Two Epic Road Trip Ideas for Driving Between Glacier National Park and Seattle
As someone who now lives in Seattle but still has lots of family members in Montana, I’ve done the drive from Seattle to Montana many times. And the drive from Seattle to Glacier National Parks is my favorite. Here’s why.
Glacier National Park is located in the northwest corner of Montana. So this gives road trippers coming from Seattle the perfect opportunity to head north before they head east and get to Glacier via Rte 20, which takes you right through the heart of North Cascades National Park.
That’s right, on a Seattle to Glacier National Park Road trip you can visit two national parks.
I’m going to go into all the things you can see on this epic road trip from Seattle and where you should stop, hike, and even stay overnight before arriving at Glacier National Park.
In a hurry and don’t have time for Hwy 2? Don’t worry, at the end of this article I’ll also let you know some special stops you can do on the faster route between Seattle and Glacier via I-90.
North Cascades National Park: First Stop After Leaving Seattle for Glacier
North Cascades National Park is an undersung gem in Washington State. The park has a highway going right through it, yet it’s one of the less-visited national parks in the PNW. There are a few places to stop and soak in the views during your road trip.
When you see pictures of Lake Diablo, at first glance, it looks like it should be somewhere in Southeast Asia or New Zealand. But no, it’s right in the Pacific Northwest in North Cascades National Park.
Lake Diablo has a cloudy teal color with a curving shoreline that makes it look almost like a puzzle piece just nestled right into the Cascade Mountains. Tiny islands in the water give it a hint of a tropical look while the pine trees surrounding the lake give it a decidedly alpine feel.
There are two stops you should make to properly see Lake Diablo. The first is at one of the beach access points, where you can park and walk right down to one of the beaches along Lake Diablo.
Here you can feel the frigid temperature of the water, throw some stones in and try skipping rocks, and take a family photo op. This is also a good place to launch a paddleboard or kayak if you’re hoping to get right out onto the water of Lake Diablo.
The next stop is the Diablo Lake Overlook. If you only have time for one stop in North Cascades National Park during your Seattle to Glacier road trip it should be this one.
From the parking lot for the overlook, you can get out of your car and walk the path that leads you along the perimeter of a cliff overlooking Lake Diablo. From this vantage point, you get the whole breadth of the size of the lake and its gorgeous color.
When I was there at the end of June it was still pretty chilly at this overlook and super windy. In fact, you can tell that this wind pattern happens quite a bit by looking at the trees which all are growing in a certain direction, giving them quite an interesting look.
Also because of the wind, make sure you have a jacket with you even at the start of summer.
Washington Pass Overlook
After Lake Diablo, my favorite place in North Cascades National Park is most definitely the Washington Pass Overlook.
If you’re driving from Seattle to Glacier National Park along this route, you can’t miss it since you’ll have to drive right over the pass.
However, I recommend parking and getting out to look around for some better pictures and to fully appreciate the scope of this beautiful piece of scenery at the top of the park. If you’re a hiker, there are a couple of hiking trails you can do through this part of the park as well.
Winthrop and Methow Valley
Now for the next stage of your road trip to Glacier National Park: Winthrop and the lovely Methow Valley!
Winthrop is located in the north-central part of Washington state, and it is such a fun little town, not to mention beautiful!
A while back, Winthrop got a state grant to transform their little downtown area into one that feels right out of an old west movie. While walking along Winthrop’s main street, you’ll find western-looking buildings, bar stools shaped like horse saddles, rope swings, and more fun little touches that make it feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Also don’t miss a scoop (or three!) of homemade ice cream at Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe, which you can enjoy on those aforementioned barstools.
Winthrop isn’t just about the downtown area, though.
The region around Winthrop is called the Methow Valley, and it is home to gorgeous hiking trails, scenic drives, and sprawling farmland with mountain peaks jutting up in the distance.
My mom’s cousin lives in Winthrop. She and her husband own the very cute Winthrop Store, a general store that has local souvenirs, a wide selection of gourmet chocolates and other snacks, and delicious breakfast sandwiches. You can also fill up with gas there and enjoy the western architecture while you do so.
She always gives our family great tips on what to do when we are in Winthrop. Our favorite tip from her was hiking to Falls Creek Falls. Such a pretty part of the Methow Valley!
Winthrop is a wonderful overnight stop on your road trip from Seattle to Glacier National Park. And if you really want to explore the Methow Valley it’s a great place to stay for even two or three nights.
My family stayed at Hotel Rio Vista and loved it. We had a view of the river where we could see a mama and two baby deer throughout the day, and at night we watched bats swoop to catch mosquitoes right from our balcony.
Hotel Rio Vista is right on the edge of downtown and is located across from a trail leading up to Shafer Historical Museum, which is another cool place to tour in Winthrop!
Soon after leaving Winthrop, you’ll come to Spokane, WA. Here, you’ll get onto US-2 and stay on it until you reach Glacier Country in Montana. Spokane is close to the eastern border of Washington and Idaho.
It doesn’t take very long to drive across this part of Idaho since it’s just the little chimney-shaped slice at the top of the state. But located in this sliver of Idaho is the resort town of Sandpoint which is a fabulous place to vacation thanks to the lake and river flowing right through town.
Sandpoint is a great place to stop on your way from Seattle to Glacier National Park, either for the night if you don’t end up spending it in Winthrop or to stretch your legs and get a bite to eat.
You can even take a beach break from the car. On our way back to Seattle from Glacier, it was a gorgeous day so we stopped for a couple of hours to get lunch at Spuds Waterfront Grill (excellent stuffed baked potatoes that were the perfect lunch to have in the “spud” state) and let our young children play in the water at Sandpoint City Beach Park before continuing the drive home.
Kootenai Falls and Suspension Bridge
Kootenai Falls is such an easy hike to do when you’re driving from Seattle to Glacier National Park via Route 2. The easy to moderate hike has a big reward at the end so it’s worth the stop.
Kootenai Falls is just past Libby, Montana, a cute town known fo its eagle statues and charming Main Street.
There’s a parking lot right off the highway for the hike to Kootenai Suspension Bridge and Kootenai Falls. Next to the parking lot are several informational signs telling you about the wilderness into which you’re about to embark.
There’s also a stand selling ice cream and coffee in the summer months, which is especially nice if — like me — you enjoy sipping on a coffee during your road trip. Or if — like my husband and daughters —you love a mid-road trip ice cream cone.
The trailhead is marked and gradually goes downward at the beginning.
Important Note: there are two staircases you’ll need to navigate to go up and down a bridge so this hike isn’t for those who will have trouble with a couple of flights of stairs.
Soon after that staircase, there is a fork in the trail. It’s marked with arrows, but you’ll want to go to the left if you’re heading to the suspension bridge first and you’ll go to the right to see the actual Kootenai Falls.
You can’t see the falls from the suspension bridge or on the other side of it so don’t waste time walking around searching for them.
I went to the Kootenai Suspension Bridge first because I was most excited to see that. The bridge is the second one to hang across the Kootenai River after the first one was destroyed by a bad flood in 1948.
It looks kind of scary, but honestly, it felt safer — at least with kids — than the cliff drop close to the trail that went straight into the river. If doing this hike with kids it’s completely doable since the hike is fairly easy, but you want to keep them close to you and hold their hands when you’re near that river edge.
As for the bridge, take turns letting people go from each side to cross it. Remember, you’ll have to cross it again to get back to the trail so be respectful of others and don’t spend too much time hanging out on the bridge taking selfies. Though I think everyone will understand if you stop for a few moments to take some quick snaps of the awesome views.
After you cross the bridge you’ll backtrack to that fork in the hike where you can continue to the Kootenai Falls viewing area. Go up onto the massive flat rocks to get a good view of the falls. Again, with kids, keep them close and keep them away from that edge.
At the fork, the trail down to the falls doesn’t take too long. Only about five to 10 minutes. Then from the fork in the trail, it was about 20 minutes back to our car.
There’s one more place that I think you should add to your Glacier National Park road trip from Seattle, WA.
This one is a little bit in the opposite direction of Glacier if you’re staying in the park or in West Glacier or Whitefish, but it’s worth the detour to see.
What’s the place? That would be Flathead Lake.
Here at Travel Montana Now, Flathead Lake is one of our favorite places to go in Montana.
Flathead Lake is the largest lake west of the Mississippi. It takes a good two hours to drive around the entire lake, which I recommend doing if you have time on your road trip, especially if you have time to stop at one of the state parks located along the shores of Flathead Lake or to explore one of the cute little lakeside towns like Bigfork or Polson.
The water of Flathead Lake is also excellent to get out on top of via boat or stand up paddle board or kayak. But it’s just as beautiful to view from the shore if you don’t have time in your itinerary for water sports.
Flathead Lake is also known for its cherry orchards, so if you’re there during the cherry-picking season, be sure to pick up some delicious cherries to enjoy on your road trip from one of the many roadside stands you’ll see.
Flathead Lake is located about 20 minutes south of Kalispell which is also worth a visit on your Seattle to Glacier National Park road trip, particularly if you like historic walking trails or breweries.
Kalispell is a common place to stay when visiting Glacier National Park so if this is your accommodations spot, it will be easy to explore!
If not, stop in Kalispell after driving around Flathead Lake for a pint from one of Kalispell’s award-winning breweries and do a walk around the historic downtown area.
Another popular place to stay near Glacier National Park for those not staying right in the park is Whitefish. Like Kalispell, if this isn’t where your accommodations are, it’s still worth a stop to see the artsy downtown area that is right by the old train depot, which still services the area — Amtrak can also take you from Seattle to Whitefish!
Whitefish has many things to do. This includes a popular ski resort in the winter and a lovely lake with a public beach perfect for lounging in the summer.
If you’re staying in Kalispell or along Flathead Lake, on your way to the west entrance to Glacier National Park you’ll drive through a town called Coram.
There’s not too much to this town, but if you enjoy craft distilleries and good eats, this makes for a great place to stop on your way back from Glacier National Park.
Read More: Best Hidden Gems in Montana: 21 Secret Spots
I am not a whiskey fan, but my husband is, so we stopped at Glacier Distilling Company on our way back from Glacier to do a tasting, followed by dinner at Josephine’s Restaurant.
Josephine’s is located next door and is owned by the same family who runs the distillery.
As I mentioned, I’m not much of a fan of whiskey, but I like trying new things so I had tiny little sips of my husband’s tasting and was surprised to find that even I liked a couple of them. They had a huckleberry whiskey, which of course I had to try because Montana is known for its huckleberries, and a honey whiskey, both of which were good.
My husband also really liked one of their traditional whiskeys: the North Fork Whiskey.
At Josephine’s, we enjoyed gourmet gastropub-type cuisine with a Montana twist. The eatery also had craft beer on tap.
The decor of Josephine’s is also charmingly rustic with a farmhouse vibe. It made for the perfect dinner after a day spent exploring Glacier National Park.
Oh yes…we didn’t forget about the ultimate destination: Glacier National Park!
Last Road Trip From Seattle Destination: Glacier National Park
So now, without further ado, this road trip itinerary arrives at Glacier.
The last stop on this Seattle to Glacier National Park road trip is indeed Glacier National Park itself, an area of Montana — and the world — that is so fantastic, beautiful, and mesmerizing that it deserves its own post. Fortunately for you, we have exactly that. Here are some quick links to all of our top resources on Glacier National Park.
Alternate Route to Glacier National Park from Seattle
Now, I also mentioned I would talk about the faster way to get from Seattle to Glacier National Park. That would be via I-90. Once on that, it’s a straight shot through Spokane, WA and Coeur d’Alene, ID and onto Missoula, MT.
From Missoula, you take 93 north and wind around Flathead Lake, and within a couple of hours from leaving Missoula, you’ll be at Glacier National Park.
If you are in a hurry to get from Seattle to Glacier, you can easily do this second route option in a day. It takes roughly 10 hours.
I’ve done it before and it does make for a long day, but if you’re short on time and want to spend most of your vacation in Glacier National Park, this is your best route to take from Seattle.
A good overnight stop is pretty Couer d’Alene, Idaho where you can enjoy dinner by the lake. Or stay overnight in Missoula and enjoy dinner and drinks at a local brewery, followed by breakfast the following morning at a local coffee house. Then enjoy a ride around the lovely A Carousel for Missoula before taking your time to drive along Flathead Lake and through Kalispell onto Glacier National Park.
What if I’m Staying on the East Side of the Entrance?
You’ll find much more accommodation options on the west side of Glacier, but if you’re one of the lucky ones who got a booking at one of the east side lodges or motels located in the park or just outside it in St. Mary, then you have two main options for getting there.
The first is to time your drive so you get there before dark and can take the Going-to-the-Sun Road through the park from West Glacier. I say before dark because this drive is not one you want to do in the dark. It’s winding and narrow, right by cliffs, and is breathtakingly beautiful.
Make sure Going-to-the-Sun Road is open through Logan Pass if you’ll be planning to drive this way. Going-to-the-Sun Road’s open and close dates change every year depending on winter’s snowfall and how long it takes to get the road cleared of snow. Historically it opens sometime during the last two weeks of June but sometimes isn’t open until the first week or two of July. It usually closes sometime in October, but has closed in September before due to early snow or poor road conditions.
If you want to save driving the Going-to-the-Sun road for a different day in your trip itinerary, then continue east from Flathead Lake along US-2. You’ll go through the town of Essex and then can head up toward St. Mary or East Glacier, or the Two Medicine or Many Glacier entrance, depending on where your accommodation is.
Lodging Tip: If you don’t want to travel all the way to the east side quite yet, consider staying in Essex at the Izaak Walton Inn. It’s a charming and historic lodge that is built right by the train tracks in a gorgeous setting that stunningly frames the trains that go by every hour (including the Amtrak, which stops in West Glacier and East Glacier).
Izaak Walton Inn has a well-appointed rooms with a rustic vibe at the lodge, plus old train cars that have been converted into lodging and are a truly memorable place to stay. (Those train cars book up fast each summer so reserve early!)
Enjoy Your Trip from Seattle to Glacier National Park!
No matter which route you take I hope you’re able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery you’ll see along the way and that you have a wonderful time in Glacier National Park before you return to Seattle or head on to your next destination.