The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Glacier National Park With Kids: 3-Day Itinerary
Are you looking for a family-friendly guide to visiting Glacier National Park with kids?
In this article, we’ll walk you through a perfect Glacier National Park 3-day itinerary when visiting Glacier National Park with kids.
Our 3-day Glacier National Park itinerary includes breathtaking scenery, family-friendly hikes, glaciers, and must-see stops to help you plan the perfect visit.
We also include recommendations for our favorite boat tour, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting, as well as tell you the best places to spot wildlife.
Read on for a 3-day Glacier National Park itinerary that is packed with family fun!
*Important: This article has been updated to reflect the new Vehicle Reservation System required for all visitors entering Glacier National Park.
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Glacier National Park With Kids
Glacier National Park is a truly magnificent and breathtaking United States bucket list destination!
As you begin planning your 3-day Glacier National Park itinerary, there are a few important things to keep in mind if you’re visiting with kids, however.
First off, many of the best views and waterfalls in Glacier National Park require either a short hike or long hike in order to get to them.
You must be very selective and do your research ahead of time when it comes to choosing kid-friendly hikes in Glacier National Park if you want it to be enjoyable.
The last thing you want is to find yourselves on a trail that is too difficult, too scary, or too long for the ages and abilities of your family.
Next, keep in mind that there are very few restaurants or places to purchase food once inside the park.
Be sure to plan ahead by packing a reliable cooler filled with road trip meals and snacks.
Lastly, keep in mind that there is a lot of driving and time spent in the car required when touring Glacier National Park.
The park is very spread out and takes quite a bit of time (due to crowds and slow speed limits) to get from one attraction to the next.
For this reason, review our top family road trip tips to prevent car sickness and boredom while driving.
Oh, and psst…we love visiting Glacier National Park with kids so much that we’ve written several other guides to help you plan your trip!
- Must-See Stops on Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park
- Our Essential Hiking Packing List for Families
- 33 Best Things to Do in Whitefish, Montana
- Best Restaurants in Whitefish, Montana (For Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner)
- 7 Reasons to Stay at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake
- Grouse Mountain Lodge Review, Whitefish, MT
3-Day Glacier National Park Itinerary
Many people wonder just how many days you need when planning a family trip to Glacier National Park.
This answer depends on how much time you have, and on what you are interested in seeing.
If you’re short on time and only have 1 day, I recommend focusing on exploring and enjoying the 23 best stops on Going-to-the-Sun Road.
As one of the best scenic drives in the country, Going-to-the-Sun Road is truly the heart of Glacier National Park and is a must-do when visiting there.
If you want to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road, see other park highlights, as well as do a couple of the most popular hikes, you should follow a 3-day Glacier National Park itinerary (found below!).
Finally, if you’re looking for a maximized experience, along with time to hike Glacier’s more strenuous trails, you need at least 5 days in Glacier National Park.
**For adequate safety and preparedness, be sure to read our ultimate hiking packing list that readers & hikers rave about!
Glacier National Park Entrance Fee
This is an entrance fee required for all vehicles entering Glacier National Park. The standard fee covers entrance into the park for 7 consecutive days.
Entrance pass prices vary by the season, mode of transportation, and type of pass purchased (7-day vs. annual pass, etc.).
I recommend purchasing a digital entrance pass online prior to your park arrival, though general entrance passes can also be purchased onsite at any entrance booth.
New for 2022: Along with purchasing a general entrance pass, a vehicle reservation is also required for vehicles entering Going-to-the-Sun Road and the North Fork area between May 27 and September 11, 2022. These can only be purchased online ahead of time. Details are found at the end of this article.
Glacier National Park With Kids: Day 1
Going-to-the-Sun Road (Mile 0-18) and Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Lake Hike
- Enter Glacier National Park via the West Entrance
- Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Stop in Apgar Village
- Stop at Lake McDonald Lodge
- Hike Trail of the Cedars
- Hike Avalanche Lake Trail
- Explore Redrock
On Day 1 in Glacier National Park, focus on the first portion of Going-to-the-Sun Road (from west to east) starting in West Glacier at mile 0.
Begin driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road and follow the signs to Apgar Village located 2-miles into the drive.
Apgar Village & Apgar Visitor Center
Once you’ve secured a parking spot in Apgar Village (which can be difficult to find), walk to the shore of Lake McDonald (you can’t miss it!).
Here you will experience amazing views of Lake McDonald and the surrounding mountain range.
From the shore of Lake McDonald, purchase a 1-hour kayak rental from Apgar Rentals which allows you to experience the beauty of this lake firsthand.
Afterward, enjoy ice cream and souvenir shopping at Eddie’s Cafe’ and Mercantile, also located in Apgar Village.
If you have extra time, be sure to visit the Apgar Nature Center when visiting Glacier National Park with kids! (It is open daily from 10 am – 4 pm, mid-June to late August.)
This nature center is tucked among the cedar trees in Apgar Village and is home to a variety of kid-friendly, hands-on, interactive activities and displays
Finally, stop at the Apgar Visitor Center to use the restrooms and pick up a park map before proceeding to Lake McDonald Lodge.
Lake McDonald Lodge
Lake McDonald Lodge is a beautiful Swiss-chalet park lodge that is located directly on Lake McDonald.
The lodge has ample parking and allows visitors to walk through and admire its beautiful lobby, as well as head out back to view panoramic views of Lake McDonald from its dock.
The Lake McDonald Lodge dock is also a launch point for one of Glacier Park Boat Company’s scenic boat tours as well as has a walk-up counter to rent paddleboards, kayaks, rowboats, or an 8hp motorboat.
Trail of the Cedars
- Round trip length: 0.9 miles
- Time to hike: 45 minutes
- Easy, flat hike with plenty of scenery and lots of shade.
Trail of the Cedars is a popular, heavily trafficked loop trail located 5 miles east of Lake McDonald Lodge.
It is, in my opinion, one of the best national park hikes for kids!
The loop travels along a raised boardwalk (that is handicap accessible and good for all skill levels) and passes through a forest of huge western red cedar and hemlock trees.
At the halfway point you’ll reach one of the highlights of the trail, a footbridge over Avalanche Creek that provides an awesome view of the lower Avalanche Gorge.
Just past this point, you can either continue on to finish Trail of the Cedars or take the Avalanche Lake Trail junction to complete the hike to Avalanche Lake.
Avalanche Lake Trail
- Round trip length: 4.5 miles
- Time to hike: 3 hours
- Moderately difficult, steep hike with views that make it totally worth it!
As mentioned, the hike to Avalanche Lake begins from the Trail of the Cedars Trailhead.
Once you veer off of Trail of the Cedars to take Avalance Lake Trail, it is uphill and more strenuous from that point on.
The trail is full of boulders to climb and logs to jump on which helps hold the interest of kids.
Though this is by no means an easy hike, the final destination – Avalanche Lake, a gorgeous mountainous backdrop, and several gigantic waterfalls in the distance – makes it totally worth it!
Additional planning tip: For convenience and safety, I highly recommend that each member of your family carries their own Osprey lightweight backpack while hiking.
This way, each person can carry their own phone, camera, water bottle, snacks, bandaids, and clothing layers.
The Redrock pull-off was one of our favorite stops in Glacier National Park.
After taking a short path through the forest you’re greeted by rushing waterfalls to the right and a brightly colored, crystal-clear plunge pool to the left.
The large rock formations in the area are perfect for exploring, and the shallow waters are perfect for skipping small, smooth rocks.
This is also a great place to have a picnic during the summer months.
Glacier National Park With Kids: Day 2
Going-to-The-Sun Road (miles 18-50), Hidden Lake Overlook Hike, St. Mary Boat Tour
*Please note: This day of the itinerary assumes that Going-to-the-Sun Road is completely open, allowing access to Logan Pass. Keep in mind that Going-to-the-Sun Road closures are weather and snow-dependent.
Typically the road is fully open in late June or early July through the third Monday of October (but that can change due to weather conditions at any point).
To help you plan, check out past opening and closing dates.
- Enter Glacier National Park via the West Entrance
- Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Logan Pass Visitor Center
- Hike Hidden Lake Overlook hike
- St. Mary Lake boat tour
- St. Mary/Baring Falls hike
- St. Mary Visitor Center
On Day 2 in Glacier National Park, get an early start and focus on the second half of Going-to-the-Sun Road.
View the pull-offs and stops that follow from where you left off on day 1.
While doing so, take note of the significant elevation that you’ll be gaining as you travel up the mountain range!
Sights include the West Tunnel, The Loop, Heaven’s Peak, and Haystack, and Bird Woman Falls.
Soon after, you’ll reach Logan Pass, which is the highest elevation on Going-to-the-Sun Road.
After Logan Pass, you’ll find Lunch Creek, Jackson Glacier Overlook, Sun Point, and Wild Goose Island Overlook.
Additional planning tip: If coming into the park from the St. Mary Entrance (from the East), do these activities in reverse.
Logan Pass Visitor Center
Located at the highest point along Going to the Sun Road (6,646 feet), Logan Pass Visitor Center is a must-see stop during your Glacier National Park itinerary.
Due to its popularity, however, a parking space is extremely difficult to come by.
Be prepared to drive around for a while waiting for someone to leave.
The best way to do this is by slowly cruising the parking lot and following guests who appear to be leaving to try to snag their spot.
It is worth it. Just be patient.
When you do find a spot, stop at the visitor center, use the restrooms, and take in the panoramic views.
Next, head to the back of the visitor where you’ll find signs to begin the Hidden Lake Overlook trail or the more vigorous Highline Trail (11.8 miles).
Hidden Lake Overlook
- Round trip length: 2.7 miles
- Time to hike: 2 hours
- Moderately difficult, exposed trail through alpine meadows, lots of wildlife sightings.
I highly recommend hiking Hidden Lake Overlook when visiting Glacier National Park with kids ages 5 and up.
Though this is a moderately difficult hike due to its elevation gain, there are no steep drop-offs and it includes several scenic spots to stop and rest at along the way.
Most visitors walk at least the beginning portion of the raised wooden boardwalk trail, but you’re missing out by not hiking the 2.7 miles (round trip) to Hidden Lake.
The path begins in a beautiful alpine meadow known as the Hanging Gardens and proceeds upward to an elevation where snow tends to linger around well into the summer.
Along with views of wildflowers and the gigantic Clements Mountain, you’ll likely meet marmots, mountain goats, Bighorn sheep, and mule deer (some of which will get very close to you).
Once you reach the overlook, you’ll be standing 500 feet above Hidden Lake, as well as will get a glimpse of Sperry Glacier.
Trust me, the views here will leave you speechless.
Additional planning tip: Because you’re likely to come across snow on this trail, hiking shoes, and perhaps traction cleats, are a better choice than tennis shoes or hiking sandals.
Also, don’t forget hiking poles!
St. Mary Lake at Rising Sun Boat Tour
Glacier Park Boat Company dates back to 1938 when they first began offering boat touring services in Glacier National Park.
A must-do to this day, taking a narrated tour in one of their historic wooden boats is a family-friendly activity that tops the list of the best things to do in Glacier National Park.
The guides are incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the park which is why I can’t recommend this tour enough!
The St. Mary Lake at Rising Sun boat tour begins at the Rising Sun boat dock, which is centrally located on St. Mary Lake (and easily accessible from Going-to-the-Sun Road).
The boat takes a close drive-by of the famed Wild Goose Island and provides epic, 360-degree views of the surrounding mountain peaks.
There is an optional, easy hike to Baring Falls during which the boat will wait 15 minutes while you walk to the falls and back!
St. Mary Visitor Center & Village
When you reach the end of the Going-to-the-Sun Road (when driving west to east), you’ll find St. Mary Visitor Center and St. Mary Village.
At St. Mary Visitor Center you can view exhibits, watch a 15-minute park film, and participate in ranger-led programs.
Head on into St. Mary Village for a day trip to shop, dine, or stay the night.
Don’t miss the one-of-a-kind T-shirts, huckleberry ice cream, and unique Montana toys and gifts found at St. Mary Gift Shop (located in the Main Lodge of St. Mary Resort).
Glacier National Park With Kids: Day 3
Choose between visiting Many Glacier, hiking, horseback riding, and rafting.
- Many Glacier
- Horseback riding with Swan Mountain Outfitters
- A half-day scenic float or whitewater rafting experience
When it comes to visiting Glacier National Park with kids, I recommend customizing Day 3 to what your family likes best.
In other words, decide if you’re up for more hiking and sightseeing, or if you’d like to add in some adventure via horseback rides or a rafting trip.
If you’re up to seeing more of the park and adding in additional hikes, head to the Many Glacier areas of the park.
It is a less busy section of Glacier National Park and has more of a remote feel than what you will experience on Day 1 and Day 2.
In Many Glacier, family-friendly activities include walking the 2.3-mile Swiftcurrent Nature Loop around Swiftcurrent Lake, hiking Apakuni Falls (2 miles uphill), and/or horseback riding with Swan Mountain Outfitters.
Also, be sure to check out the historic Many Glacier Hotel and the Grizzly Track Traders Gift Shop.
(The standard hike to Grinnell Glacier – a strenuous, but popular 7.6-mile hike – begins from the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead, located roughly one-half mile past the turn-off for the Many Glacier Hotel.)
Next, if you’d like to go rafting, choose between a scenic float or whitewater rafting, as well as a half-day or full-day option.
Though there are several companies to choose from, our favorites include Glacier Raft Company and Great Northern Resort rafting.
Scenic floats are ideal for those looking for a restful river experience.
They’re also a great option for families with small children or if looking for a trip that doesn’t require much physical effort.
Whitewater rafting excursions, on the other hand, and faster, more exhilarating, and include maneuvering through Class II and III rapids.
Glacier Activities for Kids: Junior Ranger Program
The Junior Ranger Program is a program sponsored by the National Park Service to help spark fun, curiosity, and learning among kids in regard to protecting national parks.
If interested, kids complete a series of activities during a park visit, share their answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger patch and Junior Ranger certificate.
Junior Rangers are typically between the ages of 5 to 13, although people of all ages can participate.
You can become a Junior Ranger in Glacier National Park by completing the steps and activities in the self-guided Glacier Junior Ranger Activity Booklet.
Glacier Junior Ranger Activity Booklets are available at visitor centers and ranger stations throughout the park.
Once you complete the required steps and activities, share your completed booklet with a park ranger at any visitor center or ranger station during operating hours to become a new Glacier Junior Ranger and receive your Junior Ranger Badge.
Glacier National Park Reservations
Visitation to Glacier National Park has surged within the last decade and has led to severe crowding at many park destinations.
In order to control the crowd level and improve visitor experience, a vehicle reservation is now required to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor and North Fork Vehicle Reservation areas of Glacier National Park.
Vehicle reservations are available in advance online at Recreation.gov (Vehicle Reservations), Recreation.gov app, or the Recreation.gov Call Center (Reservation Line: 877-444-6777) and require a $2 processing fee.
They are not available for purchase at the park.
Per the National Park Service website:
A portion of the available vehicle reservations will be released 120 days in advance of the effective date (i.e., vehicle reservations for July 1 are available on March 3).
The remaining vehicle reservations will be released at 8 AM MDT the day before the effective date (i.e., remaining vehicle reservations for July 1 are available on June 30).
Be sure to note that there is a limited number of Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor Vehicle Reservations available for each day and demand will exceed supply.
*In other words, mark your calendars and set a reminder alarm to book accordingly!
Also, note that vehicle reservations do not guarantee parking spaces in popular areas.
You should still expect congested and busy conditions throughout the park.
Additional planning tip: The only exception to needing a vehicle reservation are for visitors who have service reservations (lodging, camping, commercial tours, etc.) in areas located inside the West Entrance, Camas Entrance, and St. Mary Entrance along the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor.
In this case, proof of a valid service reservation will serve as a vehicle reservation for the day of the service reservation only.
Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park
The best time to visit Glacier National Park is between the months of July and mid-September.
These particular months have the best weather and all park resources and roads are open to visitors.
It is important to note that from October through May or June the park is covered with snow.
Though you can still visit during this time, the alpine region (near Logan Pass) of Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed.
The opening of the alpine portion varies, based on snowfall and plowing progress.
Typically the road is fully open in late June or early July.
Additional planning tip: If arriving by air, Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) is the closest airport to Glacier National Park. (Rental cars are available here.)
The airport is in Kalispell, just 12 miles from the town of Whitefish and 30 miles from the West Entrance of Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park For Kids: Tips
- If you’re looking for additional Glacier National Park hikes for kids, consider checking out the hike to Virginia Falls (rated one of the best waterfall hikes in Glacier National Park), as well as Aster Park Overlook at Two Medicine Lake (perfect for teens!).
- The wifi is extremely spotty (and sometimes nonexistent) in Glacier National Park. Be sure to print off or screenshot any necessary maps or info to have handy on your phone ahead of time.
- There can be big temperature changes when going from lower to higher elevations in Glacier National Park. Even on a warm day, be sure to pack layers.
- The days in Glacier National Park are long in summer with the sun setting as late as 10:00 PM. This leaves plenty of time to explore Glacier National Park during daylight.
- Don’t forget to bring a pair of travel binoculars. Spotting wildlife isn’t as easy and close-up as some other National Parks, and you obviously want to keep a safe distance, especially when spotting bears.
- There are 13 campgrounds in Glacier National Park. Reservations for individual campsites at Fish Creek and Many Glacier are made through Recreation.gov. All other campgrounds within the park are operated on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Gas is not available anywhere on the Going to the Sun Road so be sure to fill up ahead of time.
- There are transportation options if you prefer to leave the driving to someone else while exploring Glacier National Park. This includes Glacier’s Shuttle System and narrated Glacier Bus Tours.
Glacier National Park Lodging
There are many places to stay when visiting Glacier National Park.
Once you’ve nailed down your itinerary, determine where it makes the most sense to stay in terms of its location to where you will spend the majority of your time.
- Lodges within the park
- Hike-in/hike-out lodges within the park
- Camping in the park
- Staying or camping in towns near East Glacier
- Staying or camping in towns near the West Entrance of the park
Glacier National Park Lodges Within the Park
There are 5 classic lodges located within Glacier National Park, all of which reflect the character of their early 20th-century heritage.
Lodging options range from historic, grand hotels (Many Glacier Hotel) and mid-century “motor inns” to rustic cabins (Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins) – with their backdrops all being none other than the majestic mountains and treetops of Glacier National Park!
Staying within the park is in huge demand, so we recommend that you make reservations 12 to 16 months in advance, especially if you want to stay at Many Glacier Hotel.
Reservations for any of the Glacier National Park properties are made from one central reservation website found here.
In the case of a cancellation or if rooms become available, same-day reservations can be made by calling the properties directly:
Many Glacier Hotel (406) 732-4411
Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins (406) 732-5531
Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins (406) 732-5523
Lake McDonald Lodge and Cabins (406) 888-5431
Village Inn at Apgar (406) 888-5632
Camping in Glacier National Park With Kids
There are 13 campgrounds located within Glacier National Park.
The majority of campgrounds are strictly first-come, first-serve, however, several campgrounds will accept reservations here up to 6 months in advance when visiting during peak season.
The 5 campgrounds that allow reservations during their peak season (peak seasons vary per campground) are:
Fish Creek Campground: 2nd largest campground, 178 sites, RVs allowed, located near Lake McDonald on the west side of the park.
Many Glacier Campground: Most popular campground, with 109 sites, RVs allowed, located on the northeast side of the park just down the road from Many Glacier Hotel.
St. Mary Campground: Largest campground on the east side of the park, 148 sites, RVs allowed, located near the St. Mary Visitor Center.
Sprague Creek Campground: Small campground with only 25 sites, located on the northeast shore of Lake McDonald, just off Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Apgar Campground: The largest campground in Glacier, with 194 sites, RVs allowed, located on the west side of the park near Lake McDonald.
Camping in Glacier National Park is extremely popular, therefore campgrounds fill up fast.
First-come, first-serve campground availability status can be found here.
Additional planning tip: Glacier’s campgrounds and developed areas can stay clear of bears if each visitor manages their food and trash properly. Always have bear spray on hand just in case.
Where We Stayed
We chose to stay outside of the park in the beautiful town of Whitefish, Montana, and highly recommend this option to others.
Whitefish is located a convenient 27 miles from the West Entrance of Glacier National Park.
There are amazing restaurants in Whitefish, as well as dozens of things to do in Whitefish that include spending time on Whitefish Lake.
Staying here can be a vacation in itself!
Here are some great selections of places to stay in Whitefish:
- The Lodge at Whitefish Lake: Lakefront location with beach, 2 pools and hot tubs, onsite restaurant, and activities. (Read our review of The Lodge at Whitefish Lake here.)
- Grouse Mountain Lodge: Convenient location close to the downtown, pool and huge outdoor hot tub, onsite restaurant (As a less expensive option, read our full Grouse Mountain Lodge review here.),
- Firebrand Hotel: Located downtown, trendy, onsite bar, and restaurant, rooftop hot tub, and patio
- Hampton Inn and Suites Whitefish: Hotel chain amenities, free hot breakfast, saltwater pool
- TownePlace Suites by Marriott Whitefish: Hotel chain amenities, kitchens, free breakfast, outdoor pool, pet-friendly
- Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge: Hotel chain amenities, free hot breakfast, outdoor heated pool and hot tub
If you enjoyed our 3-Day Glacier National Park Itinerary, continue planning your adventure here:
- Top 10 (No Fail!) Tips for Planning A Family Road Trip
- Family Road Trip Packing List Printable
- Top 16 Tips for Effortless Flying with Kids
- Family Vacation Packing Tips: How to Pack Like A Pro
*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*
Great post & super helpful!!
Where is that last picture taken – walking on the boardwalk. Going this month & that looks like a nice easy trail for the youngest. Thanks!!
Thank you! That is Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park….perfect for kids and families with children! Hope you have a GREAT time!
Two Medicine Lake is close to East Glacier and one of the first places of destination. Locals spend lots of time there because tourists usually ignore it.
Thanks for mentioning this! Great tip!!!
Do you have a suggestion for visiting these sites and staying on a different place each night, rather than back tracking to the Lodge?
I think it might be fun to arrive in a new place and have time to explore there before continuing the next day…
Thank you, cheryl
Hi Cheryl! Yes, you could definitely stay in a different place each night as you move about the park. My suggestion would be to pick a starting point/park entrance where you’ll begin, to figure out how much and how far you’ll get in a day, then make your reservations accordingly. I do know that if you’re looking to stay within the park, reservations fill up quickly. Have fun!!!
Harmony, Momma To Go
Seems like you would need more than 3 days wow! hiking, water sports, boating and trying to see everything. Montana is a long way for most people, so a long trip for sure. I like your tip about making sure the road is open – Im sure it gets snowed in much earlier then other places.
If you want to see the entire Glacier National Park, including the lesser talked about areas…yes, you need a couple more days. 3-day was perfect for the main sights and kid-friendly hikes 🙂
We were JUST talking about how we needed to plan a trip to Montana! This is such a great itinerary… I would have no idea where to start otherwise. I feel like I could totally do this, no problem. Thank you for putting this together; you really covered it all! – Linzey @thefamilyfuntour
Thanks for reading! YES…this is a totally do-able itinerary with just enough, but not too much! You will LOVE Montana!!!