Updated: Apr 21, 2022
If you’re headed to Glacier National Park for two days, you won’t be surprised to find that there’s more than enough to do on your trip! This itinerary will help you see some of the most beautiful places in the park and plan ahead for the things you need before your trip.
Glacier National Park is beyond special to me at this point because it’s where my fiance and I got engaged! Plus, it is the most stunning place in the US I’ve ever been to. This was our third and final national park of our big Wyoming and Montana road trip after we visited Grand Teton. This two-day itinerary for Glacier National Park won’t be enough but will give you a chance to explore the park and take in some of the best views you’ll ever see.
About Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is in the northernmost part of Montana and borders Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park. It’s named Glacier because the mountains there were carved out by glaciers 170 million years ago. The tall mountains and glacial lakes all over the park are enough to make you want to stay here for weeks.
Glacier National Park has almost all its original native plant and animal species. In addition, large mammals such as grizzly bears, moose, mountain goats, and rare or endangered species like wolverines and Canadian lynxes inhabit the park.
It’s a wildlife lover’s dream to visit! It’s been a popular vacation spot since 1910, when a railroad was built to come up to the park. After that, lodges and homes were built in the park and are still there to this day. Some of them are privately owned by families, but if they ever want to sell them, they’ve got to sell them to the National Park System. Imagine owning one of these homes INSIDE the park! Crazy.
Due to wildlife being abundant here, you must be prepared for all situations. Bear safety should be a number one priority when here, and you’ll see signs about it all over the park. Come prepared with bear spray, stay far away from wildlife, don’t run away, and keep food stored safely.
Where to Stay
There are a few options within the park for where to stay in Glacier. These take a LOT of planning and luck to get. The lodging is very limited, and so you can potentially get lucky (definitely worth a try!) or book a place in a town nearby. West Glacier and St. Mary are the closest and most accessible places to stay, and there are many options in nearby towns too. Below are links to some options:
When to go
The best time of year to visit Glacier is in the summer or early fall. In all the other seasons, parts of the park are closed.
If you go at the end of June when the road first opens, you’ll see the most waterfalls. Because this is when a lot of the snow is melting at high rates, the waterfalls that dry up later in the season are still flowing! You’ll see the most iconic park views during this time and bright green covering the mountains.
Early July through August, more wildflowers are growing than in June, and to get a full view of those, these two months are best.
Beginning in September, the park starts to get chilly, and you’ll potentially have a chance of snow. However, most people clear out by then, and you have beautiful fall leaves popping up. Since people are clearing out, you’ll also have the chance to see more wildlife in the park!
Day 1 of 2 Days in Glacier National Park: Going to the Sun Road
Passes for Going to the Sun Road
Going to the Sun Road was built shortly after that in 1923 so that people could drive from one side of the park to the other. It’s part of the National Registry of Historic Places and does take you from one side to the other. GTSR has the most stunning views in the whole park and you’ll want to spend the entire day along the road. It’s absolutely worth the hype.
Going to the Sun Road has to be plowed out every year due to heavy snow. The road’s opening depends on how much snow there is to clear and how long that takes. Usually, they are done by mid-late June. The best place to get updated information is on the Glacier National Park Instagram. I was stocking that page for the updates on how the road was coming along!
Here’s what you need to know to make it happen
1. You now need a pass to go through between June – September. You can find them on Recreation.gov, and they become available 3 months before you go. Unfortunately for us, when we went to get our tickets for our dates, they were already gone! These tickets go fast, and I recommend looking right when they become available at 6 am to ensure you get them.
2. If you miss the official pass, there is a second option. You can make a boat tour reservation for Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, or St. Mary’s Lake. They will allow you to go on GTSR with that reservation since these lakes require driving on the road to get to. This is the option we ended up going with, and we were able to get passes for a boat tour for $22 the day we needed them the week after passes went on sale. More details on what the boat tour was like are below!
I swear I was so worried we wouldn’t get tickets that I searched FOREVER to find a loophole and found this one. I’m so glad this was a second option because we were on a fairly tight timeline but were flexible on whether we visited Yellowstone or Glacier first. Luckily, we could spend a whole day on Going to the Sun Road because of this second option!
3. You still have to pay regular entry fees into Glacier National Park.
4. You can enter the park without a pass before or after 6 am.
Itinerary for Day 1
Kayaking on Lake McDonald
As mentioned earlier, we chose to stay on the west side of Glacier, mainly because it was cheaper, but also because Lake McDonald looked beautiful, and we saw the hikes we wanted to do were mostly on this side! We also knew we wanted to kayak on one of the lakes, and Lake McDonald looked like the best one to kayak on because it was so easily accessible from the West Entrance. It’s literally like a 10-minute drive into the park next to Lake McDonald Lodge.
We started our morning pretty early because all boat rentals, also done through Glacier Park Boat Company, are first-come, first-serve. They open at 9 am, so we wanted to get in line well before that to ensure we got the kayaks of our choice. We arrived around 8:15 am, snagged a coffee at the lodge, and were the first ones in line! We enjoyed the lake views and watched as the crew set up the kayaks.
$18 an hour for a single kayak, $22 an hour for a double, canoe, or rowboat, and $30 an hour for a motorboat.
This meant we were the first ones to get onto the lake and got it all to ourselves for the first 15 minutes or so! It was beyond peaceful and gorgeous to be on that lake. It was the perfect way to start off the day. The lake’s bottom is covered with colorful pebbles, and the water is a beautiful bright blue color due to the iron content in sedimentary pebble rocks and the degree of its oxidation.
Mid-Day Hike and Lunch
After kayaking for about two hours, it was 11 am and time for a mid-day hike followed by some lunch. We wanted a hike that would be easy to access on the way to our boat tour at Lake McDonald Lodge. We were not disappointed with the easily accessible Trail of the Cedars.
There were beautiful views along this 1-mile hike through the cedar trees. It smelled amazing and we got to take in views of a unique and beautiful waterfall as well as a river running down into Lake McDonald. The hike took less than an hour but was a perfect pit stop before heading to the lodge for lunch.
Lake McDonald Lodge has two restaurants (only one was open last summer) and they tend to have really long lines. Like, over an hour for take-out only… We were so glad we had packed a lunch of our own to enjoy on the lake. We were able to find a park bench near the lake and relax while we ate our packed sandwiches, chips, and snacks. I’d highly recommend this option over getting food in the park.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, we ended up having to book a boat tour in order to go on Going to the Sun Road. We chose to do a 1 pm boat tour so that we had a mid-day break. It ended up being a blessing and a curse. It was really cool to get to ride on a historic boat across Lake McDonald and the guide was really funny, but also… it was a historic boat and the hottest part of the day.
We had a really hard time hearing our guide, ended up sweating profusely, and fell asleep. Am I glad we did it? Absolutely! Would I recommend it? Only if you need it for a pass or can sit upfront so you can actually hear the guide. The screaming baby and person arguing about wearing their mask were not fun either.
Driving Going to the Sun Road
With our boat tour over, it was time to take in the rest of the park by driving Going to the Sun Road. This can take just a few hours, or you can spend a whole day just doing this. We ended up spending about 6 hours doing this part of the park. The mid-day nap really helped.
About the drive
Going to the Sun Road can be a terrifying to drive. If you’re afraid of heights or not used to winding roads, this will be a challenging drive for you. There are sharp turns, giant cliffs, and waterfalls across the road. With that being said, it’s a gorgeous drive. I’ve driven on some of the scariest roads, including Route 1 in California and the Amalfi Coast… This one might be scarier due to the frequent stops cars make along the road.
For safety reasons, 45 miles per hour is the speed limit in the lower elevations of the road and 25 miles per hour in the alpine section. They also restrict the size of vehicles on the road to 21 feet long and 8 feet wide. There’s also a shuttle – Glacier Shuttle System that you can take from Apagar or St. Mary’s.
Along the Drive
There are so many beautiful places to stop along this 50 mile road. We drove the entire thing in about 2 hours and made over 10 stops. We also stopped at the top at Logan Pass to hike Hidden Lake, but it was closed due to bear activity. This is where Elvis wanted to propose but ended up doing it at a stop on the way down instead since it was closed!
Logan Pass is the highest point along the drive at 6,646ft a halfway point. There’s a visitor’s center and a shop here as well.
We drove all the way to St. Mary’s Lake and back, the entire length of Going to the Sun Road. There are so many beautiful stopping points the drive really doesn’t feel long or taxing. We loved stopping at all the waterfalls and lakes to take in the view, do a quick hike, or enjoy breathing in the fresh mountain air.
We ended up back at our guest ranch around 7:00 pm where we cleaned up and headed into Columbia Falls for dinner at Gunsight Saloon. They had great food, drinks, and live outdoor music in a relaxed setting. It was a great way to end the day!
Engagement photo! Cause I can’t resist.
Day 2 of 2 Days in Glacier National Park
On day two we decided to head to a part of the park that did not require a pass – Two Medicine. It was about an hour drive from West Glacier/Columbia Falls.
The Two Medicine Valley sits in the southeast corner of Glacier National Park. Two Medicine is less visited than other parts of Glacier but is sure to impress with its dramatic views, rushing waterfalls, and reflective lakes.
Two Medicine has a campground, picnic areas, camp store, and gift shop, as well as scenic boat tours and rentals, wildlife watching, and numerous hiking trails. We also saw quite a few people fishing on this lake (this does require a permit). You can actually bring your own boat to this part of the park too.
There are three lakes here – Lower Medicine Lake, Upper Medicine Lake, and Medicine Lake. We chose to hike from Medicine Lake to Aster Falls. This could easily be turned into a full-day hike as there are tons of trails from here you can take. Our hike took us the morning to do then. We chose to hang out by the lake and relax!
We honestly barely saw people this day, despite a full parking lot, and I love how much more relaxed this part of the park felt. It was quiet, beautiful, and a much more restful day than our first day in the park!
After this relaxing and fun day, we headed out to East Glacier Park Village to have an early dinner at a Glacier Village Cafe around 4 pm and headed back to Bozeman, where we arrived around 9 pm.
We loved our two days in Glacier National Park and I honestly cannot wait to go back someday and hike Hidden Lake when there is no bear activity! Hopefully soon.