Glacier vs. Yellowstone: Which National Park is Better?
What a loaded question! When planning any Montana vacation, this question always arises. We’re so lucky to have these two gorgeous national parks in our state, but they are some distance apart. A trip to both can be done, but not everyone has the time and money for that. So, how do you make that decision? The answer to that is sometimes like comparing apples to oranges. But, we’re here to offer some thoughts on deciding between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park.
Land and Features
Glacier: Glacier National Park is a little over one million acres of land. That means a lot of the natural landscape can be seen in a smaller amount of space. The breathtaking Garden Wall, the turquoise Flathead River, and the iconic Goose Island view can all be seen in a day if you stick to Going-to-the-Sun Road. With plenty of pull-outs or opportunities to get out and hike, it can be easy to see a lot of scenery in a day or two. This is the place if you’re looking for an American alpine experience
Yellowstone: Yellowstone National Park is roughly 2.2 million acres. It’s a sprawling landscape of prairie grasslands, waterfalls, and mountain vistas. You get a little bit of everything when it comes to natural splendor, but trying to see it all in a single day can be a challenge (read: impossible). Of course, the most unique feature of Yellowstone is the thermal activity. The geysers, the paint pots, the steam portals, they really do offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With multiple roads to travel, hikes and boardwalks sprinkled throughout, you’ll definitely want to give yourself a couple days to see and do everything.
Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Glacier: It’s well known that Going-to-the-Sun Road is the major route through Glacier National Park. Coming in at about 50 miles, this road takes about two hours to travel factoring in lesser speed limits and other drivers on the road. There are no gas stations along this road, so make sure you’re gassed up and ready to go before you start your expedition. Accessibility of Glacier really depends on who’s on your adventure with you. Avid hikers and explorers will find plenty of opportunities venturing off the main road. However, young kids and grandparents, depending on activity levels, might feel limited to a car ride on Going-to-the-Sun, which isn’t a bad thing. There’s so much beauty to see along that route!
Yellowstone: Taking a glance at a map of Yellowstone National Park, you’ll notice a broader range of travel options. With five entrances, it’s easy to pick and choose a travel plan that’s right for your group of adventurers. Some might enjoy a small loop. When I have family come to town, I like to go in either the West Yellowstone entrance or the Gardiner entrance and then exit the other. That’s easily achievable in a day. However, those wanting to spend a longer time in the Park could turn this into a multi-day trip, taking the big loop around Yellowstone Lake. You could even add The Tetons to your trip if you wanted. Again, this all depends on the time you have and what you want to see while you are there.
Image Courtesy of Unsplash
Glacier: In 2019, roughly 2.9 million people visited Glacier National Park. While that can sound like a big number, there are a lot of different experiences inside the park’s boundaries. If you’re an avid hiker, Glacier offers over 700 miles of trails to explore; there’s something for everyone. Generally, it does seem like the hikes are a bit more rugged here, but a few of the trails are nicely paved or include boardwalks. There’s also plenty of wildlife to see in Glacier, though these animals tend to be a bit more elusive. However, watching the mountain goats scale the sheer cliff faces is always a neat experience. Something else to consider is the length of the season. Glacier is very limited in the winter months, and Going-to-the-Sun Road sometimes doesn’t open until mid-June, but the wait is definitely worth it.
Yellowstone: 4.1 million people took the journey into Yellowstone National Park in 2019. Wow! That’s a number that can seem a bit daunting. Yellowstone does seem to draw more groups of families, though. With 1,100 miles of hikes, there’s a lot of range for different abilities. It’s easy to see the simple boardwalk hikes in the paint pots or along some of the geyser areas. There are many paved turnouts and short walks where you can see unique sights like Artist’s Point and Grand Prismatic Spring. And although the elevation in Yellowstone is higher than Glacier, the trails there seem to be less rugged. But, you will definitely see plenty of wildlife! It’s hard to make it through a trip without seeing bison or elk, and if you’re lucky you’ll see a bear! On my last few trips, I’ve had really good luck with birds, seeing swans, cranes, and osprey!
So which is better: Glacier or Yellowstone? I don’t think there’s a real way to answer that. You have to decide what you’re looking for in a national park trip. No matter what, an adventure in Montana is always the right answer!
Written by: Cassi Miller