Glacier National Park is one of the country’s greatest natural landmarks. While just three days in Glacier National Park isn’t enough to see everything on offer, you can see quite a few of the park’s most famous attractions in this short period of time.
We have outlined a flexible Glacier National Park 3-day itinerary to make sure you get the most out of your visit to the park!
The Best Glacier National Park 3-Day Itinerary
Glacier National Park FAQs
When is the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park?
For the purposes of this itinerary, the best time to visit Glacier National Park is during the summer months, from late June through mid-September.
On the first day of the itinerary travels along Going-to-the-Sun Road, which usually closes as a result of weather conditions.
While the lower portion of the road tends to remain open all year, the alpine area of the road, including that which passes Logan Pass, is often closed between October and July, though this may change.
Summer is also the busiest time to visit the park, so be sure to book your accommodation ahead of time.
Are there any Entrance Fees?
All visitors to Glacier National Park must pay an entrance fee, which can be bought as a seven-day pass or an annual pass. The cost starts at $15 for individuals, $20 for motorcycles, and $25 for private vehicles.
Additionally, all vehicles traveling on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and in the North Fork area between May 27 and September 11 must also obtain a vehicle reservation.
What Should you Bring to Glacier National Park?
Assuming you’ll be visiting Glacier National Park in the late spring, summer, or early fall, you’ll need:
- Sunscreen and a hat
- Rain jacket
- Hiking boots
- Insect repellent
- Refillable water bottle
- Bear spray
- Layered clothing
- Extra socks
- Day pack
How is Glacier National Park set up?
There are five main areas in Glacier National Park: Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, St. Mary, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier. The main attractions are located within these areas.
One of the most famous parts of Glacier National Park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which traverses the entire park from west to east. To help you get your bearings, Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, and St. Mary are all located along Going-to-the-Sun Road, which will form the basis of much of the itinerary.
Two Medicine and Many Glacier, which you will also visit on this itinerary, are located on the eastern side of the park.
Glacier National Park Accommodation
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation options in Glacier National Park. First and foremost, there’s a variety of in-park lodges to consider. These include:
To stay in one of the park’s official lodges, be sure to book your accommodation 13 months ahead of time, particularly if you plan on visiting during the busy summer months.
Additionally, there’s a selection of campsites scattered throughout the park, which are more affordable than the in-park lodges. There are both those that are reservable ahead of time and those that operate on a first-come-first-served basis.
The three campgrounds that will give you the closest access to many of the stops on our itinerary are St. Mary Campground, Rising Sun Campground, and Many Glacier Campground.
Otherwise, you can also stay in one of the gateway communities bordering the park. Staying in towns like West Glacier or Essex tends to be less costly than staying in the park itself.
For the purposes of this itinerary, we recommend basing yourself on the eastern side of the park, near St. Mary.
Morning: Drive to St. Mary Along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Stopping at Lake McDonald
Our itinerary begins on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is one of Glacier’s greatest attractions in itself but also leads to several important destinations in the park. Enter the road from the West Glacier, where it begins just outside the park’s entrance.
The famous road extends for 50 miles across the entire park, stopping in St. Mary on the park’s eastern fringe.
If you were to drive the entire road without stopping, it would take approximately two hours. On this itinerary, you’ll have time to drive slowly and take in the mesmerizing sights along the way and make a few stops.
Your first stop is Lake McDonald, a scenic alpine lake that’s nestled in the southwestern area of the park. The lake is the largest in the park and offers guests the opportunity for kayaking and canoeing, along with swimming. There are also several hiking trails around the lake that boast spectacular views of the water.
Lake McDonald is just over 10 minutes from West Glacier, so you should reach the lake when it’s still quite early in the morning, depending on what time you leave. In reality, you could spend an entire day or more splashing in the lake and enjoying water sports.
But when you only have three days in the park and if you want to stop and take photos of other sights along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, you’ll have to limit your time at the lake. You might like to swim at Lake McDonald if the weather is warm or take a short hike on one of the many trails in the area. You could also enjoy a picnic lunch by the lake.
Aim to set off again just after midday so you can reach Logan Pass by the early afternoon.
Afternoon: Logan Pass and the Hidden Lake Trail
The highest point on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which lies along the Continental Divide, is Logan Pass. The pass is one of the park’s most popular destinations thanks to the epic views it provides. You’ll have unrivaled vistas of Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, Mount Oberlin, Reynolds Mountain, and Bearcat Mountain.
In general, the Logan Pass parking lot fills up by 8:30 a.m. and doesn’t tend to empty until the late afternoon, after 4 p.m. Be prepared to wait up to 45 minutes for a parking space in the lot, or for rangers to deny you entry because the lot is already at capacity.
To make the parking situation less stressful, you might want to park at the St. Mary Visitor Center and take the shuttle bus to the pass. The drive back to Logan Pass on the shuttle is about an hour, but it’s incredibly scenic and relaxing.
Though the transport situation is not ideal, many guests prefer to park at St. Mary to avoid the stress of looking for a park at Logan Pass.
One of the reasons why Logan Pass is so popular is because it provides direct access to two of the park’s most adored hiking trails: the Hidden Lake Trail and the Highline Trail. Unfortunately, you won’t have time to hike the Highline Trail on this itinerary, but you can hike the Hidden Lake Trail.
The Hidden Lake Trail is generally considered a challenging hike and takes most visitors about three hours to complete. But the grassy meadows and pockets of colorful wildflowers are worth the strain the Hidden Lake Overlook is a particularly iconic spot for taking photographs.
The Logan Pass Visitor Center is worth visiting as it displays the history of the area and also offers the chance to buy snacks and souvenirs.
Keep in mind that shuttles arrive approximately every 15 to 30 minutes, and the last shuttle to St. Mary Visitor Center departs Logan Pass at 5 p.m. If you miss the shuttle, you’ll have to find your own way back to your car.
If you’re interested in additional hiking trails, check out our list of the Top 10 Hiking Trails in Montana.
Late Afternoon/Evening: Wild Goose Island Overlook
From the St. Mary Visitor Center, the Wild Goose Island Overlook is around a 10-minute drive. From the Logan Pass Visitor Center, it takes about double the time to get there. Finish your day at this exquisite lookout which gives one of the most picturesque views of the park.
Wild Goose Island sits in the middle of St. Mary Lake, and against a backdrop of the towering mountain peaks surrounding it.
The pull-out to get to the overlook is approximately six and a half miles from St. Mary, just off the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Aim to get here just before sunset for a view to end all views.
If you are traveling from the Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot, you can head to St. Mary first and have dinner before venturing back out to the overlook.
In July, the sun typically sets in the park at around 10 p.m., so it might make sense to have dinner or relax at your accommodation before venturing out again to catch the glorious colors of the setting sun over the lake.
Morning: Many Glacier
The entire second day of your itinerary will be spent in the Many Glacier areas of the park, where there’s an abundance of wondrous sights and natural beauty to take in.
In comparison to Logan Pass, St. Mary, and Lake McDonald, Many Glacier may feel far-flung and remote. It’s a great location to spend some time after your action-packed first day and offers a more relaxed vibe.
The ride to Many Glacier can be a little bumpy and you might even spot some roaming wildlife on the road. If you do come across wildlife, remember to never approach or feed any animals in the park and wait for them to clear from the road before driving.
The main drawing point of the area is the many hiking trails. If you’re interested in a full day of hiking, you can explore the trails both in the morning and afternoon. Otherwise, you can hike for half the day and spend the other half of the day exploring what else Many Glacier has to offer.
One of the must-see sights in the area is the Many Glacier Hotel, a historic building that will transport you to another time. There are two restaurants and a snack bar at the hotel, so this is a great place to come for breakfast, lunch, or a mid-morning snack.
There’s a porch at the Many Glacier Hotel, and at the nearby Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, where you can simply relax and absorb the stunning panorama. Additionally, there are wildlife-viewing opportunities around Grinnell Glacier, the Many Glacier Road, and Fishercap Lake.
If you’re interested in animal encounters, Swan Mountain Outfitters runs horseback riding tours in the area, ranging from one-hour experiences to full-day tours.
For more information about boat excursions and rentals, visit the Glacier Park Boat Company’s official website.
Afternoon: Iceberg Lake or Grinnell Glacier Hike
While you’re in Many Glacier, you should aim to complete at least one hike if you can. The once-in-a-lifetime views are worth it!
Both the Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier trails are extremely popular for their sublime views, and similarly, take around four hours to complete. With the Grinnell Glacier trail, you have the option of reducing your hiking time by taking a boat tour starting from the Many Glacier Hotel.
The two trails are similar in difficulty, with the Grinnell Glacier Trail being known to be slightly more difficult. After a steep section at the beginning of the Iceberg Lake Trail, the hike is mostly steady.
You’ll find spectacular views along both trails, but some experts recommend hiking to Grinnell Glacier over Iceberg Lake if you’re traveling during summer because the icebergs melt by mid-August, which will lessen the impact of the view.
Each trail may be closed at any point due to bear activity, so you might have to wait until you arrive to decide which trail you’d like to hike. But rest assured that neither will disappoint you.
While we’ve listed the hike as an afternoon activity, you could easily adapt this itinerary to suit your needs by hiking in the morning and doing other activities in Many Glacier in the afternoon.
Morning: St. Mary and Virginia Falls
For your final day in Glacier National Park, we recommend starting the morning with a hike to the marvelous St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. Though you also have the option of just hiking to St. Mary Falls and back, we think it’s worth hiking the full way to Virginia Falls.
The hike begins from the St. Mary Falls Shuttle Stop, around 10 miles west of the St. Mary Entrance Station on Going-to-the-Sun Road. We recommend starting your day with the hike and arriving early in the morning because the parking lot tends to fill up quickly, particularly during the summer months.
After following the trail for a while, you will come to the St. Mary River, followed by the thundering St. Mary Falls, which plummets around 35 feet. Take your time to enjoy the view and take as many photos as you like before continuing on to Virginia Falls.
You’ll pass two unnamed waterfalls as you keep hiking along the west side of Virginia Creek, before arriving at Virginia Falls, which cascades around 50 feet.
The rocks at the base of the waterfall can be quite slippery, but on a hot summer day, it’s tempting to get close and enjoy the cool spray of the water.
Afternoon: Two Medicine
From the St. Mary area, Two Medicine is around 40 minutes away by car. Tucked away in the southeast area of Glacier National Park, Two Medicine is another remote area that is likely to attract fewer crowds than the likes of Logan Pass or Lake McDonald.
According to the Glacier National Park Travel Guide, the weather in Two Medicine tends to be different from other areas of the park, as the Continental Divide pierces through the area and diverts most rain clouds. As a result, it’s mostly dry, with brief thunderstorms occurring in the afternoons.
Also, you’ll notice a lack of forest and tall trees in the area, again as a result of the lack of rain. This paves the way for even more remarkable views.
Two Medicine is known for its scenic landscape, complete with sparkling lakes and soaring mountain peaks. Along with a campground, the area is home to a selection of picnic areas, a gift shop, wildlife-watching opportunities, boating opportunities, and a variety of picturesque hiking trails.
For some of the most breathtaking views the park has to offer, you can hike the strenuous Dawson/Pitamakan Pass Loop Trail.
The hike extends for 17 miles with nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain, so this is a good option if you would like to spend the entire day in Two Medicine hiking, and want to bypass St. Mary and Virginia Falls hike altogether. Otherwise, there are several shorter hikes you can also do in the area.
The walk to see the Running Eagle Falls is only a quarter of a mile, and you can make your way to the stunning Upper Two Medicine Lake in a 4.8-mile round trip hike in conjunction with a boat shuttle across the lake.
The Scenic Point hike is another great option and a moderate activity at 6.2 miles. From the summit point, you can often see for up to 100 miles.
You’re likely to spot animals like bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and even mountain lions in the area. You might even notice golden eagles above the grasslands.
If you’d like to spend some time around Two Medicine Lake, which extends for around two miles, there are plenty of fishing opportunities. In particular, you’ll find populations of brook and rainbow trout in the lake, each fish averaging between 10 and 12 inches.
Unfortunately, swimming at the lake is not recommended as the water is too cold to be comfortable. However, you are able to rent a boat, kayak, or canoe and explore the water that way without fully submerging yourself.
With three days in Glacier National Park, you’ll have a chance to see the most amazing attractions in the park, plus explore some more remote areas.
Though you won’t have time to hike every trail, three days is a great amount of time for a starter trip to the park. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to see more each time you return!