Family Vacations to Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is an outdoor-lover’s adventure land, with towering peaks, cascading waterfalls, more than 650 lakes, and 700 miles of hiking trails. Located in northern Montana, it is home to an incredible array of wildlife, including grizzly bear, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, mountain goats, wolverines, and grey wolves. At one point, Glacier National Park was home to more than 150 distinct glaciers. Today, there are only 25 left, all of which are slowly disappearing.
Glacier National Park, and the adjoining Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, cover more than 1,800 square miles. Together, the parks make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the first of its kind. The parks are run by separate administrations, but work together to manage wildlife. Summer is the busiest season in Glacier National Park, and also the most pleasant for hiking and camping.
What to Do
You could easily spend several weeks inside Glacier and not see everything. There are lots of great hikes for families, incredible opportunities for wildlife viewing, and cool ranger-led programs. Here are some must-do activities for families in Glacier National Park.
- Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is considered one of the most spectacular road trips in the world. It’s a 50-mile trip, one-way, so give yourself a full day for this stunning road trip. Keep a close eye out for big-horn sheep and mountain goats as your drive the narrow roadway. There are enough stops along the way to keep even antsy kiddos happy.
- Trail of the Cedars. This is a beautiful half-mile walk through some of Glacier’s most impressive trees. It’s a good place to let the kids run, and you’ll find giant hemlock, cedars, and cottonwoods.
- Logan Pass Visitor Center. If you can find parking at Logan Pass, definitely stop. At 6,646-feet, it’s the highest point on Going-to-the-Sun-Road. There’s often snow up here, even in the summer. If you’ve got time for a hike, embark on the 3-mile Hidden Lake Overlook Nature Trail for awesome views of Hidden Lake and a good chance to see mountain goats.
- Jackson Glacier. This is one of the few glaciers that is visible from Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Where to Stay
Glacier National Park is huge, which makes trying to figure out where to stay a daunting task. There are 13 front-country campgrounds to choose from, with more than 1,000 individual campsites. Most of these campgrounds are first-come, first-serve, but you can reserve a spot at Fish Creek, Many Glacier, and St. Mary’s in the summer. If you are going to camp over a busy weekend, be sure to get to the campground early to claim your spot.
Where you decide to stay will depend on your itinerary, but if you are travelling on Going-to-the-Sun Road, check out Rising Sun Campground. Situated right off of the road, on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, it is the only campground in the park with hot showers. If your family is into serious hiking, you can’t beat Many Glacier Campground for its proximity to amazing day hikes, glaciers, waterfalls, and incredible vistas. During the busy summer months, you can reserve half of the campsites in Many Glacier. If you don’t have reservations, plan on getting to the campground by 9 am.
If camping just isn’t your thing, you’ve still got plenty of options in every price range. For clean, comfortable, and affordable, check out Rising Sun Motor Inn on Going-to-the-Sun Road. For something a little more upscale, reserve a lakeside suite at Many Glacier Hotel.
Because the park is so big, most visitors explore by car or RV. Vehicles more than 21 feet in length are not permitted on Going-to-the-Sun Road, but there is a free shuttle that runs during the summer. There are three commercial airports within driving distance of Glacier National Park. The west entrance is served by Glacier Park International Airport, 30 miles away, and Missoula International Airport, 150 miles away. The east entrance is served by Great Falls International Airport.
Tara, a mother of two boys, ages 15 and 18, is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and outdoor vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone.