Glacier Trail- I think most people would say this is the most beautiful trail in Glacier, IT IS.  However, it is also one of the more difficult trails.  For this trail, start at the Many Glacier Hotel boat dock.  Take the boat shuttle across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.  Instead of heading towards Grinnell Lake, head right, across the footbridge, to begin the Grinnell Glacier trail.  This route is 7.5 miles roundtrip with over 1800 feet of elevation gain.   This trail is steep, with many switchbacks, and at times, hugs the cliff ledge.  Please use caution and know your crew’s skill level before heading out. 

Also, if you are visiting before mid-July, the trail will likely be only partially open.   It is worth doing, even if it is only partially accessible.  The lake, mountain, and waterfall views are just STUNNING. And it’s the perfect way to end your time at Glacier National Park. 

Hope you have a wonderful adventure!

Have more time to spend in Glacier? Check out our 7-day itinerary for Glacier National Park!

Looking for another Montana National Park to explore? Check out this 4-day itinerary for Yellowstone National Park!

Also, check out our hiking gear and apparel below!

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Meet the Johnsons

Welcome to Always Exploring! We are the Johnsons. We would love to have you follow along as we explore the world one adventure at a time! Here you will find itineraries to all of our explorations that will hopefully be helpful in your own adventure planning!


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