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Your Glacier National Park 5-Day Itinerary

Five days in Glacier National Park is a perfect amount of time to see the greatest landmarks in the park, from the wondrous views of Logan Pass to the sparkling Lake McDonald.

With our Glacier National Park 5-day itinerary, you’ll be able to see the best of Glacier plus a few off-the-beaten-track gems.

The Best Glacier National Park 5-Day Itinerary

accommodation

Glacier National Park Accommodation

You can choose to stay within Glacier National Park at one of the official park lodges or campgrounds, or you can stay in one of the gateway communities outside the park, where accommodation is likely to be more affordable.

Please note if you do stay in an official park lodge, you should reserve your booking 13 months in advance. These include:

West Side

Lake McDonald

East Side

Regardless of the type of lodging you choose, we recommend staying on the eastern side of the park for the purpose of this itinerary. Though there are great accommodation choices in the west, that will increase your travel time and cut time away from your schedule.

If you’d like to stay at a campground, we recommend St. Mary Campground, Rising Sun Campground, and Many Glacier Campground as the best choices in relation to this itinerary.

Day 1

Morning: Lake McDonald

lake mcdonald

Start your journey from West Glacier, where you can access the Going-to-the-Sun Road just outside the park entrance. The road traverses the entire park and will take you all the way to St. Mary, offering plenty of breathtaking stops along the way.

The first stop, Lake McDonald, is less than 15 minutes away from West Glacier, tucked away in the southwestern area of the park. You should reach the lake early in the morning and have plenty of time to enjoy its beautiful views.

Lake McDonald is the largest lake in the park and one of the busiest destinations. You’ll be able to swim in the lake (though it may be mighty cold), go kayaking or canoeing, and even rent a boat.

Additionally, there are a few hiking trails around the lake that will give you fantastic views of the area.

There’s a total of 12 hiking trails in the Lake McDonald Valley, each with varying distances and elevation gains. As we’ve allowed most of the day at Lake McDonald, you can take on one of the longer hikes or a combination of the shorter ones.

One of the most famous shorter trails is the Trail of the Cedars, which you can access from the Avalanche Picnic Area. The trail will take you on a short boardwalk through majestic ancient cedar trees—one of the most unique destinations in the park.

Additionally, you can check out the Avalanche Creek Trail, also accessed from the Avalanche Picnic Area, which is another great easy hike with mild elevation gains.

The Lake McDonald Western Shore Trail itself is one of the longest trails in the area and takes around five hours to complete. However, the trail is relatively easy and the views are amazing. If you would prefer to spend most of the day hiking rather than passing time by the water, this is a great option.

It takes approximately two hours to travel the entire length of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, from West Glacier to St. Mary.

Aim to leave Lake McDonald in the late afternoon for dinner in St. Mary, where you will find a small collection of cafes and bars in St. Mary Village.

Evening: Wild Goose Island Overlook

wild goose island overlook

The Wild Goose Island Overlook is one of Glacier National Park’s most-photographed locations. The tiny island sits in the heart of St. Mary Lake, surrounded by dramatic alpine mountain scenery.

You can reach the overlook via the Going-to-the-Sun Road, around 10 minutes from the St. Mary Visitor Center. You could visit the overlook on your way to your accommodation from Lake McDonald, but if the sun sets around 10 p.m., you’re likely to be too early for the sunset. That’s why we recommend coming after dinner, just before sunset.

It’s likely that you’ll share the view with other travelers and even a few professional photographers, as Wild Goose Island is one of the park’s most beautiful sights.

Day 2

Morning: Logan Pass

logan pass

Logan Pass is the highest point on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Lying along the Continental Divide and offering sublime views of the park, it’s one of the busiest destinations in Glacier National Park, and also one of the most unmissable.

From the pass, you’ll have the chance to look over Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, Bearhat Mountain, Mount Oberlin, and Reynolds Mountain, plus you’ll also get the chance to spot grazing wildlife in the form of curious mountain goats.

For your best chance of securing a parking spot at Logan Pass, try to arrive before 8:30 a.m. If you get there any later, you’ll likely be waiting 45 minutes or longer for a parking spot, until 4 p.m. when the parking lot starts to clear out.

Some travelers find driving to Logan Pass stressful, as the wait (and sometimes battle!) for a park can be intense. If you would rather avoid parking here, you can also park at other locations and then take a shuttle to the Logan Pass Visitor Center. One of the best places to catch the shuttle is the St. Mary Visitor Center.

The shuttle ride to Logan Pass from the St. Mary Visitor Center takes about an hour, however the journey is filled with stunning alpine scenery. Just keep in mind that the last shuttle to depart Logan Pass for St. Mary leaves at 5 p.m.

Once you’ve arrived, be sure to check out the Logan Pass Visitor Center, where you’ll find a souvenir shop and historic exhibits offering insights about the area.

The main drawing point of the area is the network of hiking trails, which offer spectacular vistas over the park. On today’s itinerary, you have the entire morning at Logan Pass, which is enough to complete the Hidden Lake Trail.

You’ll get time to complete the day-long Highline Trail when you return tomorrow! We believe both are worth doing if you have five days in the park.

The Hidden Lake Trail takes around three hours to finish and provides mesmerizing views of sprawling meadows dotted with wildflowers, not to mention the sweeping vista at the overlook. You can also go fishing in Hidden Lake, which is known for its cutthroat trout.

Afternoon: St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls

st. mary falls

St. Mary and Virginia Falls are two of the most impressive waterfalls in the park and definitely worth seeing. You can access them from the same trailhead, which begins from the St. Mary Falls Shuttle Stop, 10 miles west of the St. Mary Entrance Station on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Keep in mind that it can be difficult to find a parking spot here during summer. You might have to wait for other hikers to leave, but the wait is worth it!

If you’re too tired after hiking the Hidden Lake Trail, you also have the option of just hiking to St. Mary Falls and back. However, we recommend making the effort to see Virginia Falls as the waterfall tends to be even more impressive.

The hike will bring you to the St. Mary River, where you’ll find the St. Mary Falls cascading 35 feet. This is a good spot to rest and take in the superb view before continuing on to Virginia Falls, which are nearly double the size.

By the time you reach Virginia Falls, you’re likely to be quite hot and tired, especially when traveling in summer, so you’ll welcome a spritz from the falls. Be careful when approaching the falls as the rocks at the base can be very slippery.

On your way to Virginia Falls from St. Mary Falls, you’ll also see two nameless waterfalls along Virginia Creek. Feel free to stop and take photos, as they’re quite beautiful and would probably garner more attention if they weren’t sandwiched between the two larger St. Mary and Virginia Falls.

Day 3

Highline Trail Loop

Highline Trail Loop

The Highline Trail is arguably the most popular hike in Glacier National Park. When you’re staying for five days, we recommend returning to Logan Pass and spending an entire day just doing the trail.

The trail is 11.8 miles and has elevation gains of 1950 feet, with an average elevation gain per mile of 331 feet. This is considered to be one of the more strenuous hikes in the park, but the views at the summit (and throughout the duration of the trail) make it worth it.

Despite the name of the trail, the Highline Loop is actually a one-way trail, extending from the Logan Pass Visitor Center to the Loop—a bend in the road where the trail ends. It will take most people between six and seven hours. Make sure you bring plenty of water, sun protection, and snacks with you.

Again, for the best chance of securing a parking space at the Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot, aim to arrive before 8:30 a.m.

Alternatively, you can park at the Loop, which is located east of the Lake McDonald Lodge on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and then take the free shuttle to Logan Pass.

Follow the trail along the Continental Divide, soaking up views along the way of amazing mountain scenery.

The Highline Trail may not be the best option for those who have a fear of heights, as there is a steep ledge around one-quarter of a mile from the trailhead that only extends six to eight feet across, dropping more than 100 feet below. But the good news is there is a handrail in place during this very short stretch of the trail.

You’ll eventually come to the Garden Wall Trail add-on, which is nearly seven miles into the hike. A side trail that ascends 900 feet to the Continental Divide, the Garden Wall Trail will offer even more wonderful views of Grinnell Glacier and The Salamander. It is well worth incorporating into your hike.

Towards the end of the hike, you’ll pass through grizzly bear habitat, so it’s important to bring bear spray (and know how to use it), and travel in groups of people rather than hiking solo. You can also check with park rangers as to animal activity in the area prior to hiking.

You’ll likely be exhausted at the end of the hike, so make your way back to your accommodation to rest up before your fourth day in the park!

Day 4

Two Medicine

two medicine

Two Medicine is one of the more remote areas of Glacier National Park, and unlike Logan Pass, will likely be relatively quiet and peaceful. However, that doesn’t mean that the area is any less impressive: you’ll see even more stunning and unique views here.

Two Medicine is not located on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but it’s only a 40-minute drive from the St. Mary area, nestled in the park’s southeast.

One of the best things about visiting Two Medicine is that the scenery is starkly different from other areas of the park, owing to the fact that its location means the region gets less rain and thus is not covered in dense rainforest.

You’ll find a variety of picnic areas where you can have lunch, a gift shop, and a campground in Two Medicine, plus a selection of hiking trails and the opportunity for aquatic activities on Two Medicine Lake, which stretches around two miles.

Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, golden eagles, and even mountain lions have been known to frequent the area.

Park guests are permitted to swim in the lake, however this isn’t recommended as the water gets extremely cold. Rather, we advise kayaking, canoeing, or boating on the crystalline waters of the lake. You are also welcome to fish in the lake, which is rich in brook and rainbow trout.

If you would like a break from hiking after completing the Highline Trail on Day Three, you could spend the day on the lake, lounging by the shores and taking in the sense of tranquility. However, you could also incorporate some more hiking into your day if you’re up to it.

Some of the shorter trails in the area include the Upper Two Medicine Lake Trail, which involves taking a boat shuttle across the lake. A super short walk is the trail to Running Eagle Falls, which boasts another great view.

If you are up for another day hike, you could also take on the Dawson/Pitamakan Pass Loop Trail, which stretches 17 miles.

You’ll make around 3,000 feet of elevation gain on this trail, which is known for boasting some of the park’s most epic views.

Day 5

Morning: Grinnell Glacier or Iceberg Lake Hike

grinnell glacier

The last day of your Glacier Park itinerary will be spent in the stunning Many Glacier areas, home to some of the park’s most exquisite scenery.

Though this area of the park contains splendid alpine scenery that you’ll find in few other areas of the planet, it tends to be less crowded than the more popular Logan Pass or Lake McDonald areas.

You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to hiking trails in Many Glacier, and you’ll have the option of a full day of hiking. However, we recommend starting your day with a hike and then exploring other features of the area in the afternoon.

The two main hikes in Many Glacier are Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier. Both offer spectacular views and each take around four hours to complete. The Grinnell Glacier Trail is slightly longer, however you have the chance to reduce your hike by taking a boat tour as part of the journey, which departs from the Many Glacier Hotel.

Iceberg Lake may be a better option for those who are looking for an easy hike, though it’s still considerably long at 11 miles. There’s a steeper elevation towards the beginning of the trail, and then the rest of the hike is considered to be easy. Grinnell Glacier is slightly more challenging, but still not considered a strenuous hike.

If you are traveling during summer, you may want to opt for the Grinnell Glacier Trail, as the icebergs at Iceberg Lake will melt by mid-August. This can dramatically change the view.

Additionally, with reports that the glaciers in the park have reduced in size significantly over the last 50 years, and are expected to continue to decrease, it might be worth seeing Grinnell Glacier while it’s still here.

Regardless of which trail you choose to hike, both offer striking views along the way and also at the final destination.

Keep in mind that either trail may be closed at short notice due to the presence of bears, so you might not get a choice in which hike you complete.

Afternoon: Explore the rest of Many Glacier

many glacier

Spend your last afternoon in the park discovering the rest of Many Glacier. We recommend having lunch, dinner, or both at the Many Glacier Hotel, which boasts two restaurants and a snack bar.

The hotel is a sight in itself, lying on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. It was first constructed in 1914, open right until 2020 when it temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The historic building has a lavish porch where you can enjoy a meal or take in the breathtaking views. You’ll also find a porch at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, another location where you can relax and enjoy the atmosphere of Many Glacier.

Many Glacier is one of the best places in the park for wildlife-viewing opportunities and encounters.

Fishercap Lake, just a few hundred yards from Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, is known for attracting moose, which are particularly active around the shores in the early morning and evening. You might also spot moose nearby at Redrock Lake and Bullhead Lake.

If you’d like to see bears, the best place to go is Many Glacier Road along Lake Sherburne, particularly in the evening. However, the entire Many Glacier area is known as a bear haven, so keep your eyes peeled throughout the day. You’re also likely to spot mountain goats around Grinnell Glacier and Ptarmigan Tunnel.

As per the park rules, never approach any wildlife that you come across. If you happen to see animals on the road while driving through Many Glacier, wait for them to clear away from the road.

If you have your heart set on an interactive animal encounter, you can book a horseback riding tour with Swan Mountain Outfitters, who operate multiple excursions in the area.

With numerous lakes in the area, you can also spend the afternoon relaxing by the water, walking along the shores of the lakes, or having a picnic lunch.

Boat tours are available of Swiftcurrent and Grinnell Lakes; visit the Glacier Park Boat Company official website to find out more about renting a boat or booking a tour.

Conclusion

Five days is plenty of time to see Glacier National Park’s greatest sights.

By following our flexible Glacier National Park 5-day itinerary, you can visit the park’s most famous destinations, hike to your heart’s content, and absorb the once-in-a-lifetime views offered by this alpine wonderland.

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