Glacier National Park is beautiful. We spent quite a few days exploring Glacier National Park and want to help you understand the different areas of the park. There is so much to see and do, and we weren’t able to see it all in the 4 days that we explored the park.
In this post, we will talk about the different areas of the park. Glacier is divided into 5 main areas, but we have divided into a few extra smaller areas, too. We will also share the itinerary we used, and our Glacier Kid Bingo.
First up is vehicle reservations. Glacier National Park is requiring a vehicle reservation for all of the roads during peak season in 2023. And we don’t see this going away since it seems to be helping the crowds at Glacier. The Going to the Sun Road which connects from Apgar to St. Mary’s needs a permit from May 26-September 10. Those reservations are good for 3 days. The other roads: Polebirdge, Many Glacier, and Two Medicine, require a one day reservation.
The reservations are released about 120 days in advance. So if you’d like to reserve for a date in July, the window opens on March 1 for the entire month. And on April 1, all of August will open. These reservations fill incredibly fast. Like in a few minutes! So be prepared.
One way around the reservations is to arrive early or late. The reservation is for when you enter the park between 6 am – 3 pm. So if you can arrive bright and early, or plan all of your exploring after 3:00, you won’t need a reservation. For full information on reservations, visit the Glacier National Park website.
The Lake McDonald area is found on the west end of the park near Apgar. The lake is among the most gorgeous in Glacier, and is commonly used for fishing, swimming, and kayaking. We stayed in The Village Inn at Apgar, and we highly recommend it. It was one of the most beautiful spots we have ever stayed.
There is a lot to do in this area of the park, so plan at least 1/2 a day exploring around Lake McDonald.
Recommended Hikes in Lake McDonald
This area is at the top of the mountain and is not accessible by RV or when towing a vehicle. The road is paved, but steep and winding with massive drop-offs. This is also one of the most beautiful parts of Glacier National Park. There are waterfalls flowing under the road, majestic views, and a lot of animals to see in this part of the park.
Parking is a problem, so arrive early as Logan Pass is the most popular place in the park. Bighorn sheep, bears, and mountain goats are common in this area of the park. Some folks even spot wolverines. We spent 1/2 a day in the Logan pass area, mostly hiking and driving for animals.
- The essential hike in the park is the Hidden Lake overlook. Don’t miss it!
Rising Sun/St. Mary
Located at the east end of Going-to-the-Sun-Road, this is a great starting point for your adventures. Rising Sun and St. Mary are both spots where you can stay. There are cabins and hotels. We stayed in a cabin in this section. It was a tight squeeze for the 5 of us, but we liked being central to all the spots in Glacier National Park.
Rising Sun and St. Mary are easily the most central area if you want to reach all of the other locations. It is also very busy, so arrive early at trailheads to find parking. We recommend spending a day in this area of Glacier.
- St. Mary’s Falls
- Virginia Falls
- Baring Falls (all three of these hikes can be combined)
Two Medicine Lake is located in the southeast corner of Glacier National Park. It is accessible only by a long and winding road, but there are some really great adventures, including a potential boat ride. This smaller section of the park is also a great place to see wildlife. We spent half a day exploring in Two Medicine.
Many Glacier has an amazing hotel and great boat rides that take you across two lakes with the opportunity to hike to a third glacier fed lake. It is the most difficult place to park in Glacier, but worth the several loops you’ll need to drive around the parking lot looking for a spot. We are thinking of staying in this area when we visit Glacier National Park again.
Make sure to drive the extra mile from Many Glacier to Swiftcurrent. Some of our favorite hikes are in this area.
- Apikuni Falls
- Grinnell Lake (requires a boat ride to keep the distance family friendly)
The great thing about Swiftcurrent, which is located just past Many Glacier in the northeast section of the park, is the abundance of wildlife. We saw several moose and bears along with hares, deer, and smaller mammals.
There are many trails that start from the parking area at Swiftcurrent, so it can also be busy. We arrived in the late afternoon and there were many parking spots, but we heard the morning was crowded.
- Fishercap Lake
- Red Rock Falls (these two hikes can be combined)
This is the least visited area of the park and is accessible only via dirt road. The road is not very rough, but it has at least one sharp rock in it that kept us from reaching our destination. We had to turn around and get a new tire.
They say you can buy huckleberry donuts at the Polebridge Mercantile, but we never found out. There are also some easy trails worth trying, but we didn’t get to hike them. We hope to explore this area next time we are in Glacier.
Recommended Hikes (that we never completed):
- Hidden Meadow
- Covey Meadow Loop
Tips for Visiting Glacier
- You won’t be able to see everything even if you spend a few weeks. There is so much to see in this park, so we had to realize we couldn’t do it all. We made a list of things we didn’t want to miss, and made sure to hit those. Then if we were able to squeeze some of our extras in, we felt lucky.
- We recommend bringing in as much of your own food as you can. Eating inside National Parks is pretty pricey, so we try to at least bring breakfast and lunch food so that we aren’t eating out every meal.
- Book your lodging early. Like REALLY early. We booked on the exact date that the calendar opened up a full year before our trip, and all the places were booked on the week we had originally planned to go. Luckily, we were flexible, but if you plan to stay in Glacier National Park, be on top of booking.
- There is only one road through Glacier National Park–the Going-to-the-Sun-Road. It doesn’t open all the way until early July, so plan your trip accordingly.
- Also, since the Going-to-the-Sun-Road is the only road through, some of these areas you have to leave Glacier, drive to another entrance, and then come back in. We tried to plan half days in these areas to limit driving back and forth.
- Pack swimsuits. We forgot ours and were sad because the lakes are worth jumping in. Don’t worry–we made due with shorts and t-shirts.
- Weather is extreme in Glacier. It can be hot or cold, rainy or sunny on any day. So make sure to pack a little bit for each season and definitely bring jackets in the mornings/evenings even in the summer.
- Bring Bear Spray. We saw many bears, and a few pretty close. We were grateful for the bear spray even though we didn’t have to use it.
- Here is our Itinerary. You can see how we divide the park into different areas on different days.
- If you have children print the Junior Ranger beforehand. We have our boys on the packet on the ride to Glacier. It gives them something to do in the car, and saves time in the park.
- We also make a Bingo Sheet for each National Park we visit. Our boys love keeping track of what we see on our trips.