Beautiful mountain view hiking with toddler in East Glacier, Many Glacier, Glacier National Park
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The 2024 Complete Guide to Glacier National Park With Kids

Glacier National Park is somewhere I grew up visiting, and I’ve been back almost every summer of my life because I love it so much. I try to explore new areas of the park every time I go, and visiting with kids definitely provides a different perspective than some of my past trips. Here is your complete guide to Glacier National Park. We’ll give you answers to all the questions you might have before going to Glacier. Included in this post is the vehicle reservation system (which can be quite confusing), how to keep yourself and wildlife safe, where to eat and stay, a map of all the park highlights, and more!

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Why visit Glacier National Park with kids?

Glacier National Park is one of the United States most visited National Parks, and for good reason. Glacier is absolutely stunning and has tons of things to do for every type of traveler. Whether you are looking for short hikes to do with your kids, amazing views without hardly leaving your car, or doing long rewarding hikes to see the melting glaciers, there is something for everyone here! Glacier was the 10th National Park established in the United States and was created as an International Peace Park with Canada since it shares a border with Waterton National Park in Canada. There is so much to see here at Glacier from alpine lakes, glaciers, incredible mountains, waterfalls, wildlife, and more.

view of lake mcdonald and mountains from lake mcdonald lodge

How to get to Glacier National Park

West Entrance of Glacier National Park

The west entrance of Glacier National Park is only a 30 minute drive from the Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Montana or a 2.5 hour drive from the Missoula, Montana airport. Those are the two closest airports, but if you’re making a road trip of it, it’s about a 4.5 hour drive from Spokane, Washington or just over 5 hours from Bozeman, Montana.

If you are visiting multiple parks in one trip, Glacier is only a six hour drive from Yellowstone!

East Entrances of Glacier National Park (Two Medicine and St. Mary)

The east section of the park is not as easily accessible as the west side, which makes it somewhat less visited. All parts of Glacier are still very busy in the summer because of the short window it is open and the incredible scenery. However, Many Glacier and Two Medicine provide some of the most scenic views in the entire park, and I would highly encourage you to visit both sides if you can. To reach East Glacier, plan to fly into Kalispell, Montana and then drive about 1.5 hours to reach the Two Medicine entrance, 2 hours to St. Mary, or 3 hours to Many Glacier. You can also make the drive from Great Falls or Bozeman, Montana if you find cheaper flights into those airports. Montana airports are very small, so find the cheapest location to fly into or make a road trip of it from wherever you live!

North Entrance of Glacier National Park

I have not yet visited this section of the park! However, if you would like to stay in the more primitive section of the park – the North Fork areas would be the spot for you. The Polebridge entrance to the park is about a 1 hour drive North of the Kalispell airport. You can also access this part of the park through the west entrance, but may encounter more traffic that way.

There are a total of 7 entrances to the park: The West entrance, the Polebridge entrance, the Many Glacier entrance, Two Medicine entrance, Camas Creek entrance, the Saint Mary entrance, and the Cut Bank entrance!

Glacier National Park Ticketed Entry for 2024

This wouldn’t be a guide to Glacier National Park without talking about the vehicle reservation system – one of the most important things to know! In 2024, Glacier National Park requires ticketed entry to get into the park and the system has been updated from previous years. The reservation fees are $2, and must be purchased ahead of time. Each area of the park has different dates and specifications, check out the National Park Service website to review specifics if you want to know about the other areas of the park.

From May 24th through September 8th vehicle reservations are required for the west side of Going to the Sun Road and North Fork from 6 am to 3 pm.

From July 1st through September 8th vehicle reservations are required for Many Glacier from 6 am to 3 pm.

To have a vehicle reservation, you need EITHER a vehicle reservation OR a service reservation OR lodging/camping in valid areas of the park AND you have to pay the park entrance fee or have a valid annual park pass. If you’re wondering how to get into Glacier National Park without a ticket – go in after hours, have a valid service reservation, or visit the Two Medicine area!

Are you wondering how to get a vehicle reservation for Glacier National Park? A portion of the vehicle reservations will be available 120 days (about 4 months) in advance on a daily rolling basis. Next day vehicle reservations are also available for more last minute plans starting at 7 PM on May 23, 2024 on a rolling basis. Head to this website to book your vehicle reservation!

How long are vehicle reservations valid for? The reservations are valid for one day only.

What are examples of valid service reservations?

  • Commercial Tour Reservations like boat tours
  • Horseback Riding Reservations
  • Watercraft Reservations
  • Permit Holders (weddings, special events, photography projects, etc)

NOTE: The vehicle reservation ticket does not serve as your park pass. To get into the park you will need a National Park Pass. If you frequent the National Parks, I would recommend buying an America the Beautiful Pass which will get you annual access to any of the National Parks (except those with extra entrance requirements) for $80. If not you can purchase a 7 day park pass for $35. This can be purchased at the entrance to the park.

ANOTHER NOTE: If you want to visit other parts of the park, including the Going to the Sun Corridor, you will need a separate vehicle reservation. You can obtain Going to the Sun Road reservations the same way you get vehicle reservations for other parts of the park.

view of blue water at oxbow overlook glacier national park

Getting around

You’ll definitely need a car to get around and see the things you want to do while you are in the park. We’ve saved a ton of money by booking our rental cars through Economy Bookings!

If you want to have a do a tour or have a personal guide for seeing Glacier National Park, one of the bus tours could be what you want. Parking at trailheads along Going to the Sun Road can be a bit of a nightmare and there is a good chance you will not get a spot if you don’t go early. The hiker’s shuttle is a great option that allows you to get on and off when you choose and avoid most of the parking issues.

Red Bus Tours: These famous vintage 1930’s red buses are iconic and considered to be the oldest touring fleet of vehicles anywhere in the world! These old style cars have snug seats and sell out daily. There are several different pick up points and they make regular stops at the highlights of Going to the Sun Road. Link to more information here.

Sun Tours Bus: Sun Tours offers half and full day tours through Going to the Sun Road. This tour focuses on the Blackfeet tribal history and culture. More information here.

Hiker’s Shuttle: A free shuttle offered on a first come first serve basis through the busy season in the park. The hiker’s shuttle is wheelchair and bike friendly as well. Be mindful of the times that the shuttle runs! Dane and I had to run the last 4 miles of our hike once to catch the last shuttle. Don’t be like us! More information on the shuttle schedule.

Where to stay in Glacier National Park

Campgrounds

There are several sites that will be available for reservation 4 days in advance on the recreation.gov website in addition to those that open up six months in advance. Some sites do accommodate RVs or campers, and tent sites are available.

NOTE: Keep in mind that sometimes campgrounds in Glacier will shut down for non-hard sided accommodations due to grizzly activity, especially on the east side of the park since this is major grizzly country.

West Glacier
  • Fish Creek Campground: This campground is close to the West entrance to the park (less than 10 minutes drive). It’s a quieter area that gets less traffic than Apgar or the Going to the Sun corridor and is great for a low key camping trip with kids.
  • Apgar Campground: Very kid friendly campground with easy access to Apgar Village and Lake McDonald by walking or biking on the Apgar Bike path. The largest campground in Glacier National Park!
  • Sprague Creek Campground: I have never stayed at this campsite but it is located up Going to the Sun Road along Lake McDonald. Towed units and RVs exceeding 21 feet are not allowed in this campground so be mindful if you are not tent camping. Some of the sites have views of Lake McDonald.
  • Avalanche Campground
East Glacier
  • Many Glacier Campground – the most central campground for Many Glacier activities, and close to the Many Glacier Hotel which is stunning! I would recommend renting an RV if you’re planning to camp here, since it regularly is restricted to hard sided accommodations due to bear activity.
  • St. Mary Campground – Another option to camp, about 22 miles from Many Glacier with closer access to cell service and amenities like groceries, gas, etc.
  • Two Medicine Campground – A beautiful campground, with easy access to several amazing hiking trails. This campground is located closer to Kalispell than Many Glacier or St. Mary if you’re looking for a shorter drive!
  • Cut Bank Campground – first come first serve campground located on a dirt road. RVs are not recommended
  • Rising Sun Campground – first come first serve
North Fork

Campgrounds in this region are first come first serve for the 2024 season, most are very primitive and private, and RVs or trailers are not permitted due to campsite size and bumpy dirt roads to access.

  • Bowman Lake Campground
  • Kintla Lake Campground
  • Logging Creek Campground
  • Quartz Creek Campground

Lodges & Hotels

West Glacier
  • Village Inn Motel – beautiful views of Lake McDonald, and this motel is right on the lake
  • Lake McDonald Lodge – amazing historic Swiss chalet style lodge built in 1913, located right on Lake McDonald and located 10 miles up Going to the Sun Road. Great for easy access to restaurants and less of a drive to get up Going to the Sun Road.
  • Apgar Village Lodge
  • Motel Lake McDonald
East Glacier
  • Many Glacier Hotel – this hotel is incredible. If you are willing to get accomodations at a higher price point, I would highly recommend this option. Modeled after a swiss chalet, the rooms aren’t luxurious, but they are loaded with charm and the views are some of the best you’re ever going to find.
  • Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins
  • Rising Sun Motor Inn

Vacation Rentals Near Glacier National Park

There are a ton of accommodations located near Glacier, especially on the west side of the park (too many to list!). I’ve listed a few, but just know there are a ton of other options if you BOOK EARLY! If you are staying outside of the park, be mindful of the vehicle reservation system. Also, traffic going into the park can get very congested in the summer, so I would recommend entering the park early to avoid waiting in line in your car.

West Glacier

This adorable cabin is actually situated on the shores of Lake McDonald inside Glacier National Park! The views from the cabin are incredible and you even have beach access on one of the most stunning lakes in the world

This cozy lakefront cabin has huge windows with unmatched views of Lake McDonald. The property sleeps six people, and gives you easy access to tons of hiking trails and Glacier gems!

This property, located just outside the West Entrance of Glacier National Park, is the perfect place to stay if you’re traveling with a big group. It sleeps 12, and even has a hot tub with mountain views!

This budget friendly house is loaded with charm and would be the perfect place to stay just outside the park.

East Glacier

Map of Glacier National Park

The Best Things to do in Glacier National Park with Kids

Check out our other posts for all of the recommendations of things to do in the Lake McDonald area and the Many Glacier area! If you’re planning to hike, definitely talk to a ranger about the best hikes that time of year – they are a wealth of information.

dad hiking with newborn in baby bjorn carrier

Where to Eat & Drink

West Glacier
  • Eddie’s Cafe (Apgar)
  • Russell’s Fireside Dining Room (Lake McDonald Lodge)
  • Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria (Lake McDonald Lodge)
  • Lucke’s Lounge (Lake McDonald Lodge)
East Glacier
  • Many Glacier Hotel – My two favorite things to do here is to drink my morning coffee with my binoculars to start the day, and to get cocktails from the Swiss Lounge to drink on the deck. This bar has top notch cocktails and the Huckleberry Smash is THE DRINK. Trust me on this, it’s so good. The deck is also fairly contained so let your kids roam while you relax with a world class view. The Many Glacier Hotel also has the Ptarmigan Dining Lounge which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is a first come first serve style. It is considered to be the most high class dining in Glacier National Park.
  • Nell’s (at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn)
  • Soft serve icecream at the Swiftcurrent Gift Shop
  • Glacier’s Edge Cafe (breakfast in Babb, MT)
  • Cattle Baron Supper Club (Babb, MT)
North Fork
  • Polebridge Mercantile – this place is famous for their huckleberry bear claws, but they also have a variety of other sandwiches and baked goods at the mercantile. The polebridge mercantile has been in service for over 100 years!
huckleberry smash cocktail at the swiss lounge, many glacier hotel with incredible mountain and lake views

Or do some good old fashioned camping meals like cooking brats over the fire, and don’t forget the s’mores!

What do I need to pack?

Check out our posts for packing with kids. In addition to packing for camping and hiking with kids, make sure you bring bear spray, binoculars, and a good hiking pack to carry the kids! Make sure you pack for all conditions because the weather can be somewhat unpredictable.

What to know about wildlife in Glacier National Park

Wildlife in Glacier National Park is one of the best parts of the park! Glacier has 71 mammal species within the park including grizzly bears, black bears, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, mountain goats, as well as the more elusive mountain lions and lynx. There are also 276 species of birds in the park! There are tons of animals to see, but I have some tips to make sure you and the animals can stay safe in the park.

It should go without saying that feeding animals in the park is prohibited. You must stay 100 yards away from bears, and 25 yards away from other wildlife in the park. Getting closer than this puts both you and the animal at risk of severe injury or death. Please help protect this beautiful park and the wildlife within it.

Bears are more commonly seen on the east side of the park and at the top of Going to the Sun road; however, every part of the park can be bear country. Always practice bear safety when in Glacier National Park. Last time we visited, we saw several grizzly bears, and so many people running towards the bears with small kids in tow. Please don’t be these people! If you want to get a closer view of the animals, bring your binoculars or invest in a camera with a good lens. And as always when in Glacier, carry your bear spray whenever you go hiking or out in the wildnerness!

Weather in Glacier National Park

Weather can be highly variable in Glacier due to the Continental Divide going through the middle of the park. The east side of the park and the west side can have very different weather conditions. The summer months can be very hot, so keep that in mind if you are doing a hike with little tree coverage (going earlier will be better). It is also a regular occurrence to have thunderstorms in the park during the summer. In the Spring, the park can get lots of rain and sometimes snow. The fall can bring less visitors but cold temperatures and the possibility of early snow. And lastly, winter in the park can be brutally cold!

It’s always best to check with a ranger before taking off on a hike you aren’t familiar with, they can be a great resource! And I would recommend packing for all seasons when visiting, even in the summer – especially if you are tent camping.

Going to the Sun Road

This 50 mile road, is an incredible feat of engineering and one of the most amazing roads in the world. It is not accessible in the winter months due to snow, and generally opens up between June and July depending on the snow pack that year.

If you are planning to park at the top of Logan Pass or do a hike along Going to the Sun Road. I would highly recommend going EARLY to avoid having issues with parking. Parking lots fill up in the morning on a daily basis during the busy season along the entire road. There is nothing more stressful than circling the parking lots for an hour with some restless kids in the car.

If you drive the entire road without stopping it would take about 2 hours. There are tons of great viewpoints, hikes, and beautiful views from the car along the way.

How to avoid crowds in Glacier

It is nearly impossible to avoid crowds in Glacier National Park during the summer. One way to limit the crowds is to visit in the shoulder seasons. However, this is a bit risky with unpredictable weather. The Going to the Sun Road may not be open in the shoulder seasons either depending on the snow that year. I would highly encourage you to get up early and start your adventures in the morning before most people are out of bed. That is, if you want the place to your self.

You also can beat some crowds by doing longer hikes; however, that is easier said than done with kids. Lastly, you can visit the less popular places in the park, like North Fork. Despite the large number of people visiting the park, I still absolutely love Glacier and have an amazing time every time I visit.

Glacier National Park safety

Glacier National Park is a wild place, so remember that as you spend time here. Respect the wildlife, and give them their space. And always carry bear spray!

As far as hiking safety goes, it is recommended to hike in groups, make noise while hiking, and don’t run on trails (to avoid surprising bears!) Food and camp storage is also incredibly important when you are hiking, at night, and when you leave camp. Putting all food, and sometimes other items, away helps prevent bears from becoming habituated. And as for all hiking, make sure to tell someone else about your plans on where you are going and when they should expect you back.

Bear safety is huge in this park, but other safety tips are important as well. Like most National Parks, it is very important to not go beyond barriers to avoid falling. Also avoid stepping on rocks near waterfalls or creeks because they can be deceivingly slippery and a number of drownings have occurred in the park due to incidents like that. Wear a life jacket if you are venturing out on a kayak or paddleboarding into the 472 feet deep Lake McDonald.

man looking at view on howe lake hike glacier

I hope this guide to Glacier National Park is helpful! Do you have other questions about Glacier National Park? Let me know in the comments and I’ll update this post with frequently asked questions 🙂 Happy travels!

Looking for a good book to read before visiting Glacier National Park? Here is our 10 Best Glacier National Park Books (for adults or kids!)

Are you headed to other US National Parks? Check out our Yellowstone National Park Travel Guides and extend your Montana vacation!

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