That’s the typical response when visitors arrive on the eastern side of Glacier National Park, Montana. When a friend asked what he should see during his one-day visit, I was stumped. “One day?” I confirmed in awe, “but there’s so much to see!”
Once I wrapped my head around his question, I suggested mixing sightseeing, with a sampling some of the local food and vibe. It was difficult narrowing the list to several activities achievable in just one day, but I managed.
Whether visiting for a day or a week, these six ideas are worth a try for anyone visiting the eastern side of Glacier National Park.
This restaurant is run by Glacier Park Inc, which handles many concessions in the park, but that doesn’t mean it lacks local flair, and it’s certainly a good place to start the day. The buckwheat pancakes at the Inn are hearty fare that will fill you up and give you energy for a hike. The Swiftcurrent Inn also has a convenience store where you can stock up on trail snacks and premade roast beef, ham or chicken salad sandwiches. While not gourmet fare, the sandwiches are a nice change from cheese and crackers. The Swiftcurrent Inn is located inside the Many Glacier Valley entrance to the park.
Swiftcurrent Pass Trail
The Swiftcurrent Pass Trailhead is located just steps from the Inn making it an opportune choice for a short hike following breakfast. With easy parking, pretty views shortly after leaving the pavement, and Redrock falls just two miles in, this trail is just right for visitors short on time. If you have extra time, continue hiking to Bullhead Lake (3.3 miles each way).
Two Sisters Cafe
Leaving Many Glacier Valley, hang a right at the highway. It’s hard to miss the bright murals and flags covering the Two Sisters Café located on this lonely stretch of Highway 89 between the Many Glacier and St. Mary entrances to the park. A full parking lot validates the marquee that promises the “best pie around.” During summer, expect nearly every table to be full, even during the late afternoon. A curious collection of oddities, ranging from blow up animals to old license plates covers the walls and ceiling, while the hubbub of conversation and kitchen noise adds to the cheerful atmosphere. The blackberry peach pie is remarkable, or try the huckleberry.
Wild Goose Island Overlook
Often overlooks are so packed that visitors skip them altogether. Don’t be tempted to skip Wild Goose Island Overlook near St. Mary which offers the classic Glacier National Park mountains-meet-lake view. It is the most photographed location in the park, and for good reason. Each hour of the day, and with every change of the weather, the view has different qualities. If you’re lucky enough to catch a calm clear morning, you’ll see mountain reflections spread across St. Mary Lake like a painting. The overlook is located on the Going to the Sun Road, a scenic drive across the park you should fit into your trip if possible.
Two Medicine Ferry
Roughly 45 minutes from St. Mary is an isolated section of the park known as Two Medicine just off Highway 49. Expect to travel some rough road. The North Shore Trail around Two Medicine Lake is beautiful, but often plagued by mosquitoes. Save time, and avoid the pesky blood-suckers, by purchasing a ticket on the ferry. Rather than get off at the far end of the lake, relax and stay on board (safe from the mosquitoes) for the round trip. The captain shares interesting information about the history and geology of Two Medicine and the views are unobstructed. Over in less than an hour, this brief activity is worth the drive and money. Take a short walk to Running Eagle Falls (just yards off the entrance road) on your way out. Don’t forget your camera, and be sure to read the fascinating history of the falls posted near the walkway.
This is a beer, not a place. If you are a beer lover, no not leave Montana without trying the Moose Drool. It’s velvety smooth, full-bodied, beer porn. Look for it in stores and restaurants near the park entrances.
The best advice when visiting Glacier National Park: Don’t rush your trip. Allow a week, or even longer, to truly explore the trails, lakes, food and scenery found in this outstanding park. One day is simply not enough.
Thank you Erika for the suggestions. I found myself in the exact situation you described; one day in Glacier with no idea what to do in such a large expanse of territory. I ended up spending entirely too much time on the Going to the Sun Road and nearby. Your tips here are useful for those with a similar curiosity.
Perfect inspiration for planning our 2012 Glacier NP adventure. Thanks!
That’s great that you are returning next year. How was Alaska?
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There is a reason that Glacier is called ‘The Crown of the Continent’. There is an amazing beauty here that can not be described only witnessed. On this particular December trip I had more access then during my usual April trip. This was the first time in seven years I was able to get as far as Rising Sun. This represents a minuscule faction of the total, awe-inspiring beauty of the park. BTW~ there were 50 mph (80 kph) winds!
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It was interesting to read that Wild Goose Island Overlook is the most photographed location in the park! My family is thinking about going on a trip to Glacier National Park next year and we’ve been looking for tips on what to see. We might hire a guide to take us on some lesser-known trails too!