KICK THINGS OFF IN KALISPELL, the travel hub for Glacier National Park and Montana's Flathead Valley. This culturally vibrant city has a secret stash of engaging museums. Spend a few hours eyeing distinctively Montana art at the Hockaday Museum of Art, housed in a 1904 Carnegie Library building. Galleries showcase Winold Reiss’ vivid Blackfeet Indian portraits and Charles M. Russell’s dime-novel cowboys and trappers, as well as works by contemporary Montana artists.
Then visit the palatial Conrad Mansion Museum, built in the early 1890s by architect Kirtland Cutter, the mastermind of Glacier’s Lake McDonald Lodge. This 26-room manor (sandstone fireplaces, Italian onyx drinking fountains, leaded glass windows) was owned by Kalispell founder Charles Conrad, who may be largely responsible for saving America’s wild bison. When only about 100 remained on the continent, Conrad corralled his private herd on Kalispell’s Buffalo Hill, and the animals later repopulated the National Bison Range in Moiese.
Before leaving town, nab a seat at DeSoto Grill and sample beef brisket and elk sausage. Then cruise northeast on U.S. 2 to Apgar, where Lake McDonald glimmers at the base of glacier-carved peaks.
TURN TO THE SUN Check-in at seasonally open Lake McDonald Lodge, its massive timbers held up by historic integrity. In classic 1913 style, rooms are cozy except for the luxurious Cobb Suites. No matter—you’ll want to spend the evening in the Great Room beneath glowing Indian-motif chandeliers and a menagerie of trophy animal heads. Even in summer, flames flicker in the tea-party-size rock fireplace. Daylight hours will draw you to the veranda, where Lake McDonald’s 10-mile-long expanse spreads toward the horizon. Rent a kayak at the dock or take a sunset cruise on the historic wooden vessel DeSmet, which has plied these waters since 1930.
In the morning, grab a 7 a.m. espresso for a head start on the soul-shaking splendor of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The 50-mile route begins in an ancient cedar forest, then gradually climbs out of the conifers to deliver some of the West’s most magnificent asphalt driving. Going-to-the-Sun’s narrow ribbon—an engineering marvel dedicated in 1933—passes a string of vistas as it carves along the Garden Wall’s escarpment. Snake up The Loop’s sole curlicue switchback and slip underneath the Weeping Wall’s showering cataract (free car wash) on the way up to Logan Pass, a climactic 6,646-foot summit on the Continental Divide’s crest. It’s easy to see why the Blackfeet Indians, whose Blackfeet Indian Reservation sits just east of Glacier, called this The Backbone of the World.
Park the car and visit the Logan Pass Visitor Center, then walk to Hidden Lake Overlook amid a banquet of snaggletooth peaks and fragile alpine wildflowers. Furry white mountain goats nibble tundra grasses alongside the trail, unfazed by your presence.
From the summit, Going-to-the-Sun Road descends through pine and aspen groves. Stop at Jackson Glacier Overlook to view one of the park’s 26 remaining glaciers, reduced from 150 nearly a century ago. The road swoops down to St. Mary Lake, passing one trailhead after another, each an intriguing question mark—what lies down that path? Glacier’s 700-plus miles of trails lead to waterfalls, lakes, meadows and vistas—plus blue-ribbon angling, boating and camping.
LAKE VIEWS FOR DAYS Check in at the imposing Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake; book a year ahead to score a lake-view balcony. From the hotel’s veranda, marvel at Grinnell Point towering over the lake’s emerald depths. Place yourself in the middle of this postcard by gliding across the lake on the Chief Two Guns boat, then board a second boat that traverses Lake Josephine. You can stroll back to the hotel or follow the path to Grinnell Lake, its glacial-melt waters a stunning milky teal.
Drive south from Many Glacier about 55 miles to Two Medicine Lake, a region of rugged grandeur. Take a short ramble to Running Eagle Falls before arriving at the glacier-gouged lake, then hop on the boat taxi to shave a couple of miles off the trek to electric-blue Cobalt Lake. Watch for bighorn sheep as you ascend past Rockwell Falls. This is Glacier’s wild interior, where megafauna outnumbers people.
Cross over Marias Pass, then head into Essex for a meal at the atmospheric Izaak Walton Inn, set at waving distance from passing Amtrak trains. Built-in 1939 to house workers tending the Great Northern Railway’s far-flung lines, the inn rents refurbished cabooses for overnight stays. Wander its tranquil grounds, then hit up The Dining Car restaurant for elk meatballs and huckleberry cobbler.
ELEVATED EATS AND SIPS Follow the Middle Fork Flathead River back to West Glacier, then swing southwest to Whitefish. On Big Mountain, Whitefish Mountain Resort offers some of Montana’s best winter skiing, but summer has its own thrills—30-plus miles of mountain bike trails and an exhilarating zipline. To get out on the water, rent a kayak or paddleboard from Paddlefish Sports on City Beach to explore Whitefish Lake. Downtown’s walkable enclave is saturated with galleries, including Sunti World Art Gallery, home to acclaimed sculptor Sunti Pichetchaiyakul. Then choose your spot for sophisticated dining. Abruzzo Italian Kitchen attracts a chic crowd with artisan cocktails, from-scratch pasta and shared plates. Bonsai Brewing Project’s critically acclaimed beers include Lil Blond Honey—made with Montana honey, of course. This might just be the perfect drink to toast the end of your Glacier road trip.
EXTEND YOUR STAY
Drive the scenic 90-mile Seeley-Swan Highway (MT-83) connecting the Flathead and Blackfoot valleys to Seeley Lake. Along the way, explore Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge. In Seeley Lake, 16-ounce steak dinners await at Lindey’s Prime Steak House. Settle into a lakefront cabin at Tamaracks Resort, which dates to the early 1900s.