Glacier National Park is an outdoor lover’s mecca. A hiker’s paradise. It’s also a great place for an affordable family vacation. With one park entrance fee of $25, you and your car-full of family have access to loads of hiking trails for all levels of hikers, lakes of unsurpassed beauty, Park Ranger lead programs, walks and activities, and some of the most amazing vistas, just waiting for you to explore.
Ready for a family-friendly exploration of Glacier National Park? Here’s highlights of my family’s Glacier National Park summer vacation. Perhaps it will inspire your own Glacier National Park vacation.
East Glacier and Glacier Park Lodge
First stop on our adventure was East Glacier and Two Medicine in the southeastern-most corner of Glacier National Park. This area of the park is much less crowded than other areas, and that alone makes it a great reason to detour here. Now add in the astounding views, and you’ve got the beginnings of a great vacation. My kind of place.
We splurged on a two night stay at Glacier Park Lodge. It comes highly recommended. The surrounding views alone are well worth the stay. Ask for a room with a balcony. It’s a great place to hang as the evening settles in.
Two Medicine Lake And Upper Two Medicine Lake
While in East Glacier, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Two Medicine area. Ride the ferry across Two Medicine Lake for incredible views. Then, follow the hiking trail to Twin Falls. The more adventurous hikers can continue on up to Upper Two Medicine Lake, about five miles round trip. That’s what we did.
Trust me, whether you simply ride the ferry, or hike to the lake, you won’t be disappointed. Who knows, you might just have the hiking trails all to yourselves. And the passing elk. We heard them – didn’t see them, though.
Glacier National Park Flora And Fauna
Timing is everything! It was already mid-July, but at these elevations, stunningly beautiful flowers were in full bloom along the trails of several hikes.
Can’t forget the critter sightings! You never know what you might spot – mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, bears, and that itty-bitty squirrel trying to nab a bite of your lake-side dinner. We didn’t see the elk, but we did see mountain goats and this pesky squirrel who thought we’d asked him to dinner. Oh, and we also saw a grizzly bear cub! That was exciting.
Yep, that’s a grizzly bear. Saw this little guy wandering down a hillside, eating berries. No worries – we were safely tucked away in our car. Gotta love telephoto lenses!
The Going To The Sun Road
Glacier National Park is most famous for the Going To The Sun Road. If you only have one or two days at Glacier, do the drive. It won’t disappoint you. Pass through tunnels gouged out of stone. Hit new heights at Logan Pass. Witness lakes and mountain cliffs that will astound you. Oh, and you might just see those critters mentioned above. Our mountain goat friend was “just hanging” on a road-side cliff, watching us drive by!
So keep your eyes open, take your time, and enjoy the views. I’d also suggest you park the car and do some “off road” exploration. That’s where the truly spectacular vistas are found. These two photos? Not seen from the road. They were, however, accessible via short walks down road-side trails.
Logan Pass and Hidden Lake Outlook
Pitstop at Logan Pass while driving the Going To The Sun Road. It’s the highest elevation reachable by car in Glacier National Park, and well worth the stop. Explore the Visitor’s Center to learn more about the park. Step outside to admire the surrounding mountain views. And if you are energetic, adventurous, and have the time, hike to Hidden Lake Overlook. You’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous view like this one. The lake and mountains, I mean, not the boys! 🙂
Have a sweatshirt or jacket handy, gloves to0, because even in mid-July, Logan Pass may still have snow. And just in case a snowball fight erupts nearby. As was the case with us. Boys gotta be boys, you know
The Lake McDonald Valley
Lots of stuff to do in Lake McDonald Valley, beginning with the lake itself. Grab lunch or dinner from Lake McDonald Lodge, wander down to the lake, and enjoy a peaceful lake-side meal. Go for a scenic boat ride on the lake. Hike the nearby Trail of Cedars or Avalanche Lake trails. I’d suggest at least two days to explore the Valley. It’s also more crowded here so plan your excursions accordingly.
If you can score a cabin on Lake McDonald, do it! Though spartan in both design and comfort, the value is not in the cabin but what awaits you just outside the door. Perfect if you have kids in tow. Lots of outdoor adventure right at your doorstep, keeping the kids entertained for hours. Cabins are within walking distance of Lake McDonald, perfect for watching sunrises and sunsets shimmer across the lake.
Hike To Avalanche Lake
An early morning hike to Avalanche Lake will reward you with yet more amazing vistas. The hike isn’t too terribly hard, though be prepared for a mostly inclined hike up to the lake. But hey, that simply means you’ll be going down on the way back! It was a misty-rainy morning when we hiked up. Watching the mist roll over the surrounding mountain peaks was worth the hike. Even the eight year old was impressed.
Get up early for this hike. It’s very popular. Our early morning start meant we had the trails and the lake mostly to ourselves. If not up for Avalanche Lake, walk the Trail of The Cedars, a much shorter, easier, wheelchair friendly, hike near the Avalanche Lake hike.
Bowman Lake – Almost to Canada
Have a day to spare? Consider driving off the beaten path to Bowman Lake. And I do mean off the beaten path! The final five miles into Bowman Lake are up a narrow, pot-hole filled dirt road that at times appears too narrow to be considered a two-way road. The drive is not for the faint of heart, but if you brave this last five miles, you’ll be rewarded with what I consider to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.
Have camping gear? We wished we did! There’s a nice, well maintained, and rarely busy, campground at the base of Bowman Lake. Imagine waking up to this incredible view.
Plan Your Own Glacier National Park Trip
Where is Glacier National Park? It’s in Montana. Ready to add Glacier National Park to your summer vacation list? Here’s some helpful planning links to get you started:
- Glacier National Park
- Glacier Park Lodge
- Lake McDonald Lodge and Cabins
- Lodging in Glacier National Park
- Hiking in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park had long been on our bucket list of summer vacations and for great reason. Having now explored Glacier National Park, it is one our family’s all-time favorite National Parks. We spent five days in the park, and only experienced a fraction of it. We can’t wait to return and explore other, equally fabulous, Glacier Park destinations.
Have you been to Glacier National Park? What’s your favorite Glacier Park moment? Do you have another favorite national park? Let us know in the Comments section.
All images from C.Biederman.