When looking for places to visit while road tripping, we often look for somewhere that is going to be a great scenic drive, or a location that offers lots of hiking and other natural activities. Occasionally though we get lucky and find a place that offers fantastic drives and the opportunity to really get in touch with Mother Nature. Glacier National Park happens to be one of those places. If you are planning a road trip anywhere near Northern Montana, make sure to include Glacier National Park in your itinerary. It’s one of the most unique National Parks in the US and easily sits near the top of my list of favorites.
Road Trip Planner for Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park features what is arguably one of the top driving roads in the USA. The Going to the Sun Road is known in adventure driving circles as one of the most scenic and adventurous roads out there. The combination of altitude changes, steep winding curves, and some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes make it an easy choice. The great drive was the whole reason we planned a road trip to the area in the first place. I didn’t realize I would also find these incredible vistas and fall in love with Glacier National Park.
As usual (or so it seems for travelers), our road trip didn’t start out exactly as we had planned. By the time we made it to Kalispel, MT, (see out latest Kalispell, MT Travel Guide here ) which is right outside Glacier National Park, the Going to the Sun road had a major closure: the dead center of the road. It had been under construction all through the summer, but was closed completely in the fall due to weather conditions (before you go check road conditions here). This put us in a tough situation. The road is 50 miles long end to end and we wanted to be able to see both sides of the huge national park.
After studying the map a bit we came up with a road trip planner that was just crazy enough to work! We would simply drive AROUND Glacier National Park, enter from the northeast, drive as far as we could into the park, reach Logan Pass, turn around, go all the way back around the park then go in the southwest entrance and see what we could there! Brilliant right? Well, even I have to admit it was kinda crazy, but I’m here to tell you we pulled it off. Here are the specifics: We took Highway 2 E around to 89N, went into the park on the northeastern side, made a u-turn at Logan’s Pass, drove back down 89S to Highway 2W, then in through the west entrance. Here’s a little map of the route we took.
Our Glacier National Park Trip in Photos
Our day at the park began early and with a second bit of bad news. There was a winter storm brewing so the weatherman called for a wintry mix. What’s that? Oh just that perfect mix of ice and rain, that soaks and freezes everything. We intrepidly (or possibly stupidly) decided to head out anyway. We set out on the first leg of our adventure and started heading towards Glacier. As we made our way around to the parks northeast entrance we enjoyed some spectacular views and great driving along Highway 2.
There’s a neat monument about 1/2 way along that’s definitely worth checking out. It’s a tribute to Roosevelt and his commitment to conservancy.
We continued through the sleet and rain and then had our first lucky break of the day. The weather suddenly cleared up and we caught our first glimpse of the mountain peaks in the distance.
Then we were greeted by this lovely rainbow, and took it as a sign that we made the right decision.
It was shortly after this point where we were finally able to clearly see one of the mountain peaks.
After what felt like forever (or maybe just 1.5 hours) we made it into the Glacier National Park’s northeastern entrance.
Our first goal once we got into the park was to make it to the top of the pass and to the continental divide. The drive along Saint Mary’s Lake was everything I had hoped for. The road was appropriately curvy and windy, plus the views were mind-blowing.
Interestingly, due to the crazy snowfall and plowing that occurs in Glacier, there are many points in the road that have little or no guard rail at all.
Looks like a long way down if you’re not careful :-)
It’s a bit freaky when you stop and think about it actually (It’s a good thing I don’t think about these things until after the fact). On one side of the road there’s a giant drop off and on the other, a steep cliff side.
Of course, all the danger comes with an incredible view. It’s hard to imagine that this is a lake at all, it almost looks like a small sea.
After soaking in the beauty of it, we got back in the car and made our way to Logan Pass. As the altitude increased, so did the cold and fog. By the time we made it to the peak of the pass, another storm cell had come in.
Bracing ourselves against the wind and cold, we hiked around the closed visitors center and were rewarded for our efforts.
Normally, you could continue through the pass and drive the steepest and sharpest part of the road. Sadly, it was closed to us, but it is normally open for a few months in the Summer. We made our way back down the eastern side of the road, and decided we had time for a little hike. We stopped and spent some time on the Saint Mary’s Falls Trailhead, and were once again rewarded for our efforts. The views were wonderful. The lovely colors of fall were so bright against the stark stone.
The river was running at a very gentle flow this time of the year.
The glacial water and runoff was crystal clear and fresh.
The Saint Mary’s waterfall was small, but beautiful nonetheless.
After our hike, we were ready for some more driving. We made our way back around the park in what surely could be described as “record time” and proceeded through the western side of the park (If you don’t tell any state troopers I won’t either). Right after entering Glacier National Park west, we stopped at Lake McDonald and explored.
Seeing more of the storm coming in, we hopped back in the car and drove to the end of the road at Avalanche point. We turned around and decided we had some time for a little more hiking before night fall. We took a little hike near McDonald creek. As soon as we came to the creek, we knew that it was worth visiting both sides of the park.
We were standing on a little deck overlooking the creek, I decided I had to get a closer look and jump over the railing. Clearly, I was not the first person to have this idea.
Lauren decided she didn’t need a closer look.
The river was calm, and thankfully, it looks like I avoided drowning :-)
After our little excursion, we decided it was time to pack it up and head out of the park. Along the way one of Glacier National Parks residents came out to wave goodbye.
On our way back to the hotel, Lauren and I agreed that this was one of our favorite national parks of all time. Glacier had all you could ask for: beautiful mountains, gorgeous lakes, and great drives. It’s easily a park we could both return to again. Maybe next time I’ll be able to finish driving those last 6 miles of road…
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If you enjoyed this Road Trip Planner for Glacier National Park you might enjoy these related posts:
Ultimate Guide to U.S. National Parks (2018)