There are so many great hikes in Glacier National Park that it’s almost a disservice to not give a couple of them a try. Some of the best sights in the park cannot be seen unless you leave the road. As the park has grown in popularity hiking can also separate you from the crowds that flock to easily accessible areas.
Even if you don’t have great mobility there are still wonderful sights and features you can access with just a short walk. In my opinion, Trail of the Cedars is one of the best hikes in the park and it is a short, easily accessible boardwalk and paved trail. Even with a young child, we were able to find many hikes that were great for our family.
If you want to see glaciers, waterfalls, lakes, and vistas, leave the road and use your feet to get into some trophy country.
2. Wildlife Watching
Wildlife abounds in Glacier National Park. Every day there are sightings of moose, deer, elk, bears, mountain, goats, bighorn sheep, and many other animals inside and around the park. Even if you have little experience finding animals, this is a place you are likely to have some sightings. For more detailed information about where to go for the best chance of wildlife sightings, and the best methods to find wildlife in the park, check out this article about wildlife watching in Glacier.
If you like to fish, don’t pass up the opportunity to do so in Glacier National Park. Park visitors can fish for free, without a license. Make sure you check the rules, regulations, and bag limits before you start fishing. There are some special regulations when fishing in national parks. For example, the use of lead tackle is not allowed. Rules, regulations, and bag limits can be found here. Note that all native fish must be released (they are listed in the regulations) and (at the time of writing) there is no bag limit for non-native fish.
There are so many water bodies to fish in the park that I couldn’t begin to list all of them. Some popular fishing destinations include Lake McDonald, Saint Mary Lake, Hidden Lake, and the Flathead River. Fish species are primarily trout, grayling, and whitefish. Be careful if you plan to keep trout. Native species vary by drainage so make sure you know where you and which fish species you can legally keep at that location.
Fishing would be a great way to experience the park in a new way.
Swimming probably isn’t the first activity you think of when you’re thinking of things to do in Glacier National Park. However, there are so many unique swimming holes. I’ll just mention a few highlights here but there are so many bodies of water that you can probably find your own secluded place.
Lake McDonald and Saint Mary Lake are the two obvious choices. These are big bodies of water with picnic areas, campgrounds, pull-outs, and beaches where many visitors can enjoy the water. Both lakes are clear, pristine, and very refreshing on a hot summer day. Another popular, and spectacular, location is Saint Mary Falls. Below the falls are a couple of pools with slow-moving, deep water and gravel bars that are easy on the feet. You can take a dip and view the magnificent cascades, all at the same time. Redrock Lake and Redrock Creek also offer many opportunities to get wet.
National parks are often crowded, with visitors flocking to the easiest-to-access or most prominent features. Glacier is no exception. The park has seen large increases in visitors for the last several years. Backpacking is a great way to get away from the crowds and see portions of the park that few ever venture to. If you want to backpack in Glacier National Park you’ll need to do some advance planning. Backcountry campgrounds require a reservation. Information about securing reservations can be found on the park’s website. Be sure to check the website early. The deadline to be considered in the first round of applications is usually sometime in March. If you wait until later in the year there may not be any openings available.
There are so many hard-to-get to places in Glacier National Park where backpacking is the only way you can get there. While the reservation process can be frustrating if you are not able to get a reservation, it does ensure that those who go have space to experience the backcountry without the crowds. It also helps keep those areas pristine.
6. Berry Picking
Huckleberries are everywhere! If you’ve ever eaten fresh huckleberries you understand my excitement. If no, go eat some fresh huckleberries! We kept our two-year-old happy for hours of hiking by bending over to pick and handful of huckleberries and then hand them back to him (riding in the backpack) one-at-a-time. As long as the huckleberries kept coming, he didn’t complain.
Huckleberries in Glacier National Park ripen toward the end of July and continue through late August. They’re small, dark-blue/purple berries that are packed with flavor. Once you find a bush, look around because there are sure to be more close by. Stay bear aware when picking berries because they are a favorite food for both grizzly and black bears as they try to pack on weight before it’s time for hiberation.
There are also other berries in the park. Thimbleberries, which look a lot like raspberries without thorns and much bigger leaves, and strawberries are probably the most common. Once you know what to look for, thimbleberries are easy to find. Their bright red fruit is easy to spot. Strawberries can be more difficult to spot. The leaves often hide the small berries. You’ll need to know what to look for and keep your nose open. Wild strawberries can be very aromatic.
By now you probably get the idea that there are a lot of sights to see in Glacier National Park. The park is accessible enough that you don’t need to travel far from a road to experience many of the iconic views and landscapes. A drive through the park on Going-to-the-Sun road is definitely a worthwhile activity. Along the way, you will experience picturesque views, glaciers, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and maybe even some wildlife.
You could easily spend two or more full days just driving through the park and never get tired of the views. Different park districts offer different landscapes. Add in a few hikes and you’ll be wondering if you have time to see everything you hope to see. The hikes don’t even need to be very long. In my opinion, the best hike in the park can be as short as a half-mile. I have an aversion to driving around national parks like everyone else seems to do. I want to get out and see the harder-to-access places that not many people visit. However, I have to admit that the roadside sights in Glacier National Park second to none.
Whether you’re a professional, or amateur, photographer Glacier National Park will make you look good. The landscapes are picturesque and pristine I was even able to take photos I was happy with. If you’re new to photography, the park offers so many opportunities to capture beautiful sights and develop your skills. For the more experienced, you can take on the challenge of creating unique shots of iconic locations that have been photographed thousands of times. And have I mentioned the wildlife? Glacier can be a great place to get some animal shots!
Camping is a great way to have an immersive experience in the park and it’s quite affordable. Glacier National Park campgrounds cost $10-23 per night, which is cheaper than any hotel and even cheaper than many National Forest or BLM campgrounds. Glacier National Park has thirteen established campgrounds. You can view the current status of each campground (open, closed, full, etc.) on the Park’s website.
Some Glacier National Park campgrounds offer camping on a first-come-first-served basis, with no reservations. Others require advance reservations. Information about how to make reservations and which campgrounds require reservations is available on the Park’s website. The Apgar Campground is even open for primitive camping in the winter. Before camping in the park, be sure to do some research and have a backup plan in case you don’t have a reservation and aren’t able to find a campground with vacancies. Glacier is a very popular and very busy summer destination.
10. People Watching
As with any national park, you’re going to share your adventure with many other people. Some of them know the park well and have visited it many times. For others it will be their first visit. Maybe even their first time in a national park. You can learn a lot from watching others. For example, if you’re looking for wildlife, it might be helpful for you to observe someone else who has been doing it for a long time to see what their method is. You might find some new areas by watching where others go. And as always, whenever there are a number of people in the same area there are bound to be some comical moments. Just be sure to follow the primary rule of people watching. Don’t be creepy!
Glacier National Park is a wonderful place to visit. The landscapes and features are unique and remarkable. Just remember that there is more to the park than beautiful vistas. You can often have a more intimate visit by experiencing the park through different activities. This list suggests 10 activities to do in Glacier National Park. Hopefully you can find some more that make your visit one you’ll remember forever.