Montana: My 3-Day Itinerary for Glacier/Whitefish
I took a whirlwind trip to Glacier/Whitefish at the end of summer. Here’s what I did, what I’d do differently. If you’d like to check out my recommendations for what to do with your long weekend itinerary in Whitefish Montana, check it out here.
I arrived early in the day into the very lovely, very tiny Glacier International Airport. It took me all of 5 minutes to walk from my gate to the in-terminal car rental desks. And another 5 minutes to pick up my car. Fantastic arrival experience all around! From there, I drove a short distance for lunch and a wine tasting at Glacier Sun Winery, about 10 minutes south of the airport. This high-end marketplace, cafe, and wine tasting room is a great stop if you’re nearby. It’s probably not worth going out of your way for, unless like me, you set weird travel goals for yourself. For me, one of those goals is to drink wine from each of the 50 states. I’m up to about 25 I think? The wines vary in quality wildly from one state to another (a good state for wine that was unexpected? Iowa). While Glacier Sun had very delicious dessert wines, the regular reds and whites were just ok. I did have to stop afterwards in the other half of the building for a pretty decent sandwich and to pick up some fruits and snacks to have on hand the next couple of days.
I then drove up to Glacier National Park to pay my $30 fee and to figure out a plan of attack for my hiking and sightseeing. If you go… don’t necessarily follow google maps’ instructions. It lead me up past the main entrance, many miles north into the wilderness, past some very beautiful scenery of rivers, forests, etc, to a smaller park entrance. That was unmanned. You were on the honor system for dropping $30 into a nearby bin and keeping a hand-written receipt. I followed instructions, although later would get hassled a little bit by park rangers when I re-entered the park, not sure if that was a legitimate ticket.
Anyway…. fresh off my unexpected driving adventure in the wild, I followed the park map to get down to Apgar Village, the site of a visitor’s center, hotel, campsites, and outdoor rentals. I went into the surprisingly small teepee that is Glacier Outfitters to rent the bear spray that was recommended to take on hikes. The spray rents for $9/day, and you’ll need to take a quick on-site tutorial on how to use it. They assured me that of the thousands of people who rent spray every summer, only a handful ever need to use it. I then drove the 40 minutes (a short drive in Montana) to the town of Whitefish to check into my Airbnb. It was close to the center of town, so I was able to walk down to the picturesque downtown. I wandered a bit to check out the shops (touristy but still nice!), the pubs (lots of craft beer), before deciding on a place that my host had recommended. I had an absolutely delicious dinner at the slightly upscale Tupelo Grille, chatting with my bar neighbors about the food and the town.
I got up bright and early to drive to and park at the Apgar Visitor’s Center at Glacier. It was chilly out, and I was regretting not bringing warmer clothes. However, I reminded myself that it was going ot warm up pretty soon. The reason I got to the visitor’s center so early was that I wanted to take the 730am express shuttle to Logan Pass. Even being an express, it took a little over an hour. I HIGHLY recommend both taking the shuttle and getting there early. Parking anywhere beyond the visitor’s center can be difficult. The parking lot at Logan Pass was near capacity at 8:30am. It also allows you to kick back and marvel at the dramatic peaks as you drive on windy roads up to the Continental Divide. Once there, I did a quick stop for water and a decent toilet at the Logan Pass visitor’s center. I then set off on a 11.4 mile High Line trail from Logan Pass down to the Loop, stopping at Glacier Chalet for lunch.
I talk about all of this in more detail, including a late appreciation for hiking poles and a mountain goat encounter here.
For any park hiking, bring food and lots of water. Supplies are non-existent at the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center and very expensive at the Chalet or other outposts. Seriously, lots of water. The high altitude means dry air and that sun can be unforgiving. After destroying my joints on the trail, I ate an early dinner at Eddie’s Cafe in Apgar village, which was both surprisingly good and had a decent beer selection for a National Park restaurant. It’s a well-known fact that a beer after a long hike tastes better than a beer almost any other time.
A little sore, I still headed back to Glacier National Park early, interrupting the deer wandering the neighborhood I was staying in. Because of course deer frolic in the early mornings in Montana! I got back to the park as my aim was to do a quick hike from the Avalanche Creek shuttle stop. It had a little more shade and was a little less taxing than the previous day. I made it…maybe a third of the way before my knees and ankles started to give out on me. Next time, I’ll be picking up some hiking poles before doing any lengthy trails in the future!
Heading back to the Visitor’s Center on a crowded shuttle, I drove down to Kalispell to check out that town and have a late lunch prior to my flight. Kalispell is a bit larger and felt a little less cozy than Whitefish. Going from one to the other, Kalispell is a little underwhelming. However, I had a very good lunch at Montana Coffee Traders, where I spent awhile taking advantage of their good wifi after two days of spotty service in and around the park.
I wandered around Kalispell only slightly longer as I had to get to the airport to return my car and check in for my flight. As the car rental agency is within the airport, and lines overall are short, I needed less than an hour to do both!