My kids are awesome adventure kids but 20+ hours in a car for anyone is a LONG journey…and a REALLY LONG journey for a 4 and 6 year old. We live in Kansas City but have family in Alberta so we’ve already made the trek several times in our kids short lives. Glacier National Park and Banff National Park are beyond incredible. Both should be on every family travel bucket list.
From KC, we power drove the 8+ hours to Rapid City, South Dakota. Since we’ve made the trip before, we opted out of sight-seeing this time but I highly recommend a drive through the Badlands and a stop at Mount Rushmore. On previous trips, we’ve stayed at Residence Inn and Suites which is connected to Watiki Waterpark (more on that in another blog post). The rooms are clean and the waterpark was awesome for our kids. On this trip, we needed to keep moving so we opted to stay at the Best Western Ramkota. This was a great decision. The small indoor waterpark gave the kids plenty to do but not too much to where they felt rushed. They swam and worked the wiggles out after a long car ride and then were exhausted and ready for all to get a good nights sleep so we could power through the 11 hour drive to Glacier NP the next day.
We woke well before the sun to make it to Glacier NP by mid-afternoon. We entered the park from East Glacier and traveled the Going to the Sun Road. We traveled in early July and while Glacier is always busy, this east to west route along the Going to the Sun Road seems less busy in the afternoon. We enjoyed the Logan Pass Visitors Center and hiked the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail. This hike was easy for our 6 year old and a little long for our 4 year old but they loved it. There is so much to see and throwing snowballs about halfway into the hike was priceless. The air smells fresh and amazing and the views are stunning. The boys loved the marmots running around and we saw mountain goats numerous times on this hike. You walk by streams, waterfalls and gorgeous fields of wildflowers. The overlook provides a scenic view of Hidden Lake with picturesque mountains beyond. The Logan Pass Visitors Center parking lot can get very busy in the mid-morning to early afternoon so I would recommend going first thing in the morning or later in the day to ensure you will have a place to park. They do close the parking lot down when it gets full.
We also highly recommend the Trail of the Cedars hike. There is a boardwalk and easy short hike which I recommend for anyone, even with small children. This short hike will take you to a beautiful waterfall. We even saw deer along the wooden walkway amidst the hemlock and cedars which are peaceful and beautiful.
With our 4 and 6 year olds, we decided to push on beyond the waterfall to reach Avalanche Lake. This was about 1.5 miles beyond the waterfall views and totally worth it if your kids can make it. My husband ended up carrying our 4 year old quite a long way. I would pack sandwiches and snacks so you can be leisurely and enjoy stops along the way to make this more enjoyable for the young ones. When we reached Avalanche Lake, we were afforded perfect views of the surrounding mountains. The boys could have spent all day throwing rocks in the water and splashing around. It was very cold water but refreshing and fun.
While at Avalanche Lake, the park rangers shared that several bears were spotted on the trail around the lake so we didn’t opt to continue. That was the right decision because the hike back to the parking lot got long for the boys. We picked up sticks that we used as walking sticks and they loved that. We made one final stop for the day at Lake McDonald to dip our toes in the water. The boys also could have thrown rocks in the water here all day and loved it. The rocks were beautiful and we found a little spot with nobody around so this was a highlight to take in the quiet beauty as a family.
We stayed at Meadow Lake Resort in Columbia Falls which had the biggest outdoor hot tub we had ever seen. The boys loved that and the indoor pool. The hotel was very nice but a bit far from Glacier (20-30 minutes). We drove the Going to the Sun Road from the west entrance the next morning and were surprised by how much we enjoyed it from both directions. Glacier seems to look and feel different as you drive the Going to the Sun Road from each direction so I highly recommend doing both. We made a few short stops to take in the scenery but our destination on the second day was Many Glacier and the Swiftcurrent Trail.
We planned to hike to Redrock Lake but didn’t make it all the way before a ranger shut down the trail due to numerous bears in the area. As we walked along the trail, my 6 year old was behind my husband and I. He yelled, “what the?!” which caused my husband and I to turn around to see a large moose run across the trail just feet behind our son. Talk about scary. That was a good lesson that we should have kept the boys between us. It gave my son a fright because it was a huge moose but he had quite the story to tell to family and friends. We hiked down to Fishercap Lake which was an easy and short hike from the parking lot and it was a highlight of our trip. We sat on the waters edge and watched several moose in the water. They were huge and peaceful and we enjoyed watching them for nearly an hour. We also spotted a bear while in our car from a safe distance (you can see in the video) near Many Glacier. We would have loved more time to explore this area around Many Glacier and look forward to returning when our kids are a bit older and are able to hike longer distances.
From here, we headed for the Prince of Wales hotel in Waterton, Alberta. I didn’t realize they had a huge wildfire here the year before our trip so most of the hiking trails near the hotel were closed because the fire had wiped them out. I’m still glad we stopped here and will look forward to returning in the future for hikes. The hotel was beautiful and interesting. We enjoyed walking along the waterfront and taking in the scenery. We spent one night in Waterton and set out for Banff.
We have been to Banff several times before, so we wanted to drive a new route. From Waterton, we drove along the western edge to enter Kootenay National Park. The entire drive was beautiful from Waterton to Banff. When we arrived in Banff, we rode the Banff gondola which is quite expensive but worth it with small children. If you can hike up rather than pay for the gondola, I would recommend it.
The views of the Canadian Rockies from the top of the gondola are some of the most incredible I’ve ever seen. There is a short walk along a boardwalk from the top of the gondola station to a lookout which is a must for even more stunning views of the mountains and the valley below.
Once back at the bottom on the goldola, we drove to the Bow Falls parking area. The boys loved Bow Falls in Banff, throwing giant rocks in the water and dipping their toes in. The sound of the rushing water from Bow Falls is pretty incredible. I love taking the short walk up above the falls to see and hear it from another angle. From here, we stayed in Canmore, which is less expensive compared to Banff. We enjoyed our condo with swimming and lots of precious cousin time.
The next day, we set out for one or our favorite spots, Lake Louise. If you are traveling to Lake Louise in the summer, make sure to check on shuttles and road closures. They closed the road very early and we took a shuttle which detracted from the experience. When we go again, we will go later in the day when we were told the parking lots begin to clear out and open up.
Lake Louise was extremely busy but worth it. The color of the water is a stunning, crystal blue. It is breathtaking. If you have time, plan a few hikes around Lake Louise. If you have small children, even the easy hikes around the lake would be worth your time to get away from the crowds and soak in the beauty. Each time we go, I insist on renting a canoe and going out on the water. There is usually a bit of a line. We lucked out this time and arrived just after a storm and were out on the water without anyone else. It was incredible and peaceful!
After Lake Louise, we made a stop at Johnston Canyon Falls. This was an easy hike for the kids albeit very busy. We made our way off the trail and climbed down to get closer to some waterfalls and this was amazing. The kids ran in and out of the water, threw rocks, built inukshuks and had an incredible time surrounded by this natural beauty. It was these quieter moments, off the trail, that will stay in my heart.
We packed in a lot in our week-long trip to Glacier National Park and Banff National Park. I wish we would have had more time but am thankful for the incredible memories and inspired to plan a return trip to try some of the harder hikes as our kids get older and more adventurous!
On our trip back to Kansas City, we opted to take a different route home to see new scenery. We drove through Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and saw more bison than I’ve ever seen. We hope to return and camp with more time in the future but the boys loved the prairie. The bison came so close to our car that we had to stop numerous times. It was incredible!