When my husband asked me whether I wanted to be surprised or help pick the destination for my third babymoon, I said I wanted to be surprised, but I wanted to go somewhere cold! Our first babymoon was in Hawaii, and our second was in Aruba. I wanted something different for my third babymoon vacation, and I was tired of being hot all summer, living in Florida.
The night before we left for our trip, my husband told me we were going to Glacier National Park in Montana! To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I was utterly shocked! I quickly repacked my bag with warmer, hiking-friendly clothes for our early flight to Montana and started reading about hikes in the park.
Glacier National Park is more beautiful than I ever imagined. It’s one of the more popular national parks because of its beauty, yet it’s not as crowded as some of the other parks due to its more remote location. Other than a few areas of the park, it never felt like we were surrounded by other visitors. During our visit, we learned that many people visiting the park stop for just a day as part of a longer tour, which probably also contributes to it seeming less crowded.
We visited the park on Labor Day weekend, which is the tail end of the season. September is more unpredictable as far as weather, so fewer people book trips then. We really lucked out with perfect, mild, sunny weather for our entire visit. We were told by some locals on one of our hikes that any good weather in September is a bonus to the season. For that reason, many people choose to visit earlier in the summer and deal with bigger crowds.
If you’re planning to visit Glacier NP, you need to purchase two things in advance to access the park by car. First, you’ll need to purchase a park entry pass. If you plan to stay for more than 5 days or plan to visit any other national parks during the year, it makes sense to buy the national interagency annual pass. Second, you’ll need to buy a Going to the Sun Road Pass through the NPS website if you’re visiting during the summer season. The pass is only $2, but the park service limits the number of cars on the road, so if you don’t have one, you can’t drive into the park. However, if this happens to you, you can get around it by booking a boat tour through the Glacier Park Boat Company or if you have a reservation for a park shuttle or bus tour. Additionally, if you’re staying at lodging inside the park, entry to the Going to the Sun Road is included with your reservation.
If you’re flying to visit Glacier NP, the closest airport is 45 minutes away in Kalispell. If you can get a flight to that airport, it’s the easiest and most convenient access. It’s also a small airport, which I always appreciate because it means shorter lines for everything. Alternatively, the Missoula airport is larger with more flight options, but is about three hours away. We flew into Kalispell and out of Missoula, due to available fares.
Upon our arrival in Montana (in the morning thanks to flying west), we stopped for lunch at Mudman Burgers in Columbia Falls. The burgers were fantastic and were the perfect way to fill our bellies before heading into the park for our first hike!
Since we arrived in the park in the afternoon, we knew parking would be tough at some of the more popular hikes. We decided to stay closer to the entrance and did the 5 mile round-trip Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Lake (the Trail of the Cedars is a 0.9 mile loop and the hike to Avalanche Lake is 4.6 miles round trip). It was hard to find a parking spot at the trailhead, but we circled until we saw someone leaving. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long. Since we arrived just after lunch, a lot of people were finishing their hike for the day. The hike was moderately difficult with some elevation and uneven surfaces. The beautiful, but busy trail ends at Avalanche Lake, where there are several logs to rest on while admiring the view. There is also a bathroom near the lake (important info for any babymooning mamas!).
After our hike, we drove to the Izaak Walton Inn, where we were staying for the long weekend. It’s conveniently located between West Glacier and East Glacier, 30 minutes away from both park entrances. The hotel is a really special, historic hotel that is based around local railroad heritage. The Amtrak runs right behind the hotel multiple times a day. It’s fun to watch the trains go by, but definitely be aware that there is a noise factor if that is something that may bother you. We stayed in the historic lodge, but you can also stay in a luxury train car that has been retrofitted into lodging. The cars were booked already or we would have loved to stay in one. If you’re traveling with a family, the cabins accommodate 4-6 people with two beds, a sleeper sofa, and a loft.
The Inn also offers cross country skiing, guided tours, horseback riding, white water rafting, and fly fishing excursions. There is also a jacuzzi and sauna available across the parking lot from the lodge. The area is quite remote without a lot of dining options and we were hungry after our hike, so we opted for dinner at the Dining Car Restaurant at the hotel. It was delicious, but pricey (clearly they are capitalizing on the convenience factor!). The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is open to the public.
On our second day, we woke up and headed into the park early. Our children’s virtual preschool orientations happened to be scheduled for this day of our trip, so we planned to do more driving and make shorter stops at lookouts in the morning. The park doesn’t have cell service or wi-fi unless you are at certain visitor centers, so we had to plan our morning around stopping at the visitor centers. We picked up breakfast at West Glacier Cafe before entering the park. The restaurant has great breakfast sandwiches, muffins, and coffee, along with other options. The prices were reasonable for being just outside a national park. My only complaint would be that it’s not open early enough for those who want to get an early start to the day. In fact, there isn’t much open early in the area, so you should plan ahead for breakfast, especially on a day you’re wanting to go to Logan Pass, which is the busiest part of the park (more on that below).
We began our day with our zoom orientation at the Apgar Visitor Center. The visitor center has great informational signs about the park, clean restroom facilities, and a gift shop. Park rangers were stationed outside with maps to answer questions about the park and hiking recommendations. We always like to take advantage of ranger recommendations since the rangers actually live there and have seen more of the park than the average person.
Next, we drove to the Wild Goose Island Viewpoint to enjoy the view and take some pictures. There are some great maps offered at the park and in surrounding areas that tell you the exact mile marker of each stop on the Going To the Sun Road. I highly recommend getting one for your visit. From the Wild Goose Island Viewpoint, we drove to the St. Mary’s Visitor Center on the opposite side of the park (about an hour drive from Apgar), where we used the wifi to do our other zoom preschool orientation. Luckily, the time change was in our favor so it wasn’t too late before we were able to really start our day.
Once we finished our calls, we set out on our hike for the day. We started at Sun Point and did the Three Falls Trail. I highly recommend this trail, especially if you enjoy waterfalls, but even if you don’t. The 6 mile out and back hike meanders along Lake St. Mary and stops by three falls: Baring, St Mary’s, and Virginia Falls. (Note that you can make the hike shorter by not visiting all three falls.) Baring Falls is the most crowded as it is only a short distance from Sun Point and the Sunrift Gorge trailheads and is also a stop on the boat tours. St. Mary’s Falls is also relatively busy as it is close to the St. Mary Falls trailhead and is also a stop on another boat tour. You can jump off the rocks into the glacial pool at St. Mary’s and since it was a beautiful, sunny day, several people were swimming. Being pregnant, I refrained, but my husband did it! He says it was exhilarating. The trail then climbs the rest of the way to Virginia Falls, which is a long cascade waterfall, full of places to sit and enjoy the refreshing misty air and eat a snack. There’s also a primitive bathroom at the top of the falls (again, for the babymooning mamas!).
After our hike, we booked a narrated boat tour from the Rising Sun Boat dock on Lake St Mary. You can reserve boat tours in advance or walk up. Our tour was on the historic 1926 Little Chief. The staff who run the Glacier Park Boat Co. tours are excellent. We learned so much about the park, lake, and region from our tour guide. The boat tour also stops so passengers can take a short walk up to Baring Falls. Since we had just seen the falls on our hike, we walked up to it once more and then relaxed on the shore until the boat set out again. The beautiful views on the water were the perfect way to end the day.
For dinner, we stopped in East Glacier Park for a great pizza at Leo’s Elkhorn Eatery. Much of East Glacier was closed for the season already so there were only a few options open. Leo’s was doing curbside service only so we ordered a pizza and then perused a local shop while we waited. We ate our pizza in a small park in East Glacier before driving back to the Izaak Walton Inn to call it a night.
The next morning, we planned to visit Logan Pass. Being the most popular area in the park, we had been warned by rangers that the parking lot fills up as early as 6 in the morning. We woke up early and drove the two hours to Logan Pass, arriving around 8. Sure enough, the parking lot was already full, but we were able to park in a pullout about half a mile below the visitor center. We had planned to do the Hidden Lake Overlook hike because we’d read that there are often mountain goats right on the trail, but unfortunately, it had just been closed the day before because of bear activity in the area.
Instead, we hiked the High Line Loop Trail for 4 miles (2 miles out and 2 back) along the Continental Divide. With the extra distance to and from our car, we did a total of 5 miles. The trail was quite narrow and steep and at times, there were even ropes along the rock walls. However, besides the height, it is a mostly flat and fairly easy trail. The views were insanely beautiful and stretched for miles. While the start of the trail (about 1 mile in) is heavily trafficked, it empties out beyond that. For a longer 15 mile round trip, you can hike to the historic Granite Park Chalet and spend the night before trekking back.
After our hike, we drove to the Lake McDonald Lodge for lunch. The restaurant was closed due to Covid, but offered takeout service. We ordered some sandwiches and dessert and ate them on a bench by the lake, while resting our feet and enjoying the sunshine. We also had a chance to enjoy the main area of the lodge, pictured below.
After our bellies were full and our feet refreshed, we did the short and easy 2 mile Johns Lake Loop to McDonald Falls. The small lake is slightly hidden along the trail, but you can walk a short distance off the trail to see it. There isn’t a great area to sit near the lake, but you can still enjoy the view of this lake in the midst of a dense forest. McDonald Falls is a long cascading falls and the perfect place for a icy foot bath at the end of the day!
After we left the park, we drove to Whitefish for dinner at The Craggy Range, a sports bar and grill in the quaint downtown. We wanted to watch the Florida Gators game and saw that the restaurant had several TVs playing the various college football games. The food was excellent and the drink selection was top notch. It was a fun place to watch the game!
On our final day in Glacier, we had a fantastic breakfast at the Dining Car Restaurant at our hotel and stopped at the Goat Lick Overlook on our way into the park. This is a quick pullout where you can look for mountain goats and other wildlife enjoying the salt rock walls. We saw a few mountain goats in the distance. If you plan to stop here, I highly recommend bringing binoculars. The lookout point is quite a distance from where the goats are so it can be hard to spot them without binoculars. Fortunately, another visitor generously shared theirs with us and we could see a family of mountain goats in the distance.
From there, we drove to East Glacier/Two Medicine. We stopped at the first trail we saw to do a quick 0.6 mile hike to the Running Eagle Falls. It is a very impressive waterfall named after Pitamakan, or Running Eagle, a female warrior leader of the Blackfeet Nation, who experienced a four-day vision quest in the mountains above the falls that she would become a warrior.
Next, we took a boat ride across Two Medicine Lake. On this particular boat ride, you could get off to hike and get back on a later boat. We hiked to Twin Falls and Upper Two Med Lake, which was 2.4 miles each way. We saw several moose, including one moose mama and baby on the trail! It was incredible to see them up close, even as we were a little nervous to walk by them!
Since we were flying out of Missoula early the following morning, we drove to Missoula to spend the night and stopped at Raven Bar and Grill on Flathead Lake. If you ever find yourself near Flathead Lake, it is a must-stop. The restaurant has a fun atmosphere and delicious food and drinks. The lake itself is expansive – you can’t see to the other side – and is surrounded by beautiful homes. The restaurant is right on the water and offers both indoor and outdoor dining. At sunset, it was the perfect, romantic setting to end our third and final babymoon!
I was very impressed by Glacier National Park and can understand why it is so many people’s favorite national park. The scenery is varied and has something for everyone, whether it be wildlife watching, hiking, railroad history, or just relaxing in the remote wilderness in Montana. Ample hiking opportunities are available, from easy short walks to difficult multi-day treks. The only area of the park we didn’t get to was Many Glacier. Unfortunately, there was a lot of road construction and we just didn’t have time during our long weekend. I hope we will be back for another visit one day with our kids!
Have you ever visited Glacier NP? What are some of your favorite memories?