With more than 700 miles of trails within the spectacular park, Glacier National Park is a wilderness paradise that dazzles and excites visitors. Located in northern Montana, this national park covers around 1 million acres of space and includes 25 actual glaciers. These features are constantly changing, melting, and moving in their environment, and create a landscape unlike any other. There are also numerous meadows, lakes, and streams. Water is an integral part of the environment at Glacier, whether it’s frozen ice or a pristine lake.
If you want to come to Glacier to experience the natural beauty first-hand, you’ll be happy to know that there are numerous hiking trails that take you to the best-known spots as well as some that remain off-the-mainstream path. There is some opportunity for backcountry hiking, although you should keep in mind that certain areas are prohibited depending on the weather and environmental conditions. Glacier National Park publicizes closures, which can be seasonal or depend on the day’s weather. Glacier is also home to many species of wildlife, including moose, bears, and other large and small animals that can be dangerous. When you visit, make sure to remain aware of wildlife in your proximity and take steps to keep both you and the animals safe.
#1 Avalanche Lake
If your visit to Glacier was inspired by photos of crystal-clear mountain lakes, there’s a good chance that you were looking at the trails around Avalanche Lake. This is one of the most popular trails because it brings hikers right to the pristine waters of Avalanche Lake. The trail is just over 2 miles and moderately strenuous, mostly due to some mild uphill sections. It gains around 500 feet over the entire 2.3-mile trail. It is still a good option for those who don’t have a lot of experience. The trailhead is at the Avalanche Lake Picnic Area, which makes a good place to enjoy a bite before or after your trail experience. You can also take a quick swim, weather and season depending, in the lake halfway through your hike.
Other trails go around nearby Lake McDonald and the surrounding areas. These include horse trails near the Apgar Visitor’s Center at the western entrance to Glacier and level bike paths close to the entrance and parking. If you want something more challenging, try one of the peaks. Sperry Chalet gains almost 3,500 feet of elevation while the Mt. Brown Lookout trail goes up 4,325 feet. The Lake McDonald West Shore trail is level most of the way and goes right along the banks of the large, scenic lake. Many of these trails are accessible via the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is a must-see destination in itself.
#2 Grinnell Glacier
This is one of the most famous hiking trails in Glacier National Park but also quite challenging. If you’re up for it, you will be delighted with some of the most beautiful vistas in the world. The views of Grinnell Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake are spectacular from the Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint. The main hike is 11 miles round trip and has plenty of steep sections. Give yourself plenty of time to complete it and pack food and water. Most people budget around 5 hours but you might want to give yourself more, especially if you want to spend some time taking in the views. If you prefer, you can opt for a slightly shorter hike by taking the shuttleboat across Swiftcurrent Lake and Josephine Lake. This shorter option is still 7.5 miles long and takes some effort. This hike is best for those without mobility challenges or small children in tow.
The Many Glacier area of the park where Grinnell Glacier is located is named for the many glaciers that can be seen and explored in this section. There are plenty of amazing hikes nearby, including Piegan Pass, Ptarmigan Tunnel, Redrock Falls, and Iceberg Lake. If there’s one must-see section of the park, Many Glacier might just be it.
#3 Trail of the Cedars
This wheelchair and stroller-friendly Trail of the Cedars hike allows all visitors to access the natural beauty of Glacier National Park. It is just around 1.5 miles long and goes over a boardwalk and well-established trails. The trail goes through giant red cedars, hence the name. If you love to watch birds and breathe in the rich air of the park, this is the trail for you. Parking can be tricky, mainly because it is so popular with visitors. You can get to the trail from the Going-to-the-Sun Road. If you feel up for it, you can continue on the trail which connects to the Avalanche Lake trail.
This part of the park is in Many Glacier and includes accommodation options at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn or the Many Glacier Hotel, camping at the Many Glacier campground, and picnic spots at the Many Glacier picnic area. All are on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. The 2.3-mile loop Switftcurrent Nature Trail begins at the Many Glacier Hotel and offers another option in the area. While on the trail, you can enjoy views of towering Grinnell Point, Angel Wing, and Mt. Wilbur, as well as the lake.
#4 St. Mary Falls
If you want to see waterfalls during your visit, the 3.8-mile St. Mary Falls trail is the place to go. It connects to the Virginia Falls trail, which adds 1.6 miles to the visit, plus more waterfall views. Both trails are easy and don’t have many obstacles or elevations to deal with as you go. The St. Mary Shuttle Stop is at the trailhead, making it one of the easiest to get to. If you are staying in accommodations in the park or using the shuttle to get around, you can be dropped off right at the trailhead and not have to worry about parking. The iconic multi-tiered waterfall on the St. Mary Falls trail cascades down 35 feet, offering some truly spectacular sights.
#5 Hidden Lake Overlook
This trail is a popular option in Glacier because it includes all of the best aspects of Glacier National Park in one 2.6-mile hike. It’s actually two sections on the map: the Logan Pass Visitor Center to the Hidden Lake Overlook and the Overlook to the actual Hidden Lake. You can hike just the first section, which is 1.4 miles, or go for the entire thing. This hike is best done earlier in the day so that you don’t have to fight for parking. The lot at the Logan Pass Visitor Center can fill up quickly. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to wait for a spot to open up. Another option is to take the shuttle to the trailhead at the Visitor Center.
This hike includes mountain views, glacier sightings, and beautiful fields of wildflowers. It is also a good spot to look for animals found in the park, especially mountain goats and bighorn sheep. One extra fun aspect of hiking this trail is that you’ll pass directly over the continental divide as you hike.
It’s hard to narrow down the hikes in Glacier National Park. There are so many that are truly spectacular. Other top spots worth checking out include Iceberg Lake, Running Eagle Falls, Gunsight Pass, Cracker Lake, Highline Trail, and Ptarmigan Tunnel.
Summary of Hiking Trails in Glacier National Park
|Number||Trail||Distance (in miles)|
|3||Trail of the Cedars||1.5|
|4||St. Mary Falls||3.8|
|5||Hidden Lake Overlook||2.6|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock.com
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