As a homeschool family, we decided to kick-start our 2020-2021 homeschool year by taking a 2 week, cross-country family road trip from Minnesota to Washington and back. For this particular trip, our must-see location was Glacier National Park! We planned 4 days to spend in Glacier and honestly feel like we could have spent more. Because we were going to be on the road for a full 2 weeks, we wanted to make Glacier National Park as fun and budget-friendly as possible.
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Prepping for Glacier with kids
Before we headed off on our trip, we made sure to prep the kids for what Glacier would actually be like. Since our children are a little older, we gently warned them about wildlife and how we needed to be respectful of any wildlife we might come across.
We also made sure to look at our must-see locations ahead of time so that we could take full advantage of all the best sight-seeing Glacier had to offer.
Planning your vacation budget
One thing we do all year round is deposit money to our vacation fund so that we are better able to hit the road whenever we want to. This was how Tom and I planned a last-minute trip to Nashville in February 2020 and helped us also afford this 2-week road trip!
In fact, setting money aside for travel and vacations is so important to us, that we built a course to show you how to better manage your money so that you can start traveling more often! Check out The Bucket List Budget!
No renting necessary!
A lot of time when it comes to planning family vacations, you’ll often find different suggestions that include taking a tour, renting boats, bikes or kayaks. While I am a big fan of all of these things, in order to keep this post extra budget-friendly I am proud to tell you, there is none of that here!
The ideas in this pots can help you save money, make your trip a little bit easier and allow you to experience, big, full days with your kids without feeling like you have to constantly keep them entertained.
I am a big fan of just allowing nature to be entertainment enough. We try to find learning opportunities wherever we can and love just letting out kids exist in nature, playing in the water, picking up rocks and taking in the natural beauty.
This is how we are able to travel so often, especially around Northern Minnesota where we only live a few hours from!
Invest in food storage
One of the smartest pre-trip investments that we made was on a really high-quality cooler. Since we are a family that travels often, we have learned that more often than not a lot of our budget money winds up going to food.
When we don’t plan ahead, we end up going out to eat which means less healthy food options (usually) and a bigger chunk of our budget gets spent.
For this trip, Tom had his heart set on getting a YETI Tundra cooler so that we would be able to grocery shop ahead of time and help preserve our food. While these heavy-duty, high-quality coolers are more expensive, for us it would up being the more convenient and affordable option.
Must-have cooler features for camping
- Insulated – helps food last longer
- Wheels – easier to transport
- Lockable – prevent wildlife from getting in
We wound up getting a more affordable cooler from a local sporting goods store because it was slightly more affordable than the YETI. Here are some other options you can get off Amazon:
Book a family-friendly campground
With kids, long car rides and long hikes can definitely be tiring, that’s why we wanted to make sure to book a campground that would allow us to relax when we weren’t out and about.
We stayed at the West Glacier KOA because it was more affordable and offered a ton of amazing features like:
- Clean showers (How I maintain my skincare routine while camping)
- Hookups (although we tented it)
- Live music
- Coffee shop
- On-site restaurant
- Walking trails
- Kid pool
- Adult only pool
In fact, on our travels back, we wound up staying in another KOA because we had such a great experience at this one!
You can of course look into options for free camping, just make sure you check to make sure what the rules and regulations are near Glacier.
Prepare for early mornings
One of the best things we learned about Glacier is that the sooner you can get going, the better. This meant we were waking up around 4:45am so we could be on the road by 5!
I know this sounds a little crazy, and we were up before most coffee shops, so be sure to plan ahead! We would boil water on our camping stove while we got dressed and then make coffee in our french press. This seemed to be the method for most early risers.
In my opinion, the best place to head for early morning hiking is the Going-to-the-Sun road. When it’s this early, you may be driving up the road in the dark (don’t worry, there is a trail of cars going with you).
However, not only are the views from the top absolutely gorgeous, but you will be given an outlet to some other beautiful hiking options like Logan’s Pass which leads to The Hidden Lake. This hiking trail is easy to do and has wide-open views!
Bonus tips for Going-to-the Sun Road
Getting up at 5am is not easy, but if you can make it up to Logan’s Pass, you can take in beautiful sunrise views while you sip cocoa and eat breakfast.
After your hike and a stop to the visitor center, you can begin to make your way back down the road taking advantage of other hikes along the way.
Doing this is going to be your absolute best bet because by the time you get back down the road you’ll find a long line of cars waiting to get in and parking filling up.
Beating the rush is always worth it!
Find kid-friendly hikes
Getting to know the best hiking trails for kids is great so that you can plan out your days ahead of time-based on where you’ll be in the park.
Since our kids are a little older (9 and 10) we may have been able to do slightly more challenging trails than younger children might be able to do.
Here is a quick list of our top 3 recommended hiking trails with kids:
- Trail of the Cedars – This is a very simple little trail to roam around especially for younger kids and if you keep going you can enjoy my personal favorite trail…
- Avalanche Lake – Avalanche lake was a gorgeous trail with beautiful sites along the way that was relatively easy for our kiddos to do and Avalanche Lake itself was breathtaking.
- Logan’s Pass – As I mentioned earlier, Logan’s Pass trail to The Hidden Lake was a wide-open, beautiful trail to take with kids.
Stagger your hiking days
There are some amazing kid-friendly hikes to be seen at Glacier, for sure, but when you are traveling with kids it is such a good idea to space out the super busy days from the relax and explore days.
Even so, there is so much to be done without planning on any major hiking days. When we felt like taking it a little bit easier, we opted for more laid back things like:
- Apgar Village – This is a great place to do a little beach walk, grab some ice cream, explore the gift shop or grab some food!
- McDonald Lake – As I said, we are all about finding little hideaways and we managed to snag some time on McDonald Lake just exploring and watching wildlife.
- St. Mary’s overlook – One day we got lucky and managed to pull in a perfect parking spot to eat lunch overlooking St. Mary’s lake. There was an area to wander around and explore as well.
- Polebridge Mercantile – After hearing rave reviews about the bakery at the Polebridge Mercantile, we made sure to make the trip. You can walk around and explore this area, however, we happened to be there on a very cold day, so we didn’t do much of that! Just chowed down some yummy pastries in the car!
We are a big family of eaters, not gonna lie to you. If you plan on doing big hikes, make sure you are planning snacks ahead of time to avoid unplanned food purchases.
Whenever we are out hiking we try to bring along our favorite protein bars, apples, oranges and trail mix to help tide us over until we can get back to the campground or grab a bite to eat.
This is another reason why we bring along our cooler and camping stove. First of all, because we were camping and didn’t want bears to get at our food and so that we could quickly pull over and make lunch if we needed to. This is why my next tip is to keep meals ready and with you at all times.
Keep meals ready
Having all of your food on hand is so helpful, especially if you have a stove to make it on. You could of course simplify this even more and pack sandwiches. We are a mostly gluten free family which often limits what we can pack for quick-grab lunches. (PS gluten free bread on sandwiches is not good…just a heads up.)
For us, this was just warming up some of our campfire potatoes (I’ll talk about them later) with some egg and sausage for a kind of egg scramble.
Schedule dinner early
One problem we ran into was not making it to restaurants in time for dinner. This was most likely because we went in September which is technically in Glacier’s “off season.”
However, as Glacier National Park is notorious for it’s crowds, I highly recommend getting dinner plans set ahead of time so that you can be one step ahead of the crowds.
Making your own dinner
As always, I recommend making dinner as often as possible. Since the majority of our days were spent running around and just snacking, it was really nice to put a salmon on the grill and do potatoes on the campfire.
Be mindful of the weather
One thing to remember in Glacier is that the weather can shut down some of the major roads including Going-to-the-Sun Road. Our family learned the hard way when we started making our way on the Logan’s Pass trail and hear the park rangers announcing through a megaphone that we needed to get back to our vehicle because they were closing down the road.
Had we been aware of this, we would have scheduled different things to do with our day. This weather mistake cost us a good chunk of one of our 4 days in Glacier, although we made the most of the beautiful sights of snowfall!