Montana’s Glacier National Park is like heaven for avid hikers. With many trails that take at least 5 hours to complete, this national park attracts experienced hikers from all over the world. People climb for hours up rocky paths for scenic views of the glaciers, but also for the opportunity to see all sorts of wildlife along the way.
Whether you’re into multi-day backpacking trips or just fun and quick hikes, Glacier National Park won’t disappoint you. And our guide to the best hikes in the national park covers all the best sights, including lakes, glaciers, goats and even some bears!
Bring bear spray. There’s quite a lot of bear activity in Glacier National Park and you need to be prepared for that. Black bears and grizzlies are both native to this park, but it’s nothing to fear. If you are hiking in a group (ideally of three or more people), your footsteps will alert the animals to your presence. So, make a lot of noise on the trails, stay alert and have that bear spray handy just in case, and you should be fine.
Pack warm clothes. The temperatures in Glacier National Park are typically low and the weather changes rapidly. It’s best to dress in layers and a good weatherproof jacket is a necessity. Also, don’t forget your sunscreen – people tend to forget that UV exposure is still dangerous even if it’s not extremely hot outside. Sun damage is still a danger even in mildly warm weather, and it’s highly recommended that you pack a hat and lots of sunscreen for your day hikes.
The NP offers free rides to the most popular sites. There’s a shuttle bus service in the park that covers all the popular spots. You can still drive around the park, but if you don’t want to deal with traffic and parking, getting on the shuttle is the most convenient option. It is also possible to access other areas of the park via bus, but most of those rides aren’t free.
Bring bug repellant. There are a lot of bugs in the national park, especially mosquitoes. Pack bug repellant, and it might be a good idea to wear a mosquito repelling bracelet or something similar. I would also recommend you wear long pants regardless of the weather – they go a long way towards protecting you from the bugs and overgrown bushes.
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The Highline Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Glacier National Park. The 24 kilometer trail is great for experienced hikers who want to spend an entire day on the trail, and you can even make this a two-day backpacking trip if you want.
The trailhead is at the Logan Visitor Center that is very easy to reach. You can drive on your own or you can ride the free shuttle bus if you want to avoid dealing with traffic. It is worth noting that this is one of the busier hikes in the park, and it’s best to arrive at the trailhead early in the morning to avoid crowds.
The first section of the hike is easy with gradual elevation, but things change near the 5-kilometer marker. The steep incline coupled with switchbacks is quite strenuous. But it’s all worth it because this trail features some of the best views in the national park. You get a really good view of Grinnell Glacier, there are lots of wildflowers along the way and you’re likely to see lots of wildlife. Parts of the trail pass through forests, but the hike is exposed for the most part so don’t forget your sunscreen and hat.
The Hidden Lake Trail is a moderately difficult three-hour hike that features some stunning scenery. During the summer, parts of this trail can be closed off due to bear activity – before you attempt this hike, be sure to check the NP’s website for more info on trail conditions.
The hike starts from the west side of the Logan Pass Visitor Center and it runs for about 8.5 kilometers all the way to the Hidden Lake. The trail takes you through alpine meadows that tend to be covered with snow even during the summer months. Also, it is worth noting that this is one of the more popular hikes in Glacier, which makes parking difficult during peak tourist season.
The start of the trail features a paved path and a boardwalk, which make it a lot easier to cross the slushy snow. Right off the bat you have stunning views of the massive Clements Mountain, and the scenery in front of you just gets more beautiful the farther you progress on the trail.
The Hidden Lake Overlook near the 2-kilometer marker is one of the highlights of this trail. This is also the spot where you can turn around and go back if you’re just in this for the views. Otherwise, continue hiking downhill to the shores of the lake, for even more beautiful scenery.
The Avalanche Lake trail is another moderately difficult hike that can be done in about three hours. It features gorgeous scenery, wildflowers, waterfalls and the beautiful Avalanche Lake at the end of the trail.
The first section of this hike follows the Trail of the Cedars, which is another popular trail in the area. The trail then climbs gradually through forests, following the Avalanche Creek all the way to the lake. After the 3-kilomoeter marker the trail is mostly level terrain near the shore of the lake, which really lets you admire its beauty.
You follow the same way back to the Avalanche Campground where you can spend the night if you wish. However, be sure to check the trail conditions before you set out on this hike, as it can be closed off in the summer months because of bear activity in the area.
If you are looking for a real challenge in Glacier National Park, this is the perfect hike for you. The trail that leads to Comeau Pass is long, steep, tiring and worth every single drop of sweat. It takes you all the way to Sperry Glacier and passes several lakes along the way, making it one of the most rewarding hikes in Glacier National Park.
Also, because of the difficulty of the hike, don’t expect to meet a lot of other hikers on this trail. It’s perfect if you are looking to stay away from the crowds! The trailhead is near the Lake McDonald Lodge, which is easily accessible with the shuttle bus. It’s worth noting that you can do this hike in a single day, or you can gradually do it over the course of two days. If you prefer to make this a backpacking adventure, you can spend the night in Sperry Chalet.
There are ample opportunities to see wildlife on the trail, especially mountain goats. Some people reported seeing grizzly bears, so always stay alert. Additionally, this hike takes you high up in the mountains where temperatures are significantly lower. Snow and ice are a common occurrence, so it’s recommended you bring walking poles and even ice axes, for the smoothest experience.
The Garden Wall trail is another long and tiring hike suitable for experienced adventurers. The trailhead is easily accessible from Logan Pass Visitor Center which you can reach for free via the shuttle bus.
This hiking trail runs for nearly 24 kilometers and it takes you all the way to Grinnell Glacier Overlook and back to Logan Pass. It is strenuous at times with steep climbs and rocky segments, but it is without a doubt worth the effort. The views of the glacier are just stunning, as is everything else you see along the trail.
You’re likely going to see lots of wildlife, so don’t forget your camera. This trail also features wildflowers, bird watching opportunities and beautiful views of the Glacier National Park nature. Also, it is worth noting that a good chunk of the trail follows the same path as the Highline Trail – if you already did that one, this might not be worth your time. The main trail forks near the 10-kilometer marker – the Garden Wall trail takes you right to the overlook, while the Highline Trail continues left at the fork.
The Siyeh Pass trail is a long and difficult hike that takes you from the Siyeh Bend to Sunrift Gorge. This is a point to point hike so there’s no return trip, but both the trailhead and the end of the hike are near shuttle bus stops.
With a total elevation gain of 681 meters, this trail is not suitable for beginners. It is steep at times and features a lot of switchbacks. The terrain is rocky and passes a creek at one point, so good hiking shoes with great traction are a must. But all the effort pays off – the Siyeh Pass trail features some of the most beautiful scenery you will see in Glacier National Park, including waterfalls, tall peaks, forests and more.
Parts of the trail pass through forest, but most of it is completely exposed – don’t forget the sunscreen! Also, there is some bear activity in this area, so make sure you’re always alert and making a lot of noise.
St. Mary and Virginia Falls trail is an easy hike near Siyeh Bend, which features some truly spectacular waterfalls. The trailhead is near the bus stop, so it is easy to reach for everyone. There’s also a parking lot in the area, making this hike easily accessible to people who are driving on their own.
The trail is short and sweet – on average, it takes about an hour and a half to see all the three waterfalls and make it back to the trailhead, but that doesn’t account for breaks and stops. If you plan to take lots of photos, I’d say give it about two and a half hours to cover everything worth seeing.
There are lots of opportunities to see wildlife along the way – people reported seeing moose, cows and lots of different birds. Also, there is some bear activity in the area, so bring the bear spray and stay alert. Most of the trail is through forest, but there’s not exactly a lot of shade. Many of the trees were burned in the wildfires, and the trail is a lot more exposed than it used to be.
The Apgar Lookout Trail is one of the shorter difficult hikes in the national park. The 11-kilometer trail is completely exposed and features a total elevation gain of some 567 meters, so it’s definitely not suitable for beginners. Ample sunscreen and a good hat are a must on this hike, since there’s really nothing else to protect you from the sun.
This is one of the few trails that isn’t accessible by the free shuttle bus. The trailhead is near a parking lot west of Glacier Rim, close to the west entrance of the park. This trail features long switchbacks, a moderate incline that continues all the way to the end and breathtaking scenic views of the southern shore of McDonald Lake.
Apgar Lookout offers excellent views of this part of Glacier National Park and you’re probably going to encounter some wildlife along the way. The terrain is mostly dirt path with some rocky sections – it’s not too strenuous, but you should wear some good hiking shoes to be on the safe side. There are some signs of bear activity, but so far people haven’t encountered any actual bears on the path.
This is another of the many different hiking trails that start near the Lake McDonald Lodge. This one takes you to Mount Brown Lookout, for some spectacular views of the Glacier Nature Park. The hike is not suitable for beginners, due to a steep incline with a total elevation gain of nearly 1,300 meters over just some 8 kilometers.
Also, there are a lot of switchbacks along the way and they can be pretty tiring. The first section follows the same trail that takes you to Sperry Chalet – the trail forks near the 2.5-kilometer marker, and the path to Mount Brown Lookout takes a sharp left.
The good news is that you’re traversing through the woods for the most part, so you don’t have to worry about sun that much. There are some 30-35 switchbacks to pass in order to get to the lookout, but the 360 panoramic view at the top truly makes all your effort worth it. You get a wonderful view of the McDonald Lake and all the snow-covered peaks nearby.
Image courtesy of Troy Smith
Snyder Lake Trail is yet another wildly popular hike that starts at the Lake McDonald Lodge. The first part of the trail is the same one you cover on the way to Sperry Chalet and Mount Brown Lookout, but where those two paths fork to the right and left, this trail continues forward to the Snyder Lake.
The terrain is rocky and muddy, with a moderate incline. Because of that, this trail is most suitable for people with moderate hiking experience. It is not very strenuous or tiring, but the nature of the terrain doesn’t make it a good fit for beginners who aren’t too familiar with rocky paths. Also, this is one of the least popular trails in the area, so it’s perfect for those who don’t like to encounter crowds of people on their hikes.
A good part of the trail is completely exposed, so sunscreen is a must. Snyder Lake is a pretty sight, and this trail will take you all the way to the lake shore. Also, you can scramble rocks to get to the other side of the lake if you want to see some waterfalls and the Upper Snyder Lake. This detour is not included in the estimated length and time of the hike, so bear that in mind.