By Jennifer Wallace Backes
Glacier National Park in Montana is one of our favorite places to visit, especially with the children. The views are phenomenal and there are so many activities to take advantage of. I’m sharing my tips on enjoying your visit with young children, and also recommending some great spots outside of the park (including where to find the best cherries you will ever eat!).
Inside the Park
The West side of the park is my favorite. It is definitely worth spending a good chunk of time there. Apgar Village has a fantastic view of the lake, especially first thing in the morning. It’s also a phenomenal place to see the Northern Lights at night.
Lake McDonald Lodge is right on the lake and worth a stop. They have a great little pizza restaurant, a good spot to swim, and you can do a boat tour of the lake.
Fish Lake is a nice hike, though I would not recommend it for very young children. Up the road from there is Avalanche Lake Trail which is perfect for kiddos. Definitely a must-do hike for a young crew! It is a flat 1 mile hike to a lake with fantastic views. It’s along a creek so watch the kids closely.
Going to the Sun Road goes all the way through the park. It’s amazing but can be a bit of a harrowing drive for anyone who’s uneasy with heights and not used to driving by a huge cliff. They have free shuttle buses that are worth taking so everyone can just stare at the views and take photos without having to worry. The Logan Pass Visitor Center at the top of the pass is also a great stop. They do ranger talks and have lots of hands-on activities for the kids. There are some nice nature walk/boardwalk-style trails with information signs around the main Visitor Center.
Note: Watch for mountain goats in the parking lot! Always give the animals LOTS of space and never approach them.
I also LOVE the Canadian side of the park. I’ve seen more grizzlies up there over the years and the Prince of Wales hotel is simply stunning. I’m not as familiar with hikes and activities, but if the adults have their passports and kids have a passport or birth certificate (if born in the US), it’s 100% worth the time to go up there!
St. Mary’s Lake on the East side is a nice place to stop, but personally I think the West side of the park is prettier. It’s breathtaking to watch the sunrise over the park from the East side, and to see the sun hit the mountains as it sets from the St. Mary’s side.
Polebridge is a tiny, remote town on the West side of the park that is so much fun. The drive out is gorgeous and sometimes there’s live music up there. I would not recommend pulling a trailer or driving a large SUV out there (or on Going to the Sun Road). I visited The Polebridge Mercantile & Bakery 11 years ago and still have dreams about their treats! The jalapeño cheddar bagel is a favorite, as well as the bear claws.
If you will be hiking, take bear spray, wear bear bells or talk/sing while you hike. The views inside the park are breathtaking. And because of this, falls and drowning can be a big risk because people are so distracted that they don’t watch where they’re going. Keep the kids between the adults. And know the difference between grizzlies and black bears, as well as how to act if you come across either.
NEVER leave any food, wrappers, or containers out. Even a cooler left in a visible place warrants a ticket from the rangers because the bears have learned to look for coolers.
If you are going around August, you will be there at the perfect time to pick some wild huckleberries! Ask a ranger for tips on where to go, but don’t go at sunset, keep the kids close to you, talk/sing loudly while you pick them and watch for bears. We go in groups of 4+ and we all sing so as to not startle any bears. Such good memories and delicious berries!
Outside the Park
Outside of Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake is an amazing stop. Pick up some cherries from the roadside stands, or pick some yourselves with the kids. Best cherries you will ever eat! Go out on a boat on Flathead Lake if you get the chance. The lake is incredibly clear and you can see all the way to the bottom even at the deepest points, hundreds of feet down.
Mackenzie River Pizza (there’s one in White Fish) is so good, original and a Montana classic. There is a Florence Coffee Co. in Kalispell which is also great and the 16oz always comes with 3 shots of espresso (perfect for parents of young ones).
Whether you fit in everything above, or just get around to a couple activities with the kids, you are guaranteed to have an amazing experience at Glacier National Park with your family!