It is impossible to see all of the best that Glacier National Park has to offer in three days, but you can still enjoy some of its most beautiful places in a long weekend. Access to the park is well-developed, with routes circumnavigating nearly the entirety of the park’s U.S. borders, and one main road traversing the heart of the park’s wilderness and splitting the park in two.
The landscape is dominated by conifer forest habitat, Douglas fir and Engelmann spruce, and aspen that turns its characteristic golden hue in the fall. Beargrass is common, as are wildflowers like monkeyflower, brewed, balsamroot, and paintbrush. This is one of the last remaining regions in the Lower 48 where the grizzly bear roams, and the largest concentration of grizzlies can be found in the wilderness just south of Glacier National Park. Most of the historically present species remain in the park, including the rare wolverine, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, badger, big cats, birds of prey, and many other bird species. The park includes hundreds of lakes and about 200 waterfalls, some of which remain active year round.
Your weekend will center around the Going-to-the-Sun Road. One of the park service’s first automotive improvements within park lands, the road was completed in 1932, and it is the best way to access the park. Its 50 miles forge into the heart of Glacier National Park’s Rocky Mountain interior, opening access to its biggest lakes and some of its best hikes. It can be traveled in either direction, and this west-east itinerary can easily be reversed for those traveling from the east.
Start your weekend at West Glacier and Lake McDonald. Pick up supplies in Kalispell before heading to the Apgar Visitor Center, which offers a quick introduction to park conditions. Stop by and ask a ranger for tips and advice on seasonal trends in the park. Ample camping is available along the lake’s shores at Apgar, Fish Creek, Sprague Creek, and Lake McDonald campgrounds. The Lake McDonald Paddle is a great way to ease into the weekend; the views are stunning, and nearby rentals are available.
Glacier National Park is prime fishing habitat. Lake fishing is open all year, but certain limits apply. Be sure to check regulations. Canadian regulations apply to the Waterton Lakes, and the Blackfeet Nation sets regulations for Lower Two Medicine Lake.
The 2017 lightning-caused Sprague wildfire took its toll in Glacier National Park. Many of the trails west of Lake McDonald were completely destroyed, and the most significant loss was the historic Sperry Chalet itself, along with the campground. Still, Mother Nature will regenerate. What was once a brilliant backcountry hike from the Sperry Trailhead up to the chalet will be rebuilt eventually, and hikers will be able to enjoy the area again. Be sure to check in with the National Park Service to see what the status of this area is before you plan your trip..
After your return, continue along the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Saint Mary’s Lake. This is the most beautiful stretch of the scenic route, so plan to stop regularly. Several day hike options await, including the Garden Wall and the Highline Trail. Rangers offer guided hikes along the Highline Trail. One of the most spectacular of these, however, is the Hidden Lake Hanging Garden, a 6-mile hike to a hanging valley and a beautiful alpine lake.
Camping is available at Rising Sun and Saint Mary along the Saint Mary Lake's northern shore. There is also a backcountry campground within a mile or two of the Sun Point Day Use Area, which offers close access to Saint Mary Falls and Virginia Falls, two of the park’s beautiful waterfalls. That said, a night at Many Glacier Hotel is a can’t-miss Glacier National Park experience.
Whether you're at Saint Mary Lake or Swiftcurrent Lake, take the next day to soak in the sights, fish, or paddle, before a final night at Many Glacier or your campground. Near the Many Glacier Hotel, hike to Bullhead Lake and the Ptarmigan Tunnel for the chance to see moose, wildflowers, and waterfalls. Near Saint Mary Lake, wildlife also awaits along the Beaver Pond Loop.
Thoroughly revitalized after a weekend in the wilderness, return along the Going-to-the-Sun Road for the best possible road of egress, or continue on your way east toward the Saint Mary Visitor Center.