Montana USA Northwest Travels

Top Things To Do In Glacier National Park This Summer

top things to do in Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

Road trip season is upon us. We are loading up our cars with tents, hiking packs and our favorite 6 packs of beer. And we are also loading up our vacations with plans. Here at Paws For Beer, we love a great road trip, especially one that involves driving a road through alpine views hugged by aqua-colored lakes pairing up with the thrill of wildlife sightings around every corner. Here is our list of the top things to do in Glacier National Park this summer:

top things to do in Glacier National Park
The Going To The Sun Road

Driving The Going To The Sun Road
I know, duh. But it’s only a duh if the road is open. I have been to Glacier National Park 4 times in the past 10 years and have only successfully driven across the entire road once. All of my other visits to Glacier the road had been closed due to weather. Two of the three visits were in July and September, so take that into consideration when planning your trip.  Late summer months may not guarantee the road being open. If the Going To The Sun Road is closed you can usually bypass the road by driving around the southern part of the park on Highway 2. The west or east side entrances are accessible during the snow season and will have some part of The Going To The Sun Road open.

top things to do in Glacier National Park
The Going To The Sun Road

But you’re not here to read about bypassing the road. You’re here to read about The Going To The Sun Road. Many people describe this road as narrow and scary. I won’t lie to you, those descriptions are accurate.   I do recommend that you put aside your fears and give it a go anyway. In my opinion, the best time to travel this road is early in the morning. I know, no one wants to get up early on their vacation, but it can be worth it.  Getting up early will give you the best chance to avoid heavy traffic and grant you a better opportunity to see wildlife. Also, parking and pullouts will not be overflowing with your fellow park goers the earlier in the day you go.

You will want to make a stop at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, topping out at 6,647 feet (2026 m) as you cross the Continental Divide.  At the visitor center, you can chat with rangers about hiking opportunities or ranger-led programs.  You can also learn about the park through the interactive exhibits and the bookstore.

top things to do in Glacier National Park
Wild Goose Island

The entire road is filled with dynamic photo ops, Lake McDonald from the west side and Swiftcurrent and Saint Mary Lakes from the east side are worth filling up an entire roll of film. You know, if we still used film. You will also want to capture the cute little Wild Goose Island, in Saint Mary Lake.  The island may be a familiar sight, but still worth a gander.

To check out the Going To The Sun Road conditions click on the link. If the road is closed be sure to view their photos of the plowing progress. It is quite impressive. My complete review of The Going To The Sun Road can be found here.

top things to do in Glacier National Park
Red Bus at Glacier National Park

Red Bus Tour
Nothing beats driving the actual Going To The Sun Road.  However, it is narrow, scary and often filled with lots of cars. So why not leave the driving to the professionals? The Red Bus Tours run throughout the summer, taking you all over the park. The Red Buses are also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. In addition to you not driving your own car, the buses are powered by propane, which is 93% cleaner than the average automobile.

Tours are offered from both the west and east sides, with most tours beginning mid-June. There is one exception, the Huckleberry Mountain Tour, which starts in mid-May, departing from the west side. There are 33 buses at Glacier National Park, dating from the years 1933 to 1939. The Red Buses transport an average of 60,000 tourists per year on their eight designated tours.

Tours and pricing for the Red Bus Tours can be found by following the link. For my complete review of the Red Bus Tour, it can be found by clicking on this link.

top things to do in Glacier National Park
Boat tour on Lake McDonald

Boat Tour
Tourists have been cruising around Lake McDonald, Swiftcurrent, Many Glacier, and St. Mary Lakes in classic wooden boats since the 1930’s. Taking a boat tour is also the only way to see the lakes from a motorized boat.

Lakes are glacial fed, treating your eyes to a spectacle of color. Depending on the time of day and how dense the minerals are in the water that day, the color of the water can vary from a vibrant blue to a sea-foam green color.

Boat tours range from 45 minutes to just over an hour.  Some of the boat tours pair up with hiking options as well. During my visit to Glacier NP, I took the Lake McDonald boat tour. We were there early in the season which treated us to dramatic low hanging clouds, snow-capped mountains, and limited tourists. The Lake McDonald boat tour starts the earliest in the season, in late May.  The rest of the lake tours start around early to mid-June.

Glacier Boat Tours and pricing can be found by following the link. For my complete review of the Glacier Boat Tours can be found by following this link.

top things to do in Glacier National Park
Harrison Lake from above

Helicopter Tour
Seeing Glacier National Park from any vantage point is a life goal of many.  But seeing Glacier from the highest vantage point should be at the top of your list. Taking a helicopter ride was an interesting decision for me as I suffer slightly from anxiety. I am not the biggest fan of flying in an airplane, and to willingly get into something smaller was a bit shocking for me. But I was on a mission to see some glaciers while in Glacier National Park.

I opted for a helicopter ride because as an out of shape hiker I was not physically fit enough to climb up the mountains to see the glaciers. The helicopter flight was a great compromise.  Aside from having a slight freak out during the flight, it maintains one of my favorite memories of visiting Glacier. Note that my anxiety had nothing to do with the tour company or the pilot, as both were safe and reliable. I’m just a weirdo and freak myself out for no reason.

I used Glacier Heli Tours for my tour of Glacier National Park, although there are other tour companies.  I did recently learn that after 30 years, the owner of Glacier Heli Tours has decided to retire and they are no longer offering tours at this time. Helicopter tours are on the higher end of pricing.  Expect to pay a few hundred dollars per person for a short tour.

For my complete review of my helicopter tour of Glacier National Park, it can be found here.

top things to do in Glacier National Park
Iceberg Lake Hiking Trail

As I mentioned in the above helicopter tour review, I am not much of a hiker. I will hike, if absolutely necessarily. And there better be a great photo opportunity at the end of the trail. Fortunately, during my hike to Iceberg Lake, there were many photo opportunities along the way and at the end of the trail.

My friends describe me as someone who “comes in hot” when it comes to my beer selection.  This means I gravitate to the higher octane beers right out of the gate. I feel that I have this same issue when it comes to hiking. I tend to pick the hike with the best scenery, throwing caution to the wind when it comes to matching my ability up with the appropriate trail. Although everything turned out well on this trip, I was quite sore the next day. And rightfully so!  The hike was 9 miles (14.5 km) round trip with a 1275 foot elevation gain (388 m).

There is an abundance of hiking trails in Glacier National Park, and I have only taken a few hikes in the park, so I am by no means an expert.  The National Park Service has a detailed map of hikes broken out by areas in the park that is quite handy for finding the right hike for you.

To read my complete review of hiking Iceberg Lake Trail it can be found here.

top things to do in Glacier National Park
Tasting Flight at Glacier Brewing in Polson Montana

This may be a travel guide to Glacier National Park, but we also love beer! And when there is beer to be talked about, I will be happy to share my thoughts on where to get the best beer in the area! Although there are no breweries inside Glacier National Park, the following restaurants, listed below, offer a decent selection of Montana breweries including Great Northern Brewery out of Whitefish, Flathead Lake Brewing out of Bigfork and Montana’s most recognizable brewery, Big Sky out of Missoula.

Glacier National Park Restaurants with beer on tap
Eddies Cafe & Gifts – Apgar Village
Russell’s Fireside – Lake McDonald Lodge
Two Dog’s Flats – Rising Sun Motor Inn
Nell’s – Swiftcurrent Motor Inn
Swiss Lounge – Many Glacier
Ptarmigan Dining Room – Many Glacier

There are a few inspired by and/or brewed beers for Glacier National Park worth checking out such as The Going To The Sun IPA from Great Northern and the Lone Walker American Ale from Flathead.

The nearest actual brewery to the park is Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls (17.5 miles /28.1 km). With a bit more driving, you will find Great Northern in Whitefish (26.5 miles / 42.6 km), Bonsai Brewing Project also in Whitefish (27.6 miles / 44.4 km) and Kalispell Brewing in Kalispell (33.2 miles / 53.9 km).

If you are willing to drive a little more I recommend taking a quick trip down to Flathead Lake.  There are some dynamite breweries located around the shoreline, Flathead Lake Brewing in Bigfork, Tamarack Brewing in Lakeside and Glacier Brewing in Polson.

So what’s on your to-do list for your Glacier National Park visit?

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top things to do in Glacier National Park

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