Let me just start by saying that Glacier National Park isn’t made for a weekend. The National Park is filled with valleys, peaks and lakes that is made for much than a weekend, and this Glacier National Park travel guide is all too short for the stunning park. Still with a photo project due quickly last September, we packed up our car for a quick weekend spent in the national park.
But even if you are like me and get only a couple days in Glacier – t a k e t h e m.
For those of you who aren’t in the western part of the US, Montana, Idaho, and California were hit really hard with wildfires last fall. In fact, we were were only able to cover the East side of Glacier, as West Glacier was closed off due to Montana’s raging wildfires. Meaning we were continually on the run, dodging the heavy smoke and never even got to see the iconic Lake McDonald.
Though it did help us explore parts of the park we had originally written off! I’m already scheming to get back to the park a bit earlier this year and give an even more in depth Glacier National Park travel guide.
Illustration by Sunny Bacon
Going to the Sun Road
The Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National park splits the park in the middle and houses some of the most talked about spots.
At the beginning of the East entrance and along the going to the Sun Road towards Logan Pass, sits Saint Mary Lake. With all the haze we struggled to get a photo over the entire lake, but still took a few moments to snap some photos. You can check out all the suggested hikes here for this region.
My favorite part of our trip. And I deemed my favorite place in the world. This is the one other spot I asked to go back to in wildflower season!
The hike to Hidden Lake through Logan Pass is super easy to the first lookout, although heavily trafficked. There is even a wooden boardwalk to guide you for the first part of the hike and make sure the heavy traffic doesn’t harm the natural fauna. If you are lucky enough you will probably see a wild mountain goat! I was fascinated by this story of how the Park Rangers were making sure the goats didn’t get to used to humans.
To avoid the heavy crowds get there e a r l y. Also, if you are up for a more intensive hike, prep for a 5 mile hike (in & out) and keep hiking past the main lookout.
What you will need to hike more than the typical 2.8 traversed miles:
- Bear spray – Hidden lake is known for lots of bear crossings and while we saw only a large fuzzy caterpillar this part of the hike may even be closed for bear activity. Ask a Park Ranger at the Logan Pass building if the trail is closed.
- Water – this hike took us roughly 4 hours. Granted we were stopping for video and photos, but the last 2 ish miles down to Hidden lake are steep so be prepared!
- Hiking boots – some people were getting by with tennis shoes, but the last jog down to Hidden Lake is steep. Not super rocky, but a good non-slip sole would be preferable.
Lake McDonald is located on the West entrance of the Going to the Sun Road. Unfortunately for us it was closed (and evacuated) due the raging wild fires this fall! However, look forward to a post about this iconic spot in the park because I want to get back here ASAP.
Glacier National Park Travel Guide – Many Glacier
Even though the smoke was moving in before we made it out of the parking lot, we were in awe of Swiftcurrent Lake. The lake is part of the Many Glacier region and backed right up to the Many Glacier Hotel. Our plan was to rent a canoe for an hour and paddle along the shores, but instead we just enjoyed the views and eventually moved out of the heavy smoke.
Truthfully, we didn’t even plan on getting this spot in our trip this time around. I wanted to spend the majority of our time between Logan Pass and Swiftcurrent Lake, but that’s the thing about fire season – less visitors, less rigid plans.
After looking at the National Park webcams with a park ranger, she directed us to Two Medicine.
Two Medicine is about an hour and a half away from Swiftcurrent Lake. With so many changing plans we weren’t able to explore much more than the shoreline.
H o w e v e r,
this summer I’ve added the Pitamakan/Dawson loop to my summer bucket list. This will be a long trek (18 miles total), but the views alone look completely worth it. Reminding (again) me that sometimes the less traveled places are the best.
I really struggled writing this Glacier National Park travel guide because UGH. There is so much more to the park then these few spots! And I felt as if we only scratched the surface on them. But I truly think even if you have a couple days to explore the park you should!
These are all photos from a campaign I was on with a national hotel last fall… Unfortunately they passed on using the images because they were just too smokey and didn’t include the iconic Lake McDonald in West Glacier. Still, I tried to take the bad with the good and hope they inspire you to make a trip out to Glacier National Park.
I can’t wait to get back to the park this Summer and explore a little bit more off the beaten path. Have you ever visited Glacier before??