I decided to write a few blog posts about how to enjoy several different National Parks if you only have one day there. I hope you find my suggestions for Glacier National Park helpful.
I have been to Glacier three times so far, but I hope to return to that incredible landscape in northwest Montana many more times. I’m no expert on the park, but I think I’ve seen enough and done enough to recommend what to do if you’re only there for a short time.
Glacier is an impossible park to see in one day. It’s over one million acres in size and the vast majority of that space is pristine wilderness. With over 700 miles of trails this place is best explored on foot. It is truly a hiker’s park. So, if you’re only there for one day that can be a problem. You can only do so much hiking in a day. I still highly recommend you fit in some time on a trail as long as you’re physically able.
Due to its location at a high elevation on the Canadian border, Glacier National Park sees a ton of snow every year. So, if you’re going to want to travel throughout the park free of snow you should probably wait to arrive until late July. The historic Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only road that bisects the park, typically opens for the season sometime in July. The road then is incredibly crowded and usually under construction for much of the brief time it is open until closing again for the season sometime in October.
Here is my itinerary for what to do if you only have one day in Glacier National Park:
1. As usual, my number one recommendation is to arrive as early as possible. That definitely applies in Glacier, where there simply aren’t many roads for all of the cars to share. You could enter the park on either end of Going-to-the-Sun Road, but I think the western side is more common.
2. No matter which side you enter, start your day by driving toward the top of Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is a steep and curvaceous drive, so be careful and pay attention as you go. If you’re lucky, you’re a passenger on the drive and can enjoy the views without paying close attention to the road itself. Going-to-the-Sun Road is an engineering marvel and a national historic landmark. Simply driving along the mountain road will amaze most travelers. If you don’t feel like making the drive yourself you can hop on one of the park’s free shuttles. You also might have to do that if you are traveling in a big RV or with a long trailer since there are size restrictions on the road.
3. Follow the road up until you reach Logan Pass, the highest point on Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is where the road crosses the Continental Divide. There is a small seasonal Visitor Center at Logan Pass and a parking lot that is almost always full. That is why you need to try to arrive as early as possible. The lot typically fills before 10:00a a.m. in the summer. Take a few moments inside the visitor center before hitting the trail.
4. Logan Pass is home to not one, but two trailheads for amazing hikes. It will likely fill up the rest of your morning in Glacier, but I highly recommend getting a taste for both. First, follow the trail to the Hidden Lake Overlook. This is an amazing three-mile hike.
If you’re feeling up to it, double the hike’s distance and difficulty by continuing down to the lakeshore. I’ve done each hike and both are amazing choices. The trail is also extremely popular among mountain goats. After enjoying the beautiful mountain meadows and alpine landscape on that trail return to Logan Pass and walk across Going-to-the-Sun Road to the trailhead for the Highline Trail. This trail is much longer, but you can just go for a mile or so and turn back and still be treated with some awesome scenery along the Garden Wall. Rams and mountain goats frequent this area.
5. Head down the eastern side of Going-to-the-Sun Road (no matter which way you ascended the road). There are a couple of worthwhile stops on the way down including Jackson Glacier Overlook and Sunrift Gorge. The stop you absolutely must make, though, is the one at the scenic vista showcasing Wild Goose Island. This is one of the most popular sights in the park. Sunrise and sunset photos are great here, but get there early, because you’re going to share the view with many others.
6. Next, head outside the park through St. Mary and then head north along route 89 towards Many Glacier. Along the way stop at the Two Sister’s Café for a late lunch in the tiny town of Babb. I only ate at this eclectic restaurant one time, but I still remember how great it was.
7. After lunch continue north on the 89 and then head west back into Glacier National Park to the Many Glacier area of the park. Logan Pass and Many Glacier are my two favorite spots in Glacier. There are a couple of awesome valleys in the area that offer great hiking opportunities. You can hike to Swiftcurrent Pass or beyond to the lookout if you choose Swiftcurrent Valley. Or if you want to go with Grinnell Valley you can hike up to Grinnell Glacier, the most accessible glacier inside the park. Both hikes are long, but if you don’t have the time or effort at this point you can certainly just go for a leisurely stroll past a couple of gorgeous lakes in either valley.
8. Finish out your day by relaxing in the cavernous lobby of the historic Many Glacier Hotel. There is an enormous stone fireplace inside. Be sure to spend some time on the wooden deck overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake for the sunset. There are also a couple of good spots in the Many Glacier area where people watch for wildlife on mountainsides.
Once again I suggested a rather ambitious day to see one of America’s greatest National Parks. If you only have one day you have to try to fit some great experiences in, though. Especially in a place like this that is so great for hiking, I feel like you have to explore at least some of the park on foot. Good luck!
Let me know what you think of my ideas and if you have any other suggestions.