Glacier National Park is always a good idea. Visiting Many Glacier, one of the main sections of the park, for the first time proves it like anything else. Ready to see it for yourself? Here’s 1-2-day itinerary for your first time in picturesque Many Glacier.
First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Many Glacier in Glacier National Park
“Ok, we can skip a few long hikes in the Going-to-the-Sun Road and the Two Medicine regions, but Many Glacier has to be on our 2-day itinerary”, I made my point while bargaining with Roshan.
None of us thought that planning the first visit to Glacier National Park could be so much different from our other national parks’ adventures. One thing we agreed upon: Many Glacier had to be one our itinerary. In fact, we decided to spend the whole day in the Many Glacier Valley, but take it slower than normally.
Yet if it was just up to me, our first visit to Glacier National Park, including the Many Glacier area, would be more extended. And first of all, it would include not 1-day, but 2-day Many Glacier itinerary.
Have extra time during your first visit to Glacier? Spend a Day in the Many Glacier Area.
So why did we have all these disagreements? Too many things to see and too little time on our hands. Does it sound familiar?
Indeed, setting all individual preferences aside, Many Glacier is one of the must-see places during your first visit to Glacier National Park (neither I, nor Roshan could object it).
Nestled in the eastern corner of the Montana’s favorite park, the Many Glacier Valley is often dubbed as American Switzerland. With its majestic mountains towering over picture-perfect alpine lakes, gushing waterfalls, and pristine forests and meadows, the place displays the best landscapes in Glacier.
This reputation has certainly secured a spot for Many Glacier on practically every first-timer’s guide to Glacier National Park. Hordes of visitors flock to the area as soon as snow melts and clears favorite trails to the aquamarine lakes and cascading waterfalls.
Spending at least one day in the Many Glacier area becomes an almost mandatory excursion in spring and summer. Some first-time traveler even skip the all-time favorite Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor and focus solely on the natural wonders Many Glacier has to offer.
4 Reasons to Spend One Day in Many Glacier during your First Visit to Glacier National Park
As the first-time visitors to Glacier National Park, we planned our itinerary meticulously: one day in the Going-to-the-Sun Road area, one day in Many Glacier. The third day would cover either places along the Going-to-the-Sun Road we missed earlier or the Two Medicine area.
Honestly, I really liked this first-time in Glacier itinerary, until we tried to get entry ticket to the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The task seemed to be impossible to succeed at. So we had to come up with a quick, alternative itinerary and spend one day (possible 2 days) in the Many Glacier Valley and the rest of the time in the Two Medicine area.
At that point, spending almost all our time in the Many Glacier area felt discouraging. I knew from my prior research that this section of the park was stunning. Yet was Many Glacier worth spending the whole day, moreover a few days, which in our case was our entire first trip to Montana?
As it turned out, it was more than worth it. For any skeptical first-time visitors to Many Glacier (as I once was), here are several reasons why you should spend some time (2 days, if it’s possible) in the area.
1. Many Glacier is one of the Most Splendid Areas in Glacier National Park
Once we agreed upon spending one day in Many Glacier, hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook settled permanently on the number one spot on our itinerary. “It’s one of the must-do activities in the area”, stated a few articles we read before visiting Many Glacier for the first time.
Indeed, it took us less than 10 minutes driving within this section of the park to admit that the whole place was outrageously gorgeous.
Whether you strive for tedious hikes up the mountains or plan to spend the entire day (2 days for the lucky ones) boating on a lake or traversing the immediate surroundings of Swiftcurrent Lake, Many Glacier never runs out of its pristine landmarks to amaze and inspire you.
2. Home to Many Glacier Hotel
Home to the historic Many Glacier Hotel, the Many Glacier Valley further inspires you to devote at least one day (ideally 2 days) to the area. Built in the finest Swiss traditions in 1915, the world-famous lodge projects oozing opulence and rustic splendor. Needles to say, it’s regarded as one of iconic structures in the American West.
To be honest, we didn’t stay at the Many Glacier Hotel. But even dinning at the Glacier National Park’s largest lodge made us feel at home.
3. Lake Sherburne – a Welcoming Surprise for Your First Visit to Many Glacier
Our first visit to Many Glacier was full of surprises despite the thorough prior research. We didn’t know neither the name, nor the size of Lake Sherburne when we first drove along rough road next to it.
Frankly, these things didn’t even matter at that point. All we could see was how stunning the area was. Surrounded by the giant mountains reflecting in its still water, Lake Sherburne was an epitome of tranquility and natural beauty.
Stopping at the largest lake in Many Glacier to take in the views and capture better images during that first visit, however, was impossible. Although it was an early morning, traffic was building up. Road construction was further slowing down the visitors.
Since our itinerary allowed for only one day in the Many Glacier region, we didn’t want to waste time and simply enjoyed the views from the car. Mental pictures over digital images… Sometimes, it’s all you need. And it’s certainly better than you can ask for during, as it turned out, a short, one-day visit to Many Glacier.
4. Spending a Day Spying on Wildlife in the Many Glacier Region
The pristine forests and abundant mountains of Many Glacier provide safe home for many wild animals. From freely roaming grizzly and black bears to skilled mountaineers – mountain goats and bighorn sheep, and easily frightened moose and deer, the area significantly increases your chances of spotting a wide range of the animals even during the first one-day visit to Many Glacier.
How Many Days do You Need for Your First Visit to Many Glacier?
Spending even one day in the Many Glacier region is enough to fall in love with its natural beauty. Many first-time travelers do exactly that: explore the favorite places in the area on popular day hikes.
Based on our experience, one day is enough time for an inaugural trip to Many Glacier. With the whole day on your hands, you can opt for one long excursion, such as the Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint or Cracker Lake, and a few short hikes.
Ideally, though, you should aim for at least two days in the Many Glacier Valley. Doing so, you can be easy on your feet (walking 10-15 miles a day is not a piece of cake after all) and stick to one long hike with several natural attractions along the way per day. As you’ll see later, we built our Many Glacier itinerary around two long hikes, each of which is a whole day activity.
First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Many Glacier: Location and Directions
The second popular section of Glacier National Park, Many Glacier is a perfect destination to spend a day or two in the company of the alpine lakes and majestic mountains. The place sits in the eastern side of the park, north of the favorite Going-to-the-Sun Road. The closest incorporated town is Browning, a center for the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Its own entrance, the Many Glacier entrance, separates this section from the rest of the park. Located approximately 16 miles (25-30 minutes) from St. Mary Village, it marks the beginning of a pleasant day full of hiking adventures in the Many Glacier wilderness.
Visit Many Glacier: Flying
When planning your day excursions in the Many Glacier Valley, it’s important to take care of all the logistics to spend as much time inside the area as possible. With that said, flying is by far the fastest way to reach Glacier National Park and its main sections.
The closest airpot, the Glacier Park International Airport, is located in Kalispell. The city sits approximately 33.5 miles (40 minutes) away from the West Glacier entrance. Such a convenient location works first of all for the travelers exploring the western part of Glacier National Park.
Visit Many Glacier: Driving
To spend your very first full day in Many Glacier, you should look for a closer place to start your adventures from. Ultimately, you want to stay either within the Many Glacier area or as close to it as possible.
To give you something to compare to, to reach the Many Glacier area from the West Glacier entrance, you need to drive through the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This journey alone takes on average 2 hours.
If you fly into Kalispell and plan to spend a day in the Many Glacier area, but avoid the Going-to-the-Sun Road, take Route 2 along the southern border of the park, then drive north through East Glacier. This trip takes approximately 3 hours 20 minutes.
First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Many Glacier: The Best Time to Spend 1 Day (2 Days) in the Area
When to visit Many Glacier and spend a day or several days exploring its gorgeous sites depends on personal preferences. The area astounds with the panoramic views and a plethora of outdoor activities throughout the year.
The most popular time to visit Many Glacier, though, is July and August. Practically all roads and trails are open during the peak season. This, in its turn, entices the majority of the first-time visitors that are just starting to get a feel of what Glacier National Park is all about.
On the other hand, the influx of visitors can diminish your chances of spending a day in Many Glacier in summer. Suddenly, parking spaces become limited and unable to accommodate all the visitors. During these times, rangers have no other option but turning away the travelers arriving at the Many Glacier entrance later in the day.
TIP: Thus, the Glacier’s guests who dream of spending at least one day in the Many Glacier area should arrive before 8:00 a.m.
Those who stay within the Many Glacier region and don’t need to worry about getting in can start their day activities early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Fewer nature lovers roam in the area at these times, sticking mostly to the midday hours.
The shoulder seasons offer many of the summer activities along with pop of color, ranging from green in spring to yellow, red, and brown in fall.
While Many Glacier welcomes its day guests all year round, only the most adventures travelers visit the area in winter. Similar to other sections of Glacier, road closures, subzero temperatures, and avalanche conditions prevail here from November though March.
The 11 Best Things to Do in the Many Glacier Area: Activities for 1 or 2 Day Itinerary
This first-timer’s guide to the best things to do in the Many Glacier area is certainly not complete. Yet including some of the best hikes and sites, it allows to experience the most of Many Glacier in a day or a couple of days.
1. Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint – Perfect Activity for One Day in the Many Glacier Region
Only a few day hikes in the Many Glacier region are as diverse in sights and natural attractions as the Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint Trail. Starting from the Grinnell Glacier trailhead or near the Many Glacier Hotel, the 5.3-mile path runs up the mountains with incredible vistas along the way.
Yet despite the epic views over Grinnell Lake and opportunity to see the Many Glacier’s wildlife, this hike is a tiresome, full day activity. Steadily gaining elevation, the trail might be especially tedious for the beginner hikers.
TIP: To give yourself an easy start of the first day in the Many Glacier area, you can use concession boat and decrease the distance you must traverse on foot. The Grinnell Glacier Overlook is only 3.6 miles away from the boat dock you arrive at.
2. Lake Josephine
For those who decide to spend a day hiking, without adhering to Many Glacier’s boating service, the sky’s the limit, figuratively and literally. The places to explore along the popular trails keep piling up, expanding your 1 or 2 day in the Many Glacier region itinerary.
With that said, for those who head to Grinnell Glacier from the Grinnell Glacier trailhead, Lake Josephine is the first stop to enjoy during your day adventures in the Many Glacier Valley. Guarded by the massive mountains, this pristine lake with a small boat dock sits about 1 mile from the trailhead. Take your first break here and enjoy calm water that reflect the mountains like a mirror.
TIP: If hiking is not your cup of tea, linger at Lake Josephine as long as you need before resuming your day activities in the Many Glacier Valley.
3. Grinnell Lake
Grinnell Lake is the next destination for those who stick to the long day hikes in the Many Glacier area. Bemusing with its aquamarine water and a serious of surrounding waterfalls, the place is considered one the crown jewels of the park. In fact, for the majority of the first-time visitors, the entire Many Glacier area is synonymous with Grinnell Lake.
The hike to this charming place is shorter, only 3.4 miles one way, than to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. Both trails share the same trailhead and continue as one until a trail junction, about a mile past Lake Josephine. The Grinnell Lake Trail goes down from here, eventually taking the day visitor of Many Glacier to the lake shore.
TIP: Alternatively, you can take a boat tour that departs from the Many Glacier Hotel and crosses Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Once on the opposite shore of the lake, walk for 1.1 miles to Grinnell Lake. This option works best for the unexperienced first-time travelers and visitors who don’t have the whole day to explore the magic of Many Glacier.
4. Swiftcurrent Nature Trail
The Swiftcurrent Nature Trail is a 2.3-mile loop around Swiftcurrent Lake. The trail starts at the Grinnell Glacier trailhead or near the Many Glacier Hotel and works best for the day visitors intolerant to high elevations.
A section of the trail that starts at the Grinnell Glacier trailhead is paved, allowing for a pleasant stroll in the woods for day travelers with disabilities or families with babies.
Be aware though, bears abound in this area. For many first-time visitors and wildlife photographers, however, is the biggest reason to spend a day (or several days) in the Many Glacier Valley in the first place.
5. Apikuni Falls
Apikuni Falls is a perfect activity to end the day in the Many Glacier region. The 100-foot waterfall sits 1 mile away from the Apikuni parking area, east of the Many Glacier Hotel.
The fall, however, is not the only destination to visit in this area of Many Glacier. Passing through a lush meadow and shady dense forest until finally rewarding the hikers with the stunning vistas of cascading water, the Apikuni Falls Trail is an adventure on its own.
6. Swiftcurrent Lake
The most popular lake in the Many Glacier Valley, Swiftcurrent Lake sees the largest influx of the day and first-time visitors. The place allures with its scenic surroundings and plenty of opportunities to get on water. Whether you long for canoeing or enjoying sunset from a boat, Swiftcurrent Lake has everything to please you.
The main attraction and, for that reason, the favorite place to visit is the Many Glacier Hotel. Nestled along the eastern shore of the lake, the largest historic structure in the Many Glacier area offers everything from lodging, to a gift shop, a restaurant, and a cafe to inspire its guests to spend no less than a day in its immediate surroundings.
7. Cracker Lake
At 6.4-mile distance from the Many Glacier Hotel, Cracker Lake is another stunning destination to visit during the day adventures in the Many Glacier region. Dubbed as one of the most gorgeous hikes in the area, the place displays diverse terrain.
The trail starts as a walk through the bottom of the valley. Running through several log bridges across panoramic creeks, it later dives into the wood.
Be sure to look around often once you’re in the forest. Here, you may spot some wild animals that stay oblivious to your big plans for the day in the Many Glacier wilderness. Finally, Cracker Lake comes into view, and you know instantly that all the troubles up to this point were worth it.
8. Iceberg Lake
Similar to the other landmarks of Many Glacier, such as Grinnell Glacier and Cracker Lake, Iceberg Lake can take the whole day. Starting at the Iceberg/Ptarmigan trailhead, the trail takes you 4.8 miles away to the alpine lake with floating icebergs.
To visit one of the favorite places in Many Glacier, head over to the parking lot at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. From here, follow the road to the right until you reach the Iceberg/Ptarmigan trailhead.
Remember when we mentioned that we arranged this first-timer’s guide to Many Glacier around a few day hikes? So Iceberg Lake is just one of them. Coming across Ptarmigan Falls along the way, the Iceberg Lake Trail offers far more than just views of the emerald lake.
9. Ptarmigan Falls
If hiking almost 5 miles one way to Iceberg Lake seems too great of an adventure for a relaxing day in the Many Glacier area, turn back after viewing Ptarmigan Fall. The waterfall nestles 2.7 miles from the Iceberg/Ptarmigan trailhead. It’s still quite a walk. Yet it’s certainly rewarding.
The highlight of this half day hike is a series of gushing cascades, rushing to feed the Many Glacier Valley.
10. Ptarmigan Lake
Once you reach Ptarmigan Falls, the trail splits off. The majority of the first-time visitors of Many Glacier continue on to Iceberg Lake from this point. Those who were fortunate to spend a few days in the Many Glacier region before, follow the trail leading to Ptarmigan Lake and eventually the Ptarmigan Tunnel.
The trail winds up, getting steeper with every step past Ptarmigan Falls. Brave this path for another 1.6 mile, until it reaches Ptarmigan Lake. Altogether, the distance from the Iceberg/Ptarmigan trailhead to the lake is 4.3 miles.
11. Ptarmigan Tunnel – One of the Best Day Hikes in the Many Glacier Area
The final destination of this day in the Many Glacier area is the Ptarmigan Tunnel. The iconic place sits at 2,300 feet above sea level and offers panoramic views of Elizabeth Lake and the Belly River drainage.
Although a coveted destination for many first-time and returning day visitors, the tunnel remains one of the seasonal attractions of Many Glacier. It normally opens mid-July and keeps alluring the hikers until late September.
Adding 10.6 miles (round trip) to your Many Glacier adventures, the hike takes from half day to the whole day to complete.
First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Many Glacier: 1 Day Itinerary
As the pictures of Grinnell Glacier had enchanted us way before we planned our Many Glacier itinerary, it made a perfect sense to spend a good portion of the first day here. As it turned out, many first-time visitors of Many Glacier think the same.
The 10.6-mile, round-trip hike usually takes 5-7 hours to complete. Although you still have plenty of time after returning to the trailhead, doing another long hike while spending just one day in Many Glacier seems too cruel on your feet.
Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint: Day Activities in the Many Glacier Valley
To make your journey to Grinnell Glacier easier, start early in the morning before the scorching sun drains all your energy. If you start at the Grinnell Glacier trailhead, be sure to check out amazing reflection at Lake Josephine along the way.
You don’t need more than 15 minutes at the lake, unless you decide to take it easy and spend the day in the Many Glacier Valley and not in the mountains above it. In that case, adhere to the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail that swirls around the lake and takes you to the Many Glacier Hotel.
Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier
If Grinnell Lake or Grinnell Glacier are on your radar for an eventful day in the Many Glacier area, continue on along the Josephine Lake Trail. Approximately a mile into the hike, the trail forks.
The left path goes down to Grinnell Lake, located 1.6 miles from here. The right fork keeps ascending. As it gains elevation, the trail passes by a number of tiny waterfalls, streaming down the mountainside. But it’s not all.
Even if you decide to leave Grinnell Lake for another day hike in the Many Glacier’s mountains, the views of the aquamarine lake catch up with you on the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail. Festooned by several waterfalls flowing into the lake below, the area offers some of the best photo opportunities in entire Glacier National Park.
Activities to End your First Day in the Many Glacier Region
Once you get back to the Many Glacier Valley and have enough energy for another hike, add Apikuni Falls to your hiking journey. Finish your day adventures in the Many Glacier area by enjoying sunset at Swiftcurrent Lake.
First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Many Glacier: Map for 1 Day Itinerary
First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Many Glacier: Two-Day Itinerary
Day 1: Follow the same itinerary as if you would have just one day to explore Many Glacier.
Day 2: Visit the places you left behind from the day 1 of Many Glacier itinerary and/or hike to Cracker Lake. The latter is a pretty long hike and can take from several hours up to the whole day to complete.
Alternative Day 2 of Many Glacier Itinerary:
Alternately, you can repeat your experiences and stick to a day-long hike that allows you to visit several Many Glacier’s attractions along the way. The Iceberg Lake hike or even the longer Ptarmigan Tunnel hike are good options to consider for the whole day adventures.
First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Many Glacier: Map for Day 2 Itinerary
Spending 1 Day (2 or more Days) in Many Glacier Area: Places to Stay
- Many Glacier Hotel. Built during 1914 and 1915, the Many Glacier Hotel it located west of the Many Glacier entrance. The largest hotel in Glacier National Park boats 211 rooms, outstanding views of Grinnell Point and Mt. Henkel, and plenty of water activities at Swiftcurrent Lake.
- Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins. This modest accommodation with 62 hotel rooms and 26 cabins has a rustic feel about it. Spending a day here lets you dive deeper into the serenity and tranquility of the Many Glacier Valley. While the hotel rooms offer all modern amenities, the cabins have no baths. Public showers as well as a gift shop and public laundry are available, though.
Spending 1 Day (2 or more Days) in Many Glacier Area: Place to Eat
- The Ptarmigan Dining Room. Located within the Many Glacier Hotel, the Ptarmigan Dining Room is famous as the most refined restaurant in Glacier National Park. The place serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, replenishing hungry hikers’s energy with dishes from French and American cuisines. Sadly, Many Glacier’s guests with dietary restrictions have fewer option to choose from here and elsewhere in Glacier.
- Heidi’s Snack Shop and Espresso Stand. For a quick bite on the go, stop at the Heidi’s. The place is nestled on the ground level of the Many Glacier Hotel and is perfect for grabbing something to chew after a long hike.
- Nell’s at Swiftcurrent Restaurant. Pizzas, sandwiches, and burgers are on the menu at Nell’s, located at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins.
First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Many Glacier: Helpful Tips and Things to Know
1. Arrive at Many Glacier Early in the Morning
Parking spaces are limited. During the summer season, the day visitors may be turned away, if the parking lots are full by the time of their arrival. If you spend more than one day and stay within the Many Glacier Valley, parking situation may be not as acute to you. Yet still try to start your day adventures in the Many Glacier area early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
2. Fill up a Gas Tank before Visiting Many Glacier
There are no gas stations within Glacier National Park.
3. Bring Snacks and Water
Stock up on water and snacks to keep yourself hydrated and quickly replenish your energy during your day adventures in the Many Glacier area.
4. Wear Good Shoes
The comfortable hiking shoes with traction are essential for the day hikes up the Many Glacier’s mountains.
5. Get Hard-Copy Map
Download offline maps or use hard-copy maps. Cell coverage is limited in the Many Glacier area.
6. Beware of Bears
The region abounds with the grizzly and black bears. While it may sound exciting to share the trail with the wild animals, be sure to admire the wildlife from a safe distance when spending a day in the woods around the Valley. You might even want to hang a small bell (you can buy it at any gift shops in the Many Glacier area) on your backpack to make noise and keep the bears away.
7. Trails Closures
Some trails in the Many Glacier region are periodically closed due to grizzly bear activity. Visit National Park Service website for more information.
Glacier National Park’s entrance fee is $35. A day pass is valid for seven consecutive days, allowing to visit any sections of the park.
Unlike the West Glacier entrance and the St. Mary entrance, the Many Glacier entrance may be not staffed. Use self-service station to pay, if you haven’t done it at any other entrances upon arrival at Glacier.
The America the Beautiful pass is the ultimate ticket option for any frequent and day visitors of Many Glacier. The pass is valid for one year and covers all national parks and the majority of national monuments.
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