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Glacier National Park to Yellowstone Road Trip

Glacier National Park to Yellowstone road trip is always a family favorite. To be able to experience sharp jagged mountains, beautiful lakes, and glaciers in the same trip as the geysers, hot springs, and wildlife is pretty amazing!

Before I get into the things to do in Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park, it’s important to know when planning this road trip that Glacier has very extensive reservation requirements for the summer of 2023.

Get all the details on Glacier Naitonal Park Reservations here.

Glacier National Park to Yellowstone

In case you have difficulty getting a Glacier entrance permit, know that there are a lot of great things to do just outside of Glacier as well as a few options if you decide to change your road trip from Yellowstone to another destination.

How long does it take to drive from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone?

From the north entrance of Yellowstone to the entrance of Glacier National Park, you’re looking at just over 6 hours.

Best time to visit Yellowstone and Glacier National Park?

Late May through mid-October is the best time of year in order to avoid too much snow and ice. We think Glacier is best in September, because then you’ll get ideal conditions, and fall colors, AND you’ll avoid the summer crowds.

Where to stay at Yellowstone and Glacier National Park?

Inside Yellowstone, you have six locations for lodging to choose from as well as numerous campgrounds. For Glacier National Park, you have a few options for cabins/hotels inside the park and a lot to choose from for camping. See our guide to camping in Glacier to help you know which campground is the best.

Which is better, Glacier or Yellowstone?

Our family enjoys Glacier significantly more than Yellowstone, however, you have to see Yellowstone at least once in your life so, I recommend allotting a little more time in Glacier National Park than in Yellowstone but still making time for both.

Thinking of adding in the Tetons or doing this road trip in reverse order? Read our Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Park blog.

Best Time For This 7 Day Glacier National Park to Yellowstone Itinerary

With this one-week road trip itinerary you should feel like there’s always a full day of excitement ahead of you, without feeling like it’s going to be a constant rush of hurrying from one thing to the next.

The best time for this road trip is September. July is typically great weather while August could be a little on the hot side.

Glacier National Park Fall Foilage
You can’t go wrong with fall colors in late September

May and June will bring great weather, however, it’s very common for the Going-To-The-Sun-Road to not be open until early July.

If you arrive in Glacier and it is still closed, look into biking the Going-To-The-Sun-Road instead. you can rent bikes and e-bikes near Lake McDonald.

Where To Fly Into for a Glacier National Park to Yellowstone Road Trip

The best airports for this Glacier National Park to Yellowstone road trip would be Missoula, Kalispell (also known as Glacier International Airport), or Billings. We use Skyscanner to find the best deals on flights.

Glacier National Park to Yellowstone Road Trip Map

Related Blog: 21 Helpful Road Trip Tips with Kids

Where to Stay in Glacier National Park

Numerous lodging choices surround Glacier National Park. While staying within the park offers a delightful experience, securing lodge accommodations can be challenging. Detailed campground insights are available for tent campers and RVers. For proximity to Glacier, Great Northern Resort and Glacier Outdoor Center are excellent alternatives if park lodging is unavailable. Opting to stay inside the park is ideal for those uninterested in dining, shopping, or nightlife.

Personally, I love the cozy, bustling town of Whitefish and recommend staying at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake or The Firebrand.

family friendly condos, The Lodge at Whitefish
family-friendly condos, The Lodge at Whitefish
Hot tub, whitefish lodge, Montana, where to stay,
The outdoor hot tub at Whitefish Lodge is a stunning and relaxing way to end a great day of family skiing

Whitefish

Whitefish could be its own destination. It has tons of things to do in town, from hiking to swimming in the lake to breweries to restaurants, to live music. Whitefish is only a half-hour drive from West Glacier, making it a great jumping-off point for your road trip.

An hour to the north you have the Canadian border. Three hours west you have the wonderful lake town of Sandpoint. Four hours west and you’re in Washington. And to the east, you have all the untamed vastness of the Montana wilderness to enjoy.

Downtown Whitefish, Montana
Downtown Whitefish

Favorite Places To Eat in Glacier & Whitefish

There isn’t anything that knocks my socks off inside Glacier. When we visit Glacier we either pack our own food or are camping in our RV and cook our meals.

Just outside of West Glacier near Glacier Guides Rafting Co is a Mexican food truck, Wandering Gringo Cafe, that has huge servings.

In Whitefish, we love to eat at Amazing Crepes, Piggyback BBQ, Montana Tap House, and Casey’s (although they might be closed). For coffee, go to Folklore Coffee and get ice cream at Sweet Peaks.

For music and nightlife, see who’s playing at The Great Northern.

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip Whitefish Montana

Where To Stay in Yellowstone

There are five entrances to Yellowstone, and driving through all of Yellowstone alone is practically a full-day venture. Taking this into account, you should book accommodations relative to where you enter the park.

When driving to Yellowstone from Glacier (or Whitefish) it’s about the same amount of time to drive to the west entrance as it is the north entrance.

Therefore, choosing to base out of West Yellowstone or Gardiner both work. For the simplicity of this itinerary, I’ll write it as if you are starting in Gardiner.

Like Glacier, you can be staying inside Yellowstone at one of the lodges or campgrounds. Again though, it can be hard to get a room in one of the lodges or a campsite.

Gardiner has many affordable options for hotels if you can’t get something inside of Yellowstone.

Booking.com

One Week Glacier National Park to Yellowstone Itinerary

Glacier National Park Overview

If this is your first time visiting Glacier National Park, you’ll want to orient yourself with this map first.

Going_to_the_Sun_road_trail_map_nps

There are 4 key areas of Glacier that you will want to prioritize.

  1. West Glacier, which is not seen on this map but is to the west of Avalanche. This is where most people enter Glacier National Park if they are coming from Whitefish, Colombia Falls, or Missoula. This is also where Lake McDonald is.
  2. Logan Pass, which is the summit of the Going-To-The-Sun Road, and driving this road and stopping at Logan Pass is the bucket list item when visiting Glacier.
  3. St Mary’s, which, while still beautiful, in my opinion not worth stopping at if you are only spending a few days in Glacier National Park
  4. Many Glacier, which has the best strenuous day hikes in Glacier but also a great place to visit and just take in the views. The challenge is that driving from West Glacier to Many Glacier is about a 2-hour drive and that is without traffic or stopping to take in the views or hike.

I’ve done both the Going-To-The-Sun Road, and Logan Pass, and hiked Grinnell Glacier in Many Glacier all on the same day before but it was a really, really long day.

That’s why for this itinerary, I recommend doing Going-To-The-Sun Road one day and Many Glacier the next.

There are other areas to explore in Glacier if you have more time, such as Two Medicine, which has our favorite hike, Polebridge, and Waterton Park.

Many Glacier Moose Sighting

Day 1: Glacier National Park

On your first day in Glacier National Park, you will be checking off your bucket list of the “Going-To-The-Sun Road.”

The Going-To-The-Sun-Road is a narrow, winding, often crowded road that requires your vehicle be shorter than 21 feet, less than 10 feet high, and have a width of less than 8 feet. Definitely not an option for most RVs.

If you have a small vehicle, you may opt to drive it yourself, however, in the busy months of July and August, it is usually better to just ride the shuttle.

Besides taking in the beautiful views on the Going-To-The-Sun Road, you may want to do a hike today.

The most popular hikes include The Highline Trail, Hidden Lake Overlook, and Avalanche Lake. These hikes and many others are covered in more detail in our Best Hikes in Glacier blog.

Going-To-The-Sun Road has a lot of places you can stop to take in the views. If you are lucky to be there during the shoulder season, then take your time and enjoy the journey.

During the busy months, it’s much easier and more enjoyable to just use the shuttle system.

If you are visiting Glacier in July or August, and aren’t taking the shuttle, you want to get up to Logan Pass early because parking is so limited.

Glacier National PArk, September Fall Colors
If you thought summer in Glacier was beautiful, wait till you see fall. (Photo taken on Going to the Sun Road in late September)
Hidden Lake Overlook, Fall in Glacier
Hidden Lake Overlook in a beautiful fall dusting of snow
Highline trail, Best Hikes in Glacier National Park, Strenuous
Perhaps one of the greatest hikes in the world, the Highline Trail

Day 2: Many Glacier or Two Medicine

Many Glacier is hikers heaven!

There are 3 amazing hikes in the Many Glacier – Grinnell Glacier, Iceberg Lake, or Cracker Lake. The hardest part will be deciding which one to do because they are all great.

Note that if an epic & challenging hike isn’t your thing, there are easy hikes that you may want to do instead at St Mary’s Lake.

Optional detours of variations to day 2. If you don’t want to drive the long drive out to Many Glacier but want to hike, there are some beautiful but stout hikes along Highway 2 about 30 minutes past West Glacier.

Many Glacier also offers boat tours as well as kayak, canoe, and row boat rentals.

Note that in summer, you now need an entrance reservation for Many Glacier and Two Medicine.

Cracker Lake, hiking Many Glacier, Glacier National Park
Cracker Lake in Many Glacier. Wow! That teal!
Iceberg Lake, Many Glacier, Glacier National Park
Iceberg Lake at Many Glacier
Grinnell Glacier, Best Hikes in Glacier National Park, Strenuous
Can a lake possibly be any bluer? Views on the way to Grinnell Glacier

Day 3: Flex Day

Your Glacier National Park reservation is good for 3 days so today would be a good day to have a chill day in Glacier.

Head to Lake McDonald where you can also pay for a boat tour, and rent canoes, kayaks, boats, and bikes.

Now, if you want more adventure, today would be a great day to hike the Danny On the trail at Whitefish Resort, mountain bike at Lion Mountain, or go Whitewater Rafting instead.

Whitefish Resort also has downhill mountain biking, ropes course, zip line, kid’s strider park, alpine slides, and more.

Near West Glacier, there is also a ropes course at Glacier Highline, Amazing Fun Center, Big Sky Waterpark, and a ton more options for activities.

You can also choose to check out Kalispell, Flathead Lake, Polson, Blacktail Mountain, or Big Arm.

Many Glacier Wildlife
Up close with wildlife in Many Glacier

Day 4: Exploring Montana

Today is your driving day. The most direct way from West Glacier to Yellowstone is on Highway 83. This takes you past Holland Lake which has a nice hike to Holland Falls.

You’ll also pass Seeley Lake, one of our favorite winter destinations. You’ll next pass through Helena, Bozeman, and Livingston and have an endless list of things you can do.

Since we chase epic hikes, my recommendation is to drive through the cities listed above and instead, hike to Pine Creek Lake. This is a really hard hike but takes you to one of the most gorgeous alpine lakes in the US. Or you can do the much easier hike to Pine Creek Falls from the same trailhead.

If you are entering Yellowstone from the west entrance, the most direct way takes you through Ennis, a great wild west town to stop at. From here you could also drive out and explore Virginia City.

For just a little longer drive, you could go through Big Sky which has a lot of options for hikes and other things to do there. We enjoy hiking Beehive Basin although it can be really crowded, especially in summer.

Day 5 – North Circle of Yellowstone

Phew! You made it to Yellowstone!

With all the options between Glacier National Park and Yellowstone, you can see how easy it would be to spend a month on this road trip.

Two days should be all you need for a well-rounded Yellowstone trip, filled with a variety of sights and hikes. Although you could easily spend several weeks in this wonderful place, we’re confident that given two full days you’ll be very satisfied with the overall experience.

Here’s a map to orient yourself to Yellowstone. You can see how Yellowstone looks like the number 8 with two circles.

On this first day in Yellowstone, you’ll do the top circle, and on the second day the bottom circle.

Now for the northern loop. You will have to backtrack Hayden Valley to reach Canyon Village. Once there, you’ll hike the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which should only take 1-2 hours.

Your best chance of seeing wildlife is to get up early and head out to Lamar Valley. Look for where all the photographers are set up with their huge cameras and bring a pair of binoculars with you or rent the high-powered ones in Gardiner.

Utilize early mornings for wildlife sightings in Lamar Valley, join photographers’ spots for probable sightings, and explore Yellowstone’s major attractions on the northern loop.

Hopefully, you got lucky and saw the pack of wolves, a bear, or at least a lot of bison. Now, backtrack through Lamar Valley all the way to Yellowstone Falls, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Norris Geyser.

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip Norris Basin

Ideally, you’d turn south at Tower Junction and head to Canyon Village, but that road seems to always be closed now. If it happens to be open, then do that last part inversely.

Adventurers will want to finish off this busy day by hiking Mount Washburn. This is a 7-mile hike so you’ll need about 3 hours of daylight to get it done or watch sunset from the peak and hike out with headlamps.

Today, you’ll be doing the southern loop of Yellowstone, specifically, the Grand Prismatic, Old Faithful, West Thumb, Grant Village, Fishing Bridge, and Mud Volcano.

Ideally, you’d get up really early again and try to get to Grand Prismatic at sunrise to get the best photos and fewer crowds.

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip Grand Prismatic

Be sure to allow a few hours for Old Faithful so that you don’t miss seeing it erupt. While it is fairly consistent, you may have to have some patience.

Plus, it’s fun to watch it erupt twice, once up close and the second time by hiking up to the overlook.

You’ll also want to have time to hike the Upper Geyser Basin and see all the other, less famous, geysers erupt.

If you have enough time, and your legs aren’t too exhausted from this much hiking, you should also partake in the two-and-a-half mile Mystic Falls hike, which starts from the Upper Geyser Basin.

Rounding out the day, head through Hayden Valley where there’s a high likelihood of seeing a majestic herd of Bison. Near sunset, there is also a higher likelihood of seeing a bear.

Mammoth hot spring colors, Yellowstone, Wyoming
Mammoth Hot Spring, Yellowstone

Day 7 – Grand Tetons, Jackson, or back to the Airport

If you flew in for this Glacier National Park to Yellowstone road trip, today is the day to head back to the airport.

If you are on a road trip and have the luxury to keep driving south, then today is a great day to explore Grand Teton or head east to Mount Rushmore.

4 Weeks Get Fit To Hike Train For A Strenuous Hike

Shorter Itinerary

If you have less than a week to visit these two fabulous locations, then we suggest that you start by cutting Whitefish from your itinerary. It’s a wonderful town, but you want to maximize your two major destinations first.

If you have to shorten it even further, you can either A) make Glacier a one-day adventure, or B) make Yellowstone a one-day adventure.

If the former, then you should stick to experiencing the Going To The Sun Road and getting in the hardest hike you think you can do. It’ll be a long day, but it’ll be worth it for the sights you’ll see.

If you shorten Yellowstone, read our One Day Guide to Yellowstone.

You may also want to just stick to seeing only one of these places. You’ll have a better experience overall by seeing one place thoroughly than by rushing through both of them.

Yellowstone to Glacier Itinerary & Travel Guide

Longer Itinerary

Now, maybe you have the opposite problem, in that you have to add some days to your trip. Fortunately, you have plenty of options there. 

If you need something to add a couple of days to your trip after Glacier National Park, then Waterton Lakes is a great addition to your itinerary. It’s located across the Canadian border and it’s only about two hours from Glacier.

You could also spend a lot more time exploring Two Medicine, The North Folk, Rising Sun, and the Goat Haunt areas of Glacier.

Rent a boat and spend the day on Flat Head Lake, which is just south of Glacier. Explore the towns of Lakeside, Big Fork & Polson that surround Flat Head Lake.

Flathead Lake State Park, Big Arm Unit near Polson
Waterfront views at Flathead Lake State Park’s Big Arm Unit near Polson, MT

If you’ve had your fill of big mountains and raw nature, you can head westward three hours to the wonderful town of Sandpoint, Idaho. There are a ton of things to do here, both nature and leisure-related, and it is one of our favorite destinations to visit in the US.

If you want a bigger city to spend time in, however, Spokane is only an hour further away than Sandpoint is. You can enjoy the bustle of a populous city while also being just a few minutes away from nature.

If you want a few days added at the end of your trip, then Grand Teton is our number one suggestion. You can spend a long time taking in all the nature here. Check out the best hikes in Grand Teton here

If you’re coming in from the East, then put the Beartooth Highway on your itinerary by only adding an hour or two to your total driving. The Beartooth Highway is a mountain pass road that will treat you to some stunning views of the Wyoming wilderness. 

And as mentioned earlier, there is also Seeley Lake, Helena, Big Sky, and Bozeman.

Last, while you can get the majority of Yellowstone in two days, Yellowstone is ideally enjoyed over the course of three or four days, and not just because there are so many places to hit.

You see, one of the biggest draws of Yellowstone is the wildlife, from wolves to bears, to bison, and more. They all occupy the park, but the thing is, seeing them requires a little bit of luck and the best way to improve your chances is to visit on multiple days and simply wait. It can be time-consuming and sometimes boring, but that’s the best way to see all of Yellowstone’s incredible animals.

Tip: Download our free Adventure Resource Bundle with pack lists, hiking guides, and more

adventure resource bundle

Glacier National Park to Yellowstone Road Trip Accommodation Tip

We typically experience this Glacier National Park to Yellowstone road trip in our thirty-foot RV, and while we do consider this somewhat of the ideal thing to do (primarily because it gives you flexibility and comfort), we do think staying in cabins and hotels is still a great option.

If you do go this route, accommodations will cost quite a lot more. If you are trying to save do this Glacier National Park to Yellowstone road trip on a budget, you could pack a tent and try car camping.

Booking.com

Reminders for Glacier & Yellowstone

  • Don’t forget to check each National Parks’ website for up-to-date conditions: Yellowstone and Glacier
  • This trip is best between late May and early October, otherwise, you’ll have to compete with snow and ice.
  • The perfect time to avoid crowds is September.
  • Buy an annual pass instead of an individual park pass. Each park costs $35 for a vehicle entrance, whereas an annual pass for all National Parks is $80. If you visit one more National Park sometime in the next year, then you’ll end up saving money.
  • Download offline maps and take screenshots beforehand. Both of these parks have spotty reception at best, so make sure you have all your necessary information before entering.
  • Hit grocery stores before going to the parks. There aren’t a whole lot of places to eat in either of these parks, and what places there are, usually serve mediocre food at very high prices.
  • Make sure to reserve campsites and book hotels at least five months in advance 
  • If you’re making this an RV road trip, then keep in mind anything over 30 feet is going to be tough to work with. The roads in both of these parks are narrow, and only a few of the campgrounds will accommodate big rigs. If you consider yourself an excellent driver, then you can get away with having an RV that’s up to forty feet long, but we wouldn’t suggest it.

Hopefully, this got you excited and ready for your Glacier National Park to Yellowstone road trip. If I’ve left any leaf unturned, just as in the comments and I will do my best to get you the info.

Before you go, you’ll lwant to grab these 3 things:

  1. Our free Adventure Resource Bundle with pack lists, trail guides, and more.
  2. Sign up for our course Fit To Hike, which is only $39, or sign up for 6 weeks of coaching and get in the best hiking shape of your life!
  3. Download our Glacier to Yellowstone Travel Guide for only $17. It contains links to road conditions, weather, popular hikes, a complete itinerary, and helpful offline maps.

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Glacier National Park to Yellowstone

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