Glacier National Park in a Day – How to Enjoy the Best Landmarks?

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Glacier National Park in a day…we must be absolutely crazy! After exploring Yellowstone in a day and being absolutely exhausted despite having an amazing time, you would have thought we would have learned our lesson. A one day trip to Glacier is actually easier than it sounds so hopefully this guide will share some of the amazing experiences we encountered and give you the inspiration to visit this pretty remote part of the country.

Certain circumstances out of our control, like the weather, meant that we were restricted to exploring certain parts of this national park but regardless of this, we were still able to experience a variety of awesome landmarks and breathtaking landscapes in Glacier.

Glacier National Park in a Day?

Located in the state of Montana and crossing into Canada, Glacier National Park is very different to any other national park in the 48 contiguous states. Renowned in Montana as displaying “Mother Nature’s Best Work”, Glacier is a haven of stunning glacial landscapes which in turn causes issues for visitors given the limited access throughout the year due to rapidly changing climates.

glacier national park montana

Our trip to Glacier National Park started in the mountain town of Kalispell, Montana which is a pretty good base with a number of hotels and providing easy access to the national park entrance (about 45-minute drive south of the park).

We arrived late in the evening with plans to spend the following day inside the park and hopefully take the infamous ‘Going-to-the-Sun’ road across a glacial valley.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

Rising early in the morning, we were unfortunately greeted by some pretty awful weather conditions as it was raining pretty heavily and extremely overcast. However, we didn’t want this to dampen our spirits so we left our hotel and headed towards Glacier National Park.

glacier national park

Our hearts sank as we approached the west entrance of the park only to see a sign indicating that Logan Pass was closed. The park ranger indicated that there were 2-3 inches of snow at the higher altitudes of Glacier National Park and it was too dangerous for Logan Pass to be open.

What we didn’t realize at the time was that there is still A LOT to see in Glacier National Park regardless of whether the full ‘Going-to-the-Sun’ road is open.

glacier national park in a day

After a quick stop at the Apgar Visitor Center to gather some more information (another park ranger here confirmed that Logan Pass was closed indefinitely and would likely not re-open until at least the next day at the earliest, and that was only if temperatures rose above freezing).

As the rain continued to fall making it near impossible to see any of the mountains, our hopes of really enjoying Glacier were starting to deteriorate.

glacier national park in a day

Nevertheless, we ventured out on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and immediately our fortunes changed as the weather started to improve. We found out that Logan Pass is located about 25 miles into the road and we would later find that the Weeping Wall landmark was where the road became impassable.

Let’s take a look at everything we were able to explore along this iconic road.

Sacred Dancing Cascades

Following a short drive from the visitor center and passing by the imperious sight of Lake McDonald with the mountains in the background, we made our first stop at Sacred Dancing Cascades.

sacred dancing cascades

From the road, we were a little unsure about what to expect, especially given that this was not highlighted on the map but we were delighted as we wandered down the short trail and saw the gorgeous sight of the cascades.

glacier national park cascades creek

Additional viewpoints and overlooks are available further upstream as are a myriad of other rapids and creeks on McDonald Creek, but there was something about Sacred Dancing Cascades that stood out.

sacred dancing cascades glacier national park

Whether it was the footbridge that provided a great view directly in front of the cascades, or perhaps our ability to clamber along the rocks upstream and capture a close-up shot of the creek, this was a pretty special location and definitely a welcome to Glacier National Park!

glacier national park in a day

Be careful if you decide to follow our lead and hike down to the creek because the rocks are pretty slick, especially if it has rained moments before you arrive here. But a visit to this attraction wouldn’t feel quite the same unless you found the adventurous side inside you and scrambled along these rocks to find that perfect angle for the optimal photograph.

glacier national park in a day

A walk across the footbridge allows you to take another short hiking trail and if you are really ambitious, you can climb on top of the cascades though this is certainly not for the faint-hearted!

glacier national park in a day

Glacial Pools

Another impressive feature throughout Glacier National Park is the abundance of glacial pools known as ‘tarns’ that offer a stunning turquoise reflection, especially on a gorgeous day. Unfortunately, we didn’t experience the ‘gorgeous’ weather but we did experience the beauty of these pools.

glacial pools

The beauty throughout Glacier is exemplified in the creeks and rivers that run down the alpine slopes and into the tarns and lakes in the valley. As we drove along the Going-to-the-Sun road, we had ample opportunities to pull over and hike down several trails to admire this incredible natural phenomenon.

glacier national park in a day

I normally don’t get over excited by creeks (now waterfalls are another story!) but when you see pools of water with these colors it’s hard to not appreciate them.

glacier national park in a day

Alpine Scenery

The waterfalls, creeks, and pools in the valley floor are stunning but the real beauty in Glacier is when you start climbing the mountains.

glacier national park loop

There is nothing quite like the scenery that you experience at higher elevations in Glacier and this is even without being able to drive through the ‘best of the best’ with the views from atop Logan Pass.

glacier national park in a day

The Loop is an iconic part of the Going-to-the-Sun road as it is the only switchback on the entire pass. It frequently appears in images representing this stretch of road across Glacier National Park and it is also a great spot to capture some gorgeous scenic images and panoramas looking down through the valley and high into the mountain pass.

glacier national park in a day

While we stopped at the Loop and other scenic lookouts, we encountered an inquisitive raven that was perched on the edge of the wall also admiring the scenery.

glacier national park in a day

Wildlife, stunning scenery and natural attractions are all prevalent throughout Glacier so be sure to have your camera handy so that you don’t miss that perfect shot where all three of these come together!

glacier national park in a day

Weeping Wall

The Weeping Wall is another of the stereotypical attractions on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier. This was notably the final attraction we were able to experience given that the large ‘Road Closed’ barrier was preventing us from climbing any higher.

weeping wall glacier national park

At around 5,000 feet this was still high enough for snow to be falling pretty heavily and the temperatures to have dropped 20 degrees to below freezing.

weeping wall glacier national park

Although the Weeping Wall is not entirely natural (the actual veins of water flowing down the mountain are nature’s own, but when the Going-to-the-Sun road was constructed, the formation of the Wall was put in place) it is still a stunning sight.

glacier national park in a day

Our experience and view were limited not only because of the poor weather and visibility but also because the water flow was relatively low at the time we visited.

However, the views from this vantage point overlooking the valley were stunning despite the adverse weather conditions. An eerily looking landscape that created an inherent beauty that only national parks seem to be able to provide.

glacier national park overlooks

Summary

What an amazing experience it was to visit Glacier National Park in Montana! We are both eager to return in order to fully explore the Going-to-the-Sun road when Logan Pass is open and also gain a deeper appreciation of the natural beauty throughout when the weather is hopefully a little better. Visibility was clearly not all that great during our visit but we refused to let this dampen our spirits.

glacier national park wildlife

As you can see, visiting Glacier National Park in only one day is feasible and you can still experience a lot of amazing landscapes, along with some pretty cool wildlife (cue our friend above!).

Don’t allow the weather or time constraints to prevent you from enjoying one of America’s natural wonders – you won’t be disappointed regardless of how much time you spend here! Trust me though…you will want to return.

22 COMMENTS

  1. We tried to drive the Going to the Sun Road in 2008. Unfortunately we went in September and the road was closed for maintenance. It has been on our list of places to return to ever since. We tried going back earlier this year but ran out of time. Perhaps one day we will get there. In the meantime I did enjoy seeing your photos and reading your experiences, even if they were also marred by a road closure.

    • Thanks Lyn! We would love to return and try and experience ALL of the Going-to-the-Sun Road but even from what we were able to see, it was a pretty spectacular pass.

  2. OH MY GOSH, your photos are gorgeous, yet again it makes me want to visit there asap! Definitely adding this to my ever growing U.S. wanderlust list! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

    • Thanks Hannah! We really enjoyed our time in Glacier National Park, despite the initial disappointment of finding out Logan Pass was closed.

  3. I know the weather wasn’t ideal, but you still got some really amazing photos out of it!! Glacier is on our to do list for next summer. I can’t wait!

  4. Glacier National Park looks so beautiful. I actually almost visited a couple years ago, but opted for Canada’s Banff and Jasper National Parks instead. I love that Alpine scenery, with the glacier-fed pools of turquoise water. Add some snow topped mountains and you’ve got a perfect landscape! I need to find time to get to this park and drive Going-to-Sun-Road!

  5. I love “what you can see in a day” concept! Because you CAN truly see so many things in a day, especially with a guidance from informative blog posts:) Was it a part of a weekend road trip?

    • Thanks so much Victoria! Yes, it was part of a ‘long’ weekend road trip over the Labor Day weekend. We flew into Salt Lake City on the Wednesday evening and then Thursday morning drove to Yellowstone (see our other post LOL)…from there we drove up to Glacier National Park and spent Saturday there before heading out west to Spokane, Washington…down to Oregon and back to Salt Lake City on Monday…Phew I am just tired writing all that! Seriously though it was AMAZING!

    • Thanks Rebecca, it really is breathtaking even when the adverse weather conditions try to prevent you from seeing everything. That’s when you know you are in a pretty special place.

  6. We were wondering when you went to visit Glacier NP. We are trying to plan our summer vacation next year and were planning to go in August. We’re hoping the roads would be open. Beautiful pictures, by the way! It makes me want to go even more!

    • Hi Shirley,

      We visited Glacier National Park over the Labor Day weekend which was towards the end of the season. As you probably noticed in our post, we visited on a ‘bad’ day in terms of the end of season weather because the snow was falling hard enough to close the main pass. However, we didn’t let this stop us having an amazing experience exploring this stunning national park. August will definitely be a great time to visit I’m sure! Hope you have an amazing time and let me know if you need any more tips on the area!

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