Glacier National Park Itinerary for 3 Days

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Glacier National Park remains my top pick among American national parks. With three visits under my belt, the latest in the summer of 2023, its beauty never ceases to amaze me. However, planning a visit has become a bit more involved, as you now need to book vehicle entry permits in advance.

If you're planning your Glacier NP visit, I highly recommend perusing my guide, 11 Tried-and-True Tips for Glacier National Park." It's packed with insights garnered from my recent visit, aiming to optimize your experience in this breathtaking landscape.

This itinerary for Glacier National Park, which we've personally followed, remains incredibly relevant. Preparation is key to making the most of your adventure.

And truly, the effort is worthwhile. The photos shared here, all captured during my explorations, barely do justice to the park's awe-inspiring beauty. Yes, it's genuinely that spectacular.

Glacier National Park Itinerary

This Glacier National Park itinerary offers a flexible plan that will take you through the best the park offers in three days and two nights. Is that enough time?

Of course not! This park has gorgeous views everywhere you look, so you can easily spend a month here exploring the trails. But let's be realistic here.

Most people visit Glacier as part of a road trip to the Rockies and can't afford to spend more than three or four days at the same place.

And what if you manage to squeeze that fourth day out of your trip plan? Awesome! I've added a fourth bonus day for you!

To complement this guide, I've compiled everything into a single captivating image filled with visual treats. Indeed, Glacier National Park is a feast for the eyes, offering a veritable sugar rush of scenic beauty.

Witness it for yourself—and don't forget to share it on Pinterest! For those seeking more in-depth information, the post includes a detailed textual version, along with a map and a gallery of photos.

Exploring Glacier National Park: A Comprehensive Guide

This itinerary guides you from Glacier National Park's western reaches to its eastern expanse, offering the flexibility to reverse the route to fit your travel plans seamlessly.

Included are the total return distances for all the trails mentioned, emphasizing the importance of consulting park rangers prior to embarking on any hike to confirm accessibility and avoid any closed or restricted areas.

Where To Stay During Your Glacier Park Trip?

You'll be starting your journey at the western entrance to the park, so there will be many motels and hotels in the nearby towns. Hungry Horse and Columbia Falls are two small towns very near the park. If you can't find accommodation there, try Whitefish or even Kalispell.

Accommodation becomes more expensive once you cross the Going To The Sun road, so book in advance if you want cheaper rooms. Stay at St. Mary's Lodge or the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn at Many Glacier. If budget isn't a problem, you can stay at the Many Glacier Hotel.

And now, finally -

Glacier National Park Itinerary

The Glacier National Park Itinerary

How to Use the National Park Passport – A Comprehensive Guide

Day 1: Discovering the Going To The Sun Road

  1. Begin your journey on the Going To The Sun Road from the West Glacier entry point.
  2. First stop: Marvel at the cascading waters of McDonald Creek at the McDonald Falls trailhead.
  3. Embark on the Trail of The Cedars, an easy 1-mile loop. For those eager for more, extend your hike to the serene Avalanche Lake, covering a total of 4.5 miles.
  4. Continue your drive eastward on the Going To The Sun Road, pausing along the way for photo opportunities of the breathtaking scenery.
  5. Visit the Logan Pass Visitor Center to register for your next day’s hike and gather valuable park information.
  6. Tackle the initial 1-2 miles of the Highline Trail, offering stunning vistas and wildlife sightings.
  7. Optional treks include the trails to St. Mary's Falls (1.7 miles) and Virginia Falls (3.6 miles) for more waterfall wonders.
  8. Make photo stops at Sunrift Gorge & Wild Goose Island, iconic spots for capturing the park's beauty.
  9. Conclude your day with a satisfying dinner at the Snowgoose Grille in St. Mary's Lodge, followed by an enriching evening talk with a park ranger, deepening your connection to the park’s natural wonders.

Day 2: Adventure in the Many Glacier Area

Begin your day with a burst of energy; enjoy a coffee and pastry at Glacier Perk before setting off to explore Many Glacier.

If you're not an avid hiker, follow this itinerary today:

  1. Take the Grinnell Valley Boat Trip and hike for 3½ to 4 hours, an easy 2.5-mile (also available as a ranger-lead hike).
  2. Join a horse-riding trek to Josephine Lake or Cracker Flats (2 hours)

Avid hiker? Choose one of these (both are also available as ranger-lead hikes):

  • The Grinnell Glacier Boat Trip and Hike 8½ hours, strenuous 8-mile (12.9 km)
  • The Iceberg Lake or similar destination) 6-7 hours, moderate 10-mile (16 km)

Conclude your day with a satisfying meal at Nell's at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in Many Glacier. Don't miss out on the local favorite - huckleberry ice cream, available at the store.

Day 3: Journey from Many Glacier to Two Medicine

  • Start the day with a ranger-led Morning Nature Stroll at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn for an immersive experience in the park's early serenity.
  • Set off towards Two Medicine Lake, making a stop at Cassidy Curve to capture the serene beauty of Lake Sherburne in your photographs.
  • Explore the accessible path leading to the enchanting Running Eagle Falls, a brief 0.6-mile journey.
  • Embark on a hike to Aster Park, possibly under the guidance of a ranger, for a 4-hour adventure across a moderate 3.8-mile trail.
  • Continue your exploration with a hike to Appistoki Falls, covering a distance of 1.3 miles.
  • After these adventures, the journey is yours to continue. Proceed to your next destination, considering accommodations outside the park to manage your budget effectively.

Glacier national park

Extra Day: Exploring Waterton Lakes

  • If an additional day is available, consider exploring the Waterton Lakes area across the border, offering a fresh perspective alongside Glacier National Park.
  • Begin your extra day with a refreshing start: coffee and pastries at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn before heading north.
  • Make your way into the park and towards the north to embark on the Red Rock Canyon Parkway trail. Follow the trail to the captivating Blakiston Falls, covering a distance of 1.9 miles.
  • Don't miss the opportunity to snap stunning photographs at Cameron Falls.
  • Treat yourself to lunch at Wieners of Waterton, known for its delightful offerings.
  • Continue to Cameron Lakeshore. For those eager for more exploration, the 1.9-mile trail offers scenic views and tranquil moments.
  • Return to the Many Glacier area to conclude your day's adventure.
  • If energy permits, consider a late hike to Hidden Falls, a serene end to a day of discovery.
  • Cap off your day by attending an evening ranger program or indulging in a gourmet dinner at the Many Glacier Hotel, embracing the full Glacier National Park experience.

Waterton Lake Itinerary

Montana Road Trip Insights

  • For those embarking on a Montana road trip, consider exploring the wealth of tips from our extensive journey across the US. Our adventures, including a remarkable drive from California to Alaska and back, have been distilled into 37 essential road-tripping tips.
  • As you venture west from Glacier National Park, enrich your travel itinerary with insights from our explorations along the Washington State coast and the diverse attractions featured in our Oregon Bucket List.

Your Experiences and Thoughts

Have you had the chance to experience Glacier National Park? If you've ventured through this magnificent park, I'd be thrilled to hear about your favorite parts and any tips you might have. Feel free to share in the comments below! And if Glacier National Park is still on your to-visit list, what are you looking forward to the most?

Your comments are always a joy to read, and I look forward to responding to each one. Help bring Glacier National Park to more adventurers by sharing this post on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

As we conclude, don't miss out on the chance to explore a curated photo gallery perfect for Pinterest. Let these images inspire your next journey!

Glacier National Park Itinerary: A complete and illustrated day-by-day itinerary for visiting the most beautiful national park in the US!

Glacier National Park Itinerary: A complete and illustrated day-by-day itinerary for visiting the most beautiful national park in the US!

Glacier National Park Itinerary: A complete and illustrated day-by-day itinerary for visiting the most beautiful national park in the US!

Wild Goose Island views from the Going To The Sun Road. Glacier National Park Itinerary: A complete and illustrated day-by-day itinerary for visiting the most beautiful national park in the US!

Glacier National Park Itinerary: A complete and illustrated day-by-day itinerary for visiting the most beautiful national park in the US!

A view of the Going To The Sun Road that takes you across the Rockeis in the most beautiful mountain pass in America! Glacier National Park Itinerary: A complete and illustrated day-by-day itinerary for visiting the most beautiful national park in the US!

Glacier National Park Itinerary: A complete and illustrated day-by-day itinerary for visiting the most beautiful national park in the US!

Reflections on Lake Sherburne. Glacier National Park Itinerary: A complete and illustrated day-by-day itinerary for visiting the most beautiful national park in the US!

Hiking the amazing Highline Trail across the Continental Divide! Glacier National Park Itinerary: A complete and illustrated day-by-day itinerary for visiting the most beautiful national park in the US!

Glacier National Park in Summer - Glacier National Park Itinerary: A complete and illustrated day-by-day itinerary for visiting the most beautiful national park in the US!

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  1. Just found your site and you have great information.
    Going To The Sun Road is an amazing, dramatic scenic drive that should be on everyone’s bucket list!
    I recently edited together this cinematic video of that drive that I believe you, and others, will appreciate. It might even be helpful for those who might not be sure if they should include it in their itinerary.

    Going To The Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana (YouTube video)

    • I believe you would need to have the national parks card, or pay for entrance to the park. However, the reservations would allow you to skip the need for additional reservations. Always a good idea to check with the campground where you made those reservations. Enjoy Glacier!

  2. Hi! Loved reading your itinerary! I’m planning a trip October 1-5. I know some parts start to close down around then. Do you have any advice? What do you typically wear hiking that time of year? Thanks for your help!

    • Hi Kaelyn,
      The Going to the Sun Road should still be open but it’s not a sure thing. You’ll have to keep a close eye on the park’s website and the weather forecast. The ranger services along the road and at the Mani Glacier area will have already closed for the season. Otherwise, according to their website, it’s a great time for visiting! Looking at weather averages, it should stay above freezing point during your visit (as it’s only early October) but I bet nights and morning time can get really chilly. I would go for sturdy hiking boots and layered warm clothes. Enjoy!

  3. Hi Anne,

    So I am going to be entering from the West side of the park and was able to find a cheap hostel right by the Apgar visitor center. (college student on a budget!!!) I didnt really realize until looking further that the East may have been better for me to stay but we are coming from quite far on the first day (5 hour drive) so that would have made it 7 hours. Do you think it will be a dig deal? I was thinking of doing this…

    1. hanging out and horseback riding the first night around lake mcdonald, do trail of the cedars and avalanche lake
    2. drive 2 hours to many glacier the second day hike grinell lake and see the glacier. (this will include going to the sun road in the morning) and double back after (4 hours of driving total)
    3. White water rafting in the morning on the west side, Head out to the east side of the park for the afternoon for some fun hikes before heading out to great falls, MT

    What do you think?

    • Hi Jessica,
      The drive to Many Glacier is best done on the gorgeous Going-to-the-sun road. That’s not a 2-drive though. I would allocate at least 4 hours for the drive just because you’ll want to pull over every couple of miles for pictures and to enjoy the scenery. Also, they often have road construction blocks along the way, so that could slow you down as well. In fact, if you enjoy hiking, take a whole day for the drive, so you can explore some of the trails along the way.
      While you could go to one side and back on the same day, I wouldn’t count on a total of four hours of driving. I don’t think that’s a good way to hike to Grinnell Lake, sorry. I would see this day going along the lines of 4-hour drive to the Many Glacier area, spending 3-4 hours there doing shorter hikes, then driving back before it gets too dark. The other option would be to change your booking (if at all possible) and stay for one night in the Many Glacier area. It would also make more sense to continue to Great Falls from there.
      Good luck – it’s gorgeous whichever way you get to experience it!

  4. Hi Anne:
    I’ve never posted a blog question before! My husband and I will be going out 9-9-19 to GNP. Currently, I have reservations @ the KOA, St. Mary’s. I’m wondering if I should switch to Many Glacier? We have a 20 ft RV and were prepared to drive around. What do you think? I am a bit nervous about the first come, first serve campground option. We are not even campers! Have you ever hiked Mt. LaConte in Smoky Mtns?We have! It was our most difficult hike ever. So, if you think most trails’ challenges are distance, rather than steepness at GNP, I feel I could do most GNP trails. Agreed? Your blog was very helpful. Thanks for the tips!!

    • Hi Linda,
      I’ve hiked in the Smokeys but not that particular trail. There are mixed-level trails in the Many Glacier area, and you can also take the boat. I can totally understand not wanting to rely on a first-come-first-serve campground. I think the KOA at St. Mary’s will be good but you just need to be prepared to take a short drive into the Many Glacier area. It’s a very scenic drive of about 20-30 minutes (and a chance for wildlife viewings too!). If you stay at the Many Glacier campground, then you won’t have to move the RV at all and can just hike around. I think either option is good. Enjoy your trip!

  5. Your blog is super helpful as we start to plan our September trip! Was wondering if you knew the best place / area of the park to rent kayaks. We love hiking but have 4.5 days in the park so I’m sure we will want to change it up one day and get on the water! Thank you!

    • Hi Shawn,

      Generally speaking, more people get to the western side of the park and it’s also close to towns like Whitefish and Kalispell. That’s why you’ll find more outfitters there. There are activities in the Mani Glacier area too but as far as I could see they all go out from the Mani Glacier hotel. This is their kayak/canoe rental page. The same website also has pages about their rental locations on the western side of the park but AFAIK there are also other outfitters available there.

  6. I love the site it’s the best one I’ve been able to find describing Glacier and detailing activities.

    I am planning an RV trip and we are not towing a vechichle. As a result I cannot drive the GTTSR. I’m pretty depressed about it because that seems to be the highlight of most people trip.

    What’s you recommend. Do I need to figure out how to see GTTSR? Would my trip and opinion of Glacier be diminished if I skipped the GTTSR? I’ve considered renting a car in west glacier and doing the drive but was trying to do our vacation cheap this year.

    Also what do you recommend for RV campsites I. The park?

    I was planning on 2-3 days at Glacier so I could stay a day in the west then drive the south road to the east and stay a day on the east? Is this worth it or would I be better off focusing on the East or West?


    • Hi Greg,
      So glad you like our blog! Depending on the number of travelers, see whether the Red Bus might be cheaper than renting a car. If you like hiking, I think Many Glacier is where you want to camp for at least two nights, possibly more. They have a first-come-first-serve RV campground near the hotel, here’s the link. The location is fantastic and I can see in the link that you can actually make reservations as well. There are also campgrounds (including a KOA) near St. Mary’s but if you want to hike in the Many Glacier area and don’t have a toad, the Many Glacier campground is the right spot for you. It puts you right at the trailheads. There are a bunch of campgrounds on the Western side of the park. That entire section is all RV parks, pretty much. Again, if you want to hike without moving the rig, I think you’ll need to plan ahead, see which trails you want to hike and stay the night in that specific area.

      Depending on your overall trip route and what you prefer to do, I would consider camping in the Many Glacier area for 3 nights, and then taking the red bus to cross the GTTSR and back on one of them. It might be enough for seeing the west side of the park too. If you plan on crossing with the RV anyway (taking the southern road) then I would split it into 2 nights in Many Glacier and one in the west. I hope this helps!

  7. Hi! Do you have an opinion on the best campgrounds to use when following your itinerary? My daughter and husband want to camp (I would rather a cabin or hotel but I’m going along with the program!) and I’ve never had experience with booking campground stays. I’d love to take lots of photographs of nature, wildflowers, landscape, wildlife etc. too.

    • Hi Sandy,
      This itinerary is focused on Many Glacier – IMO the best area in the park – so the campground of choice would be Many Glacier campground. Now, looks like they don’t take reservations so in that case, I reverse the order of the trip and start at Many Glacier, leaving the Going to the Sun Road for the last day of your trip. I would try to spend the night before you go camping as close to Many Glacier as you can, then drive there and get your spot. Depending on where you come from, maybe find a cheap motel in Shelby, MT or even Cut Back for the night, then head out early in the morning and set camp at Many Glacier which will serve as your base for 3 nights. After the last night there, cross the park to the other side via GTTS road.

    • We stayed at Under Canvas a glamping experience. We loved it, very close to the park and you don’t have to bring camping gear. It is right outside West Glacier. They had evening programs, s’mores, offered box lunches and breakfasts to go. Highly recommend.

  8. Loved your site – helpful! I am going the first week in June 2018 and realize the GTTS road may not be open! I have 2 days and love to hike (not too strenuous/steep – I can go long distance though) and photograph. If I have to do either the east entrance or west entrance is one significantly better? Thanks so much!

    • Hi Emily,
      So glad you find the site helpful! Don’t give up on the road just yet. If you look at the data going back 20 years, there have been years when the road was opened as early as May! If the road is open by the time you arrive, definitely dedicate a day to crossing the Going To The Sun Road. We crossed it in 2011, a few days after it had been opened and it was amazing! There was water everywhere, still flowing from the snow capped mountain tops. We were literally driving through waterfalls! When we crossed the road in later years, it wasn’t so soon after the opening date and everything was dry. Still beautiful but not as thrilling.
      Should the road not be open – definitely can happen! – IMHO the more beautiful side is the eastern side. Specifically the Mani Glacier area. The western side is beautiful but it’s more about forests and rivers. The eastern side is where the steeper slopes are. It’s also where saw more wildlife. The hike to Grinnell lake is a classic and not steep at all (I did it with my two young boys). Continuing to Grinnell Glacier has more of an incline but if you’re reasonable fit, you shouldn’t have a problem. One thing to remember though is that when the GTTS road is closed, so are some of the trails. I would read up about the various trails and then go see the rangers first thing on arrival to see which are recommended on the day of your arrival. Enjoy Glacier! If you ever consider creating a trip report, I’d be delighted to post it here!

    • Emily, I’m going in the end of May 2018 into the first week of June. It sounds like it’s still pretty snow packed. Going to the sun road is still 75% closed. We’re planning on camping in the McDonald Lake area. Avalanche lake, trout lake, and McDonald lake trail are the plans so far.
      While it’s my first time to the park, from what I’ve read, I think the west entrance is better for what you’re looking for. There are steeper hikes to the East – however, they have more spectacular views. Enjoy your trip!

  9. Heading to GNP in August! LOVE THIS Itinerary!! Very interested in the Grinnell Glacier, but did you continue on to the “Upper Grinnell Lake”? Thanks a ton for putting such a great compact outing together!! Cant wait to do it!

    • So glad you liked the itinerary, Brianne! As far as I know, the Grinnell Glacier trails takes you all the way to Upper Grinnell Lake. I haven’t hiked it myself but my husband did and enjoyed every minute of it! It’s always a good idea to talk to the rangers before hiking Glacier NP to see if there are any updated regarding trail conditions, of course. Have a terrific visit – I’m jealous!

  10. Hi,

    I was just wondering where the second to last picture was taken?

    I am planning a trip to Waterton Park Alberta, Canada down to Glacier park at the end of May this year for 3-4 days.

    Will it be worth me going down to Glacier national park this early on in the year?

    Thank you for all you help!

    • Hi Chancey, the second to last picture was taken while hiking the Garden Wall trail. That trail begins at Logan Pass and goes all the way to Many Glacier. The kids and I, we just hiked for about a mile along the trail – the fun part where the trail is hugging the mountainside as you can see in the picture – and then went back to Logan Pass. My husband and a friend of ours went on and finished the hike in Many Glacier.
      Good question about May. The Going To The Sun Road will not be open. Mani Glacier should be open if you’re crossing over from the east. I’m sure many trails will still have snow and ice, so not sure about hiking that time of year but I bet it would be beautiful. I’d definitely go given the chance.

  11. We will be spending 2 days in Glacier NP this July and the only lodging we could get was in West Glacier. We are planning on driving the GTTSR one of the days we are there but is it too much to drive the whole thing and then back again in the same day? Should we only do part of it then turn around and go back? How many hikes can be done along the GTTSR and still have time to drive back? Which hikes should we do? What are must dos for the 2 days we are there?
    We are not all avid hikers and our pregnant daughter (5 months) and her young family (2 & 4 yr. old) will be with us.
    Thanks for your input.

    • Sorry about the late reply, Barb! I somehow managed to miss several notifications. I hope this isn’t too late to answer.
      You can certainly travel the GTTSR and back on the same day.
      Some trails along the GTTSR will still have snow/ice on them even in early to mid-July. Hiking with toddlers and your pregnant daughter, you need to get the most recent information from the rangers about trail conditions. Since you’ll be staying in West Glacier, you can hike in that area on the day that you’re not crossing the park on the GTTSR and do the Trail of the Cedars (fully accessible – even for strollers). Then on the GTTSR day, make a few stops along the GTTSR to take in the views and maybe stroll along part of some trails (the ones the rangers recommend). Get to the other side of the park and drive for about half an hour longer to the Mani Glacier area. You can take a break there (they have a couple of restaurant and a little shop with great Huckleberry ice cream!), maybe take the short hike to Fishercap lake to try and see some moose and then head back along the GTTSR to the west. Just make sure you leave the Mani Glacier area early enough so you’ll have plenty of daylight hours to drive back to West Glacier.
      I hope that helps – enjoy your trip! The park is absolutely gorgeous in July!

  12. We are in Sixties not hikers but relatively flat surface is fine. Does your itinerary require lot of hiking (going up the slope)? How tough is it?

    • Hi Bankim, the problem with some of the trails is the length, not so much the elevation. Few trails are 100% flat but the ones I mentioned here (other than the ones marked “for hikers” are not very steep. I could do them and I’m anything but an avid hiker. I do use poles and that helps when there’s a short section with some elevation.
      To make sure the trails are a good match for your own personal preferences, you can Google for each trail or even look it up on YouTube. People record their hikes and I often check the movies when I’m not sure whether or not I want to try a specific trail somewhere. Also, don’t forget to talk to the rangers before you go on any of the trails as trail conditions can change and effect your experience. Have fun at Glacier NP!

      • Thank you Anne. I will check it out on Google or You Tube. What is your opinion about taking Red Bus Tour? We are planning on staying at the Cedar Creek Lodge in Colombia Falls for 3 full days (4 nights).

        • We plan on entering GNP in Spring 2024 at the St. Mary’s entrance. Is a reservation still required? Unsure of what day we will arrive. Thanks

  13. Hi! Can you please offer advice/info. My family is planning to visit GNP in July ’17. The hikes I keep reading about, are they free, do we have to register for them in advance? We will have our own car, and plan to drive East & West on Going To The Sun. I imagine Ranger led hikes may cost & we will need to register. We drove thru Yosemite once & I don’t want to miss these beautiful views, lakes etc Glacier offers.
    Thank you in advance

    Misty Sinclair

    • I envy you! Glacier is amazing during July! Ranger-led hikes are in fact free of charge. That’s the case in all national parks. The only time you have to pay is if the hike involves a boat ride, like the Grinnell Glacier hike+ Boat Ride. That means the ranger is on the boat there with you, explaining things on the way etc. but you really just pay for the boat ride itself. In 2016 that cost $26 per adult.
      Anything that doesn’t include a boat ride and is just a ranger-led hike is free of charge. For the longer hikes, you may need to make a reservation the day before (you can do that in any of the visitors center or on the phone) but even that is not necessary in most cases. Here’s a link to the park’s brochure of ranger-led activities from the summer of 2016. You’ll get a similar one when you get to the park, or you can check their website around springtime when they’ll probably have the online version of the 2017 brochure. It’s a very helpful guide as it allows you to see what days and times of day the hikes/activities are and for almost all of them, you can just choose to join them on the spot, giving you maximum flexibility.

      Enjoy your trip and let me know if you have any other questions!

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