Travel Travel Tips

Awesome 3-Day Glacier National Park Itinerary to Do With Kids

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on
September 10, 2021

Are you looking for a family-friendly Glacier National Park Itinerary?

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to spend 1 to 3 days 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 Glacier National Park itinerary that is packed with family fun!

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Glacier National Park sign
Glacier National Park sign

Glacier National Park With Kids

As you begin planning your Glacier National Park itinerary, there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re visiting with kids.

First off, many of the best views and waterfalls in Glacier National Park require either a short 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, be sure to keep in mind our top family road trip tips to prevent car sickness and boredom while driving.

Mountains in Glacier National Park
Mountain scene

3-Day Glacier National Park Itinerary

Many people wonder just how many days you need in 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.

Glacier National Park Itinerary: 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.

Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald from Apgar Village

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.

Stop at the Apgar Visitor Center 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 in Glacier National Park
Trail of the Cedars

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 Mc Donald Lodge.

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.

Video of Avalanche Lake: Click here!

Avalanch 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.

Redrock swimming hole
Redrock

Redrock

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 rocks formations in the area are perfect for exploring, and the shallow waters are perfect for skipping small, smooth rocks.

Glacier National Park Itinerary: Day 2

Going-to-The-Sun Road (mile 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, 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
Logan Pass Visitor Center

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, parking is extremely difficult to come by.

Be prepared to drive around for a while waiting for someone to leave.

I recommend 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 into 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 view
Hidden Lake Overlook

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 during your 3-day Glacier National Park itinerary.

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 photo
St. Mary Lake

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 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 Itinerary: 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 area 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.

If you’d rather 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.

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.

Glacier National Park hike
Hiking in Glacier

Glacier National Park Tips

  • 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.
Boat dock and swimming area
Boat dock at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake

Where We Stayed

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.

Options include:

  • Lodges within the park
  • Hike in/hike out lodges within the park
  • Camping within the park
  • Staying or camping in towns on the East Side of the park
  • Staying or camping in towns on the West Side of the park

We chose to stay in the beautiful town of Whitefish, Montana.

It 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 on places to stay in Whitefish:

  • Firebrand Hotel: Located downtown, trendy, onsite bar, and restaurant, rooftop hot tub, and patio

If you enjoyed our 3-Day Glacier National Park Itinerary, continue planning your adventure here:

Glacier National Park

Whitefish, Montana

Travel Tips

*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*

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We are the Brommer family from Minnesota, and I'm Jen - the travel planner for our family of 5! We are passionate about traveling together for it's what keeps us happy and healthy at home. The free family vacation itineraries and tips you'll find here are crafted with love to be shared with you. We hope our experiences inspire you to start planning your next family adventure!

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