TRAVEL TIPS: GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

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If you follow my Instagram feed (@nurturecultivatecreate) you may have noticed that my family and I returned from a dream vacation. Mr M, Baby W and I went to Glacier National Park in Montana and Banff National Park in Alberta Canada. A trip of a lifetime that we spent less than $600 on. Because our trip was so great I wanted to share the highlights  in case you or someone you know is headed in that direction.  

Not to mention we took our little guy with us and if you are looking for a family friendly (yes even BABY friendly) vacation spot here is some tips you won’t want to miss! 

I first went to Glacier National Park when I was about 11. We went as part of a family reunion with my grandparents and my dad’s siblings with all of the cousins. I remember driving the Road to the Sun, looking out over the glaciers and lakes, and also freezing in the middle of summer. We continued once out of Glacier and into Canada to stop in Cardston Alberta. It was a vacation that I loved as a kid and have looked back on with great memories.

When traveling Mr M and I have been some really neat places but rarely are we somewhere at the same time for the first time. Like when we went to Paris, I flew over after he’d already been in France for 5 weeks (and he’d already been to Paris two years before that). When we went to New York last summer I met him there after he’d been there for 2 weeks for work. Are you catching a pattern here? Something that is new to me, and he’s already been there. Other places that we’ve been to together we had also been to as kids, such as Disneyland, Zions, Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, etc. So I could tell you the one vacation we’ve been on that was a ‘new experience’ for both of us together. 

So when it came to planning this epic adventure I jumped on the chance to go somewhere he had never been. In my planning I planned two hypothetical vacations. One to the Muir Woods / San Francisco and the other to Glacier / Banff. (I give a little more background info on my trip planning here). He had never been to the Redwoods or to Glacier. I have been to both so it would be my chance to show him around. Banff would be a new experience for both of us and I’ll write more about it another day!  

We decided for this trip to go to Glacier and Banff National Parks. Let me show you why: 

Getting There 

I have this romanticized dream about traveling with Mr M across the country in a little beater trailer or Eurovan and seeing the world from my co-pilot seat. I always tell Mr M that ‘when we drive across the country…(insert my comment about travel/driving/beauty here)…’ like I plan to actually make this day happen. I don’t think I quite have his buy into it yet but a little road trip doesn’t scare me. So in planning this trip we decided we could drive as a way to break into the epic road trip idea.  

Our home is over 600 miles from Glacier National Park so Day 1 of our trip was spent just getting there. Traveling with an 8 month old baby means stopping every 3 hours for feedings, diaper changes, and all that is involved with traveling with kids. He did an incredible job in the car but we stopped nonetheless, so plan some buffer time into all of your travels.  

If you are driving headed North to enter the park at West Glacier I would most highly recommend the route we took to get there. We took I-15 all the way to Butte Montanta. It’s a pretty drive but mostly the mountains are off in the distance. Once in Butte we changed over to the I-90 to Missoula. This was when the drive started to get pretty! I loved the Missoula area and it stays pretty the rest of the way too. We had heard about Flathead Lake and it was worth the extra 7 minutes of travel to go that route rather than taking Highway 83. To go the Flathead Lake route just after Missoula you take the Highway 93  heading North. It is a pretty drive and you end up circling this huge beautiful lake. The road follows the edge of the lake leaving you with pretty views and wishing you were staying there. I want to take another week vacation just to stay at Flathead Lake. From there we hit Kalispell, then Columbia Falls and into West Glacier.

After our trip through Glacier we were in Alberta Canada visiting Banff National Park. So coming home we came a different route so we could camp in West Yellowstone that evening. I much preferred our first drive through Montana. Coming back we were on the East side of the mountain range and it was rolling hills. We encountered a section of road on Highway 89 that was just dirt. That is all, dirt. So I guess what I would recommend is if you are looking for a different route home, maybe I-15 through Great Falls, and Helena would be the way to go to through the Northern part of Montana. 

But once we got to Helena the drive was just rolling hills and Mountains off in the distance. It was pretty and once the sun began to set I understood why they call it Big Sky Country.

Things To Do:  

Glacier National Park is full of things to do! We could’ve spent way more than the 2 days we spent there. However if you can’t stay a long time I felt like two days was perfect. We were able to see a lot and also enjoy a few simple things without feeling incredibly rushed. 

One of the things the park is most known for is the Going to the Sun Road. It is a beautiful mountain road that connects West Glacier to Saint Mary at the East end of the park. At 50 miles long, and nearly 100 years old it is a must do experience in the park. There are some travel restrictions because the two lane road hugs the side of the mountain RV’s and trailers are not allowed up so they also run a shuttle service.   

This was one of our favorite things we did in Glacier. Can you see why? You almost feel like you are in a place that doesn’t really exist. Mr M has been to the Alps and said this drive was way better than what he did over in Europe. He was impressed! (Way to go for taking him somewhere new! )It is an incredible view and we would highly recommend it, and while we were there there was a forest fire on the East end of the park so we only got to drive half of the Going to the Sun Road. Even with only being able to do half it was still worth the drive!  

The road is 50 miles long so it can be done in one long stretch as you exit the park to the East or you can do it in chunks and turn around like we did because of the fire. There is plenty to see along the way and little hikes to experience. I would plan at least 3 hours minimum to drive and stop and lookout or all day to hike and experience this part of the park. 

Hiking Lake McDonald was one of the first things we did in Glacier National Park. Sunday morning we woke up and went to church in Columbia Falls, just outside of the park. After church we moved campsites and then had lunch. By the afternoon we were itching to explore. Lake McDonald is at the entrance to West Glacier and right at the beginning of the Going to the Sun Road. In fact the Going to the Sun Road follows the East side of the lake. There are plenty of lookout points but for a more excluded experience we hiked along the west shores. 

To hike along Lake McDonald we began at Fish Creek campground where we were staying. The trail begins there and is the Lakeshore Trail. The trail follows the entire 7 miles of the lake so we just hiked for a while and then found a spot along the shore. The trail had just a few spots that were a little steep but was family friendly. The wildflowers and regrowth of trees from a fire 10+ years ago were beautiful. We skipped rocks, looked at the clear water, and enjoyed the beauty of our first experience in Glacier. When we were ready we turned back and headed home. 

At the end of our hike we hiked the Rocky Point trail. Rocky Point trail is about 1 mile long and is just North of Fish Creek campground. We loved the lookout over the lake, there is some small climbs but we passed plenty of families with kids hiking along here. There are plenty of lookouts and even benches to stop and take a break. As we sat there we dreamed about building a cabin on the shores of a wooded lake like this one. 

Camping in Glacier 

I would definitely recommend camping in Glacier. I love camping and with a little planning in advance camping with a baby isn’t to hard either. There are a ton of campsites in Glacier throughout the park. When looking to stay I chose somewhere in a location we wanted (near the entrance) and a place that had water, campfire rings, flushing toilets, and showers. We stayed at Fish Creek campground because it had all of the above. There are nice showers in Loop A so we were able to shower before heading out. I’d still bring your flip flops! 

There are three campsites you can reserve in advance but one of those is a group only site. So if you are looking for just a place for your family Fish Creek on the West end of the park or Saint Mary on the East end are your reservation campgrounds to look into.  We stayed at Fish Creek because getting there late on a Saturday night I wanted to be sure we had a place to stay. There is nothing worse than getting to a spot as the sun is setting and trying to find a first come first serve spot. I reserved our site a few weeks in advance and was only able to reserve for one of the two nights. The campsites fill up fast! So I reserved the first night and we planned to just do a first come first serve site the second night. Luckily Fish Creek had a cancelation so we were just able to move up 10 spots for the second night. At $23 it sure beat a hotel but we did look a little ridiculous moving up there!  

How to Pack 

Layers are your friend. Glacier is in the mountains and although the elevation isn’t incredibly high I was more north than I was used to. It wasn’t quite as cold as our trip in Banff but I would still recommend layers. This wasn’t a trip for getting tan by any means. During the day I wore jeans or shorts, a t-shirt, and a light jacket. During our hike I didn’t need my jacket but when the clouds covered I was glad I had it. It was perfect. The mornings started out cool and by 10:00 or so it warmed up a bit. The days were mid 60’s and the nights were mid 40’s. It rained our first day there and was sunny the second day. So be sure to check your forecast before you head out. I’d plan on packing something for cool temps, something for warm (after we left the forecast was mid 80’s) and something for in between.  

I hope these tips help as you plan your next outing. There are so many things to do in the park I know we only saw a fraction of them! What do you like to do in Glacier?  

I couldn’t get over the fact that it looked like I was visiting a movie set. After leaving the park we heard really great things about Waterton Lakes, we will have to stop there next time! What National Parks are your favorite that we should visit next?

Larisa

Larisa

Here’s a little about me: I usually don’t buy things that I could make. I like to read and learn. I have dreams of being a mom, living in foreign countries, and trying new things. I take a ton of pictures. I collect rocks from the places I’ve been. I’m trying to learn French. I like to eat. I’m a Mormon.

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