Glacier National Park is one of the best national parks we have visited yet; in fact, it may just be my favorite. The views are second to none, every single hike we took had a view at the end that made me forget the grueling trek it took to get there, and the size of the park is small enough that you can see a lot of it in a few days, but big enough to spend a life time exploring it.
Going To The Sun Road
There are some pretty great drives in the US. From the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys to Highway 1 down the California coast. Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park rivals them all. You climb thousands of feet as you drive up switch backs and around corners that have a hundred foot drop off if you’re not careful.
The pull-outs throughout the drive offer breath taking views of the mountains above and the forest below. We took this drive several times and was awestruck each time.
Apgar Village is on the southern end of Lake McDonald and is just inside the west entrance of the park. Here you’ll find a full service village including camping, dining and a boat launch.
Off to the west side of Apgar is Fishing Creek. Here you’ll find a campground as well as the trailhead to Rocky Point. We liked this hike as it offered a different view of Lake McDonald. The hike wasn’t long at just over 2 miles total, but went through a creaking forest of swaying pines and culminated at a rocky cliff overlook of Lake McDonald.
About 10 miles from Apgar, you’ll find Lake McDonald Village. This is also a full service village with a lodge, boat launch and a great little restaurant called Jammer Joe’s. The lodge had big comfy couches and a big fireplace which would be just the ticket after a long day of hiking.
The village sits on Lake McDonald itself, which is a massive lake on the western end of the park. There are plenty of spots to pull off and walk down by the lake to cool off in.
We enjoyed taking a bottle of wine and some snacks for the kids there in the evening to watch the sun set behind the mountains. We also heard it is a great spot to see the Northern Lights, but we weren’t so lucky.
A couple miles or so from Lake McDonald village is Avalanche Creek where you’ll find a nice picnic area, a campground and the trailhead for the Trail of the Cedars and the Avalanche Lake trail.
Trail of the Cedars is mostly a boardwalk that makes a loop in the forest. It says it’s handicap accessible, but a section of the trail is a dirt path and I seem to remember a step or two at the bridge, which may be challenging for a wheelchair.
Speaking of the bridge, the small waterfall it overlooks was one of our first views of the aqua colored water in the park. It’s a memory that will stick with me forever.
The Avalanche Lake trail branches off from the Trail of the Cedars and is another fun hike through the woods ending up at a shallow lake surrounded by mountains with waterfalls streaming down. This was another one of those hikes that as we made it out of the forest to the clearing by the lake, I felt so small being surrounded by the enormous mountains. It was a strange, but neat feeling.
Logan Pass is the center point of the park. It is at the top of the Going To The Sun Road and has a visitor center and gift shop. Here you can complete your Junior Ranger books, hear talks or demonstrations by the Rangers, or even star gaze at night.
Just be prepared that Logan Pass can be quite a bit cooler than at the start of the Going To The Sun Road…we found that out the hard way.
It is also home to a couple of trailheads. Hidden Lake Nature Trail and Highline Trail all start at Logan Pass.
Hidden Lake goes out behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center and is a pretty steep climb that starts out on a boardwalk and ends up on gravel path. Once you get to the overlook of Hidden Lake, you’ll probably be accompanied by some of the resident mountain goats.
Unfortunately, we didn’t do the Highline hike. This trail is actually just above the Going To The Sun Road, cut into the mountainside. We were concerned of the steep drop off of the trail if we hiked it with our kids. Looking back, I wish we would have tried it as the view must have been amazing.
Jackson GlacierThere are still a couple of active glaciers in the park one of which is visible from the road. Jackson Glacier, which is just a bit east of Logan Pass offers an overlook to the glacier.Heading east after the Jackson Glacier, be sure to stop at the Wild Goose Island Overlook as this is one of the most picturesque views in the entire park. Wild Goose Island sits just off shore in St. Mary Lake. When the sun is right, the view just can’t be beat.
We hiked St. Mary Falls which is an easier hike with minimal gains and less than a couple miles round trip. We always love seeing waterfalls which made this a must-do for us.
If you continue past St. Mary Falls about another 0.8 miles, you head to Virginia Falls. We braved the additional mile and a half and had a great time checking out another, much larger, waterfall.
The St. Mary Visitor Center is on the northeastern end of the park and is the other main entrance to the park. On this end of the park, there are more prairies, so you have a chance of seeing more wildlife. We saw a family of black bears on several occasions looking for food in the prairie grass.
Where To Stay
From our visits to National Parks, we’ve learned you can’t do everything in a day, or even a weekend and the best way to maximize your park time is to stay in the park if possible.There are several lodges inside the park. Apgar and Lake McDonald have beautiful, rustic lodges that would make for a perfect place to stay while visiting Glacier. Check out their website on park lodging for more information at www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/eatingsleeping.htm.
Also, there are almost a dozen campgrounds in the park. You can pick from primitive camps to ones that can accommodate RV’s. Some allow reservations to be made online, others are first come, first serve only. Just be ware when camping in a park like this, the wildlife are an active part of the park and caution should be taken.For more information on the campgrounds in the park, check out www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/camping.htm.
The stunning beauty alone of Glacier National Park makes it a must visit. Add all the challenging hiking trails and beautiful lakes, you may not want to leave!