Top 5 Hikes at Glacier National Park
Acclaimed as the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park has something for everyone. Mountains, lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, alpines, meadows, scenic roads, back country camping, boardwalk trails, and multi-day treks. An unwavering attitude to keep wildlife wild makes this park ideal for experiencing nature as it was intended. Glacier National Park is a hiker’s paradise with 734 miles of trails. In one summer I fell madly in love with this park and hiked 101 miles of this beautiful place. With 88 different trails, I only scratched the surface, but here are my recommendations for the best hikes.
1) Avalanche Lake (West Glacier)
This was the first hike I did in Glacier and lucked out with my first grizzly sighting also. A sow and her two cubs were wandering along the shore of Avalanche Lake. I recommend this hike earlier in early May to beat the crowds. There will likely be more opportunity for wildlife sighting and the beautiful Avalanche Creek will be more impressive. This very popular trail will be crowded during peak season (June, July, August), and rightfully so. It offers beautiful views of a 500-year-old Cedar Forest, crystal blue creek, mountain cliffs where Mountain Goats can often be spotted, and views of Bearhat Mountain. During the right time of day, Bearhat Mountain is reflected beautifully in Avalanche Lake. The trail is a fairly steady moderate climb all the way through.
4.6 miles round trip, 600 ft elevation change
2) Highline Trail (Logan Pass)
This was the last trail I did in Glacier. I waited until late September to do this hike after the peak season crowds had mostly cleared out. This trail can be snow covered in some areas which can make the narrow trail even more intimidating. If you have a fear of heights this trail may not be for you. The first mile or so tracks along the cliff side above the Going-to-the-sun-road. This is an out and back trail with many options. Many people turn around at Garden Wall, approximately 4 miles roundtrip. You still get excellent views of Logan Pass, Clements Mountain, Oberlin Mountain, Bird Woman Falls, and Lake McDonald on a clear day. If you continue on you can add a 2 mile roundtrip steep trail to your hike to see Swiftcurrent Glacier and Upper Grinnell Glacier Lake. The technical end of the trail is Granite Park Chalet. One of the many historic structures in the park. With advance reservations you can stay at this chalet and wake up to the beautiful views of the mountains. One of the most popular options is to hike to The Loop, adding a significant elevation change but cutting a few miles off the total distance. The last 4 miles down to The Loop are quite steep. If you have bad knees, this may not be the best option But, the West Shuttle service stops at The Loop where you can hop on and get a ride back to your car at Logan Pass or Avalanche Creek. The first several miles of the trail are fairly level except for a couple small climbs. If you add the Glacier Overlooks, or shortcut down to The Loop you will experience more elevation change. Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats often frequent this trail.
11.4 miles round trip, 1,300 ft elevation change
A longer, steeper hike than many on this list but it has two major things going for it. There is one point on the trail where you have a stunning view of Swiftcurrent Lake, Lake Josephine, and Grinnell Lake. This is the only trail on the list where you actually see a Glacier. I lucked out on this trail and water still flowed down a small waterfall that crossed the trail which was a nice way to cool off on a hot summer day. There are sections of this trail with a steep drop off, if you are afraid of heights this may not be the trail for you. There is very little shade so bring more water than you think you will need on hot days. The first few miles of this trail track along Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine before you start your climb up the mountains. When you get to Angel Wing viewpoint and look back down the valley you will see the three lakes in their beautiful blues caused by the “glacial flour” which is sediment ground by the moving glaciers. When you finally make it to the top after a steep climb and several rock stairs you will be treated to stunning views of Upper Grinnell Lake, Grinnell Glacier, and Salamander Glacier along the Garden Wall. Along the other side of the Garden Wall is the Going-to-the-sun-road and the Highline Trail. Should you add the Grinnell Glacier Overlook addition to the Highline trail, this is the lake you would see from on top of the Garden Wall.
10.3 miles round trip, 1,700 ft elevation change
Very similar to Grinnell Glacier but without the glaciers or the views of the three lakes. Even without those elements, I still loved this trail. This hike is all about timing. Go too early in the season and the trail will be mostly snow covered. Go too late and the namesake icebergs could be all melted. But no matter what, it is a beautiful trail. Iceberg a somewhat easier hike than Grinnell Glacier with a very rewarding view. The summer I completed this trail, the Beargrass was in a super bloom, filling the hillside with the beautiful plant. This plant blooms most years but every 5-7 experiences a super bloom. 2017 was a good year for the super bloom. Even without the Beargrass the views are spectacular. Get the steepest climb out of the way right off the bat before hitting a gradual climb for the majority of the hike. Grizzlies often frequent this trail so make sure to check the trail status before embarking. You will pass over Wilbur Creek, a popular rest stop, as you break out of the forest and your view opens to great views of the glacially carved U-valley as you hike toward the lake. Many people cool off with a dip in the icy water before making the trek back down the mountain.
9.6 miles round trip, 1,400 ft elevation change
The shortest trail on this list starts just behind the Visitor Center at Logan Pass. This trail can be snow covered most of the season which can mean lots of slipping, falling, and laughing as you try to make your way down the steep mountain. When the snow is melted the trail begins as asphalt before turning to boardwalk. You will have to climb several steep stairs to get to the Hidden Lake Overlook. Mountain Goats and Grizzlies often frequent this area. Many people will turn around at the overlook, or you can continue down to the lake. The additional 1.2 miles to the lake are very steep and makes for an uphill both ways situation. This additional stretch is often closed due to bear frequenting as well so make sure to check trail status. You don’t have to hike down to the lake to get incredible views. The overlook affords beautiful views of the alpine cliffs, emerald blue water, and the other side of Bearhat Mountain. This is a great spot to watch sunset or sunrise.
2.8 miles round trip to overlook, 500 ft elevation change
You really need several days in order to fully experience Glacier National Park. I was there for five months and still feel there is so much more to see. Always hike in groups and bring plenty of water and food. Bear bells are ineffective in deterring bears, the best defense is just to make human noises along the trail so you don't surprise a bear. Bear spray is the only approved defense in a bear attack situation and is recommended for any trail at Glacier National Park. Always check the park conditions before planning your trip here https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/conditions.htm.
Keywords: avalanche lake, backpack, glacier national park, grinnell glacier, hidden lake, highline trail, hike, hiker, holiday, iceberg lake, landscape, montana, nature, outdoors, summer, trail, traveler, vacation
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