Your Ultimate Glacier National Park Family Adventure Guide 2024

Your Ultimate Glacier National Park Family Adventure Guide

Glacier National Park, nestled in the pristine wilderness of Montana’s Rocky Mountains, is a natural wonderland that beckons adventurers worldwide. Known for its rugged terrain, breathtaking vistas, and diverse wildlife, the national park offers an unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages.

From hiking, fishing, rafting, watching beautiful sunsets on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, seeing lots of animals and enjoying delicious huckleberry treats, you and the kids will be fully catered to in this part of Montana’s Big Sky country.

Glacier National Park is an excellent choice if you are planning a family vacation. In this article, we will guide you through the joys of visiting Glacier National Park with kids, sharing tips, activities, and insights to ensure a memorable and enjoyable adventure.

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When is the best time to visit Glacier National Park?

The best time to visit Glacier National Park depends on what you want to do. If you want to drive on the Going to the Sun Road, go rafting, fishing, hiking, visit the backcountry Chalets, and explore various areas of the park, late June through mid-September is the best time. It’s perfect for first-time visitors who want to enjoy all these fantastic activities!

May through mid-June is ideal for those who love biking on the Going to the Sun Road before cars are allowed back on it. The road typically opens for cars in mid-to-late June, and you can bike from West Glacier to Logan Pass during mid-June. Some lower sections become bike-friendly as early as May.

If you are into exciting whitewater rafting on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, the best time is July, August, and September, when the water is calmer, great for families.

September brings a golden glow to the park as trees start changing color. On the west side, this begins in mid-September, while the east side usually changes in early October. Larch trees, known as tamarack, put on a fantastic display from mid-October. They are unique because they are conifers that lose their needles but still look stunning.

Besides the lovely leaves, fall offers a quieter park experience. By mid-late September, most lodging and services in the park close for the winter. This means you can enjoy solitude and explore less crowded lower-elevation rivers and hiking trails. If you prefer a peaceful visit, fall is the best time to go to Glacier.

What to do in Glacier National Park with the kids

The entry tickets to Glacier National Park cost $35 and are valid for seven days. If you also plan to visit other National Parks, consider getting an America the Beautiful Pass. It costs $80 and lets you visit National Parks all year long. This pass covers the entrance fee but not the tour or lodging fees. And, if you have a 4th grader in your family, you can all get free annual park passes.

One of the most important things to remember when planning a trip to Glacier National Park is the timed-entry ticket system, also known as the Glacier National Park vehicle reservations.

The information on vehicle reservations is subject to change. In 2022, the vehicle reservations were exclusive to Going-to-the-Sun Road. However, in 2023 (embargo ended September 10th), Two Medicine, Many Glacier and North Folk were added to this criteria. So, be sure to check the National Park Service for updated information.

Glacier National Park became a U.S. national park in 1910 and has since built a reputation for having enchanting glaciers and breathtaking mountain views. It’s one of the best places to take kids to enjoy nature in its splendor because there are plenty of fun things to do.

While at Glacier National Park, you can go on short hikes and see wild animals. Here are the activities to add to your itinerary for a fun-filled experience at the national park;

Drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road

Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the park’s main roads and is super pretty. It’s about 50 miles long, so it takes about two hours to drive the whole thing. While driving, keep your eyes open to glimpse some of the park’s diversified wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, goats, and bears. The road goes over the Continental Divide and twists through the mountains, so it’s one of the best things to do in Glacier National Park.

Visit Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald is the biggest lake in Glacier National Park by some distance. For context, if you added up all the other 168 lakes in the park, they still wouldn’t be as big as Lake McDonald! The lake is known for its beautiful, colorful stones at the bottom of the lake. What’s interesting is that these colors are purely a natural process.

The rocks can be red or green depending on whether they have iron. The red stones come from a shallow ocean where oxidation occurs, and the green ones form in deep water where oxidation is inhibited. Make sure to take a boat ride out on the lake, relax on the beach, swim, and take some family photos.

Visit Many Glacier

Many Glacier cannot be missed. The drive to Many Glacier is beautiful and offers breathtaking views of Swiftcurrent Lake and the Many Glacier Hotel. You will also find Iceberg Lake, Apikuni Falls, Cracker Lake, and Grinnell Lake in Many Glacier.

Grinnell Glacier is one of the few glaciers you can hike on in the park. Many people like to do the Grinnell Glacier hike, especially with kids. But keep in mind that the walk is quite lengthy. If your kids are up for it, you will cherish this memorable experience for a lifetime!

Join the free Ranger Program

During the busy summer, Glacier National Park offers exciting kids’ activities to keep them entertained and educate them about the national park. We highly recommend you try this out during your visit. This program includes tasks and fun things to do that are all around Glacier National Park.

To become a Junior Ranger in Glacier National Park, get the Glacier Junior Ranger Activity Booklet, which comes in versions for readers and toddlers. You can pick it up at visitor centers like St. Mary, Apgar, and Logan Pass.

Once you’ve finished the tasks and activities in the booklet, show it to a park ranger at any visitor center or ranger station. Once approved, you will become an official Glacier Junior Ranger with a cool Junior Ranger Badge. It’s an excellent way for the kids to make friends, have fun, and learn more about the park!

Enjoy a bike ride in Glacier National Park

While there aren’t many places to ride bikes in Glacier National Park, there are still a few spots where you can enjoy the park’s beautiful scenery on a bicycle. You can’t take bikes on the hiking trails, but you can ride them on all the roads and the only paved trail in the park, the McDonald Creek Bike Path. This bike path goes from West Glacier to the Apgar Visitors Center and is pretty flat, making it great for a family bike ride.

One of the must-do activities in the park is biking on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, especially in the spring before cars are allowed on it. This incredible ride goes up about 3,300 feet over its 32-mile route from the Apgar Visitor Center to Logan Pass. Most uphill riding happens in the last 10 miles, and you will reach the pass at 6,646 feet. It’s a real adventure!

Go hiking in Glacier National Park

Exploring Glacier National Park on foot is a fantastic adventure! With more than 700 trails, there’s something for everyone, whether taking a stroll or embarking on a more challenging backcountry hike. Glacier National Park has plenty of short and easy hikes that even toddlers can enjoy.

Some of the best kid-friendly trails include the Trail of the Cedars, St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls Trail, Redrock Falls, Baring Falls, Hidden Lake Overlook, Avalanche Lake, Lake McDonald Trail, and Swiftcurrent Nature Trail. Happy hiking!

Go rafting in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park has lots of rafting spots, and one of the most breathtaking is the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Many tour companies in West Glacier offer rafting trips on the Flathead River. They accommodate children as well, depending on how fast the river is flowing.

When snow melts in the mountains in May and June, the river can be too wild for kids, so it’s best to avoid rafting during that time. However, the river is much calmer in July and August, and it’s an excellent time for children aged 3-5 to go rafting with their parents. This river marks the park’s boundary and is known for its clear water and mountain views. You can have fun as a family on this river with gentle rapids (Class II-III), see wildlife, and more.

Where to stay in Glacier National Park

Depending on what experience you seek, Glacier National Park has several lodging options to consider.

Camping in Glacier National Park

Camping in Glacier National Park offers a fantastic way to immerse in Glacier’s stunning natural setting fully. With over 1,000 camping spots across 13 campgrounds, the national park has something for everyone. Whether you prefer remote tent spots or family-friendly RV sites, there is a site out there with your name on it. Most sites work on a first-come, first-served basis, but you can reserve a few in advance through the National Park Service’s online booking website.

Some of the campgrounds include Kintla Lake Campground, Bowman Lake Campground, Many Glacier Campground, St. Mary Campground, Rising Sun Campground, Fish Creek Campground, Apgar Campground, and Sprague Creek.

Hotels in Glacier National Park

There are also several hotels and Inns for a good night’s sleep after a long day outdoors. Here are our top picks;

  • Izaak Walton Inn; The Izaak Walton Inn is located in Essex, making it super convenient for visiting Glacier National Park. It’s only a 30-minute drive to the park’s west and east entrances. Plus, you will be near Kalispell, Columbia Falls, Swan Lake, and Flathead Lake.

Izaak Walton Inn is also right next to a working Amtrak station. The lodge itself is lovely, especially the family suite rooms. But to make your kids even more excited, get one of the old train cars that have been turned into cozy places to sleep. Some of them even come with kitchens! These fill up fast, so make reservations before heading to the hotel.

  • Whitefish Lake Lodge; Whitefish is an excellent spot for families, and it’s only a 20-minute drive from Glacier National Park. The town center in Whitefish is charming and filled with art, making it a fun place for kids. Plus, it’s close to a historic train station. Not far from downtown is Whitefish Lake, which is incredibly beautiful and surrounded by mountains.
  • Lake McDonald Lodge; Lake McDonald Lodge is a 10-minute walk from the beautiful lakeshore and has a restaurant right there. You can also take a quick drive or walk to Apgar Village, where you will find ice cream shops and a pizza place.

A family trip to Glacier National Park is an adventure filled with natural wonders and unforgettable experiences. From exploring kid-friendly trails to participating in the Junior Ranger Program, Glacier National Park provides valuable opportunities for education, bonding, and appreciation of the great outdoors. Pack your bags and embark on a family journey that will connect you with nature and each other amidst the stunning backdrop of Glacier National Park.

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