Glacier National Park with Kids
Glacier National Park is one of those bucket list destinations. It is nicknamed the Crown of the Continent, encompasses over 1 million acres, includes parts of two mountain ranges, over 130 named lakes, more than 1,000 different species of plants, and hundreds of species of animals. It’s pretty incredible, to say the least. We had the pleasure of spending a week exploring Glacier National Park in late August. It was a wonderful time to be there. The crowds were dying down, and it was still warm enough to be comfortable and enjoy hiking early morning to late into the day. We stayed just outside of the St. Mary entrance on the east side of Glacier at Johnson’s of St. Mary Campground & RV Park. While Glacier National Park is home to some of the most intense wilderness in North America, there is plenty to see and do with young kids. Among the 700 miles of hiking trails throughout the park, there was plenty for little legs to enjoy. Here is how we spent our time exploring Glacier National Park with kids.
An absolute must for anyone visiting Glacier National Park is a day spent driving the Going-to-the-Sun-Road. And yes, it will take the majority of a day to drive the 50 miles. With pulling over at viewpoints along the way, driving 25 MPH in most places, and stopping for lunch, it took us about five hours. The road travels past alpine lakes, over Logan Pass at 6,646’ through tunnels, past waterfalls, and across the Continental Divide. There are some cliffside hairpin turns that were a little nerve-racking in our one-ton pickup truck, but traveling east to west kept us on the inside the majority of the time. We are also happy we drove the road east to west because it got us next to the Weeping Wall. Finn and I were able to reach out of our windows and touch the waterfalls running over the Garden Wall!
We stopped for lunch just east of Logan Pass at Lunch Creek. I mean, how could we not! We had a later lunch, so we were able to find a parking spot in the small lot, and sat beside the trickling water as we ate. You couldn’t ask for lunch with a better view! Other stops made along the way included Wild Goose Island, Logan Pass Visitor Center, West Side Tunnel, Red Rock Point, and just about every unnamed pullout we passed. Even though it was a full day in the car, the kids did great! Lots of snacks and frequent stops seemed to keep everyone happy.
While this family-friendly trail at Logan Pass is just over five miles long, we stopped at the Hidden Lake Overlook, which brought our total to about 1.5 miles. The rest of the trail was actually closed during our visit due to bear activity! The trailhead is located just behind the busy Logan Pass Visitor Center. We took the free shuttle from the St. Mary Visitor Center, so we didn’t need to worry about parking.
The incline going up to the lake is steep, but a four-year-old and a thirty-something carrying a 30 pound two-year-old in a pack had no trouble. There were lots of boardwalks, waterfalls, wildflowers, and scenery to take in along the way to keep everyone occupied and happy. Many people report seeing mountain goats and even bears along this hike, but all we saw were giant ground squirrels that were aggressively after our lunch.
The views along the Hidden Lake Trail are precisely what you’d expect from hiking in Glacier National Park. Glaciers, fields of wildflowers, and rugged mountains for as far as you can see. It felt unreal. Definitely, a hike that can’t be missed!
We did a few evening hikes in Glacier National Park. This way, Ross could join us after work, and there were fewer people. Our 3.5 mile hike along the Aster Park Trail in the Two Medicine area was one of those evening hikes. What a beautiful way to watch the sun going down behind the mountains!
While this hike is rated hard on AllTrails, we only found it difficult the last quarter mile or so. We stopped at Aster Falls for a snack break, then hit the incline up to the end of the trail. Both kids and parents did just fine! The trail goes along marshy ponds, over Aster Creek, and up to a beautiful lookout. Many people report seeing moose along the way, and considering we were there at dusk, we figured our chances were good, but no luck.
One of our most memorable times at Glacier National Park is our hike to Lake Josephine in the Many Glacier area. It was another evening hike, and we literally had the entire lake to ourselves. While you can access the trail to Lake Josephine from the Many Glacier Hotel, we opted for a shorter hike and started at the Grinnell Glacier trailhead. After a short walk around Swiftcurrent Lake, the trail cut through a small patch of forest and brought us to the rocky shore of Lake Josephine.
The views are indescribable. Across the still waters of the lake, we were able to see why this area is called Many Glacier. We sat at the lake for a good 45 minutes, skipping rocks and taking a bajillion photos. I don’t know if this place would be as magical had it been filled with other hikers and the boat going across the lake, so I highly recommend doing this one later in the day. We started our evening with a picnic dinner at one of the many tables at the trailhead then hit the trail around 6pm. A beautiful way to end the day!
Another hike in the Many Glacier area we had the pleasure of doing was to Apikuni Falls. This 1.8 mile hike is rated easy on AllTrails, but the incline going up is no joke. Especially with 30 lbs. on your back. I’m going to go ahead and rate it a moderate.
Once up to the falls you’ll quickly realize the strenuous walk up was well worth the challenge. There are two falls. The lower one offers large rocks to climb around and have a snack on. We sat here and threw rocks in the water and took in the views. The upper fall requires a bit of scrambling to access. The kids were able to do it with a little help and just slid down on their butts most of the way back down. The upper fall is much bigger and makes a great swimming hole for cooling off when it’s hot out.
While the falls are beautiful, the most memorable part of our hike took place about 100 yards from the parking lot on our way back to the truck. We ran into a bear! Luckily it was just a black bear and was a safe distance from us. We did have the bear spray out and ready if needed and had to wait about 20 minutes for the bear to move off the trail to allow us to pass. It was an adventure!
The only hike we did on the west side of Glacier National Park was the Rocky Point Trail near Lake McDonald. We wanted to see the lake, and it’s famously colored rocks, so this was a nice little hike to get near the water. The 1.9 mile trail starts just past the Fish Creek campground and winds through the forest until it reaches the rocky point over the lake. We sat here and ate lunch. The trail goes through patches of forest that burned down in 2003, which is interesting to walk through. This was our first hike in Glacier National Park and an excellent place to prepare us for the week ahead.
We could’ve spent weeks exploring Glacier National Park. We were barely able to scratch the surface during our week there. Even with little ones in tow, there is so much to see. We are grateful for the hikes we did, the sights we got to see, and the memories we made. Now to start planning for our next trip to Glacier National Park!