If you’re looking for the perfect Glacier National Park Itinerary, I have it for you! Last month I finally checked Glacier National Park off my list after 3 years of trying to make it happen. And boy, let me tell ya, it was a wild ride! If you’re not interested in the long version with details, skip to the end for a bullet pointed version of our itinerary.
This is such an overwhelming trip to plan and execute, so I hope these tips help you with your journey! It’s so worth it!
Because we almost always fly Southwest and have the companion pass, we decided to fly into the closest Southwest Airport, rent a car, and drive to our Airbnb in Columbia Falls, MT. Trying to save money, and thinking it wouldn’t cost us much extra time, was my first and biggest mistake of the trip. If you have lots of time for this trip, then by all means you can fly into Spokane, but for us, it ended up costing us 2 full days traveling that could have been used inside the park instead.
We arrived in Spokane on a Friday morning around 9:30AM. The baggage claim was quick, as well as the rental car counter. We left the airport shortly before 10AM and I thought we would make great time getting to Columbia Falls.
Once we passed the Coeur d’Alene area, there weren’t any places to stop! No fast food, no gas stations, just a lot of mountain roads. We ended up seeing a Walmart from the road and stopped at the next exit which was Kellogg, ID. There wasn’t much at this exit either but we ended up at a cute little restaurant called Moose Creek Grill (which has now closed!).
If you take this route and are hungry or need gas, I’d definitely opt for Coeur d’Alene or wait until a town called St. Regis, MT (which is 2 hours and 5 min from the Spokane Airport).
Moose Creek Grill was great. The owner was also our waitress and the food was wonderful. If you are in a hurry, this isn’t the place to stop. It would be so nice for a leisurely meal. We really enjoyed it!
We had too long of a stop at our lunch, so we powered through the drive and went all the way to Columbia Falls. Once we arrived at our Airbnb we were very excited to find our accommodations and rest! We started our day around 4AM to get to the airport and didn’t arrive to Columbia Falls until close to 5:30PM. In my over ambitious fashion, I had also booked us a boat tour at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park for 7:30PM that evening!
Luckily, we called the boat company and they were extremely accommodating and allowed us to move our reservation to the next evening! We were exhausted from our entire day of travel so we opted for pizza at our condo and getting to bed early.
If you have the chance to fly into Kalispell, even if it’s more expensive, do it! It will give you so much more time on your trip!
West Glacier Cafe
For our Glacier National Park itinerary, We started out early and left our condo around 7:30AM. We had a full agenda of stops we planned to hit starting at the West Entrance. We stopped at the West Glacier Cafe for coffee which was a perfect stop! Highly recommend this spot if you’re looking for something on your way.
We started with the going to the sun road and drove along the beautiful Lake McDonald for quite a while. This was the most enjoyable part of the drive as it was the most level and least dangerous. Once we passed the Avalanche creek area, the going to the sun road got a lot more intense. Thankfully, my dad was driving!
The first stop we made was at the Weeping Wall or the Garden Wall. It was a great view, and very pretty.
Then we stopped at Logan Pass for a bathroom break and it was so crowded there weren’t any parking spots. I believe we may have missed the view here because it was so crowded, but from my perspective it seemed like a Visitor Center/Rest Area.
Right after that, we stopped at the Hidden Lake Nature Trail. This is a short and easy hike, and I highly recommend it! We didn’t have Hidden Lake Nature Trail on our agenda, but we couldn’t find parking for Virginia Falls or St. Mary Falls so we opted for this instead.
Next up was the Jackson Glacier Overlook. This was a great stop too, easy and ample parking!
We then got to Wild Goose Island which is in Saint Mary Lake. This was one of my absolute favorite stops! Unbelievable views! I could have stayed there all day and stared at Wild Goose Island and the beauty that surrounds it. This is a can’t miss spot on your Glacier National Park itinerary.
Right before we hit the east entrance to exit the park we saw 2 park rangers and a grizzly bear. It was a crazy experience, but we got to fully enjoy and embrace it with the rangers present!
We then were headed to find the Many Glacier area of the park. I had read during my research that it’s not easy to get to Many Glacier and that you have to go through dirt roads. If I hadn’t read that before I went we never would have kept going. In order to get to Many Glacier from the going to the sun road route we took, you must exit Glacier National Park. If you follow the route on google maps, it will seem like there’s no way you are going back into a National Park, but just stay on track and you will eventually get there! The roads were very rough with lots of large holes so I was thankful we were in my dad’s jeep wrangler!
When we finally arrived to the Many Glacier Hotel, it was magical! I was so happy we didn’t turn around before we got there. Besides Wild Goose Island, this was my absolute favorite area we visited on our Glacier National Park itinerary. It was so gorgeous, and the views were just breath taking.
We had lunch at the Many Glacier Hotel and it was a great stopping point after hours of driving and site seeing. We were able to sit at a table with a complete view of the lake and the mountains.
We walked back to our vehicle after lunch and ran right into a mountain goat!
On our way back we stopped at Two Sisters cafe. This place was not at all what I expected, but we strictly got dessert to go. We had the huckleberry cheesecake and the huckleberry shake, both were excellent but the huckleberry shake was so good! Great afternoon treat!
We had planned to stop at St. Mary Falls both on the way up and on the way back. Both times it was extremely crowded and we couldn’t find a parking space. On the way back we had already hit so many spots that we were too tired to wait for parking, but if we ever went back I’d love to do this 1.7 mile hike! Since we tried multiple times, I’d recommend getting there early to ensure you get to go!
We started driving again and got all the way back through the going to the sun road before stopping at Sacred Dancing Cascade. It’s a very short walk to the water, and pretty!
We then headed to Lake McDonald Lodge to catch our boat tour! We were told we could bring drinks onto the boat, so we grabbed a couple to go inside at the bar. I can’t brag enough on the staff at Lake McDonald Lodge and the boat tour! We were very tired after two very long days of traveling and site seeing and they were quick and accommodating with every request!
We went on the Lake McDonald boat tour right at sunset and it was such a great way to end the day. We had dinner at the lodge and it was probably our least favorite meal around the park.
It was almost 9PM before we headed back to our condo that evening, so if you try to follow this Glacier National Park itinerary in just one day, it can be done, but be aware you will have to be committed and it will be over a 12 hour day!
The next morning my mom and I went to Whitefish, MT to have a leisurely lunch. We went to Casey’s in Whitefish and sat on the rooftop. We had awesome bloody marys and enjoyed the outdoor space. We ended up just with a couple of light bites before realizing we should probably get back to Glacier with the list of spots we still wanted to hit for the day (no leisure time on this trip!).
We stopped again at the West Glacier Cafe to map out our plan. We got lunch there and huckleberry ice cream!
We decided we would start with the trail of cedars because I had read it was the easiest hike in Glacier. We didn’t even bring water with us because we thought it would be less than 30 minutes and we would be back to the car.
The trail of cedars is very easy, it’s really more of a walk that’s on an easy walkway. It was pretty and enjoyable.
The Trail of Cedars combines into the Avalanche Lake Trail. If you are not prepared for the Avalanche Lake Trail hike, trust me, and do not take this detour. We unfortunately did go ahead to the Avalanche Lake trail hike and we were not prepared.
Again, I had read this hike was an easy 4.5 mile hike. While I wouldn’t call it easy, I can see if you were properly prepared, how it could be a pleasant hike. However, we were not prepared. As I said before, we didn’t even have water, much less the mindset that we would be climbing up a mountain for the next few hours! It was late afternoon, and we were completely exhausted after our travel and 13+ hour day in Glacier before.
It was a rough hike for all 4 of us. It’s truly hiking up a mountain, so just be aware. By the time we made it to the top, we were all so tired and thirsty it was hard to enjoy it.
We also felt like we had seen so many better views besides this on our trip that the long hike wasn’t exactly worth it. (I’ll let you be the judge of that based on all of the photos. 😉 )
We were exhausted by the time we were done with this hike so we headed back to Columbia Falls for dinner at Gunsight Saloon which has an awesome outdoor area with live music. Perfect spot after a very long day.
The next day we stopped at for coffee at Copper Mountain coffee before we got on the road yet again.
At least for the drive we knew what to expect this time. We stoped at the St. Regis Travel Center for a little break where I got another huckleberry shake! This is a great place to stop along the drive.
We made it to the Coeur D’Alene Resort for a late lunch and I was very disappointed in the resort itself as well as the food. I had considered extending our trip and staying one night here, and I’m very glad we didn’t. To be fair, I only saw the exterior, lobby, and restaurant but I expected it to be much nicer.
We left lunch and drove to our hotel at the Spokane airport, where we flew out early the next day. So if you’re keeping track…we had 3 days of travel. I can’t stress enough, fly to Kalispell!
Starting at the West Entrance of Glacier National Park
West Glacier Cafe – Stop for food & drink to start your day.
Going to the Sun Road – from the west entrance to the east entrance it takes about 4 hours with the stops we included.
Weeping Wall or the Garden Wall – this is right off the side of the road so if you don’t catch it early, you might miss it.
Logan Pass Visitor’s Center – Great stop for a bathroom break.
Hidden Lake Nature Trail – a very short hike with pretty views.
Jackson Glacier Overlook – a scenic photo op and great place to stretch your legs.
Wild Goose Island – Can’t miss spot! One of the most beautiful spots in Glacier.
Many Glacier – This area is a difficult drive to get to but well worth it! My other favorite spot in Glacier!
Many Glacier Hotel – a great place to rest and eat after a long drive.
Two Sisters cafe – one of the only restaurants between Many Glacier and the St. Mary east entrance of the park. Get the huckleberry shake!
Sacred Dancing Cascade – another great little stroll down to a beautiful waterfall.
Lake McDonald Lodge – A great place to rest, eat, and drink.
Lake McDonald Boat Tour – beautiful, easy boat ride, go at sunset!
Trail of Cedars – any easy stroll.
Avalanche Lake Trail – I would have skipped this and gone to Apgar or Two Medicine Area if I had the chance to do it over again, which seem to be the two areas of the park we didn’t get to. We also had St. Mary’s Falls and Virginia Falls on our list but didn’t get the chance to stop due to parking.
This is such a huge National Park, but well worth every minute it takes to get there!