Glacier National Park is one of those locations that are on many people’s “bucket lists” of things to do before they kick the bucket. It is full of beauty and wonder and a place that you have to see first hand to truly appreciate.
Glacier is a big park and most families only have about a week to explore. The west side of the park is the most popular part and its an area where you can get the most bang for your buck or time. We spent two months just outside West Glacier and put together a list of our Top Five favorite things to do there.
1. Ride the McDonald Creek Bike Path — The McDonald Creek Bike Path is the only paved bike path in Glacier National Park. It is about 2.5 miles one way and offers the perfect family ride. The majority of path is a very flat, beautiful ride through the woods. There is one area that is a bit steep and uneven but you can easily skip this if you are towing a bike trailer.
The best way to enjoy the path is to come in the west entrance of the park and park your vehicle at the Apgar Visitor Center. The path starts just south of the visitor center, right off the parking lot. There are a few great picnic spots along bluffs over looking the lake if you need a break or want to have a picnic like we did. If you get lucky, you might even see some wildlife. We were lucky enough to have a deer grazing in front of us.
2. Take a ride on the free Going to the Sun road shuttle. This is a great way to see the infamous road that crosses the park without white knuckling the steering wheel during the drive. The free shuttles have a few stops along the way, but I recommend boarding at Apgar Visitor Center. If you are feeling lucky with parking, drive your vehicle to Avalanche Creek, then park there and wait for the shuttle. This is an extremely winding and steep road, so please allow one to two hours to complete the shuttle ride.
3. Hike Hidden Lake Outlook — This three-mile round-trip hike starts right behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center and is the highest area reachable by car in the park. At 6,640 feet, it is often much cooler than lower areas of the park, so dress accordingly. From 2014 to 2015, rangers are conducting a mountain goat study, so it is VERY likely that you will see one — and probably up close. This hike is a moderate climb with MANY stairs, but the view is worth it and you do all the hard work at the beginning. This is NOT stroller or wheelchair accessible.
4. Visit Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail — This was our favorite family hike and we did it a few times. You can bring a wheelchair or stroller on this one-mile boardwalk hike. As you can probably guess by the name, this hike is lined with cedar trees and is just gorgeous. There are other highlights that including rushing rivers and waterfalls. Parking can be scarce in this area, so you may want to take the free shuttle from the Apgar Visitor Center during peak seasons.
5. Visit Apgar — After a quick stop in the visitor center where you can get Junior Ranger information and park maps, head over to the Apgar area. You could spend a whole day just in this area. There are restaurants, places to shop, ice cream, and even overnight accommodations. Ranger programs are often conducted in the grassy middle section and there are benches and picnic tables when its time to take a break.
The Apgar Discovery Center is a small log cabin and a great stop for kids to learn so much about the wildlife of the park. At the south end of Lake McDonald, there is a nice beach area. You can even rent bikes and catch the McDonald Creek Bike Path from here.
As with most national parks, weather conditions can change quickly and can cause closures of roads and certain areas of the park. Always check the website or call the park before setting out.
For more information and to help plan your trip, visit www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm.