While planning a cross country family road trip from Michigan to Washington and back last year, I discovered that one of our stops on the way home would be within spitting distance (in other words, approximately 150 miles) of Glacier National Park. Immediately, Glacier went on the itinerary, even though we were on a very tight schedule and I knew we’d have to keep our visit to a few short hours. I couldn’t pass it up, knowing that with its remote location, the likelihood of us ever being “in the neighborhood” again was small.
We stayed at a mediocre motel in Kalispell, Montana the night before our visit, about a 40 minute drive from the park, so we could maximize our time at Glacier. Our accommodations were less than ideal, but a bargain for the area at a little over $100 for the night. I recommend making reservations in advance during the busy summer season, as rooms go fast and can be quite pricey.
Check out Glacier National Park lodging options!
Visiting Glacier National Park
I opted to utilize the park’s complimentary hop on/hop off shuttle system, rather than attempting to navigate the narrow mountain passes of the legendary Going-to-the-Sun Road on my own. Therefore, after we arrived the next morning and paid the $25 entrance fee (from May 1-October 31, $15 from November 1-April 30; passes are good for 7 days), we parked at the Apgar Transit Center and boarded a shuttle bus. With stops throughout the park, the shuttles are a perfect way to explore. At times the buses are pretty crowded, but they are clean and comfortable, and allow visitors to take in the gorgeous scenery without worrying about traffic and road conditions.
Despite our time limitations, and the fact that we were ill-equipped for hiking, we spent ten glorious hours at Glacier National Park. Here’s what our party (consisting of myself, my mother, and my 4 kids – ranging in age from three to 10) managed to squeeze in, all while taking full advantage of the free shuttle service:
- A walk on the Trail of the Cedars, which is an easy to navigate wooden boardwalk style path through the woods.
- A picnic, with spectacular views of a pristine mountain stream. We brought our own lunch in my backpack, which worked out quite well. Since food provisions are not exactly plentiful at Glacier, I highly suggest bringing water and snacks at the very least. Picnic tables are located throughout the park.
- Visited the Logan Pass Visitor Center, from whence we attempted a trail leading to the snow. My kids were itching to see snow in July, but only two of them made it. The trail was longer than it looked. My mom stayed back with one tired kid, and I went as far as my three-year old could go, while my two oldest went all the way and succeeded in dipping their toes in the summer snow.
- Came face to face with a marmot, which seems to be the mountain equivalent of our midwestern squirrels. Unfortunately this was the only wildlife that we saw. Mountain goat sightings are fairly common, and elk, wolves, and grizzly bears also make their homes at Glacier.
- Shopping at the General Store, near Lake McDonald. The store stocks a nice variety of reasonably priced souvenirs and a small selection of snack foods.
Our turnaround point was the Logan Pass Visitor Center. From there we boarded a shuttle headed back to the Apgar Transit Center parking lot to pick up our van, and begin the long trip home. While I wish we had had more time to spend at Glacier National Park, and I hope to make that happen in the future, going a little bit out of our way to spend the day there was most definitely the right decision!
Tips for Visiting Glacier National Park
- Consider whether or not you’re up for driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, or if you’d rather use the park’s shuttle service.
- Bring snacks and water, and consider packing lunch in a backpack or small soft sided cooler as well.
- Wear comfortable shoes, because you will surely be doing a great deal of walking.
- Dress in layers. At times we needed a lightweight jacket, and at other times we were comfortable in t-shirts.
- Pay attention to the shuttle schedule, which is posted at all the stops. We missed the last shuttle of the day and had to ask a clerk at the General Store to call a bus to pick us up (we weren’t the only ones, the shuttle that came for us was making the rounds, picking up stragglers like us).
- Glacier National Park offers the free Junior Ranger program for kids!
To learn more about Glacier National Park:
- The Best of Glacier National Park
- The Photographer’s Guide to Glacier National Park: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them (The Photographer’s Guide)
- Best Easy Day Hikes Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks, 2nd (Best Easy Day Hikes Series)
- Glacier National Park Birds & Mammals
- Glacier National Park: Going to the Sun Revised (Adventures with the Parkers)
If family travel finds you ‘in the neighborhood’ of Glacier National Park, you’ll want to stop. Even a short visit can create a lifetime of memories.
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