Hiking can take us from mountain summit to stunning water features to even just a quiet sun patch in the middle of a forest. Getting out of the car and off the road is our chance to escape to nature and find ourselves. Glacier National Park is one of the best hiking destinations in the U.S. with over 700 miles of trails to illuminate the high peaks and stunning lakes of the Montana Rocky Mountains.
What To Know Before Hiking Glacier National Park
Before you set off to Montana, there are a few things you should know to prepare for your visit to Glacier National Park.
- The park is open year-round, but most businesses, services, and even some trails are only open during the summer season from late May through September. Check the website for more details about what is open and accessible in the spring, fall, and winter seasons for an entirely different experience of the park.
- Because the hiking season is so short, expect crowds on most of the trails and remember to be courteous and patient with your fellow nature-lovers.
- Get a very early start if you want to see wildlife and even snap a few pictures of uninterrupted wilderness.
- Bring bear spray! There are over 1200 bears in the park including at least 300 Grizzly bears. Make noise, have bear spray on you, and hike with others when possible.
- The weather can change quickly so wear layers and bring a light rain jacket or poncho to deal with any pop-up showers.
A Park Divided
At over 1580 square miles of wilderness, there are a lot of ways to talk about the different areas in Glacier National Park. Many Glacier is the area with, well, many glaciers and some outstanding hiking trails. Areas such as Two Medicine and North Fork are a bit more remote and therefore far less crowded.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is 50 miles long and runs through the middle of the park from east to west. On the west side, find densely packed trees and rainforest! On the east side, things are drier and windier, but the views are expansive and breathtaking.
Which side is better, east or west? Don’t bother asking –– they’re both incredible. If at all possible, give yourself enough time to take in both.
The Best Hikes In Glacier National Park
Whether you hike the west or the east of Glacier National Park, you will be absolutely elevated by the gorgeous views of craggy cliffs, expansive vistas, and water so blue you’ll have to see it to believe it. Read on for more detail on the best trails in Glacier National Park to plan the perfect trip for hikers of all levels.
St. Mary and Virginia Falls Trail
This trail is one of the easy hikes in Glacier National Park, but it absolutely should not be skipped. Packed into just 3 short miles, you’ll encounter three gorgeous waterfalls. First, St. Mary Falls rushes 35 feet down across three different tiers. Take in the cool breeze and start snapping pictures.
The next falls are unnamed, but not unremarkable. If these two waterfalls were the only reason for the hike, it would be well worth the trek. But lastly, along the trail, you encounter Virginia Falls, arguably the best waterfall in all of Glacier National Park. If you tread carefully, you can even stand very close to the base to take in the chilly mist as a reward after a hot hike.
Avalanche Lake Trail
The old growth forest, unaffected by forest fires that raged through the area in 2015, is one of the best hikes in west Glacier National Park. It starts densely packed with trees as you traverse through an inland American rainforest. Experience the Trail of the Cedars until you make it to Avalanche Creek which will wind with you swiftly along the rest of the trail.
The forest opens itself up into the majestic alpine lake surrounded by mountain views. With very little elevation change unlike many other popular hikes in the park, this trail is quiet and invites the hiker to lose themselves in their thoughts and bathe in the forest sounds and smells.
Not for the faint of heart, this trail is hard –– in part because it stretches out over 12 miles. But if you are a moderate hiker ready for the challenge of an all-day trip, this has to be one of the best day hikes in Glacier National Park.
Those who do take it on will be rewarded with picturesque views of most of what the park has to offer. Look for glaciers, pastures of wildflowers, and even wildlife such as mountain goats, wolverines, and maybe even a Grizzly as you hug the mountainside high above Going-to-the-Sun Road.
You won’t be short on company as this trail can get pretty crowded, but most of the traffic moves in the same direction and hikers catch the shuttle or another prearranged ride at the Loop Trailhead stop.
Grinnell Glacier Trail
Grinnell Glacier Trail is another hard, long trail that is well worth the trip. Many of the glaciers that gave the park its name have long since melted away, but Grinnell Glacier is the most frequently visited glacier remaining in the park. Take in the high elevation scenery, flower studded meadows, and striking cliffs on this nearly 11-mile hike. But unlike the Highline Trail, you’ll have to be ready to climb.
The initial miles of the trail take you past the shores of Lake Josephine and Swiftcurrent Lake before you start climbing. Expect over 1500 feet of elevation gain across the trail. Some people opt for a boat ride across the rivers and pick up the trail later, shortening the trip to only 7 miles round trip. Unfortunately, the boat doesn’t shorten any of the elevation gain on this trek.
Keep hiking up, up, up to views that inexplicably keep getting better long after you think it is possible. And at the end, feast your eyes on Grinnell Glacier, and even set foot on it. This experience is one of a kind and a standout in the park.
Hidden Lake Overlook Trail
Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is another of the best easy hikes in Glacier National Park. While this trail shares a start with the Highline Trail at Logan Pass, these easy 2.8 miles stretch out over boardwalk and gravel trails. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some of the mountain goats who balance so precariously in this terrain.
The view at the overlook of Hidden Lake is tremendous which is certainly why this trail is as popular as it is. If you’re still ready to hike on, 1.2 more miles roundtrip will take you down to the lake’s surface. This add on can be steep going down, so do remember you’ll have to get back up.
Glamping Amongst the Glaciers
There is no shortage of beautiful trails across this wild park. To experience the best hiking trails in Glacier National Park, it’s best to plan to stay in the area for at least a few days if not a week or even two!
Why not make the most of your national park vacation with a comfortable stay in a Cruise America RV rental? Bring all of the comforts of home with you on wheels to one of the many campgrounds in the area and soak up the alpine air away from distraction. Take advantage of the summer season and hike in a unique national park. Contact Cruise America today to reserve your RV today.