10 Must Do’s in Glacier National Park
Before we moved to the Southeast we lived in Pocatello, Idaho. The Hubs and I grew up in Idaho and we spent lots of time exploring in the Northwest. During are time in Eastern Idaho, we were able to take a Couple’s Trip to Glacier National Park in Montana. We were there in the beginning of July (which was still cold but not freezing), and we loved it. As of yet, this is our favorite National Park!! We spent three full days exploring this beautiful area. We would love to go back and do more someday, but for the time we had we crammed as much hiking as we could stand, and that was logistically doable, into it.
Here are our 10 Must Do’s while visiting Glacier National Park.
1. Hike to Iceberg Lake
If you only have time to do one hike then this is the one you should do!!!
Located in the Many Glacier area, this hike is 9.6 miles out and back. It’s considered easy-moderate with the steepest section at the very beginning. The trail will also take you past Ptarmigan Falls and the junction for the Ptarmigan Trail. This is a great hike to take for a chance to see black and grizzly bears while on your trip!! While we were hiking, we came about 10 yards from a black bear, who luckily lumbered off in the other direction!
Once you reach the lake, you will find a stunning scene of mountains, water, and greenery. The earlier in the year you go; 1. the colder it will be, but 2. the more icebergs will be floating in the lake. When we went, there were a couple still bobbing around but most had melted from the warmer temps. It was still the most beautiful, pristine glacial mountain water we had ever seen, and probably the most gorgeous lake we’ve ever visited. We now compare every lake we visit to Iceberg Lake!
2. Hike through the Ptarmigan Tunnel
The tunnel is located on the Ptarmigan Trail, which is also located in Many Glacier. It is 10.7 miles round trip if you start from the beginning and hike straight to the tunnel, but we tacked it onto our hike coming back from Iceberg Lake. The trail is considered strenuous and you will gain 2300 feet. It is probably the hardest hike I’ve done, but it was SO WORTH IT!
While on the hike, you will pass Ptarmigan Falls, Ptarmigan Lake, walk along the Ptarmigan Wall and then through Ptarmigan Tunnel. This is another hike where bears are common, and you need to be more aware here, being as there are areas of berries bears like to hide among. Startling a bear would not be ideal, so make lots of noise to let them know you are coming and they will move away.
Once through the 240-foot tunnel, you will be greeted by views stretching as far as the eye can see of the Belly River, Elizabeth Lake, and into the Canadian side of the park, Waterton. It was stunning! Take some time to rest and enjoy the view while eating a snack before heading back down.
Tip: Before hiking to the tunnel, make sure to check with the park rangers or on the park website if the tunnel is open for the season. It is usually open from mid to late July until September. We were very lucky, because the tunnel had opened earlier than usual THAT day we were in the area.
3. Drive the Going-To-The-Sun Road
This 50-mile-long road runs through the heart of Glacier National Park and gives you an excellent introduction to what it has to offer. The drive alone stole our hearts for the park before we had even set foot outside of our car.
We drove past multiple waterfalls, snowy peaks, and valleys filled with dense greenery. Luckily, there are tons of pullouts for picture taking and viewing, and I’m pretty sure we stopped at almost every single one.
Along this road you will find trail heads for many hikes, the Weeping Wall (pictured below), and you’ll drive across the Continental Divide. And, I recommend driving the road from both directions, because you’ll see things coming from both ways that you may not have noticed. The drive is gorgeous either way!
The Weeping Wall is quite the sight! Depending on the time of year, the water flow will be high or low. When we went it was about medium power. It was enough to drench the road and splash on the car, but not as much as it can be apparently!
4. Hike to St. Mary’s Falls
The trail is found along the Going-To-The-Sun Road and takes you through forest and lush greenery. An easy 1.7 mile round trip hike, hiking to St. Mary’s Falls gives you the chance to get up close to the beautiful crystal blue water Glacier National Park is famous for. It is a popular trail and was a little crowded at the falls when we went, but the water was high and the falls was beautiful.
4 1/2. Stand next to Virginia Falls
If you continue on the trail past St. Mary’s Falls, in less than a mile, you will reach Virginia Falls, and the extra walking is totally worth it! You can get close enough to touch this fall! We didn’t because it was freezing, but if we had wanted to we could have! Virginia Falls is a three tiered falls, but the main section drops from 50 feet. It is very impressive and arguably the best falls in the park. If you hike to Virginia Falls and back you will have a round trip of 3.6 miles. So worth it!
5. Visit Lake McDonald & Walk to McDonald Falls
Our first stop upon entering the park was at Lake McDonald. We walked along the shore, touched the freezing glacial, mountain water, and admired the multi-colored rocks iconic to this beautiful lake. The lake itself is 10 miles long and the largest lake in Glacier National Park. The Lake McDonald Lodge is located right next to the lake and is a great place to warm up, get a snack or drink, and relax.
Close to the lodge, you will find a trail head leading to McDonald Falls. A smaller falls, McDonald Falls is still worth the hike. This was our introduction to the park and it was a great way to start off our trip. We were able to get a feel for the weather, immerse ourselves in the forest, and watch the river flow towards the lake. The hike is easy and shouldn’t take you much time. You will also find trail heads for other hikes close by, such as Johns Lake Loop and Trail of the Cedars.
6. Hike to Avalanche Lake
Another gorgeous lake hike! If you go to Glacier National Park you should just get used to the idea that you will be seeing a LOT of gorgeous things!
The Avalanche Lake hike begins from the loop of the Trail of the Cedars. It’s a 4.5 mile round-trip hike with a couple of steep areas but overall pretty easy. We crossed a foot bridge over Avalanche Creek and followed beside the creek for a little while before heading more into the trees. When we reached the lake, we were greeted by a stunning view of a mountain wall with multiple waterfalls streaming down it. The lake was shallow for the year, but held an awesome reflection of the mountains and trees.
7. Take in the views at Logan Pass
Logan Pass is the highest point of the park reachable by car at 6,646 feet. It is an extremely popular area of the park, and it has it’s own visitor center. From Logan Pass you can head out on a hike along the Hidden Lake Nature Trail, the Highline Trail, or walk along the Garden Wall to the Grinnel Glacier Overlook.
It’s also a great place to see wildlife! Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and the occasion grizzly bear are not uncommon in this area. We were enjoying the views from a small overlook when we turned around to find a herd of mountain goats perched under the mountain overhangs, not even 50 yards from us. We were also told that sometimes the same goats will come right next to the boardwalk we were standing on and hang out. It was a very cool experience seeing these animals so close.
8. Visit Two Medicine Area
One of our days in the park we spent at Two Medicine. We had perfect weather and hiked as much as we could. We arrived early in the morning to hopefully spy some moose (my favorite animal) because this is the best area to find them, but with no luck.
We checked out the visitor center and took the ferry across the lake, from the North to the South. On the south side, we started on the trail for Upper Two Medicine Lake. It’s a 4.8 mile round trip trail with a moderate difficulty. While on the trail we took a short detour to see Twin Falls and eat lunch.
After our short break, we finished our hike to Upper Two Medicine Lake. We had been told to be Bear Aware, but saw no bears. The entire hike is filled with beautiful views of green meadows and wildflowers. It was a great hike and worth the distance!
9. Enjoy the views of iconic St. Mary Lake & Wild Goose Island
For our trip we ended up camping in St. Mary’s Campground on the east end of the Going-To-The-Sun Road. Every evening we would drive about 10 miles over to St. Mary’s Lake to relax and watch the sun set. As the second largest lake in the park and at almost 10 miles long, there were always breathtaking views with the sun hitting the water before sinking behind the surrounding mountains.
The little island in the middle of the lake is called Wild Goose Island, one of the park’s most photographed spots! A folk tale says that the island was named Wild Goose Island because two lovers, from different Indian tribes, met on the island and were changed into geese by the Great Spirit, to escape the anger of their chiefs and be able to stay together forever.
No matter how many times we went to St. Mary’s Lake, it never got old and was always a beautiful and peaceful experience. Areas around the lake are also great places to view wildlife, like fowls, elk and bears.
10. Relive history at Running Eagle Falls
I love history, folk lore, and true stories. I love knowing what has happened in areas we visit. Running Eagle Falls may be my most favorite story from an area we’ve visited ever!
During the early 1700s, a young Indian woman from the Blackfeet tribe, named Pitamakan, went on a four day vision quest. This had never been done by a woman before. She later became a great warrior leader of the Blackfeet Nation and received her name of Running Eagle, the only woman to receive a man’s name. Eventually she became the chief of the tribe and had great influence of the Blackfeet Nation.
The falls itself is considered a “trick-falls” because it is technically two falls that sometimes look like one. When the water is very high, it will flow over the top of the 40 foot drop and appear as one falls, but when the water is low, it will trickle through a hole in the top of the cliff and through a hole in the side, creating the smaller falls like pictured above.
The hike is an easy 0.6 miles, accessible for everyone, and located in the Two Medicine area.
Glacier National Park is one of our favorite trips we’ve taken. With so many things to see and do we could have stayed much, much longer than we did. But we were able to see and do a lot of awesome, fun, beautiful, and spectacular things. We HIGHLY recommend putting Glacier National Park on your bucket list!