8 day road trip Itinerary – Spokane to Glacier National Park
Montana’s Glacier National Park will forever hold a special place in my heart. The park offers stunning mountain views, glacier-carved peaks and valleys, 700 miles of hiking trails, cycling, wildlife viewing, and so much more. Our family of 4 traveled from Spokane to Glacier National Park in MAY. (Check back in a few days for my blog post on the best times of year to visit Glacier National Park, along with pro’s and con’s of visiting in May.)
We began our 8-day epic road trip in Spokane, Washington, drove through Idaho, and over to Glacier National Park. Then, back to Spokane again, taking a separate route for our return. Below is the map and itinerary I created and used for our 8-day road trip itinerary. You can Skip down to DAY 4 if you want to go straight to the Glacier National Park details.
Why Spokane to Glacier National Park?
I chose to begin our road trip to Glacier National Park in Spokane, Washington for a few reasons. First and foremost was cheapest flights. Spokane International Airport (GEG) is approximately a 5 hour drive (without stopping) to the west entrance of GNP. The most convenient airport to Glacier National Park and Whitefish is the Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) located in Kalispell, MT (only 30 miles to the entrance). But there is SOOO much to see and do between Spokane and GNP, that this was by far the most economical, adventurous, and FUN plan. Also, car rentals are much cheaper at Spokane’s Airport than Glacier Park (FCA.) We rented a car through Alamo.
Travel Tip: rent an SUV. There is some off-roading, and dirt-roads in some areas of the park. Plus, if you rent bikes, have strollers, or other kid-accessories, you will need the trunk space.
DAY 1: Drive from Spokane, WA to Heron, Montana (2 hours and 35 min drive time) – Things to do along the way
After a long flight, we spent several hours hanging out in Spokane before heading east to Sandpoint, Idaho.
Check back in a few days for my blog post on Things to do in Spokane, Washington with kids (coming Soon).
Sandpoint overlooks Lake Pend Oreille and is a perfect stop in between Spokane, WA and Heron, MT. It’s about 1 hour 40 min from Spokane. I recommend taking the route through Diamond Lake and Newport for the best views. Grab lunch or dinner at the Cedar Street Bridge Public Market and let the kids run wild in their awesome play area (pictured below). There’s also a bar inside the market where you can taste wine from the local wineries around Sandpoint. Before heading out, swing by Sandpoint’s City Beach Park for a lovely lake view and green space for the kids to run.
Our first night of the trip, we stayed in Heron, Montana. Here’s a link to the VRBO property. The location overlooked the river and was perfect for the activities I had lined up for the next day!
DAY 2 – Heron, Montana: Ross Creek Cedars Trail & Bull Lake
Our VRBO property in Heron, was about 40 minutes from Ross Creek Cedars Trail up Bull Lake Road. The trail is an easy walk and was a great way to get a feel for how hiking in Glacier National Park with a 1 and 2 year old would be. Ross Creek Cedars is a 100 acre scenic area in Kootenai National Forest. And it’s home to a grove of giant ancient western red cedars that can grow up to 12 ft in diameter and up to 175 feet tall. The kids loved climbing inside these massive tree trunks.
After an hour or two of hiking, you will work up an appetite. There are a couple of restaurants along Bull Lake Road, but we decided to bring some snacks and have a picnic overlooking Bull Lake. If you are traveling in the summer, check out Kootenai River Outfitters for kayaks and canoe rentals to take out on the lake (406-295-9444).
Evening: pack up the car and be sure to pack food/snacks for the next day’s drive
Click HERE to learn how our family uses points and miles to travel as often as we can for cheap (sometime, even free). A step by step guide is included for you.
DAY 3: Heron to West Glacier (3 hrs and 25 minutes total drive time) – Places & Things to do along the way:
Three and a half hours may not seem like a lot, but it is when you have 2 little ones with short attention spans. The drive between Heron and West Glacier is STUNNING! You drive through mountains with jagged peaks and rolling hills, passing lakes, creeks and waterfalls. You’ll for sure want to stop for pictures. And here are a few stops we made to get out and stretch our legs:
Kootenai Falls & the Swinging Bridge- Must do!
Our first stop (about an hour into the drive) was Kootenai Falls park. Just off the side of the main highway, the trail that leads to the falls and the swinging bridge is well-marked with plenty of parking. There’s even a snack shop with coffee and huckleberry bread to give you some energy for your trek. It’s not much of a trek, however. It’s less than half a mile to the falls and then you turn back the other direction to go about a quarter mile to the swinging bridge. Consequently, we didn’t bring baby carriers for the walk. And we managed just fine. The waterfalls are breathtaking and the swinging bridge, although safe, is still not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, we spent a little over an hour here before moving on.
Libby Dam is a little town with, you guessed it, a big dam. It’s about a 15 minute detour off the main road. But, it’s a great place to walk around, look for wildlife, bald eagles & deer, and take in the beautiful scenery.
Another hour and 45 minutes past Kootenai Falls is the town of Kalispell. There’s a ton of stuff to do in Kalispell. But unfortunately, our time was limited. We did visit the local Farmer’s Market that occurs every evening from 5-8 pm (it alternates between each town surrounding the Glacier Park area). The market has live music and food trucks and local shopping vendors. Also, if you just need a quick place to stop and let the kids run and burn off some energy, I highly recommend the playground at Lawrence Park! And if you have more time, embark on one of the hikes in Herron Park.
West Glacier – town at West entrance of 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.
DAY 4 – 7: Glacier National Park
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We spent 4 nights in West Glacier at the property mentioned above. And from there, each day we entered the park at the west entrance (only 3 minutes from our house.) Below is a list of just a few of my favorite things we did in the park. Be sure to check out my more detailed blog post: 20 Awesome things to do in Glacier National Park (4 day itinerary with kids.)
Bike the Going to the Sun Road
As I mentioned earlier, we traveled from Spokane to Glacier National Park during the month of May. One of the top things to do in the park is drive the ‘Going to the Sun Road.’ 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. The Going to the Sun Road is the only road that cuts through the park, connecting the west side to the east. During May, however, a portion of the Going to the Sun road IS open to cyclists and hikers (and bears ;-)). We rented bikes in Apgar and began our bike ride at the Avalanche trailhead. It was my favorite thing we did in the park. Check back in a few days for my blog post with more details about our ride.
Hike to Avalanche Lake via Trail of the Cedars (4 miles round-trip)
This was the most intense hike we did with the kids. And it really wasn’t bad at all. About half of it is uphill on the way there, but manageable with the kids in carriers. And totally worth it. Because, oh my goodness, y’all…we saw a grizzly!
Take a 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.
Drive up Camas dirt Road to visit the town of Polebridge and Bowman Lake
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 Polebridge 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! Six more miles past the Mercantile, down a much more bumpy dirt road, you re-enter the park. And there sits beautiful Lake Bowman. Don’t forget to check back in a few days for more on this in a detailed blog post on things to do in Glacier.
Day 8 (West Glacier to Kellogg – 3 hours and 35 minutes)
Sadly our 4 days exploring Glacier National Park had to end. But we still had the long drive back to Spokane. Remember, the trip was Spokane to Glacier National Park and back. So I set aside a full day and night for the return. Including a whole NEW route with more things to see along the way.
Whitefish is a ski resort town only 40 minutes from West Glacier. You could easily spend several days here because there is so much to do. The Whitefish Mountain Resort has an alpine slide that the kids (even toddlers) will love. Take the Gondola up the mountain for some great views. Or relax at the Whitefish City Beach.
Flat Head Lake
Another 45 minutes down the road, through Kalispell, and along Flathead Lake, is the West Shore/Flathead Lake State Park. Stop here for a great view of the lake and then head over to Rollins Restaurant and RV Park for lunch. An RV Park? Yeah, I was skeptical. But the food was great and there was an awesome playground with slides and swings for the kids.
Quinn’s Hot Springs!!
After nearly 8 days of driving, hiking, cycling, boating, oh, and dealing with a 1 and 2 year old, nothing sounded better than a soak in some natural hot springs. About an hour and 15 minutes further down the route towards Spokane, we stopped at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort for a little R & R.
Note: Kids under 3 are not allowed in the pools. So Will watched the kids on the playground while I took a dip. Husband of the year award? Of course! Afterwards, we swapped while he took a stab at the casinos. Yes, Montana has a lot of casinos.
Historic Wallace, Idaho
The historic mining town of Wallace is the “Silver Capital of the World,” with 1.2 billion ounces of silver produced since 1884. I hadn’t planned on stopping here. But on the “Spokane to Glacier National Park and back again” route, it turned out to be the perfect quaint little mountain town to visit. We had dinner at the 1313 Club Historic Saloon & Grill. Oh, and walked away with this beauty:
Unfortunately, we arrived here late and left really early, so I can’t vouch for much. The Ski Resort VRBO unit we stayed in was quite nice. It was a good location to stay overnight in between Glacier National Park and Spokane. It’s a ski town and there is an Indoor Waterpark. You can also take the gondola up the mountain for views and mountain biking during the warm weather months.
The drive from Kellogg to Spokane International Airport is 1 hour 17 minutes. We left Kellogg with plenty of time to explore Coeur D’Alene for a couple hours before heading to the airport (it’s about half way.) Coeur d’Alene is a lakeside city that has a floating boardwalk, cute boutique shops, and a beach and park with an awesome playground. If you have time, you can take a scenic boat tour of Lake Coeur D’Alene or check out the view from above on a scenic seaplane that leaves from the boardwalk. James loved watching the planes take off and land in the water.
And that’s a wrap! I know we barely scraped the surface in each of these towns. I would love to, one day, rent an RV and spend a couple months exploring this area of the U.S. But I will forever cherish all the fun things we did get to do on this epic road trip from Spokane to Glacier National Park. Feel free to share any questions or tips from your Montana experience in the comments below! I love hearing from you!