Glacier National Park with Kids: An Ultimate Family Adventure Guide

Planning Your Visit to Glacier National Park with Kids

Glacier National Park is simply breathtaking. Glacier’s landscape is stunning in every direction you turn. Visiting Glacier National Park with Kids should be on your bucket list!

Every season Glacier National Park welcomes more than 3 million visitors and most of these visitors arrive between mid-June through late August. If you’re planning a trip to Glacier during the busy summer months, keep reading for all the insider tips you need when planning a trip to Glacier National Park!

We planned our trip to Glacier about 5 months before our visit, so we learned the tricks to see all the best places this park has to offer!

Best Time to Visit for Family-Friendly Weather

Glacier National Park is open year-round, but the National Park Service does not snow plow the World Famous Going to the Sun Road. In fact, the NPS only maintains the road from West Glacier to the Lake McDonald Lodge. Neither the East Glacier nor the St. Mary’s park entrance are not accessible.

So, if you want to see Glacier in all its lush green glory, we recommend visiting in mid-July or early August. Our trip was in early August.

The weather was warm! In fact, the high temperatures reached the upper 80F mark in the day. And there were very few clouds offering shade, so be prepared with sunscreen! In the evenings the temperatures cooled down to the upper 50F degrees.

The wide temperature changes make packing for this adventure of a lifetime challenging. We stayed at Under Canvas in West Glacier and packed for all weather conditions.

Understanding Glacier’s Timed Entry System for Summer 2024

The massive inflow of visitors during the summer means Glacier National Park uses a timed entry system. Timed entry is enforced from May through September…the peak season.

Visitors can enter the park daily BEFORE 6 AM or after 3 PM! Otherwise, you must have a vehicle registration. Vehicle Registrations for Going-to-the-Sun Road are good for only 1 day. Otherwise, you need a vehicle reservation. Vehicle reservations can be secured on up to 120 days in advance. These WILL SELL OUT, so act quickly!

What if I can’t get a vehicle registration 120 days in advance? The NPS offers “rolling next-day reservations,” which open at 7 PM Mountain Time the day before.

A word of caution…cell phone signal in GNP is spotty so you may not have connection if you’re inside the park at 7 PM Mountain Time!

Pro Tip: What if I didn’t get tickets? Book a Service in the Park. Booking a Service in the Park allows you to access the park during the hours of 6 AM to 3 PM. Services include the Red Bus Tour, horseback riding, or boat tours.

We took a Red Bus Tour one day to gain access. It was super cool! Another day we booked a boat tour on the Grinnell Glacier Trail.

According to the NPS website, “a vehicle registration is not required when entering the park through the St. Mary Entrance to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road.” Visitors must have a vehicle registration to access the west entrance of Glacier (e.g., the Apgar checkpoint).

Pro Tip: Arrive early to avoid the line to get in at the Apgar Check Point.

One final note, in addition to vehicle registration, visitors are required to pay the entrance fee OR show their annual America The Beautiful NPS Park Pass! Stay up to date on the NPS’ website for all things related to vehicle reservations.

East vs. West Glacier: Choosing Your Base

Choosing the right “home base” in Glacier is very important! Going to the Sun Road is the only road that travels through the entire park.

glacier national park

West Side

We stayed in West Glacier at Under Canvas which is located about 15 minutes from the West Glacier entrance and about 30 minutes from Whitefish, MT. The town of West Glacier and the surrounding towns offer food, lodging, groceries, and shopping.

East Side

Most of the East Glacier is located in or around Native American Reservation land. While there are very small towns near the entrances, we did not think these would make good home bases. Plus, the east side was at least 2 hours from the closest airport to Glacier.

The drive from West Glacier to Grinnell Glacier Trailhead at Many Glacier Lodge was 120 miles! We left Under Canvas Glacier at 5:00 AM! It was a super long day! We felt like there was more to do and see in West Glacier and would stay there the next time we visit this park!

Kid-Approved Activities in Glacier National Park

Visiting the National Parks is one of our family’s favorite vacations. National Parks give us the chance to explore the natural beauty of the United States as a family.

Hikes in Glacier National Park make for some of the best adventures in this remarkable natural wonder! During our visit we saw so many kids in Glacier National Park enjoying their “forced” family time and experiencing this wonderful park! Keep reading for some of our favorite kid-approved activities in Glacier!

Exploring the Wonders of Going-to-the-Sun Road

Going-to-the-Sun-Road is an amazing adventure from the valley floor to the heights of Logan’s Pass. Along the way, visitors get to see mountains rise to the heavens, rivers raging across the rocky bottoms, a forest of lush and thick cedar trees, waterfalls, and go through tunnels! If you’re lucky, you may spy a herd of goats grazing on some lunch! The hands-down BEST way to experience the Going-to-the-Sun-Road is via the Red Bus Tour.

Must-See Stops: Logan Pass and Hidden Lake Overlook

Stopping at the Logan Pass visitor’s center is a must-do. This visitor center serves as the trailhead for the Highline Trail and the Hidden Lake Overlook. Both of these are must-do adventures.

Pro Tip: Grab a picture at the Continental Divide sign atop Logan Pass. Try to notice the difference in the park between the western and eastern sides of GNP!

Highline Trail stretches nearly 14 miles. No worries, you really only need to hike about 1 to 1.5 miles out on this trail to experience all the cool features. The best part is hiking along the edge of the mountain. No need to worry because there is a steel cable to hold onto!

Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is about 2.7 miles with a lot of stairs. The trail is easy to follow and will be packed with visitors during the peak summer season. This is an easy hike and worth the 90 minutes to hike out and see this impressive glacial lake! We got to walk next to a mountain goat for a while!

Junior Ranger Program: Engaging Kids with Nature

The Junior Ranger Program allows kids to learn more about the park while they explore. Although this program looks cool, our kids were never into this program. We did a Junior Red Bus Tour Guide and it was filled with fun facts. Honestly, I think our son did it thinking he might get to drive the Red Bus! Just kidding! 🙂

red bus tour

Horseback Riding Adventures for the Family

Choosing the Best Horseback Riding Tours for All Ages

At Many Glacier Lodge, we saw horseback riding tours. Our days were jam-packed so we could not join a tour. However, exploring the NP on horseback would be super fun and like the earlier explorers! Swan Mountain Outfitters offers horseback riding tours!

Outdoor Excursions Beyond the Beaten Path

Experiencing Glacier National Park’s rugged beauty means getting out of the car and going for a walk in the woods. With over 700 miles of hiking throughout Glacier’s 1,000,000 acres, you are certain to find the perfect family-friendly trail!

Trail of the Cedars: An Accessible Hike for the Whole Family

Hiking to Avalanche Lake: A Trail of Cedars Highlight

Avalance Lake is stunning. The lake is set in the valley of several mountains, and hiking is required to get there. This trail is rugged in places and can be moderately challenging, but cooling your feet in the cold lake is totally worth the effort! The trail starts on the Trail of the Cedars and branches off to Avalanche Lake. Visiting Avalanche Lake is a must-do. This trail includes the Cedar Trail, which is 6 miles. Plan for about 3 hours. Pack plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, and of course, BEAR SPRAY.

glacier national park

Why you will love the family-friendly Trail of the Cedars – Trail of the Cedars is perfectly flat and leads hikers on an easy stroll through massive cedar trees. The sheer size of these trees will leave you in aw of nature’s power!

Why you will love Avalanche Lake -This moderate hike leads explorers to the Avalanche Lake “tucked” into the valley between mountains that rise to the sky. On a clear “Big Sky Country” day it feels like you can touch the blue sky above the water. Avalanche Lake is picture-perfect for grabbing the best family selfie, skipping rocks, enjoying the cool water on your toes, and savoring a delicious snack before hiking back to the trailhead at the Going-to-the-Sun Road!

Grinnell Glacier Trail: A Challenging Trail That’s Worth the Effort

The Eastern side of Glacier National Park is home to the Many Glacier Hotel, a Swiss inspired hotel that looks absolutely charming, and the the trailhead for the Grinnell Glacier Trail.

Grinnell Glacier Trail is a 10-mile round-trip hike on an out-and-back trail. This trail begins by hiking around Swiftcurrent Lake and then past Lake Josephine. In the early morning, these sections are nice and shaded. The trail around Swiftcurrent Lake is flat while there are some gentle hills as you hike along Lake Josephine. These are a warm-up for the big climbs ahead.

Take the Many Glacier Boat Tour

The Glacier Park Boat Company offers boat tours across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Taking the boat ride shaves off 4 miles from the total hike to Grinnell Glacier. These are the easiest 4 miles, but 4 miles is 4 miles. Plus booking a boat tour with Glacier Park Boat Company allows you to access the park without a specific vehicle registration.

The Hike to Grinnell Glacier

With Lake Josephine behind you, it’s all uphill to Grinnell Glacier. Soon you leave the tree line behind, and you will be exposed to the sun. Pack sunscreen and hats for this trail! The views will make you think you’re in Europe’s Alps!

Why you will love Grinnell Glacier – The opportunity to visit a glacier, see the crystal clear water, witness ice chunks floating in a lake, feel the exhilaration of the cold water lapping against your feet, and enjoying a perfect lunch spot in the high mountains is rare.

This is a challenging hike and if you have health problems, knee problems, etc. or just are not in shaped to hike 10 miles in tough conditions, you may skip this one!

Plan for a full day. The hike took our family about 3 to 3.5 hours with older kids and navigating the crowds. We enjoyed about an hour at the glacier and then another 2 to 3 hours back down the mountain. Take plenty of water and snacks. You will need water and fuel along the way!

Staying in and Around Glacier with Kids

To experience Glacier National Park plan to stay near the Park. Missoula, MT is the closest large city and it’s nearly 2.5 hours south of Glacier. Luckily there are tons of great options in West Glacier.

Lodging Options for Families: From Camping to Glamping

Apgar Village: Cozy Stays and Lakefront Views

Apgar Village offers the park’s largest primitive camping area. Apgar Campground offers 194 camping spaces for tents and RVs.

It’s located close to the West entrance to Glacier. Apgar Visitor Center offers tons of amenities, including trip planning and educational exhibits about the park, Park Ranger discussions, a book store/gift shop, and more.

At Apgar Village, some park rangers set up telescopes with special filters so we could watch solar flares “dancing” around on the surface of the sun! If time permits, we recommend a dark sky ranger-led program. Check-in at the visitor centers of Glacier to learn more about the timing of ranger-led programs. Experiences like these make National Parks amazing!

Many Glacier Campground

Many Glacier has a campground near Swiftcurrent Lake and the East entrance to Glacier. This campground offers 109 sites and can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet.

Vacation Homes and Historic Lodges: Comforts of Home in Nature’s Lap

Other lodging options include Under Canvas Glacier (luxury camping), several full-service campgrounds like KOA West Glacier, and countless AirBnbs and similar accommodations!

Dining near West Glacier: Family-Friendly Recommendations

West Glacier has a few food options. In our view West Glacier is not like the gateway towns of West Yellowstone or Springdale at Zion. Both West Yellowstone and Springdale have a vibrant food and local brewery theme. West Glacier’s dining options are far more limited.

For a more memorable dining experience, plan to visit the resort town of Whitefish, MT, located about 40 minutes west of the West Glacier park entrance. Whitefish is a thriving mountain town with vibes similar to Jackson, WY, the “home base” for exploring the Grand Tetons!

Preparing for Your Trip: Tips and Essentials

Packing List for Summer Adventures in Glacier

Summer weather makes packing for your GNP adventure tricky. Daytime temperatures can soar into the low 90F range. While nighttime temps can dip into the 40F range. Layers of performance, moisture wicking clothing are excellent choices.

Make sure to pack sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, good hiking boots, and BEAR SPRAY.

Pro Tip: Stop at the Sharing Shack in Columbia Falls, MT. The Sharing Shack is a place where visitors leave extra gear they can’t haul back on the plane. Think of it as a bit of “off-trail” trail magic! We grabbed two cans of bear spray for our adventure. This saved us about $50!

Avoiding the Crowds: Tips for a Peaceful Family Experience

  • Avoiding crowds during the peak summer season is going to be impossible. Here are a few tips for planning your trip to explore Glacier!
  • Consider visiting similar National Parks like North Cascades National Park, which gets a fraction of the visitors as compared to Glacier National Park.

Pack your patience because the crowds are large, traffic jams will happen, trails will be busy, etc. Even with the best schedule, “life” happens. So, plan to enjoy your time and not let the clock dictate your every move! Have fun!!

Beyond Glacier National Park: Activities for Kids in Flathead Valley

Montana’s Flathead Valley includes the entire area of Glacier National Park, Kalispel, Whitefish and more. We explored Glacier as well as Whitefish.

Whitefish Mountain Resort: Summer Fun for Kids

Whitefish Mountain Resort has summertime fun for kids of all ages. Some of their offerings include zip line tours and a mountain bike adventure park.

The nearby town of Whitefish offers a cute town square with tons of shops where local artisans display their craft. Plenty of decioulous craft breweries are available to sample the local fare and beer! We enjoyed ice cream at the City Beach of Whitefish Lake!

Safety First: Ensuring a Secure Visit for Families

Wildlife Safety Tips for Parents and Kids

When visiting Glacier National Park or any national park, remember that this is not a zoo. The animals you encounter are wild and unpredictable.

Both black and grizzly bears are found in Glacier. You may also encounter Big Horn Sheep, Elk, Links, Mountain Goats, and more. These animals are really amazing to see in the wild.

Remember to keep a safe distance. Use the zoom on your camera and stay safe!

Glacier National Park with Kids: A Journey to Remember

Whether crossing the Going-to-the-Sun Road, spying on wildlife, or hiking to stunning vistas, each moment promises to be a page in your adventure diary. Remember, Glacier isn’t just a destination; it’s an experience that will captivate your family’s heart and ignite a lifelong love for the great outdoors. So lace up those hiking boots, pack your sense of wonder, and prepare to be amazed at every turn. Glacier is waiting to tell you its timeless tales — make sure you’re ready to listen!

Safe travels and happy trails!

About Us

Mike & Sara began RV camping in 2020 and instantly loved the lifestyle. As a family we love hiking and exploring new places. For super amazing places to explore in our Kentucky Home including Mammoth Cave National Park, please check us out at Our Campfire Unplugged, we enjoy sharing our experiences to help fellow travelers live their best lives.

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