Things to do in Glacier National Park (4 day Itinerary with kids)
Glacier National Park is a place that will leave an impression on you no matter what! Of all the national parks in the United States, Glacier hit the top of my list ever since our trip to Banff National Park in Canada. If you enjoy hiking along some jaw-dropping scenery, these 2 parks will be right up your alley. I’ve always been a sucker for sky-high mountains that sit right next to a body of water. Any kind of water…lakes, rivers, ocean. There’s just something so majestic about this setting.
In May, my husband and I traveled to Montana with our two little ones (ages 1 and 2). We started our journey in Spokane, Washington and spent 4 days, of the 8 day road-trip, exploring the magnificent Glacier National Park.
I spent months researching and planning the ultimate Glacier National Park itinerary (keeping in mind our limitations with 2 kids under 3). There was so much I wanted to do and see inside the park. And even though we weren’t able to tackle all of it, I didn’t want all of my research go to waste.
So here are 20 things to do (with kids) in Glacier National Park, organized into a 4-day itinerary. You may not be able to do all of the things that I listed under each day. I knew we wouldn’t. But for each trip I plan, I make sure I have several options to choose from.
Day 1: West Glacier (west entrance to Glacier National Park
West Glacier is a small town located on U.S. Route 2, at the west entrance to Glacier National Park. I received a TON of requests through Facebook and Instagram about the property we stayed at in West Glacier. Here is the VRBO link. The property was perfect for our family of 4. It even provided a pack-n-play for our littlest. If I could wake up to that view every morning for the rest of my life, I’d be a lucky girl. We spent all 4 nights (of this 4 day itinerary) in West Glacier. And from there, each day we entered the park at the west entrance (only 3 minutes from our house) or drove to the other areas around the park (see Day 3 and 4).
1. Hike Cedar Trail
The Trail of the Cedars is one of only 2 wheelchair accessible (i.e. stroller-friendly) trails in Glacier National Park. It’s located just off the Going to the Sun road and the distance is only about 1 mile round-trip. You’ll walk past river, streams, a beautiful waterfall, and through thick dense forest. We took the stroller on this hike to save the kid’s legs for the next hike (see #2).
2. Hike Avalanche Trail
This was the most intense hike we did with the kids. About half of it is uphill on the way there, but manageable with the kids in carriers. It’s 4 miles round-trip. And the trailhead begins in the middle of the Trail of the Cedars (see #1). This was my favorite hike by far. The view of the lake and mountains was incredible. But the best part…we saw a grizzly!
3. Go on a Helicopter tour
Man, I was so bummed we didn’t get to squeeze this in. My son is obsessed with airplanes and helicopters. Call Glacier Heli Tours (406-387-4141) in advance to make a reservation for a 30 minute or 1 hour tour.
4. Hike the Hidden Lake Overlook trail
The Hidden Lake nature trail is 2.7 miles roundtrip with stunning, open views of snow cover mountains along the entire walk. There is good chance you will see lots of wildlife, especially in the mornings….mountain goats, bighorn sheep, etc. The trailhead is located behind the Logan Pass visitor center, along the Going to the Sun Road. Tip: wear tennis shoes and layers. Snow can still be on the trail through late July.
Click HERE to learn how our family uses points and miles to travel as often as we can for cheap (sometimes, even free). A step by step guide is included for you.
5. Take a scenic boat tour of Lake McDonald
Grab a seat in the front or up top for the best views on your scenic boat tour of Lake McDonald. But, if it’s too windy, the inside cabin views aren’t too bad either. The guided tour takes about an hour. We learned a lot about the history of the lake and the park, as well as the aftermath of the 2018 wildfires.
6. Lunch at Lake McDonald Lodge
Overlooking the largest lake inside the park, this classic Swiss Chalet style lodge has a few restaurants to choose from to fill your bellies after a long hike. It also has a bar and a couple of gift shops. After lunch, check out kayaks or paddle-boards for rent, and spend some time on the water (during the summer.) Lake McDonald can be smooth as glass at times. Unfortunately, the water was a bit too choppy the day we were there.
7. Rent Bikes and ride the Going to the Sun Road
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 53 mile road that bisects the park east to west. And driving along this road is one of the top things to do in the park. However, we visited the park in May. Therefore, it’s important to note that the road doesn’t fully open to vehicles until late June or early July. Click here for current road closure and opening dates in the park. During May, however, a portion of the Going to the Sun Road IS open to cyclists and hikers (and bears ;-)). So, we rented bikes in Apgar and began our bike ride at the Avalanche trailhead. Glacier Outfitters, in Apgar, hooked us up with 2 bikes, plus a trailer for the kids, and a bike rack that fit on the back of our SUV to take the bikes up to the Avalanche trail, where we began the ride. It was my favorite thing we did in the park. Check back soon for a more detailed blog post about our day-long ride.
Day 2: North Fork area
8. Explore Apgar Village
Apgar is located within Glacier National Park just a mile past the west entrance. The village has one of the most popular campgrounds in the park, along with a visitor center, restaurants and gift shops, bike & boat rental shops, and the Red Bus tour and shuttle services. Grab breakfast or lunch here, and order the huckleberry cobbler & ice cream at Eddie’s Café for dessert. And then begin your drive up to Polebridge (see #9).
The locals say the North Fork area in Montana is more than just a place to stop. It’s a state of mind. The 50 minute drive from West Glacier to Polebridge, down an easy dirt road, is an activity in and of itself. The views are breathtaking. At the heart of this picturesque little town is “the Merc,” one of the most iconic buildings in Montana. It has served as a general store & bakery for the area since 1914. Try the huckleberry cobbler! We let the kids play on the playground behind the Merc, while Will grabbed us a couple of beers from the Saloon next door.
10. Bowman Lake
Six more miles past the Mercantile in Polebridge, down an even more bumpy dirt road, you re-enter the park. And there sits beautiful Lake Bowman. This is a great spot for a picnic and taking a swim (at least in the summer.) You can also rent a kayak or paddle board to take on the lake.
11. Encourage your kids to become a Junior Ranger
Glacier Junior Rangers will earn their badge after they complete at least 5 activities in the Junior Ranger Booklet. By following the guide in the booklet, your kids will learn to “explore, learn, and protect” their national parks and understand why Glacier National Park is such a special place. Grab a booklet at the Visitor Center in Apgar and have a ranger check their answers (ok, so maybe your answers if they’re really young) to receive their badge.
Day 3: Whitefish (42 minute drive from Glacier National Park):
After exploring the west side of Glacier National Park for a couple of days, we decided to head over to Whitefish on Day 3.
12. Whitefish Mountain Resort
Whitefish Mountain Resort is a ski resort, but it still offers tons to do here during the summer. One of the main reasons I wanted to visit this resort was for the Alpine Slides. These slides (it reminds me of bobsledding, on a bit smaller scale) are fun for ALL ages, from 1 to 101. Consequently, I was totally bummed when I found out the slide didn’t open until June 15. Click here for hours & dates . You can also take the gondola up to the top of the mountain for a fantastic view!
13. Whitefish City Beach
Have a picnic on the beautiful lakefront sandy beach. There’s a designated swimming area, picnic tables, a little snack bar (with restrooms), and a dock. The views are incredible. Kayaks and paddle boards are also available for rent. Unfortunately for us, it was a bit too cold to swim in May.
14. Whitefish Depot
My son is obsessed with trains. The Whitefish Depot is a very cool, old, restored & active train station. It has beautiful architecture and there’s a small museum worth checking out while the kids watch the Amtrack come and go. Definitely worth a visit, especially on a rainy day!
Day 4: East Glacier (east entrance to Glacier National Park)
Based on my research, you could easily spend 2 or 3 days exploring the east side of Glacier National Park. As I mentioned earlier, we visited the park in May and stayed all 4 nights in West Glacier. During May, parts of the Going to the Sun Road (the only road that connects the west side of the park to the east) are still closed. So it was a 2-3 hour drive from West glacier AROUND THE PARK to get to the East Side. Therefore, we did not get to go. But I still want to share my research. Here are the top kid-friendly things to do near East Glacier:
15. Many Glacier Entrance
Locals might say this area is the heart of Glacier National Park. Many Glacier is a hiker’s paradise with trails going in every directions. Apparently, you could walk a different trail every day for a week and still not see all that this area has to offer. The access road going into the valley can be a bit rough and bumpy. But, this is a great starting point for the following 3 kid-friendly hikes mentioned below.
16. Hike Swiftcurrent Lake & Fisher Cap Lake
If you decide to stay overnight on the East side of the park, the Many Glacier Hotel overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake would be a good option for lodging. The trail around Swiftcurrent Lake is a simple, short walk with beautiful views. A little further down the road at the end of the Swiftcurrent parking lot, is the trailhead to Fisher Cap Lake. Another easy, short hike to a beautiful setting.
17. Hike to Grinnel Lake (stroller-friendly!)
The trek to Grinnel Lake is one of the most popular hikes in the park. And, if you decide to take the boat shuttles (and shave off 5 miles of hiking), this hike is very kid-friendly. There will be a few spots where you have to man-handle the stroller, but it’s doable if need be. Otherwise, carriers for the babies/toddlers will do just fine as well. If you hike the whole thing, it’s like 8 miles. So if you have kids, you definitely want to take the ferry shuttles over Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Here’s some more details on this hike.
18. Apikuni Falls (begins at the Poia Lake trailhead)
Although, it’s mainly uphill, it’s only 2 miles round trip to get to Apikuni Falls. You will see the trailhead off the side of the road on your way to Many Glacier Hotel at Swiftcurrent Lake. A super impressive, super tall, waterfall awaits.
19. St. Mary’s Falls trail
Another kid-friendly trail on the East side of Glacier National Park is the St. Mary’s Falls trail. The trail starts just off the Going to the Sun Road and is 1.7 miles round-trip. And if you’re up to it, just a little further down the trail is an even more impressive Virginia Falls.
20. Sun Point (only .1 mile trail)
Last, but certainly not least, the Sun Point Nature Trail is 1.7 miles round-trip and is good for all skill levels. It offers beautiful lake views of Saint Mary Lake and mountain views for most of the distance. You can get there via the Going to the Sun Road.
It is impossible to see and do all that Glacier National Park has to offer, in just 4 days. Even when you narrow it down to only kid-friendly things to do, you still couldn’t see it all. But this is a good start. I can’t wait to return with my family to tackle more of this beautiful park. Have you been to Glacier National park? What are your favorite hikes and sites to see?