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Since 2011, we have been traveling by car to some national parks such as Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Park. I made it a goal of mine to visit Glacier National Park before 2020 and since we plan on building a house next year, now was the perfect time to go before life got a bit hectic. We are not a “Van Life” family nor do we travel a lot, but we have done some long road trips so I just wanted to share some of my experiences and tips to help you plan your next road trip with your family. Especially since there’s a few things I wish I knew before our stay at Glacier National Park like how we didn’t really need to pack our camping chairs because the campground provided you benches and how the nights get so cold (yes, even in the middle of August!) that renting an RV would be the better option. I hope this general guide in the form of tips will help you. So, here goes…
TIP ONE: Planning. Unless there is a travel agency that does road trip planning that I don’t know of, you’ll have to plan everything by yourself. That includes booking your lodging, planning your driving routes, and looking for activities to do. A great resource for all of that is … Pinterest!!! Yes. I did half of my planning via Pinterest. The other half- on NPS.gov … yes! The National Park Service website is full of resources so you can plan an enjoyable time at their parks. Many parks have campgrounds right inside the park which makes it really convenient for those who are limited on time. We stayed at St. Mary Campground which is at the east entrance of the park (literally just a half mile down from the park entrance). It is the largest campground on the east side and is open year round. The two group sites can be reserved a year in advance while some individual sites can be reserved 6 months in advance. The restroom facilities are really nice- one of the nicest ones we’ve been to in a national park. It has flush toilets, running sink water, air hand dryer, and there are 4 individual shower rooms located in Loop C – where the group campsites were. Some of the shower rooms did not function as well as others. I would recommend using the handicap accessible ones, especially if you have little kids as these have the handheld shower heads. Also, water temperature control was better in this shower room as well. And yes, the restrooms have electrical outlets for when your phone is about to die and need a quick charge! My biggest and most important tip about planning is this- RESERVE in ADVANCE!!! Especially if you are planning on going during peak season (summer). Campgrounds and hotels get filled up super fast so having a reservation in place guarantees you’ll have a place to lodge when you get there. If tent camping or hotels aren’t your thing, there are certainly are other options such as renting an RV. I’d have to say that about 75% of the campers at St. Mary had an RV or trailer. So, that is a common trend and I’m positive there are businesses outside of the park that rents them out. I have not done that research myself because that unfortunately was not an option for us but, I do plan on renting an RV for the next trip to Glacier.
TIP TWO: Packing. One thing I did not anticipate on is having cold weather in the middle of August, but it was cold and rainy- especially at night. So, I do recommend packing your winter gear- a puff coat, knit hat, warm joggers, socks, etc. I really recommend you packing these things if you are tent camping with children. For babies, I would recommend a snowsuit or a fleece bunting suit for them to sleep in at night. It does get windy and really cold if you sleep in a tent so be prepared. I don’t recommend packing camping chairs because each camp site does have a picnic table and the group sites have picnic tables and benches. Other than that, printing and checking a list is helpful when packing for a road trip. And remember to pack your tent! My husband forgot to load our tent into our car so that was a headache to deal with but, luckily our family had an extra one for us to use.
TIP THREE: Agenda. Research ahead of time for all the hot spots to hit- especially if you only have a couple of days there. I’d say, about 80% of the site seeing was done on the, Going to the Sun Road. We only spent half a day in the Many Glacier area because there really wasn’t much to see besides the Many Glacier Hotel. That area is more secluded and mainly for hikers or people with no kids. Just make sure you have back-up plans in case of inclement weather. Unfortunately, we only had one good, sunny day on our 4 day trip. So, we used that day to go hiking at St. Mary and Virginia Falls. NOTE: cell service is like.. nonexistent there so we always checked the weather over at the visitor centers. There is the St. Mary Visitor center that is located right at the East Entrance and then the Logan Pass Visitor center on the Going to the Sun Road. Please use patience there as that is a VERY popular area and the visitor center parking lot is almost always full. I took some notes while on the Going to the Sun Road and here is a list of my hot spots if you’re looking for an Instagram photo opportunity:
1. Sacred Cascades
2. Red Rock
3. Logan’s Creek Bridge
Going to the Sun road was busy, even when it was raining and windy. That’s tourist season for you. So using patience is key to having a successful trip, especially with kids. There are stops along the road where a pit toilet is available for you to use, but back-up plan is to have a portable toilet in your vehicle. We brought this one and it was a LIFE-SAVER!!! Our toddler used it a lot and it saved us the panic of trying to find the nearest gas station or rest stop. Just make sure you also get the plastic baggies for the toilet. Makes clean up easy.
In the West side of the park is Apgar Village, where you can stop and eat at a small restaurant. There area also little gift shops and ice cream shops in that village. Makes for a great rest stop after a long drive on the, Going to the Sun road. And again, it is busy during tourist season so bring your patience!
Also, if you run out of food for camping or if you can’t cook because of inclement weather, there is a small gas station, grocery store, and restaurant in the St. Mary area on the east side of the park. The restaurant is called, Snowgoose Grille, and it is located inside the St. Mary Lodge. The food was delicious! The grocery store had a lot of veggie produce but the meat department was empty and null.
My kids enjoyed their time on the road trip and they were introduced to so many new and exciting things. They were glad to be back home after such a long trip, and so were we. The kids still talk about the mountains and my toddler even asks to go back! We will definitely go back one day when the kids are older. We are happy that they got to spend this time with their aging grandparents and pray that we can enjoy many more road trips together in the near future.
I hope this general guide has helped you. Sorry this post seemed all over the place. I tried to think of the best possible way to write this guide while it was still fresh in my mind. If you have time, you can check out my YouTube video on this road trip. Hope this post inspired you to take a trip to a national park with your family.