You need more than two days to explore Glacier National Park; however, if that is all you have it is still so worth it.
Why Glacier National Park?
Michael’s birthday was at the end of July and we each took a long weekend off of work to be able to go celebrate somewhere. After talking through a couple of options we landed on Glacier National Park. It is Michael’s favorite place in the lower 48 and I had never been, so it seemed like the perfect place to go.
The two downsides:
- With my heart issues we couldn’t go backpacking. Instead we car camped and hiked along some of the easier trails.
- Glacier is 14 hour drive from Denver plus time for gas, bio, and food breaks. Meaning we had one day to drive there, two days to explore, and one day to drive back.
Despite these downsides, we still managed to have a wonderful time.
The drive to Glacier National Park
We left Denver at about 5:30am Saturday morning equipped with hiking and camping gear, books about Glacier National Park, food, iced coffee, and some podcasts and playlists. It’s kind of difficult to just roll out of bed and start driving before the sun is up. I tried my best to be a good co-pilot while Michael drove, but I won’t lie, I had to take a quick little cat nap about 2 hours in. I’m the worst, BUT after than I was refreshed and ready to par-tay!
Honestly, the trip to Glacier National Park is not the most exciting drive. You essentially drive through alllll the boring parts of Wyoming and then allllll the boring parts of Montana. We took breaks when we needed gas, a bathroom, or food, but we kept them all pretty short. It was drive, drive, drive all the way to East Glacier.
This was our route:
We got into East Glacier at about 7:30pm and checked into the Circle R Motel. We dropped off our things and headed directly to dinner at Serrano’s Mexican Restaurant. Unfortunately, it was a 1.5 hour wait. We walked around the little shops in East Glacier while we waited. We drank a beer while we waited. I even had time to walk back to our motel to take a shower while we waited. Eventually we sat, ordered food, waited some more, ate, and then went straight to bed.
Day 1 in Glacier National Park
Our alarms went off at 6:00am Sunday morning. The original plan was to drive to Many Glacier Campground to try to get a spot there; however, Michael figured it would be full by the time we drove the 1.5 hours there. Instead we decided that Two Medicine would be the smarter choice, since it was closer to East Glacier and doesn’t typically fill up as fast.
We arrived at the campground and drove around and around scoping out the different sites that were open and then drove around and around a few more times and then finally landed on a site that we would call our home for the next two nights.
After setting up camp (and tracking down a place that sold coffee) we immediately headed out to explore. We drove along the Going To The Sun Road to the Logan Pass Visitors Center. I ooh’ed and ahh’ed at the scenery as Michael pointed out different sites and we both kept our eyes peeled for bears. We didn’t see any, but we did score big at the visitor’s center – it only took us a few minutes to find parking in the completely packed and busy lot.
First stop, bathrooms. Second stop, visitor’s center. Third stop, Hidden Lake.
The hike to Hidden Lake was about 5.5 miles. My top concern was to spot some mountain goats. Michael’s top concern was for me not to pass out. I’m happy to report that both of our concerns were taken care of.
On top of mountain goats and not passing out, we also got to experience beautiful scenery, bear grass, and lunch at a lake with the clearest water and stones so smooth I’m positive they were created specifically for skipping along the water.
After the Hidden Lake hike we continue to drive along the Going to The Sun Road. It was a beautiful drive around all the trees, lakes, and mountains. Apparently, I was tuckered out because I took another 10-minute cat nap. I’m the worst.
To help wake me up a little bit, we stopped at the Trail of the Cedars. Michael taught me about the different trees as we walked along the 1-mile path. There was an option to walk 1.6 miles out to Avalanche Lake and we started to take it; however, I was starting to get a little paranoid about my heart, so we cut it short and headed back to the car.
I heard Avalanche Lake is beautiful, but why risk it?
We continued along the Going To The Sun Road all the way to the Apgar Visitors Center at the edge of the park. Here we made the wonderful decision to buy National Park Yahtzee. We were both pretty excited about it, because we are both big dorks. Then we headed back to our campground with a pit stop to get gas and beer.
When we got back to our campsite we were able to chat with our camp neighbors a little bit who two very nice older men. These guys were great and had a lot of fun adventure stories to share – hiking all of the 14’ers, climbing various mountains, trail running, camping trips, etc. And let me tell you, they really know how to car camp! They enjoyed their meal of chicken parmesan and pasta, while Michael and I each made some ramen with our little backpacking stoves. Chicken flavored ramen and chicken parmesan over pasta are basically the same thing, right?
After dinner we played a couple of games of Yahtzee (so fun!!) and then took a nice walk along the campground.
Two Medicine is a very beautiful campground.
Day 2 in Glacier National Park
For our second day in Glacier we decided to hike along the Highline Trail. The Highline Trail Loop is one of the more popular trails in Glacier. It follows The Garden Wall to the Granite Park Chalet and then leads back down to Going To The Sun Road for a total distance of about 12 miles. To my surprise Michael had not already hiked it. The Highline Trail does parallel the Continental Divide Trail, which he hiked last summer, but this would be a new experience for the both of us.
We started from the Logan Pass Visitors Center. Unfortunately, we weren’t as lucky with parking this time around. It took much longer, but we eventually found a spot. That parking lot is stressful!
When we started hiking the Highline Trail we didn’t really have a plan – hike 1 mile and turn around? Hike a little more and turn around? Hike the whole loop? We just decided to take it slow and play things by ear.
Well, we ended up hiking the whole thing. It was just so beautiful I didn’t want to stop! Fortunately, there wasn’t much elevation gain, we hiked at a slow, steady pace, and I made sure to drink tons of water. Looking back this was probably a little bit risky. But hey, I survived!
The highlights of the Highline Loop:
About 2 miles into the hike, we spotted a mama and baby goat along the trail. The mom was busy eating grass to the left of the trail and the little goat was parkouring along the rocks to the right of the trail. It was the cutest thing! We were a little nervous to walk on the trail between the mom and baby, but we waited for a good time, went slowly, and made it.
I told Michael I was going to take a hiking selfie of us. I asked him if he was smiling. He said no.
If you had telescopic vision, you’d be able to see a mama grizzly and her cub in the little green space in the picture below. I wanted to see a bear from a safe distance, but this distance was maybe a little too safe? It would have been more exciting to see a bear just a little bit closer so that it would have looked more like a bear and less like a brown dot.
There are two things that I simply could not leave Glacier National Park without:
- A stuffed mountain goat.
- Huckleberry-flavored things.
Mountain goats are just about the cutest darn things (especially the babies). I bought a little stuffed one to go with Michael’s grizzly back in Denver at the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center once we were off the trail. The goat and grizzly are now best friends.
There are huckleberry flavored things all over the place in this area of Montana. Since I kept seeing things everywhere I couldn’t help but get a couple of huckleberry items to try. I am a marketer’s dream!! I got a huckleberry beer, a huckleberry ice cream sandwich, and a huckleberry salt water taffy (not at the same time, all the purchases were spread throughout the trip). Everything was actually pretty delicious!
Once we got back to our campsite we pretty much did the same thing we did the previous night: chat with our camp neighbors, cook ramen, play Yahtzee, walk around, and then hit the hay.
The drive Back to Denver
We took the more scenic route on the way back to Denver. We drove down through Kalispell, picked up some road-side cherries for a snack, and stopped in Missoula for lunch. We continued along 90 and stopped a little past Bozeman to fill up the gas tank. Here we saw a sign pointing to Yellowstone. At first, we just joked about driving through Yellowstone, which would take our drive from 17 hours to 20 hours. Then figured, “what the hell, let’s just do it”. So, we did.
It was more time to hang out, more time to spot wild life, and more time to see some pretty scenery.
The detour was worth it, but it did make the rest of the drive – the boring parts of Wyoming in the dark late at night – difficult. We used the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban audio book, McDonald’s burger and fries, and sour Haribo bears to survive. We made is safely back to Denver at about 3am Wednesday morning.
Thoughts on Glacier National Park
I would go back to Glacier National Park in a heartbeat. It’s a gorgeous park with so many things to offer – trails, views, backpacking, camping, etc. Two days exploring the area was definitely not enough time. It just whet my appetite and left me wanting more. I have no doubt that I’ll back. Hopefully next time will include more days and a backpacking adventure.
Plus, this trip served as a much needed break from the city. Michael and I both needed some quality time with each other and Mother Nature.