Glacier National Park 3-Day Itinerary

You’ll only scratch the surface of Glacier National Park in three days, so do your research and have a plan.
Alisha McDarris
By Alisha McDarris 

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Glacier National Park in Montana is one of the most popular and picturesque national parks in the U.S. for a reason. With the park's stunning hikes, colorful wildflowers, towering peaks and cascading waterfalls, there’s so much to do and see.

So if you’re ready to start planning a trip, here’s how to spend three days in Glacier National Park.

Planning a 3-day itinerary for Glacier National Park

Like most popular national parks in the U.S., a visit to Glacier requires some planning. Don’t expect to simply show up and explore. While that may be possible mid-week during shoulder seasons if you’re not planning to sleep inside the park, it’s not recommended. To make the most of your trip, it’s wise to make reservations for accommodations and activities far in advance.

Likewise, the ever-popular and breathtaking Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed in the winter, typically from October 1 to whenever the snow melts, often early summer. That means there won’t be a route from the east side of the park to the west from fall through spring. If you are visiting the park in the summer when the road is open, reservations are required and must be made in advance.

If you plan to stay in the park overnight, there are lodge and camping options available, but advanced reservations are recommended, especially for campsites. There are walk-up campsites available, but most fill by early morning.

When to go

In addition to Going-to-the-Sun Road being closed in winter, several other areas of the park are, too, even though the park is open year-round. So before you start planning your trip, check to see what areas will be accessible, especially if you will be visiting in the shoulder seasons of May or September.

How to get around

Transportation can be tricky in Glacier, so give yourself plenty of time to get around and have a backup plan. Parking lots, especially those near popular trailheads, can fill quickly (often by early morning) so plan to get an early start.

Consider ditching the car altogether and taking the free shuttle bus that runs along Going-to-the-Sun Road. This option requires more flexibility and patience, but may be a less stressful choice, at least where parking is concerned.

Ideas for 3 days in Glacier National Park

Stop at a visitor center

Your first stop when beginning a three-day itinerary for Glacier National Park should be at a visitor center where you can learn about the park, its history, geography and first nations heritage. You can also pick up maps and supplies and get tips from rangers about where to go and what to do first.

There are three visitor centers you can take advantage of:

  • Apgar – located near the west entrance.

  • Saint Mary – located at the east entrance.

  • Logan Pass – in the middle of the park.

Take a hike (or several)

Any three-day Glacier National Park itinerary wouldn’t be complete without a solid handful of hikes. Fortunately, there are scores to choose from, and none of them disappoint. There are several hiking regions that are accessible by vehicle within the park, including:

  • Lake McDonald to the west.

  • Saint Mary to the east.

  • Many Glacier north of Going-to-the-Sun Road.

  • Two Medicine, which is to the south.

Enjoy a waterfront picnic

Pack your lunch (or order one to-go from one of the lodge restaurants within the park) and head to a lake with a blanket and a cold beverage. Hike in to enjoy the view if you prefer, but there are also picturesque spots easily accessible from parking lots along Saint Mary Lake and Lake McDonald.

Attend a ranger-led program

No matter what part of the park you’re in, there’s likely a ranger-led program scheduled. There are typically:

  • Educational and interactive evening programs.

  • Guided hikes.

  • Native America Speaks programs led by local native tribe members.

  • Hotel tours.

  • Astronomy programs.

The best part: Most of the programs are free. Only the Native America Speaks program occasionally requires a small fee.

Most programs run from June through September, and schedules that highlight what’s happening during your visit can be found at visitor centers and ranger stations.

Take a Red Bus tour

If you don’t want to drive your own car and deal with parking but don’t have time to wait for the shuttle, schedule a Red Bus tour. They start from either side of the park (depending on the season) and hit all the major regions. You’ll learn all about the park and enjoy plenty of sweeping views from the vehicles with roll-back tops. Make sure to make a reservation in advance.

Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road

If the road is open, don’t pass up an opportunity to drive the length of the park. Majestic views, beautiful hikes and a route worth writing home about await. There’s an audio and video tour available if you’d like to learn more about it as you drive.

You can even cycle the entire hilly, winding route (including before the road opens to motorists) if you have the time. Keep in mind that if you want to drive the road during peak dates, a reservation is required.

3 days in Glacier National Park, recapped

As you can see, you need not wonder how to spend three days in Glacier National Park for long. There’s plenty to keep you busy, from picturesque drives to stunning hikes, informative tours to educational programs and so much more.

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