Northwest Roadtrip: driving through Glacier National Park, Montana

As part of a whirlwind Northwest road trip years ago, including Victoria, Vancouver, Banff National Park, and Waterton Lakes National Park, we continue back into the USA with Glacier National Park.

We really like this park – it’s in a beautiful mountain area, but remote enough to thin out the crowds a bit. It has some great lakes and hiking trails in the northern rockies, and worked particularly well for us when our kids were young. The raw beauty reminds us of Switzerland in many ways, even if Switzerland does a much better job of augmenting the beauty with trains, cows, chalets, and cheese. Glacier is right next to Canada, just across the border from Waterton Lakes National Park, and a 4 hour drive from Banff. We’ve been there 4 times.

But in any case, it is a great National Park to see at least once in your lifetime!

Getting to Glacier National Park

Since we were coming from Waterton Lakes National Park just across the border in Canada, our morning drive from the Waterton village to the St Mary’s park entrance was maybe an hour and a half.

Along the way, we spotted lots of cows and we had lots of fun rolling down our windows and mooing at them! Fun that our now teenagers would probably roll their eyes at. But at ages 2 and 3, they still found it amusing.

If you are flying in, the closest airport will be Kalispell. If prices are high and you’re willing to drive further, consider Spokane or Great Falls. If you are coming from Canada, Calgary will likely be your best option, although at a 3 hour drive, it might be a little far unless you are also planning to see Banff National Park.

When to Go

One big highlight of Glacier National Park is the “Going to the Sun Road” which goes through the large mountain passes in the park – it’s a must-see if you can do it. That said, the pass is snowed in every winter, and it’s a bit of a guess when crews will be able to dig it out – usually by late June or early July, but no guarantees (the park service does keep the historical dates). The park is still nice other times, but later in the summer to early fall is the best time to visit if you can.

Where to Stay

We like staying in one of the lodges or inns inside the park if possible, but often requires booking somewhat in advance, which sometimes doesn’t work for us. Outside the park, our favorite place to stay is in Whitefish, Montana, which is a cute town (with a winter time ski resort) on the Western side of the park. We’ve also stayed on the Eastern side (e.g. the Glacier Park Lodge is beautiful), the Western side has more amenities.

For this particular trip, we spent a day/night in Waterton National Park in Canada, then spent the next day driving through Glacier National Park, doing some hiking and going over the “Going to the Sun Road,” and spending the night in Whitefish. This is enough for a quick overview. Of course, given how remote this national park is, you may want to stay longer than this, but made sense for us as part of a 2 week road trip.

What to Do

As long as the Going to the Sun Road is open, whether you are spending one night or a whole week, this should be your main focus to get an overview of the park. The biggest and most impressive sights are along this road, and you should brave the crowds to see them.

Since we were coming from Waterton Lakes National Park, the kids really needed a stretch break as soon after St. Mary as possible, so we decided to take a quick hike to a waterfall. There are plenty of nice hikes around St. Mary Lake as well, which we’ve done on other trips.

Lots of fun! Too bad the boys are now way too big for me to hold them like this for pictures!

We then continued our drive along the Going to the Sun Road, stopping when something caught our eye. The boys always loved throwing rocks into lakes.

And hopping across streams is always fun as well.

Sometimes you want to have the kids pose for a nice picture, but things don’t go quite as planned. Still, they can make a funny story.

This was as good as we were able to get:

No matter what you do, you will have stunning beauty.

Here are a few more pictures from other years’ trips – one from a hike to Avalanche Lake, one by the snow towards the top of the Going to the Sun Road, outside the Glacier Park Lodge on the east side, and a picture by Many Glacier.

Don’t miss this amazing National Park!

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