Your Glacier National Park photography bucket list: the best places to explore and photograph whether you’re a pro or an amateur.
Let me start off by admitting something right here and right now. I feel very inadequate when it comes to writing an article about photography. Why? Well, because I take pictures with my iPhone. There, I said it.
Not only do I take pictures exclusively with my iPhone, but I also didn’t even really get interested in getting the shot until we started full-time traveling. I mean, how could I not get interested at least a little bit when I’m in the presence of greatness in places like Glacier National Park, Sedona, and the Florida Keys?
But I think it was our visits to Glacier National Park that really got to me when it came to attempting to photograph such beauty in a place that makes me feel so deeply. There’s just something about this park that the moment we arrive, it just feels right. And all of us wanted to attempt to photograph it in a way that shared with others what we were feeling. Never an easy task, but worth the effort.
No one in our family has captured this place better than our oldest son (he uses a real camera). And lucky for you, you can see all of his amazing Glacier National Park photography on his Instagram. Whenever I feel the need to look back on and appreciate our 17 months of full-time travel, I always find myself on his profile. It truly gives me all the feels.
We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Glacier NP hiking, photographing and just being. We’ve been to the incredible places you’ll see and read about below and we want to make sure your time in the park is as amazing as ours has been when you are able to see it for yourself.
Your Glacier National Park Photography Bucket List
One of our first experiences in Glacier National Park was soaking in the beauty of Lake McDonald. It’s located on the west side of the park and is one of the most popular tourist areas in the park.
It’s the largest lake in the park measuring ten miles long and nearly 500 feet deep and features crystal clear waters and beautiful, multi-colored pebbles. Add to that the towering mountain peaks and you can see why it’s the perfect spot to sit and stay awhile. I would be okay with a month or so.
Needless to say, it makes for some stunning photos. And it is located along the main road through the park, so no hiking necessary. Just drive and shoot!
Unfortunately, the second time we visited the park in the fall of 2018, the western half of the park — where Lake McDonald is located — was closed due to the fires. We were there for two weeks and never once were able to visit the west side. Although we loved having so much time to explore the east side, we’re already dreaming of when we can go back and see Lake McDonald again.
Hidden Lake Overlook
If you’re looking for a short hike that leads you to spectacular views, the Hidden Lake Overlook is a great choice.
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It’s only 2.7 miles round-trip with a path to the top that is fairly easy to navigate. We saw people of all skill levels and ages making the hike, but be warned that it is an uphill path with lots of steps in the predominantly boardwalk path, so your legs will probably feel it. And for those with knee problems, coming down can be a bit tricky, but nothing a pair of trekking poles can’t help you with.
It is a very popular hike, so if you go during peak tourist season, you’ll have to navigate the crowds. Our second time making the hike was in the fall at sunset and it was just our family and a few other people. It was so nice to spend as much time at the top as we wanted to snap pictures.
Because of the fires burning close by, it made for some interesting colors in the sky (specifically near that top right corner of the photo below).
The Grinnell Glacier hike is one Todd and our boys have talked about quite a bit. It’s also one I regret not going on after seeing their pictures and hearing about their experience. (They saw a moose!) It is, without a doubt, one of the most stunning hikes in the park.
The hike is about 11 miles in total, but you can take a boat shuttle across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine that cuts off about 3.4 miles of the hike. You can read in more detail about the shuttle, the hike itself and see some stunning shots of the views on this post titled ‘What to Expect on the Grinnell Glacier Trail.’
The trailhead for the Grinnell Glacier hike is about a half mile past the Many Glacier Hotel.
St. Mary Lake & Wild Goose Island
St. Mary Lake is the second largest lake in Glacier National Park and is located on the east side. Since we were blocked off from the west side of the park in the fall, we spent what felt like hours at this beautiful lake taking pictures and just enjoying its beauty.
You can snap pictures of the lake just off the road at the lookout point. Or, you can do what we did a couple of times and hike a little way down to the actual lake shore, getting a closer look at Wild Goose Island. Just be warned that wildlife is known to frequent this lake (the bear scat on the shore is plenty of proof) so it’s a good idea to come prepared with bear spray and make plenty of noise on your trek down the hillside trail.
This lake is also famous for being in the opening shot of the film The Shining. Here’s a tidbit from IMDB “The famous opening scene was shot in Glacier National Park in Montana just north of St. Mary’s Lake. The road seen in the scene, Going-to-the-Sun Road, does actually close down during winter and is only negotiable by snowcat.”
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Wild Goose Island is the tiny island that sits right off the shore of St. Mary’s Lake. It helps set the scene for some incredible photographs with the towering mountains ahead. The best time to shoot this spot is either at sunset or sunrise. Don’t forget some clothing layers, because the breeze is normally pretty stiff at this location.
Highline Trail Hike
If you enjoy combining hiking with photography, the Highline Trail Hike will be absolutely perfect for you.
The first section of the trail which is only about 3 to 4 miles, offers you views like this. The details out there are a little obscured by smoke from the fires burning in the park during this visit.
Here’s a video of one of our hikes on this trail. The colors were stunning!
Not only were there amazing views to photograph, but also wildlife galore to enjoy. We saw mountain goats, a large herd of bighorn sheep, and a deer with her two little ones tagging along.
Since we went early in the morning and during off season, we had no trouble finding a parking space at the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center. But if you go during high season, this parking area fills up very, very quickly and early. Your best bet is to get there at least before 7 am, but 6 am is even better. There is alternate parking, but this will require you to take a park shuttle up to the visitor’s center.
But even if you have to shuttle in and deal with the crowds, the views and experience of this hike are well worth it. I can guarantee you that.
Here are a few more spots to check off your Glacier National Park Photography Bucket List:
- Logan Pass
- Granite Park Chalet
- Going-to-the-Sun Road (too many spots to list)
- Iceberg Lake
- Swiftcurrent Lake
- Elizabeth Lake
- Avalanche Lake
- Bowman Lake
- Two Medicine Lake
- Running Eagle Falls
- Saint Mary Falls
- Virginia Falls
We hope this photography bucket list helps you plan your trip to Glacier National Park, enjoying and capturing the beauty it has to offer. As you’ll soon find out, this park is one that requires many visits to be able to truly explore everything it has to offer. But what we have experienced has left a mark that will not be fading anytime soon.
Julie Bonner is one-half of the TREKKN team. She specializes in helping you whip up delicious meals in your tiny RV kitchen, as well as RV organization tips and helping fellow RVers make their RV feel like home. Her favorite RVing spot is in Banff National Park in Canada where yes, the water really is that blue and the people really are that nice.