If I could just give one travel tip for all time, it would be this: Get your tuchus to Glacier National Park. Located in western Montana's Rocky Mountains, you'd be hard pressed to find anything more beautiful. Even Hugh Jackman looks "meh" in comparison.
I'm not even sure how many times I've visited Glacier over the years. I lived a few hours west of it as kid, and we went pretty much every year. As an adult, I've already visited several times. If you ask me my current mood at any given moment, my honest response would probably be "sad I'm not at Glacier." There are so many great gems in the park. Essentially anything you can do or see there is better than everything else you can do or see in the entire world, but I'll try to point out some highlights.
The current cost of a seven-day pass for a vehicle is 35 dollars. If you plan to visit multiple times, an annual pass is 70 dollars. Assuming you live within a few hundred miles, I'd totally take the latter. Seventy dollars for a year's pass to the real happiest place on earth?! Let's see Disneyland do that... and they don't even have mountain goats. Five dollars a day for a week is a crazy good deal, too.
I haven't even come close to going on the vast majority of the available hikes there, but my favorites are the Highline Loop and the trek to Avalanche Lake. For childhood nostalgia's sake and my desire to be one with the mountain goats, I'm also very partial to the Hidden Lakes Overlook hike. In addition, the Baring Falls, St. Mary Falls, and Virginia Falls path is wonderful. Honestly, I could keep going and just name all the hikes. I will try *very* hard to stay on task here. It probably won't happen. Prepare for long-winded grandpa storytelling.
The Highline Loop is definitely going to take a good chunk of the day. From the Logan Pass area, it works its way down to the "Loop" on Going to the Sun Road. If you can park at the Loop, taking a park shuttle up to the Logan Pass area is probably your best bet. When you finish your hike, you're at the car. You can also park at the Apgar Visitor Center and catch the shuttle going up and down. The 12-mile trek covers some absolutely beautiful terrain, hugging the Garden Wall most of the way. It can be a bit tiring, especially over the last few miles after Granite Park Chalet, but the views are worth it. You can remind yourself of that when your feet are threatening to revolt at the end of the day.
Approaching Granite Park Chalet on the Highline Loop. If you're sweating your bum off, you can buy water there.
Avalanche Lake is another highlight, and it's much less sweaty and exhausting. The roughly four-and-a-half-mile round trip hike begins from the Trail of the Cedars trailhead. That's just a little ways past the west entrance. The hike to the lake is in a densely forested area and runs along a creek. Getting to the lake is beautiful enough, but the lake itself is absolutely gorgeous. There's a rocky stretch perfect for sitting back and enjoying the view. You may also be enjoying the view of many tourists during peak season, but it's kind of like a woodsy fashion show. You can take notes on the kinds of hiking boots you need and see who wears their backpacks better.
Avalanche Lake. I'd honestly take a Glacier trip just to park it here for several days.
Speaking of lakes, I'm always up for sitting my heinie down at Lake McDonald and enjoying the view. That's a place you can enjoy without having to hike anywhere. You may need that at the end of a long day. Later in the day, the traffic has slowed a bit, and you can enjoy a nice sunset. You may enjoy it with mosquitoes, but if wildlife is going to feed off of you there, it's probably best that it's just a mosquito.
A marmot at the Grinnell Glacier Overlook, off of the Highline Loop. Making snow angels in July is the best.
When it comes to wildlife, you're pretty much guaranteed to see some on the Hidden Lakes hike. Mountain goats galore! I've also seen bighorn sheep in the area the last two times I went. Despite the significantly longer distance that the Highline Loop covers, I saw far more animals on the Hidden Lakes hike. You can go to the overlook, which is about a mile and a half from the Logan Pass Visitor Center. On one of my recent trips, we couldn't go further, due to bear activity around the lake. The overlook is nice enough. It's not necessary to continue all the way, but if you do, it's about five and a half miles round trip. As if I need to explain, the views are bananas either way.
A mountain goat checking out the Hidden Lake Overlook area. Even the animals can't get enough of the hikes.
There is a large variety of animal life at the park. There are black and grizzly bears, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, a bunch of birds, marmots, elk, deer, otters, and more. Glacier's website has very extensive mammal and bird lists. Over the years, I've seen a few bears, lots of deer, so many mountain goats, marmots, bighorn sheep, and probably more that I can't recall because I was a little kid too busy hitting my brothers.
I've never camped at Glacier. Typically, I stay in Kalispell and drive over. The accommodation is pretty cheap further away. According to Glacier's website, most campsites are first come, first-served. There are a few exceptions, though, where reservations are permitted. Costs range from ten to 23 dollars per night during the summer. They always seem to be pretty full when I drive past, but there is a section on the website that shares updates on the campgrounds. If you want to be safe, you can always make reservations at the sites that allow for it. Some day I may decide to camp, too, but I want to be able to shower and look my best for the woodsy fashion shows. Also, if I don't wash my curly hair every day, it may actually eat some mountain goats.
Considering the cheap admission price and all you can see during a Glacier trip, I have no idea why you're still reading this and haven't booked a trip yet. Get to it! For more information on Glacier, to find out about a great place to eat nearby, or to see some of the views on the hikes, check out my Thrifty Trip Glacier video.