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The Gem of Glacier National Park has to be the Going-to-the-Sun Road which is carved into the side of the Rocky Mountains. The road took over 11 years to complete and currently takes over two hours to travel via car. (Photo Credit: NPS / Tim Rains)

A Guide to Exploring Glacier National Park in Montana

This summer, my family and I packed our bags and headed out on a Western National Park tour. We hit up Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park and The Grand Tetons. Many miles were put on our sturdy Subaru as we attempted to eat healthy on the road while taking in our beautiful country. Come along with us as I document our journey to these three parks and share our tips for getting the most out of our national treasures. Today, I’ll be sharing our discoveries about Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park is a HUGE park and with our busy itinerary, we did not devote enough time to this vast wilderness. The park consists of more than one million acres and is a true outdoors person location. In the mid-19th century, the park hosted over 150 glaciers, as of 2010, only 25 active glaciers remain and few can be easily seen.

Visitors can (and should) go on one of the more than 734 miles of maintained hiking trails within the park. Hikes range from the easy 1.2 mile loop at the top of Logan Pass to more intense backcountry hikes requiring multiple days. Glacier Guides offer the opportunity to hire a guide and let their expertise take over.

The Gem of Glacier National Park has to be the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Carved into the side of the Rocky Mountains, the road took over 11 years to complete and currently takes over two hours to travel via car. Visitors are encouraged to take the free shuttle to the top of Logan Pass from either Apgar Visitor Center on the west side or St. Mary Visitor Center on the east side. The road is narrow and steep which means the driver will miss the beautiful scenery to be seen. Be warned though, if you take the shuttle from Apgar, riders are first put on a large bus and dropped off at Avalanche Creek where you wait again for a ride in a smaller shuttle. Our trip to Logan Pass took over 3 hours due to long waits for buses and shuttles. Our entire trip to the top and back again ended up taking almost 5 1/2 hours in the hot sun. Logan Pass was simply amazing and the short trail we took was still covered in snow at the beginning of July. Even if you are not planning on hiking, we would still recommend wearing closed toe shoes as my Birks ended up being a poor footwear choice. My feet are still warming up from walking across the snow covered paths. My children didn't seem to mind their frosty appendages in their sandals so to each their own!

The best way to travel the Going-to-the-Sun Road is on a guided red bus. The vintage 1930s buses seat 17 people and book up quickly. The ride is not to be missed with a tour guide and no wait.

Logan Pass hosts a large visitor’s center with rangers, informational signs and a gift shop. The best was spotting mountain goats in the distance and then stumbling upon one at the shuttle stop. There were lots of warnings about bears on hiking trails too. One of the shuttle riders in our van said their easy two mile hike had turned into a 8 mile excursion due to the presence of two grizzlies on their path. Any hike within the park should be done with bear spray and plenty of water.

Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of activities to keep themselves busy from SUP to canoeing and white water rafting. We saw lots of cyclists riding around the park too. If there is an outdoor activity that can be done, it is being done in the park.

Getting to Glacier National Park takes a bit of time with an average of 9 hours of driving so we’d recommend doing it differently than we did. We drove to Spokane and stayed the night and then tackled the last part of the drive in the morning. However that didn’t put us into the park until almost noon which meant we didn’t have as much time to enjoy in the park. As for lodging opportunities, there are many through the park service. Cabins and hotel rooms can be booked up to 13 months in advance through Glacier National Park Lodges. We ended up staying outside the park but still booked through Glacier National Park Lodges at the Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls, MT. It was pure luxury and offered free breakfast in the morning. The kids were enthralled with the indoor pool. The hotel also offers a free connector shuttle to the park during the summer which helps avoid parking troubles.

Campsites are abundant in the park but sell-out quickly. Most of the 13 different campgrounds and approximately 1,009 sites are available to book on a first-come, first-serve basis with a few campgrounds available for reservation a year in advance. Campground information can be found here. The Apgar Campground was full-service with restaurants, ice cream shops, gift shops and a ranger station. Glacier’s West Entrance is more like a little town than a park entrance. There were multiple restaurants, places to book rafting trips, a post office, gift shops and more. We ended up at the West Glacier Grill for a hearty meal that filled us up. The elk burger was a hit as was the homemade pie.

Glacier National Park can not be conquered in a day but that was all the time we had for on our schedule. Next time we plan to give it at least three days to allow for proper exploration and the opportunity to go white water rafting. Next up, our three days in Yellowstone National park!