Visiting Glacier National Park is not accidental. It takes hours to drive here from the nearest airport, yet once you arrive at this remote location, you may not want to leave. The gorgeous mountains, lakes, and abundant natural beauty are one of a kind. It is certainly one of the best national park vacations in the US. Our family went on a summer road trip out west and visited Glacier National Park for two days. Although I wish we would have stayed longer, here are some things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Most of the major national parks sell out of prime hotel accommodations and camping spots a year in advance, and Glacier National Park is one of those parks. If you’re planning to visit Glacier with kids, I recommend that you begin planning for your trip as soon as you are sure it is happening. Another important tip regarding planning is your timing. Because of this park’s northern location, its most famous scenic road, Going to the Sun Road, usually does not fully open until late June or early July. Please keep this in mind when planning your trip, as you really do not want to miss driving the entire length of this road. Click here for all you need to know about the Going to the Sun Road.
Another thing to plan for is the fact that there is an entrance fee to visit Glacier National Park. If you plan on visiting more than one park throughout the year, you may want to purchase the National Parks Pass.
Areas to Enjoy on Your Glacier National Park Family Vacation
There are five areas to the park (West Glacier, St. Mary, Many Glacier, Polebridge, and Two Medicine). The two major entrances are West Glacier and St. Mary, as that is where the Going to the Sun Road and the most popular hikes are located. Here are a
West Glacier is the most frequented entrance. It is also where the majority of campgrounds and hotels are located. There are a number of things to do here beginning with hiking some of the best hikes in Glacier.
Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake
This is a perfect trail in Glacier National Park for kids, especially for little ones and strollers. It is a one mile boardwalk hike through a gorgeous tall cedar tree forest. The hike is looped and located just across from the Avalanche Lake Campground. It is considered one of the easy hikes in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Gorge is a great halfway marker. If you feel your kids can make it further, I recommend that you continue your hike onto Avalanche Lake trail. This 2 mile hike is one of my favorite hikes we have done as a family. The incline wasn’t too steep and there were plenty of natural wonders to keep us entertained while we made our way towards Avalanche Lake.
Once you reach Avalanche Lake, stop and take in your surroundings. It was one of the most picturesque spots I’ve seen. The kids waded in the chilly water for a bit, and we sat and had some snacks. There were many people here relaxing with beach towels and picnicking. We had a lot more to explore during the day, so we relaxed for a bit and then hiked back down the way we came. The total length of the hike if you do both Trail of Cedars and Avalanche Lake is almost 5 miles.
Hidden Lake Trail
This trail is spectacular! It is easily accessible from the Logan Pass Visitor Center and is one of the best hikes in Glacier. If you visit in July, you can often find snow and ice on the trail and rocks. The trail starts off paved, then turns into a paved boardwalk. The views will be fantastic even at the beginning of the hike. There is no shade on this trail at all, so be prepared with hats. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep sightings are very common on Hidden Lakes Trail, so be on the lookout.
After about a mile, you will reach Hidden Lake Overlook. This is a beautiful panoramic view you will want to take in. This is also the spot that most people stop. You can choose to descend down towards the lake, but it is very steep. We chose to stop here, as we did not want to experience the incline back up from the lakeshore. The Hidden Lake Overlook Trail actually continues even further past the lake, but it is often closed due to grizzly bear activity.
Enjoy Lake McDonald
Near the West Glacier entrance is Glacier National Park’s largest lake. It is easily accessed at the Apgar Village area. There are a few lakeshore trails that can be hiked including Trout Lake Trail, Howe Lake Trail, Snyder Lake Trail, and Mount Brown Lookout Trail. Besides hiking, many visitors enjoy kayaking, paddleboarding, canoeing, or if you are brave enough, swimming. There are also historic wooden boat tours you can take from the Glacier Park Boat Company. They also have boat tours in the Two Medicine area, Many Glacier, and St. Mary Lake. If you are looking for lighter crowds, check out the western edge of the lake (opposite Going to the Sun Road). You can also pull off from the Going to the Sun Road and find an open area to swim, picnic or wade in the icy waters.
Go White Water Rafting
White water rafting is so much fun! There are many rafting companies in West Glacier that offer tours on the Flathead River. Many of the tour companies allow children, although they may not allow younger kids (under 7) in May and June when the river flow is heavier. Our kids loved white water rafting, and we felt very safe (they were 8 and 10). Don’t let the price tag scare you, rafting can be pricey, but a day trip will provide plenty of laughs and soaking water. Check out some of the rafting tour companies near Glacier National Park.
St. Mary is located on the eastern side of Glacier National Park. It is considered the eastern gateway to Glacier and runs parallel to the Going to the Sun Road. While not as popular as West Glacier, St. Mary is a beautiful area of the park highlighted by St. Mary Lake.
Enjoy St. Mary Lake
St. Mary Lake is Glacier National Park’s second largest lake. The ten mile long lake provides stunning views of Jackson glacier, wildlife viewing, and plenty of scenic vistas from the road. We stopped at a few places off the side of the road and took some beautiful pictures. Glacier Boat Company also runs a tour on St. Mary Lake.
Hiking Around St. Mary Lake
There are a couple of popular hiking trails around the lake, notably St. Mary’s Falls and Virginia Falls. Our family loves waterfall hikes, and at 3 miles in length, this hike is perfect for us.
Explore St. Mary Visitors Center
Since most visitors usually start the Going to the Sun Road through the West Glacier entrance, St. Mary is the end. This is a great place to stop for a break and check out the exhibits. Our kids loved the 3D map of Glacier National Park.
This area of the park is not as
Hiking Trails in Many Glacier
Just past the Many Glacier Lodge is where the trailhead to Grinnell Glacier begins. The hike is long, 7.6 miles, but relatively flat. Along the way, you will have views of some stunning glacial lakes: Swiftcurrent and Josephine. You can take a boat that crosses both lakes for a fee and 5 miles off the hike. Once you are done, you can stop for a drink or some food at the Many Glacier Hotel. It has gorgeous views of Swiftcurrent Lake.
Red Rock Falls
This is my vote for the best
Go Horseback Riding
Swan Mountain Outfitters offers horseback riding that leaves from behind the Many Glacier Hotel. If anyone in your group enjoys riding horses, this could be the perfect activity to enjoy your time in Glacier National Park.
Enjoy the Lakes
The Many Glacier area offers an array of ways to enjoy its beautiful lakes. You can rent kayaks, canoes or paddle boards on Cracker Lake, Swiftcurrent Lake, and Lake Josephine.
On our last day visiting Glacier National Park, we ventured into the Two Medicine Area. We immediately noticed how much quieter this area of the park was compared to West Glacier and St. Mary. Two Medicine has a campground, some picnic areas, a store, as well as boat tours and rentals. Here are some things to do in the Two Medicine area when visiting Glacier National Park with kids.
Hikes in Two Medicine
This gentle hike is just under 3 miles and takes you through some unspoiled natural beauty. We had the trail all to ourselves and enjoyed every second of this peaceful hike. It begins at the South Shore Trailhead on Two Medicine Lake. From there the hike winds through a field of wildflowers, beaver ponds, log crossing over Aster
Running Eagle Falls
This is a great “hike” for those families with younger kids. It is a
Two Medicine Lake
As with other lakes in Glacier National Park, you can rent a kayak, canoe or rowboat to explore the area on your own or take a boat tour around the lake. Many people simply sit on the shore with binoculars to see if they spot grizzly bears, bighorn sheep or mountain goats near the mountain.
This is by far the most rugged and remote section of the park. It is located about an hour north of the West Glacier area, and most of the drive is on a dirt road. There are no hotels or motels in the area, so you must rent a private cabin if you are planning on staying overnight. Never fear, there are still activities in this area for your family to enjoy.
Everybody who has been here raves about this place. The baked goods here are reportedly fantastic. Although we did not make it here, I hope to visit in the future. The huckleberry bear claws are apparently the must buy item.
Enjoy the Solitude of Kitna Lake and Bowman Lake
Both lakes are accessible via a dirt road, and although there are no rentals in the area, visitors are free to bring a chair and a cooler and enjoy the views.
Other Activities in Glacier National Park with Kids
Drive – Going To The Sun Road
A Glacier National Park family vacation is not complete without driving this famous road. As mentioned earlier, please keep in mind that the road does not usually open until July. We made sure to plan our trip towards the middle/end of July to make sure we had the opportunity to experience one of the best things to do at Glacier National Park.
Here’s another thing… this drive is not for the faint of heart. Although there are railings, the drive is in the alpine section of the park and if someone is afraid of heights, they may not like it. While it’s technically not one of the most dangerous roads in the world, it is quite high and narrow.
It takes a long time to drive this road – about 2 hours one way. There are many sections that are very slow going and people are often pulling off to the side of the road to take pictures. Most people stop along the way at Logan’s Pass Visitor Center. Because of this, by
Have a Jammer Take You on a Red Bus Tour
One of the first things you will notice when you are driving along the Going to the Sun Road are these iconic red classic “buses”. Red Bus Tours has departures from the West Side and East Side of Glacier, and provide plenty of photo stops and park information from your tour guide – aka a Jammer. They sell out frequently, so if you are planning on doing this, buy tickets in advance. We made the mistake and debated a little too long, and lost the opportunity. Every time we drove by one, the kids mentioned how cool it would be to ride in the “old time red car”. Dress warmly, as these red buses seem to have the top down frequently (it can get chilly up there with the wind).
Montana is known for its huckleberries, and summer is prime time for eating them. If you see huckleberry pie or huckleberry ice cream on the menu somewhere, do yourself a favor and eat it!
Become a Junior Ranger
Our kids love collecting badges and becoming junior rangers. They have a total of about 10-15 badges that they collected from various national parks across the country. This free program available at all national parks is a great way to get kids engaged in their surroundings. They all have some type of booklet or series of activities that kids (with parent’s help) must complete in order to get the badge and be “sworn in” as a junior ranger. There is no time limit, so often times, we get the booklet, complete activities and then return in towards the end of the day as we are leaving the park. Don’t worry if you think your kids are too young, parks have booklets that are easier to complete for kids under 7. Find out more: Glacier’s Junior Ranger Program.
Go on a Ranger Led Activity
General Tips When Visiting Glacier National Park
Get up Early
This is very important when traveling to Glacier National Park with kids (or without). This national park gets packed rather quickly (especially in the late summer). Start your first hike by 7 AM, and you will be able to accomplish so much more. We made the mistake of arriving at Trail of the Cedars by 8:30, and although the way up to Avalanche Lake was rather peaceful, our return back to the car was not. If you are not at Logan’s Pass before 10:30 AM, you may not find a parking spot. Plus, if you are up early, you will likely see more wildlife too!
Buy Bear Spray
We were warned about the high chances of seeing bears and we did not see a single one! We spoke to a couple of families who had hiked Glacier National Park with kids, and they said not to buy bear spray. All they said was to make sure you made noise on the trail, especially when turning corners. This was very easy to do as we have loud children! I have to admit, once I was there, I regretted not buying it because I got nervous that we would actually encounter one close up. Next time, I’m just going to buy the bear spray.
Wear Appropriate Hiking Gear
Although this seems like a no-brainer, sometimes people are unprepared for hiking, and they regret wearing certain items during their experience. Layering with a moisture wicking shirt, lightweight pants, and a jacket is important, as temperatures can vary at any moment. The right hiking shoes are also key to a happy hike and to less complaining from kids. One thing I wish we would have bought ahead of time are trekking poles. We traveled with some friends whose kids had the poles and my kids were trying to use them every chance they good. I will admit they helped with balance and stability.
When To Visit Glacier National Park
I’m not sure that there is a “best time to visit Glacier National Park” but very likely summer is the answer, as the Going to the Sun Road is open and the temperatures are mild. Unfortunately, everyone knows this and the crowds come in July. In May and June, many people visit and enjoy white water rafting, as this is when the water is at its highest. In September and October, you can see the leaves change color, but wildfire risks are higher and snow could start appearing.
Where to Stay Near Glacier National Park
While it would be optimal to stay inside the park, accommodations can be pricey and tend to fill up fast. Campgrounds are a great option and provide opportunities for camping activities with kids. We chose to stay in Whitefish, Montana (near West Glacier) and use that as our home base. Whitefish is a great little town, with a charming downtown filled with unique shops and delicious restaurants. We also were able to get a free hotel stay at Marriott Towneplace Suites with our rewards credit cards. We loved our stay here! It was recently opened in 2018, which means everything was brand new when we arrived, and it had free breakfast. Here are some other great options near Glacier National Park we considered:
Other National Park Options
As beautiful as Glacier National Park is, there are so many other gorgeous national parks to visit with your family. Here are a few others we have visited and reviewed our favorite hikes.
- Acadia National Park
- Smoky Mountain National Park
- Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Mammoth Cave
Overall, a visit to Glacier National Park with kids is a worthwhile adventure. Although it is one of the most remote national parks in the country, Glacier offers miles of unspoiled natural beauty that is hard to find anywhere else. I consider Glacier National Park to be one of the best national park vacations for families. Click to read about the other 9 parks I chose:
Check out a summary of our national parks road trip below:
It had been on our family bucket list to do a National Parks trip, so we made sure to save up for travel and used our credit card points to redeem our flights on Southwest Airlines. In addition, our son was in fourth grade, and thanks to the Every Kid in a Park program, we received a 4th grade national park pass for free. Although it was a lot of driving, once we reached our destinations, we cherished the time we spent seeing so much natural beauty.
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