From its breathtaking snow-capped peaks to its turquoise glacial lakes, Glacier National Park stands out as one of the best family vacations we have taken in the United States. Planning for Glacier can be a bit overwhelming due to its vastness. Here are our best tips to planning the perfect Glacier National Park family vacation.
- Should you go to Glacier National Park with kids?
- What is the closest airport to Glacier National Park?
- How many days should you spend in Glacier National Park?
- What is the best time to visit Glacier National Park to avoid crowds?
- What is the difference between East Glacier and West Glacier?
- How to get from West Glacier to East Glacier?
- What to do in Glacier National Park?
- What are some kid friendly hikes in Glacier National Park?
- What towns are near Glacier National Park?
- Can you camp in Glacier National Park?
- Can you kayak in Glacier National Park?
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Should you go to Glacier National Park with kids?
Yes, yes, yes! Glacier National Park is an amazing place to take your family. From breathtaking views, to amazing wildlife, and a variety of activities, you won’t regret taking a family trip to Glacier National Park.
Being an outdoor family, we love to hike, and get out of the car and explore when visiting a park. We were worried that the hiking in Glacier with kids would be too challenging, but we found that every entrance to Glacier National Park had kid friendly hikes all with amazing scenery.
One thing that worried me on our Glacial National Park family vacation was bear safety. Grizzly bear activity is picking up in general in northern Montana, and the park closures last year allowed wildlife to reclaim some areas that were previously more tourist heavy. We did see several black bears on our trip, but no Grizzlies.
We felt safe traveling to Glacier National Park with kids, but stuck to populated areas and followed the rules. Above all, we were careful with food, made noise on the trails (easy to do with two boys!), and carried bear spray with us always.
What is the closest airport to Glacier National Park?
When planning a trip Glacier National Park, the Glacier Park International Airport is definitely the easiest way in and out of the park. The Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell Montana is the closest airport to Glacier National Park, and is only a 30 minute drive to the West Glacier Entrance. It is serviced by Allegiant, Delta, United Airlines, and American/Alaska Airlines. The airport is small and easy to get in and out.
You also can travel into the Missoula Montana Airport. It has more connections, but is 120 miles away from the park entrance.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Glacier National Park?
This is a tough one! How many days to spend in Glacier National Park really depends on what you want to see and do. During your Glacier National Park vacation, the area has enough to do, that you couldn’t see it all, even if you spent a month there.
If you have a short time, a three day family trip to Glacier National Park could be spent just visiting the West Entrance of the park. In three days, you could easily visit Apgar Village and Lake McDonald, drive Go to the Sun Road, and do the hike to Avalanche Lake.
If you want to take a longer Glacier National Park family vacation, we recommend going for one week. With one week in Glacier National Park, you can visit both the West and East parts of the park. The Lake Mary and Many Glacier entrances were our favorite areas in Glacier, and are a solid 2 hour drive from West Glacier. In our opinion, if you have the time, take one week in Glacier National Park, and spend time on both the East and West sides.
What’s the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park to Avoid Crowds?
When planning a trip to Glacier National Park, crowds can be discouraging and frankly annoying. May through September are the busiest months in Glacier National Park. We went on our family trip Glacier National Park in early June, and highly recommend it. Glacier National Park in June is busy, but because families are still not out for the summer, you can see most attractions without a crowd, particularly if you time your day right.
Glacier National Park weather in June is also not bad. When planning a trip to Glacier National park you will get the most comfortable weather in the peak of the summer. However, Glacier National Park in June is comfortable with highs in the 70s and lows in the mid 40s and you might beat some crowds. One caution is it can be a rainy month, raining 10 days out of the month, and the full Going to the Sun Road might not be open due to snow. We still think June is a good time to go, just bring your rain gear and hit the trails!
What is the Difference between East Glacier and West Glacier?
When planning a trip to Glacier National Park, the multiple entrances can be confusing. East Glacier and West Glacier are very different regions of the park, but both are beautiful. West Glacier is more compact and in many ways is best for kids. Spots to visit in West Glacier National Park with kids include Lake McDonald, Polebridge, Apgar Village, and the Trail of the Cedars. East Glacier is often less congested, and has spectacular views but hiking is slightly more demanding. We took our kids to both sides of the park and we preferred the East entrances. The views were incredible, and trails felt less crowded.
If you have time, we recommend spending one week in Glacier National Park and exploring both regions.
How to Get from West Glacier to East Glacier?
If you are lucky enough hit a day when the Going to the Sun Road is fully open, this is the best way to get from West Glacier to East Glacier or East Glacier to West Glacier. Many people say this is the most beautiful road we have in the country, and we can’t disagree. Right now tickets are very limited on Going to the Sun Road, and unless you have a lodging or camping reservation, it is very difficult to get a ticket from the website. An alternative is that they open the road after five to everyone. During the summer, daylight extends far into the evening, so if you can’t get a ticket, you can still see the road and travel during some of the most beautiful times of the day.
You can also take Route 2 around the park to travel between West Glacier and East Glacier or East Glacier to West Glacier. The views from this road are also quite breathtaking, and there are several great places to stop for a picnic lunch or just to take some photos.
When planning a trip to Glacier National Park, stop at the Two Medicine entrance on your way from West Glacier to East Glacier. It is well situated between the other entrances, and one day is enough to get a sense of this entrance and get in a hike.
What to do in Glacier National Park?
There is so much to see and do on a family trip to Glacier National Park. After we visited Glacier National Park with kids, here is our top list of things not to miss:
- West Glacier Entrance
- Enjoy a picnic at the Lake McDonald Lodge
- Rent Kayaks in Apgar Village
- Hike the Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Lake (4.6 miles round trip)
- Drive the Going to the Sun Road
- Two Medicine Entrance
- Take the Two Medicine Boat Tour
- With kids, hike to the Upper Two Medicine Lake (4.4 miles roundtrip) or without kids, Dawson Pass (9.4 miles roundtrip)
- Many Glacier Entrance
- Explore the Many Glacier Lodge
- With kids, hike the Swiftcurrent Lake Nature Trail (2.6 miles) or without kids, hike to Grinnell Glacier (11.2 miles)
- Lake Mary Entrance
- Explore the eastern Going to the Sun Road
- Hike to Virginia Falls (several different trailheads, 3.8 miles longest)
What are some Kid Friendly Hikes in Glacier National Park?
There are several great trails to explore when visiting Glacier National Park with kids. We found that the best family hikes in Glacier National Park were those that provided breathtaking scenery, but weren’t too strenuous. Here is a list of our our favorite kid friendly hikes in Glacier National Park:
Trail of the Cedars/Avalanche Lake
The Trail of the Cedars is an accessible 0.9 mile loop trail that is an easy hike to start little ones on. It is located near Lake McDonald at the West Glacier Entrance. If your kids are bigger, definitely take the challenge and add the hike to Avalanche Lake which will make your total distance 5.9 miles. The views are spectacular and the hike is only moderately strenuous, and can be done elementary age kids.
Swiftcurrent Lake Nature Trail
The Swiftcurrent Lake Nature Trail was an easy 2.6 out and back hike at the Many Glacier Entrance culminating in a beautiful waterfall. It is defiitely on the list of best Glacier National Park hikes for kids. Views along the way are extraordinary. Bring a picnic and enjoy this hike which is not very strenuous and easy to do with small children.
Virginia Falls Hike
This was our favorite kid friendly hike in Glacier National Park. There are several ways to get to these falls, but if you park at the Saint Mary’s Falls parking lot, you will enjoy a 3.8 mile in and out hike, and pass three falls, Saint Mary’s, Baring Falls, and the spectacular Virginia Falls. We recommend going all the way to the base of Virginia Falls. The view is incredible, and you can really appreciate the size and power of the waterfall.
What Towns are Near Glacier National Park?
Polebridge is one of the funnest towns to visit during a family trip to Glacier National Park. There are several things to do in Polebridge and visiting was one of our favorite Glacier National Park kids activities. To get to Polebridge, take the North Fork Road, and prepare to be transported back in time. The Polebridge Mercantile is a must do, and has delicious pastries that you can snack on while the kids play on a small playground at the very top of the United States.
No Glacier National Park vacation is complete without a visit to White Fish. White Fish is one of nicest towns near Glacier National Park. It has a large variety of restaurants and shopping to enjoy an evening in civilization after days of exploring the park.
One spot not to miss in Whitefish is Montana Coffee Traders. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast here before entering the park. Its also is a great place to grab coffee and has a cute little souvenir collection.
Columbia Falls is a great town for a good meal after hiking in West Glacier. We highly recommend Backslope Brewing which had a great selection of beer, but also a really interesting menu with post-hike indulgences like butter chicken, a bulgogi bowl, or just a good burger.
We didn’t find many East Glacier towns near Glacier National Park. If you decide to explore this area, we recommend finding an AirBNB. We stayed in Babb, and our views were spectacular. If you are in the area, we do recommend the Two Sisters Cafe. The staff is friendly, food is solid, and you can get a delicious piece of Huckleberry Pie and enjoy a beer or wine after a day of hiking.
Can you camp in Glacier National Park?
Absolutely! Camping is in our opinion the best way to experience Glacier National Park with kids. We camped for two nights at the Fish Creek Campground. One of our best family memories is taking chairs down to the edge of Lake McDonald and watching the sunset as our kids played at the water’s edge.
There are several campgrounds in Glacier National Park, but they fill up fast. Campsites were a bit more crowded than what we are used to, but facilities were well maintained and the access to views was spectacular.
Can you Kayak in Glacier National Park?
Kayaking in Glacier National Park is one of the best ways to experience the incredible scenery of the park’s glacial lakes. Kayak rental in Glacier National Park is available at several locations. We rented in Apgar village, and while the current was stronger than we expected, the scenery was amazing and we thought it was one of the best Glacier National Park kids activities.
The Glacier Park Boat Company rents paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks, and operates in Apgar Village, Two Medicine, Lake McDonald Lodge, and Many Glacier. Single kayak rentals are $15/hr, and we did not need to make a reservation prior to going.
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