Having travelled to 12 countries and 3 continents, I still don’t hesitate to say that Glacier Park is the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited. Yes, I’m a little biased because I grew up just outside of the park, but no other place can compare to the park’s natural beauty. Glacier National Park can be explored endlessly, and it always guarantees exciting adventure and spectacular scenery. Being a local in the area, I hope this post can provide some useful insight for your Glacier National Park adventure planning. There are countless hikes throughout the park and I have yet to experience them all; however, I grew up adventuring to this paradise and find myself there as much as I can in the summer months to explore both popular and hidden-away trails.
In this post I share my favorite personal experiences in the park and why these trails are ranked the highest on my list. Note that each hike listed below contains a link to Glacier National Park’s updated trail status page with more detailed hike descriptions.
Top 10 Hikes- Listed below are my top ten favorite hikes in Glacier National Park scaled on the follow criteria: scenery, views, experiencing nature, and most fun! They are not scaled based on level of difficulty, although I do explain what to expect before going on the hike. I consider myself a decent hiker but I am by no means advanced with special equipment or extreme experience. Some of the hikes listed below were definitely difficult, but if I can do it, you can too. Even if they might see difficult in the descriptions, all of these hikes are beautiful in their own way and will provide authentic Montana experiences. Glacier National Park has a hike for everyone, so I hope this post helps you find the perfect place for your Montana moment.
10. Hidden Lake Overlook, Logan Pass (easy)- This is a classic glacier hike meant to accommodate a lot of tourists. It is located at the summit of the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road, so its not a surprise that thousands of people flock up to this boardwalk trail every day in the summer. This short afternoon hike will guarantee mountain goat, marmot, and ground squirrel sightings (I’m convinced that park rangers somehow lure goats to this area). There is also a visitor center and park museum that is worth a quick visit. From the visitor center, hiking to the very end of the boardwalk and back is an easy 2.7 mile roundtrip.
I’ve seen all age groups walking along the boardwalk. Most of the trail is made of wooden planks, so fancy hiking shoes aren’t necessary. The only true challenge with this hike is the parking lot. Because Glacier National Park doesn’t want to turn the beautiful alpine meadows into concrete parking lots just to invite more human traffic, parking at the summit can be atrocious depending on the time of year. Usually reaching this area is only accessible from late June-September creating a strict timeframe for tourists to visit Logan Pass. It is important to consider that the parking lot is not reserved for the Hidden Lake Overlook Trial but also several popular trailheads.
The worst possible time to visit this area is noon, when all of the red bus tours unload and the road is jammed. Local Montanans, including myself, know to park as early as possible in order to gain access to the numerous trailheads. In July and early August, the parking lot can be completely full before 8:00 a.m. Don’t try and park along side the road in anyway as the park rangers will give you a big fat ticket for parking on a nature preserve. Pulling the ‘I’m a tourist and didn’t know’ card won’t work with any parking violation. In the case that you don’t find parking at the summit, there are several parking areas 6-8 miles down the road where you will then have to take the complimentary shuttle bus. The best time to visit this boardwalk trail is after 5:00p.m. when the cars start pulling away and the sunset begins to make the landscapes golden. Because this hike is so short and easy, hiking during sunset or in the evening is my most preferred time to go. Another great time to hike this trail is during a thunderstorm–yes, I caught myself in a cold and miserable thunderstorm at the summit but at least we had the entire trail to ourselves!
Here are some useful links for more information on Hidden Lake Overlook Trail and Logan Pass Visitor Center:
9. Ptarmigan Tunnel (medium)- Ptarmigan Tunnel is an East Glacier hike that is 10.7 miles roundtrip, making it one of the longer hikes in the park. The trail takes you across gorgeous meadows, runs along cliff edges, and goes through a 240-foot mountain rock tunnel. The later part of the hike creates great vantage points that overlook the eastern side of the park. The parking lot for this trailhead only can fit about twenty cars so it’s critical to start the journey before sunrise. Consider that when the trailhead lot is full, the next available place for parking will add a quarter mile to the already long hike.
8. Siyeh Pass Trail (medium-hard)- This 9 mile hike has an intense elevation gain and passes Mount Siyeh. This trail starts and ends at two different parking areas, so the best way to experience this hike is to park at the Siyeh Pass trailhead before sunrise, take the complimentary shuttle to the opposite Siyeh Pass trailhead near Logan’s Pass Visitor Center, and hike all the way back to the car from there. This prevents backtracking and makes for new and exciting territory to explore the entire hike. Starting at the Logan Pass trailhead has less of an elevation gain compared to starting at the lower Siyeh Pass trailhead. Climbing down from the summit is a long windy trail that goes through wide-open alpine meadows and a forest fire area. Siyeh Pass is well known for spotting wildlife including mountain goats, big horn sheep, marmots, and bears.
7. Highline Loop (medium)- This 11.8 mile is not actually a ‘loop’ but instead a one-way trail. The hike runs above parts of the iconic Going-to-the-Sun road providing overlooking views of Logan Pass and surrounding valleys. This is deemed one of the most popular hikes in the park because of it’s ease of accessibility. The trailhead starts at the Logan Pass summit and ends at a parking lot known as ‘The Loop.’ To avoid the parking chaos a the Logan Pass summit, it is best to park at The Loop, take the shuttle to the trailhead, and hike back to the parking lot. This strategy also makes the hike less of an incline as opposed to starting at The Loop. The most iconic feature on this hike is the steep ledges with a support rope running along the cliff. There is plenty of room on the ledge to walk on and is by no means treacherous at any point.
6. Apgar Lookout (easy-medium)- Located 2.5 miles from the West Glacier entrance, this 7.1 hike trails through forest fire areas and open grasslands. The trail leads to a fire lookout tower that overlooks Lake McDonald and surrounding mountains. This hike is easy to access quite early in the season due to it’s proximity to Apgar and Lake McDonald Lodge. Depending on how early you arrive to the trailhead, the hike can be completed in an entire morning. I highly recommend this hike because it trails through the destruction of the 2003 forest fire that devastated Glacier National Park. This was the most significant forest fire in Glacier National Park’s history, as it burned 136,000 acres. Most of the long-time locals will remember moments of ash raining from the sky during this catastrophe. The summit and lookout tower provides a great vantage to see the destruction from the fire surrounding Lake McDonald.
5. Mount Siyeh (hard)- Mount Siyeh is one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever witnessed. The picture below shows me looking down a 4,000 ft cliff down at Cracker Lake. It is a treacherous and advanced-level climb up the mountain. There is a beaten path at parts up the mountain, but most of the hike comes from making you’re own trail. If you’re into rock climbing and crawling up scree for amazing views, than this is the hike for you. Mount Siyeh is located along Siyeh Pass Trail (above).
4. Avalanche Lake (easy)- This is an iconic hike in Glacier National Park that every visitor should experience. It is a very easy hike (4.5 miles roundtrip with very little incline). This is a very busy trail as soon as it opens in May, making parking chaotic and crowded. Located near the Lake McDonald Lodge, this area lures tourists visiting Lake McDonald, staying overnight at the Avalanche Lake campsite, and bikers traveling up the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The end of this hike leads to a close-up view of Avalanche Lake and it’s pictureque snow-covered mountains. There is a lot of deer along the trail and mountain goats can be spotted on the rocky ledges. This trail runs along Avalanche Creek, which has turquoise blue streams running through natural canyons. The hike can be finished in a morning or afternoon, being the most busy in the afternoon.
3. Iceberg Lake (medium)- Located in East Glacier, this 9.7 mile hike leads to an incredible lake filled with floating icebergs. The journey is relatively flat as it trails through open meadows lush with wildflowers and vegetation. This area is prime bear habitat, and it’s more likely than not that you will see a bear on the hillsides. Located in Many Glacier, this is one of the most popular hikes in the park.
2. Grinnell Glacier– (medium)- With some of the most outstanding views in Glacier National Park, I highly recommend the Grinnell Glacier hike. It is a great way to experience the best of Montana all in one day. Approximately 8 miles roundtrip, the hike is a steady incline all the way up to the glacier. From pine forest, flower meadows, gorgeous falls, and the famous Grinnell Glacier, this hike showcases the best of Montana’s nature. For the later part of the hike, this trail offers a full vantage of Grinnell Lake and the surrounding mountain ranges. This East Glacier hike is a prime habitat for bears. Walking along this trail one morning, I turned a corner a noticed a grizzly bear 10 meters away from me. There are several stories of hikers on this trail (some from people I know personally) who have deployed bear spray after a bear charged at them on this trail. Before hiking this trail, be prepared for anything!
The end of this hike is the climatic finale: Grinnell Glacier. As this glacier continues to shrink every summer, it is an amazing experience to witness a real glacier before it melt away completely. The drainage from the glacier will take you into the ice age and make for an unsuspecting experience even in late summer! This is a relaxing destination to have an afternoon picnic and watch the numerous waterfalls drain from the mountains. The ice cold lake makes for a great way to cool down after a strenuous hike.
1. Cracker Lake (medium)- Before all else, I just want to express how amazing Cracker Lake truly is. It is my favorite spot in all of Montana and one of my favorite places in the entire world. This hike is gorgeous for the entire journey, only to reach the climax that is a stunning overlook of Cracker Lake and Mt. Siyeh. My friend and I arrived to the lake during a hot sunny summer day and the Montana moment could’ve been more perfect. With very few other people around, the big horned sheep definitely outnumbered us. Here are some photos from the hike:
Experiencing this view didn’t come easy. It’s a full day trip for most people and notorious for bear sightings. Not encountering a bear on our a journey was a definite surprise as almost everyone I know who has been on the trail has seen one. There’s also a resident bull moose who isn’t afraid to charge at hikers, so make sure to realize you are in wildlife territory. Parking at the East Glacier trailhead parking is just as difficult, stressful, and unpredictable as the rest of the park. Make sure to arrive at this lot before 7:30 a.m. if you’re wanting a full day of hiking. The trail is approximately 12 miles roundtrip so make sure to have good hiking shoes and snacks. Be equipped with bear spray, bug spray, and a ton of water. This hike traverses through both forest and alpine and is considered medium-to-challenging difficulty by Glacier’s website. It was a long 2 hour hike to the lake but was definitely worth it.
I personally love East Glacier hikes more than West Glacier. There is something so freeing when hiking through the alpine meadows as opposed to dense forest. Both are amazing in their own way, however, the alpine areas provide more openness and mountain visibility. This is one of the reasons why I loved the Cracker Lake hike.
At the end of the hike there are several rock structures that provide great 360 coverage of the surroundings. A great spot of a picnic (beware of the ground squirrels who will do whatever it takes to get your food!) Sit and watch the sheep roam over the green meadows and ducks bobbing on the turquoise blue water. Admire how incredibly blue the lake water is–yes, Cracker Lake’s water really is this blue!
Here are some useful links with Cracker Lake Information:
Thank you for reading my post on Glacier National Park. I hope this post provided some insight to help you plan you’re own Montana moment. Stay updated with my latest posts, travel photography, and videos by following on social media: