Top Things to Do in Glacier National Park

Welcome to Glacier National Park, where the icy allure of glaciers meets the rugged beauty of the Montana wilderness. If you're looking for an adventure-packed getaway, you've hit the jackpot. With its breathtaking vistas, adrenaline-pumping hikes, and abundant wildlife, Glacier National Park promises an unforgettable experience for nature lovers and thrill-seekers alike. Join us as we unveil the top attractions and activities that make Glacier a must-visit destination in 2024.

1. Exploring the Glaciers: A Chill Adventure

Glacier National Park is named for its impressive glaciers, and no visit would be complete without getting up close and personal with these ancient giants. While the park once boasted over 150 glaciers, climate change has taken its toll, reducing the count to less than 30. However, those that remain still inspire awe with their sheer size and icy blue hues. For an unforgettable experience, consider embarking on a guided glacier hike or booking a boat tour to witness these majestic wonders from the water.

Glacier’s Changing Landscape: It's impossible to discuss Glacier National Park without addressing the impact of climate change. Over the past century, the park's glaciers have been steadily retreating, leaving behind visible scars on the landscape. While this ecological reality may be sobering, it also underscores the importance of responsible stewardship and conservation efforts to preserve Glacier's natural treasures for future generations.

Avalanche Lake: One of the most popular destinations for glacier enthusiasts is Avalanche Lake, nestled in a glacial cirque beneath towering peaks. Accessible via a relatively easy hike along the Avalanche Lake Trail, this picturesque spot offers stunning views of waterfalls, wildlife, and, of course, the glacier-carved lake itself. Pack a picnic and spend an afternoon soaking in the serene beauty of this alpine paradise.

Glacial Boat Tours: For those looking to experience Glacier's glaciers from a different perspective, boat tours offer a unique opportunity to get out on the water and witness these icy behemoths up close. Several companies operate guided boat tours on lakes throughout the park, providing informative commentary and breathtaking views along the way. Whether you're cruising past towering cliffs or floating among icebergs, a glacial boat tour is sure to be a highlight of your visit to Glacier National Park.

2. Hiking Heaven: Trails Galore

With over 700 miles of hiking trails weaving through Glacier's rugged terrain, there's a hike for every skill level and interest. Whether you're a seasoned mountaineer tackling the grueling Highline Trail or a casual hiker strolling along the scenic Trail of the Cedars, you'll find endless opportunities to explore the park's natural beauty. Be sure to pack plenty of water, bear spray, and a sense of adventure as you set out to discover waterfalls, alpine meadows, and jaw-dropping vistas around every corner.

The Highline Trail: As one of Glacier National Park's premier hiking destinations, the Highline Trail offers a thrilling adventure for experienced hikers seeking stunning views and rugged terrain. This 11.8-mile trail traverses the park's iconic Garden Wall, offering unparalleled vistas of glaciers, valleys, and peaks along the way. While the trail is strenuous and exposed in some sections, the breathtaking scenery and sense of accomplishment make it well worth the effort.

Trail of the Cedars: On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Trail of the Cedars offers a leisurely stroll through a lush old-growth forest, making it accessible to hikers of all ages and abilities. This half-mile loop trail winds through towering cedar and hemlock trees, crossing picturesque bridges and boardwalks along the way. Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife and enjoy the peaceful serenity of this enchanting forest oasis.

Hidden Gems: While popular trails like the Highline and Trail of the Cedars attract their fair share of visitors, Glacier National Park is also home to countless hidden gems waiting to be discovered. From secluded alpine lakes to remote backcountry valleys, the park offers endless opportunities for exploration off the beaten path. Consider venturing beyond the well-trodden trails to uncover your own slice of Glacier's wilderness paradise.

3. Driving the Iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road

Widely regarded as one of the most scenic drives in the United States, Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must-do for visitors to Glacier National Park. This engineering marvel spans 50 miles through the heart of the park, offering breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks, glacial valleys, and pristine alpine lakes. Whether you tackle the hairpin turns yourself or opt for a guided tour aboard one of the park's historic red buses, you're in for a ride you won't soon forget.

Engineering Marvel: Constructed in the 1930s, Going-to-the-Sun Road is an engineering marvel that defies the rugged terrain of Glacier National Park. Carved into sheer cliffs and clinging to the edge of precipitous drop-offs, this iconic roadway offers drivers and passengers alike a thrilling journey through some of the park's most spectacular scenery. Be sure to stop at overlooks along the way to capture photos of the breathtaking vistas unfolding before you.

Red Bus Tours: For those looking to sit back, relax, and leave the driving to someone else, Glacier's historic red buses offer a convenient and informative way to experience Going-to-the-Sun Road. Originally built in the 1930s, these vintage buses have been lovingly restored and retrofitted with modern amenities for a comfortable and enjoyable ride. Sit back and soak in the sights as your knowledgeable driver shares fascinating stories and insights about the park's history, geology, and wildlife.

Seasonal Considerations: While Going-to-the-Sun Road is open to vehicular traffic from late June to mid-October, its high elevation and mountainous terrain make it subject to unpredictable weather conditions year-round. Visitors should check current road status and weather forecasts before embarking on their journey and be prepared for potential closures or delays due to snow, ice, or other hazards.

4. Wildlife Watching: Where the Wild Things Are

Glacier National Park is home to an impressive array of wildlife, from grizzly bears and mountain goats to elusive wolves and majestic elk. Keep your camera ready as you explore the park's diverse ecosystems, and you may be rewarded with sightings of these iconic creatures in their natural habitat. Remember to observe from a safe distance and respect the animals' space to ensure both their safety and yours.

Bear Safety: With its dense population of grizzly bears, Glacier National Park is renowned for its bear encounters, both thrilling and potentially dangerous. Visitors should familiarize themselves with proper bear safety protocols, including carrying bear spray, making noise while hiking, and storing food and scented items in bear-proof containers or lockers. By respecting these guidelines and remaining vigilant, visitors can minimize their risk of bear encounters and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in the park.

Mountain Goats and Bighorn Sheep: In addition to bears, Glacier National Park is also home to a variety of other charismatic megafauna, including mountain goats and bighorn sheep. These sure-footed climbers can often be spotted scaling sheer cliffs and rocky outcrops in search of food and shelter. Keep your eyes peeled as you explore the park's alpine meadows and rocky slopes, and you may be treated to the sight of these majestic creatures in their natural element.

Birdwatching: With its diverse array of habitats, Glacier National Park is a paradise for birdwatchers, boasting over 260 species of birds ranging from raptors and waterfowl to songbirds and shorebirds. Keep an eye out for bald eagles soaring overhead, ospreys fishing in the park's lakes and rivers, and colorful songbirds flitting among the trees. Binoculars and a field guide can enhance your birdwatching experience and help you identify species as you explore the park.

5. Waterfall Wonders: Nature's Spectacle

Few sights are as awe-inspiring as a thundering waterfall cascading through the wilderness, and Glacier National Park boasts some of the most spectacular falls in the country. From the towering heights of Virginia Falls to the hidden gems of Avalanche Creek, each waterfall offers its own unique beauty and opportunity for reflection. Pack a picnic lunch and spend an afternoon soaking in the sights and sounds of these natural wonders.

Virginia Falls: Tucked away in the heart of Glacier National Park, Virginia Falls is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered by intrepid hikers willing to venture off the beaten path. Accessible via a moderately strenuous hike along the St. Mary Falls Trail, this breathtaking waterfall cascades over 50 feet into a pristine alpine pool surrounded by lush vegetation and towering cliffs. Be sure to pack a camera and capture the magic of this secluded wilderness oasis.

Avalanche Creek: For a more accessible waterfall experience, look no further than Avalanche Creek, located just off Going-to-the-Sun Road in the heart of Glacier National Park. A short, family-friendly hike along the Avalanche Lake Trail leads to this picturesque waterfall, where visitors can enjoy stunning views of cascading water, moss-covered rocks, and emerald-green pools. Be sure to arrive early to secure a parking spot and beat the crowds to this popular destination.

Grinnell Glacier Overlook: For a truly epic waterfall adventure, consider embarking on the Grinnell Glacier Trail, which offers breathtaking views of not one, but three stunning waterfalls along its route. Beginning at the Many Glacier Hotel, this challenging hike leads past pristine lakes, alpine meadows, and towering cliffs before culminating at the breathtaking Grinnell Glacier Overlook. Along the way, hikers are treated to panoramic views of Angel Wing, Allen Mountain, and the turquoise waters of Grinnell Lake, making it a journey you won't soon forget.

6. Two Medicine: Serenity in the Wilderness

Nestled in the southeastern corner of Glacier National Park lies the tranquil oasis of Two Medicine. This lesser-known area of the park offers a peaceful retreat away from the crowds, with serene lakes, towering peaks, and abundant wildlife awaiting exploration. Take a boat tour on Two Medicine Lake, hike to iconic destinations like Running Eagle Falls, or simply sit back and soak in the solitude of this remote corner of Glacier.

Two Medicine Lake: The crown jewel of the Two Medicine Valley, Two Medicine Lake is a serene alpine lake surrounded by towering peaks and pristine wilderness. Visitors can rent canoes or rowboats to explore the lake at their leisure, fish for trout in its crystal-clear waters, or simply relax on the shores and soak in the majestic scenery. Be sure to keep an eye out for bald eagles, loons, and other wildlife that call the lake home.

Running Eagle Falls: Just a short hike from the Two Medicine Campground lies Running Eagle Falls, a hidden gem tucked away in a lush, moss-covered canyon. This unique waterfall flows through a natural arch, creating a stunning double cascade that is truly a sight to behold. The easy, family-friendly trail to the falls winds through a verdant forest, making it a perfect outing for hikers of all ages and abilities.

Scenic Boat Tours: For a unique perspective on Two Medicine Lake and its surrounding beauty, consider booking a scenic boat tour with Glacier Park Boat Company. These guided tours offer a leisurely cruise across the lake, with stops at iconic landmarks like Sinopah Mountain and Rising Wolf Mountain along the way. As you glide across the crystal-clear waters, your knowledgeable guide will share fascinating insights into the area's geology, history, and wildlife, providing a deeper appreciation for this remote corner of Glacier National Park.

7. Cultural Gems: History and Heritage

Beyond its natural beauty, Glacier National Park is also rich in history and cultural heritage. Pay a visit to the historic Many Glacier Hotel, a Swiss-style lodge nestled on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, or explore the ruins of historic chalets and ranger stations scattered throughout the park. Be sure to take advantage of ranger-led programs and interpretive exhibits to learn more about the park's fascinating past and ongoing conservation efforts.

Many Glacier Hotel: Perched on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake beneath towering peaks, Many Glacier Hotel is a historic landmark and architectural gem that harkens back to the golden age of American national parks. Built in the early 20th century by the Great Northern Railway, this Swiss-style chalet offers guests a luxurious retreat surrounded by breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife. Take a guided tour of the hotel to learn about its rich history and storied past, or simply relax on the expansive lakeside veranda and soak in the majestic views.

Historic Chalets and Ranger Stations: Throughout Glacier National Park, visitors will find a number of historic chalets and ranger stations that offer glimpses into the park's past and the people who helped shape its legacy. From the rustic log cabins of the North Fork area to the grand stone lodges of Many Glacier and Lake McDonald, each structure tells a story of exploration, conservation, and the enduring spirit of the American wilderness. Take a self-guided tour of these historic sites to learn more about their significance and the role they play in preserving Glacier's natural and cultural heritage.

Native American Heritage: Long before Glacier National Park was established, the land was home to indigenous peoples who lived, hunted, and gathered in the mountains and valleys of what is now the park. Today, visitors can learn about the park's Native American heritage through exhibits, interpretive programs, and cultural demonstrations offered by the Blackfeet Nation and other local tribes. From traditional storytelling and drumming to guided walks and interpretive trails, these experiences provide a deeper understanding of the land and its significance to indigenous communities past and present.

8. Backcountry Bliss: Escape the Crowds

For those seeking true wilderness adventure, Glacier National Park's backcountry offers endless opportunities for exploration and solitude. Strap on your backpack and hit the trails to discover hidden alpine lakes, remote valleys, and rugged mountain passes far from the beaten path. Just be sure to come prepared with proper gear, navigation skills, and a healthy dose of respect for the untamed wilderness that awaits.

Backcountry Permits: Before setting out on a backcountry adventure in Glacier National Park, visitors are required to obtain a backcountry permit from the National Park Service. These permits help manage use and protect sensitive wilderness areas while ensuring that visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience in the backcountry. Permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis and can be obtained online or in person at park visitor centers and ranger stations.

Primitive Camping: One of the highlights of backcountry travel in Glacier National Park is the opportunity to experience true wilderness camping in some of the park's most remote and pristine locations. With over 1,000 designated backcountry campsites scattered throughout the park, visitors can choose from a wide range of options, from lakeside sites with sweeping mountain views to secluded meadows nestled in the heart of the wilderness. Be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles and practice responsible backcountry ethics to minimize your impact on the environment and preserve the park's natural beauty for future generations.

Off-Trail Exploration: While Glacier National Park offers a vast network of established trails for hikers to explore, some of the most rewarding adventures can be found off the beaten path. Experienced backcountry travelers can venture into the park's rugged wilderness to discover hidden waterfalls, secret alpine meadows, and untouched landscapes far from the crowds. Be prepared for route-finding challenges, rough terrain, and unpredictable weather conditions as you blaze your own trail through Glacier's untamed backcountry.

9. Outdoor Adventures: Thrills and Spills

From backcountry ski touring to horseback riding, Glacier National Park offers a wide range of outdoor activities to satisfy even the most adventurous spirits. Strap on your skis and carve through fresh powder in the park's pristine backcountry, or saddle up for a guided horseback ride through the wildflower-strewn meadows of Many Glacier. Whatever your outdoor passion, you'll find plenty of opportunities to get your adrenaline pumping in Glacier.

Winter Wonderland: While Glacier National Park is best known for its summer hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities, winter brings a whole new set of outdoor adventures to the park. From cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to ice climbing and snowmobiling, there's no shortage of ways to embrace the snowy season and experience Glacier's pristine wilderness in a whole new light. Be sure to check current snow conditions and avalanche forecasts before heading out, and come prepared for cold temperatures and changing weather.

Horseback Riding: For a classic Western experience, saddle up and hit the trails on horseback with one of Glacier National Park's guided horseback riding tours. Whether you're a novice rider or an experienced equestrian, there's nothing quite like exploring the park's rugged backcountry from the back of a horse. Choose from half-day or full-day rides to iconic destinations like Many Glacier, Two Medicine, and the North Fork, and immerse yourself in the natural beauty and rich history of Glacier National Park.

Rock Climbing and Mountaineering: With its rugged peaks, sheer cliffs, and challenging terrain, Glacier National Park offers world-class rock climbing and mountaineering opportunities for climbers of all skill levels. From easy alpine scrambles to technical multi-pitch routes, there's something for everyone to enjoy in Glacier's vertical playground. Be sure to check current climbing conditions and route availability before heading out, and consider hiring a certified guide for an unforgettable climbing experience in the Crown of the Continent.

10. Unforgettable Experiences: Making Memories

At the end of the day, it's the moments shared and memories made in Glacier National Park that will stay with you long after you've returned home. Whether you're watching the sunrise from the shores of Lake McDonald, toasting marshmallows under a blanket of stars, or simply savoring the quiet beauty of a mountain vista, Glacier offers countless opportunities to connect with nature and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Sunrise and Sunset: With its stunning mountain landscapes and pristine wilderness, Glacier National Park offers some of the most breathtaking sunrise and sunset views in the country. Wake up early and watch as the first light of dawn paints the sky in shades of pink and gold, illuminating the rugged peaks and alpine lakes below. Then, as evening falls, find a quiet spot to watch the sun sink below the horizon, casting a warm glow over the snow-capped mountains and reflecting in the calm waters of Glacier's lakes and rivers.

Stargazing: Far from the bright lights of the city, Glacier National Park offers unparalleled opportunities for stargazing and celestial observation. On a clear night, the park's dark skies come alive with millions of twinkling stars, planets, and distant galaxies, creating a mesmerizing celestial display that is sure to leave you in awe. Grab a blanket, find a secluded spot away from campfires and car headlights, and spend an evening gazing up at the wonders of the universe unfolding overhead.

Wildlife Encounters: One of the most memorable experiences in Glacier National Park is the chance to encounter its abundant wildlife in their natural habitat. Whether you're watching a grizzly bear forage for food, listening to the haunting call of a loon echoing across a mountain lake, or spotting a herd of bighorn sheep scaling a sheer cliff, these close encounters with nature are sure to leave a lasting impression. Remember to observe from a safe distance and respect the animals' space to ensure both their safety and yours.

In Summary:

  • Explore the glaciers: Take a guided hike or boat tour to experience these ancient wonders up close.
  • Hit the trails: Discover Glacier's natural beauty on foot with over 700 miles of hiking trails to choose from.
  • Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road: Experience one of America's most scenic drives with jaw-dropping vistas at every turn.
  • Wildlife watching: Keep your eyes peeled for grizzly bears, mountain goats, and other iconic creatures.
  • Visit the waterfalls: Marvel at the park's stunning waterfalls, each with its own unique beauty and charm.
  • Discover Two Medicine: Escape the crowds and enjoy the serenity of this remote corner of Glacier.
  • Learn about the park's history: Explore historic lodges, chalets, and ranger stations scattered throughout the park.
  • Venture into the backcountry: Strap on your backpack and explore Glacier's rugged wilderness far from the beaten path.
  • Try outdoor adventures: From skiing to horseback riding, Glacier offers thrills for adventurers of all kinds.
  • Make memories: Cherish the moments shared and memories made in Glacier National Park for years to come.

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