First timers to Glacier National Park usually utter “Wow” around every corner. From fjord-like lakes to mountaintop wanders, the views in person go beyond what photos capture. A seven-day trip based from three historic lodges yields paragon experiences for soaking up Glacier with all of the senses. For a finale, the daring can dive into an frigid lake to swim with icebergs.
To launch your trip, aim for tiny East Glacier, where mountains jut up from the prairie. For a century, that scenery has impressed many first timers upon arrival at Glacier Park Lodge. Plan to stay for two nights at the railroad-built inn. Revel in its rustic ambiance: immense Douglas firs in the lobby, garden walkway, outdoor swimming pool and the 9-hole golf course. Dine in the Great Northern Dining Room to catch the sunset behind Dancing Lady Mountain.
Before departing town in the morning, pack a sack lunch from Brownie’s. Then, drive north inside Glacier to Two Medicine for hiking the Scenic Point Trail. The route switchbacks up for 360-degree views of Two Medicine Lake, a myriad of peaks and the vast prairie eastward. Afterwards, gorge out on Montana-Mex cuisine at the local fave Serranos.
Drive Highway 2 to West Glacier and enter the park to go to Lake McDonald Lodge on Going-to-the-Sun Road. To reduce the intimidation for first timers driving the alpine section of the historic road, let a jammer driver lead your initial trip to Logan Pass on an historic red bus. You ride while the scenery wows. Check into the lakeside lodge for two nights and relax for dinner in Russell’s Fireside Dining Room.
After breakfast in the lodge and with lunches to go, head early to Avalanche to grab a parking space. Walk Trail of the Cedars through the rain forest, and hike to Avalanche Lake, where waterfalls plunge from Sperry Glacier basin above. After hiking, enjoy Lake McDonald: swim, row a boat, fish and watch the sunset.
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With a previous taste on a red bus, you’ll feel more comfortable driving Going-to-the-Sun Road. This time, putter over Logan Pass at your own pace. Descending down the east side, pull over to walk to thundering St. Mary Fall and splattering Virginia Fall. At Rising Sun, take the boat tour to revel in the peaks shooting up from St. Mary Lake. After popping outside the park and back into Many Glacier, check in to Many Glacier Hotel for two nights, a first timer must do. Dine with the celebrated view in the Ptarmigan Room.
Leave the car sit for the day. Instead, saddle up for a horseback ride to Cracker Flats and rent a canoe or kayak to paddle the circumference of Swiftcurrent Lake. Spend the evening on the hotel’s back deck glassing for bears.
With lunch in packs, head to Iceberg Lake on a route that walks by grizzly bears, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Tradition calls for a dip in the frigid water to swim amid the icebergs. Back at the hotel, sip a farewell cocktail while the sunset wows over the Continental Divide.