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10 Fun Things to do in West Glacier National Park With Kids!

Why visit the west side of Glacier National Park with kids?

Glacier National Park is an absolute gem, known as the Crown of the Continent, with some of the most incredible lake and mountain views in the entire world. In my opinion Glacier is one of (if not THE best) National Park in the United States. The west side of Glacier National Park is very kid friendly whether you are visiting Apgar, Fish Creek, or somewhere outside of the park. There is access to many bike trails, less grizzly bears, several family friendly hiking trails, and tons of facilities within and outside the park. It is also such a beautiful area that you have to visit at least once. If you’re like me, you’ll want to keep coming back over and over again!

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Getting Around West Glacier!

You’ll definitely want to rent a car to get around to all the best stops. We’ve been able to save a ton of money on rental cars through Economy Bookings!

Vacation Rentals Near West Glacier

If you’re looking for a vacation rental near West Glacier – here is a list of some of the amazing properties you can rent and be very close to or even inside the park! Yes, you read that correctly – there are several vacation rentals inside Glacier National Park that you can rent for your family – then you won’t even need a reservation for the park which can save you some headache!

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.

Map of things to do near West Glacier

The best things to do in West Glacier National Park with kids

Whether you are staying in West Glacier, Apgar, or Fish Creek – there are tons of things to do with kids in the Lake McDonald Valley. No matter what you choose to do, you’ll have an amazing time in the most beautiful corner of Montana.

1. Play on Lake McDonald – Kayak, Paddleboard, & Swim!

You can’t visit the west side of Glacier National Park and not explore Lake McDonald. Lake McDonald is an incredibly beautiful, clear, and clean lake. In good weather, the lake is very calm which makes for excellent paddleboarding or kayaking conditions. There is also nothing better than taking a dip in an alpine lake after a hike!

Kayak, paddleboard, and raft rentals are available near Eddie’s Cafe in Apgar Village. Also, if you bring your own you will need to have it inspected and you must have a life jacket in order to get the inspection done. Life jackets can be rented for about $6 per day also. You don’t have to wear the life jacket, but it needs to be present on the kayak or paddleboard with you.

Link to the inflatable paddleboard we have here!

2. Ride Bikes around the Fish Creek Campground or on the Apgar Bike Path!

West Glacier is very bike friendly! I highly recommend bringing bikes for yourself or your kids if you come to this side of the park, or renting them. I grew up riding bike riding in Apgar and I had a ton of fun. You can rent motorcycles, bikes or e-bikes near Eddie’s Cafe in Apgar Village. It is common to ride bikes around the Fish Creek or Apgar Campground loops or along the Apgar bike path. Early in the year, before the road opens, you can also bike Going to the Sun Road. We use this balance bike for our two year old and he absolutely loves it!

3. Hike the family friendly trails in the Lake McDonald Valley

If you’re taking your kids hiking, make sure to check out our post, Hiking with a Baby: Everything you Need to Pack for a Successful Day. Having a good pack is essential, we love the Baby Bjorn carrier for newborns and the Ergobaby carrier for older babies (once they get some head control). Even with short hikes, make sure to carry bear spray when you’re in the park, anywhere is bear country!

  • Trail of the Cedars: 0.9 mile loop, basically flat and is stroller friendly. This trail takes you along a boardwalk that passes giant cedar trees and crosses Avalanche Creek. This trailhead is located along Going to the Sun Road and can be VERY popular – go early or you will likely not get a spot. Also, you could add this to a hike to Avalanche Lake if you are feeling ambitious (4.6 miles roundtrip and ~750 feet elevation gain).
  • Oxbow Trail: ~1.5 miles, mostly flat, this hike leaves from across the street from the Schoolhouse Gift Shop in Apgar Village or if you can’t find parking there you can park at the Apgar Visitor Center and walk along the Apgar bike path until you hit the trail (adds about 0.6 miles). This trail leads through the woods until you hit McDonald Creek and then the trail follows along the creek. We saw some of the bluest water we’ve ever seen in a river! The trail forks at several points without clear signage. Make sure to look up the trail map and consider downloading it ahead of time to prevent getting lost.
  • Rocky Point: 2.0 miles, 230 ft elevation, although distance can be slightly variable because there are a few different points you can access the trail. This trail walks you through the forest and past many different types of wildflowers. You will also pass some signs about the wildfire there and how it impacted what you see today. The trail ends when you reach an overlook of Lake McDonald – be careful with the little ones it is a steep drop off, but beautiful!
  • Howe Lake: 3.2 miles, 350 feet elevation gain. If you’re looking for a short hike that has less people, this will likely be the one for you. The trailhead is located about 5 miles north of Fish Creek. Note that the road up to the trailhead is dirt road and is narrow and windy. The lake views are less spectacular than some of the other hikes you’ll encounter here, but due to the location of the trail you won’t have very many hikers with you. Bring bug spray!
  • John’s Lake Loop: 2.0 mile loop, 230 feet elevation gain. Trailhead is located along Going to the Sun Road before you reach the trail of the cedars trailhead. I haven’t done this hike yet, but it appears to be a good family friendly option. Since the parking is along Going to the Sun Road, I would encourage you to arrive early if you want to get a spot.

4. Cool down with some huckleberry ice cream!

Huckleberries are a a classic Montana treat, and if you need to try one food while in Glacier National Park, this is it! Huckleberries are a small purple berry that are similar to blueberries that grow all over Northwest Montana. They are also a favorite snack of black and grizzly bears and many other animals in the park. There are several places to get ice cream or milkshakes in the Apgar Village and also one place in the Lake McDonald Lodge.

5. Shop for souvenirs at The Cedar Tree gift shop

Out of the gift shops in the Apgar Village, we liked the Cedar Tree the most. It seemed to us to have the best selection of souvenirs and was the most inexpensive as well. We bought a magnet (something we buy everywhere we go), a book for ourselves and for the kids, some huckleberry licorice (would skip this – it wasn’t that good), and Dane was also able to find a great Glacier National Park hat. The other thing that we bought that I would highly recommend if you have a toddler or young kids is small plastic animal figurines. They were $3 each and our toddler absolutely loved it, the plastic wolf kept him busy forever!

6. Take a scenic boat ride on Lake McDonald

Take an hour long boat tour on the historic DeSmet vessel around Lake McDonald. Kids under 4 boat for free! It’s recommended to book tours ahead of time. Get dinner at the Lake McDonald Lodge and then take a sunset cruise! More information on boat tours available here. Also, a boat cruise will serve as your vehicle reservation system ticket if you have a tour booked. This is definitely a plus if you are not staying inside the park.

7. Participate in the Junior Ranger program

Talk to a park ranger about your little ones participating in the Junior Ranger program. This program gives kids the opportunity to take ownership of protecting and preserving Glacier National Park. Complete the steps and activities in the packet provided from the ranger and receive your junior ranger badge!

8. Visit the historic Lake McDonald Lodge

The Lake McDonald Lodge is a historic, Swiss Chalet style lodge that was built in 1913. It is located along Going to the Sun Road on the east shore of Lake McDonald. The interior of this lodge is beautiful and unique with some of the most interesting lighting I’ve ever seen. There was also someone playing amazing piano music when we visited. Choose to stay in the lodge, or visit and have a cocktail, dinner, or ice cream.

9. Drive the Going to the Sun Road

Going to the Sun Road is a 50 mile road that is an incredible feat of engineering, and an absolutely STUNNING experience. Every time I drive this road I am in awe of these mountain views. If you’re only able to visit Glacier National Park once, make sure you add this experience to your list.

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. 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. However, if you’re staying on the west side of the park, you will get a lot of the great views by driving half of the road up to Logan Pass. If you’re up for a hike at the top, the beautiful Hidden Lake Overlook is 2.7 miles roundtrip and ~500 feet of elevation.

Keep in mind that there is construction going on during the summer of 2023 – this makes the drive up Going to the Sun Road even longer.

10. Enjoy a campfire at your campsite!

Glacier National Park campgrounds are great and I would highly recommend taking some time to relax at your campsite with a nice cozy fire, some s’mores, and fire roasted dinner. Firewood is available for purchase at most camp stores or you can bring your own from home. Please don’t gather firewood from around the campground, it is not allowed. Enjoying my campsite is one of my favorite things to do in West Glacier!!

11. Bonus activity: attend a ranger led program at the amphitheater

Ranger led presentations are put on nightly in both Apgar and Fish Creek. For 2023, Apgar has presentations at 7PM nightly and Fish Creek has presentations at 9PM nightly. Programs run 30-60 minutes and vary on topics. Since we were staying in Fish Creek, we didn’t get the chance to attend because 9PM is past our bedtime, but next time I would love to attend one of these programs.

Topics covered are a huge variety including humanity’s role in the park, eye-catching birds in the crown of the continent (hummingbirds were one of the topics when we were visiting), Glacier’s night sky, colors of the park, and more! These presentations may be tough for really little ones to sit through, but I haven’t attended one yet so I can’t say for sure how interactive they are.

Overall thoughts on West Glacier with kids?

Must See: At least one of the short family friendly hikes listed, driving GTS road, and playing on Lake McDonald!
Would Skip:
Driving Going to the Sun Road mid-day. We did this (although we knew better) and we weren’t able to find a parking spot at the trailhead. Make sure to go earlier in the day. Personally, I would skip GTS Road if you aren’t going to make it relatively early, especially when with kids! There is construction during the summer of 2023 so this makes the drive longer and less pull outs available to stop at.
Next Time:
I would love to go to one of the ranger led programs at the amphitheater. A bucket list item my mom and I want to do is hike to the Sperry Chalet and stay overnight. This is not a young kid friendly activity, but sounds amazing!

Happy travels!

Check out some of our other guides to help you plan your trip to Glacier National Park with your kids!

Need some reading material or podcasts to help inspire you before your trip? Or to entertain you on your drive? Here are some of our favorite National Parks books and podcasts!!

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