Glacier National Park, located in northwestern Montana, is one of the largest and most spectacular national parks in the country. With two mountain ranges, more than 130 lakes, over 1,000 species of plants, and hundreds of species of animals it is a magnificent sight to behold and well worth the space on your travel bucket list.
In addition to its incredible scenery, Glacier National Park is also famed for its rich biological and geological history; the park’s mountains were formed over 170 million years ago and contain some of the best examples of early fossils on earth. So, it’s not surprising that this park is a top destination for hikers. The park has over 700 miles of hiking trails to help you do just that.
In this post, we’re going to review our top 10 hikes in Glacier National Park. We will include hikes for every skill level and give you a good idea of what to expect so you can get the most out of your trip.
Summer is a great time to visit the park, but is also the busiest time of the year for that reason. If you decide to go during the summer, we recommend starting early to beat the crowds and for the best bet to see wildlife. Not to mention you will get to see the beautiful sunrise as it turns the mountains into an awe-inspiring shade of orange.
If you do encounter wildlife, be sure to stop and wait for them to move away. Not only will this keep from scaring them off, but it is a good safety measure as a scared animal can become aggressive.
Our top picks have varied difficulty levels, distances, and elevations. We’ll review each and discuss some highlights so that you can choose which options are best for you and anyone you might be traveling with.
As always, plan ahead. Check for safety advisories and pack the necessary gear and provisions. A safe hike is a happy hike!
1. Trail of the Cedars
Difficulty Level: Easy Distance: 1 mile Total Elevation: 60 feet
This is a short and easy hike. Perfect for first-timers looking to gauge their ability for future hikes or for groups with the elderly or children. It is handicap accessible as well. The flowing river and majestic trees make for a memorable hike with plenty of shady spots to stop for a picnic.
Difficulty Level: Easy Distance: 3.6 miles Total Elevation: 525 feet
Virginia Falls is one of the best hikes you can take if you’ve never seen a waterfall close up. The trek is beautiful and sprinkled with numerous boulders to climb. Once you reach the falls, there are multiple focal points that can get you right up to the spray if you wish.
3. APIKUNI FALLS
Difficulty Level: Easy Distance: 1.7 miles Total Elevation: 625 feet
This waterfall trail is on the eastern side of the park. This trail is drier and steeper than Trail of the Cedars, but shorter than Virginia Falls. The east side of the park is known to be a bit less traveled than the west side, so it’s more remote. It starts on flat lands with mountains directly in your path. Beyond this begins a steep ascent through pine forest and several thimbleberry patches before making it to the glorious roaring falls.
4. AVALANCHE LAKE
Difficulty Level: Moderate Distance: 5 miles Total Elevation: 730 feet
Directly following Trail of the Cedars is the popular Avalanche Lake. This hike is a little more challenging, but it is a must see for any who are able. Much of the hiking trail runs along a creek so you frequently have some pretty incredible views. Toward the end are four waterfalls flowing down into the lake. Well worth the trek.
5. ST. MARY AREA WATERFALLS HIKE
Difficulty Level: Moderate Distance: 6 miles Total Elevation: 700 feet
Near the east entrance of the park is the St. Mary hike. As we’ve stated before, the east side is a bit less travelled, so if you’re looking for a more remote feel, this is a good bet. The St. Mary trail is a really good option for those who don’t have much time and want to see various landscapes in one trail. This hike passes many waterfalls and some really breathtaking mountain range views, whereas other areas lead you through a dense conifer forest.
6. HIGHLINE TRAIL TO HAYSTACK PASS
Difficulty Level: Moderate Distance: 7.2 miles Total Elevation: 825 feet
As part of the world-famous (and more difficult) Highline Loop, we thought we’d mention this trail as a good intermediate option if you’re not quite ready for the more difficult trails but still want an excellent experience. There are incredible views of wildlife and wildflower foliage and every step you take is privy to the scenery of the Continental Divide, also known as the Garden Wall in this section of Glacier National Park.
7. LAKE JOSEPHINE LOOP
Difficulty Level: Moderate Distance: 5.8 miles Total Elevation: 225 feet
The Josephine Lake loop has spectacular scenery. Every step will make you want to take out your camera. Since this is a loop, your viewpoint changes from time to time. Sometimes you’ll be facing Grinnell Point, which is a spiky peak along Mount Grinnell. Other times, you’ll see the mountains along the Continental Divide of Glacier’s Garden Wall. Also included in this trek are views of the lake and gorgeous fields of wildflowers.
8. GRINNELL GLACIER
Difficulty Level: Hard Distance: 10 miles Total Elevation: 1840 feet
The Grinnell Glacier is an out-and-back trail located on the east side of the park in an area called Many Glacier. With so many epic glacier views, the highlight of this hike is debatable. But in our opinion, it’s Grinnell Glacier Lake. Depending on how the sun is hitting it, the lake can have a deep turquoise or a bright emerald color. It is incredible.
For those who feel this trail might be a bit too long but don’t want to miss out, the trailhead begins at Swiftcurrent Lake where you can take a shuttle ride that will shave off about 3.5 miles of the trip. Just note if you’re starting early that the shuttle service doesn’t begin until 8:30AM.
9. PTARMIGAN TUNNEL
Difficulty Level: Hard Distance: 10.7 miles Total Elevation: 2300 feet
The Ptarmigan Tunnel is a full day hike with an amazing trail through a 240-foot tunnel. As you come out on the other side, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to another place entirely. You will hike through open meadows as well as dense forests and you are very likely to encounter wildlife.
After you pass Ptarmigan Falls, be prepared for the trail to get steeper and tougher. Once you reach Ptarmigan Lake, you can rest a bit and take in the gorgeous scenery.
10. SWIFTCURRENT PASS
Difficulty Level: Hard Distance: 14 miles Total Elevation: 2400 feet
This is the most difficult hike on our list, definitely for experienced hikers. We had to mention it, however, because of how beautiful the scenery is on this hike. It is simply unbelievable. It passes several lakes and a striking waterfall in the middle of the plantation. On this trail, you are likely to see rare birds, serene blue lakes, and majestic mountain peaks. If you start early, you may even some moose, bears, or mountain lions. Make sure to observe safety protocol if you encounter wildlife.
The incredible glacial peaks are reason enough to visit Glacier National Park. But as we’ve explained, that is far from the only feature this glorious park offers. We hope this article has helped you choose some good hiking options regardless of your fitness level.
And what better way to experience Glacier National Park than fully immersed in your decked out Travellers Autobarn campervan? This way you can stay right in the park and move from location to location, getting the most out of your trip and covering as much territory as you can. What are you waiting for?!
Have a great trip and be sure to tell us about it when you get back!
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