Best Hikes in Glacier National Park | Expert Guide by Mountain IQ

Best Hikes In Glacier National Park

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Our pick of the top hikes in Glacier National Park!

Are you planning on visiting Glacier National Park and in need of the best hiking trails? To relieve some of your stress, we have curated the top picks.

The recommended hikes feature some of the parks most famous attributes. It is home to brilliant views of lakes, waterfalls, mountains, historical sites, active glaciers, and hundreds of species of animals, making this the perfect backcountry to explore.

See America’s overall best hikes for a complete list of hiking trails in the USA.

Best Hikes in Glacier National Park

Overview

Glacier N.P. Quick Facts

  • Established as a park on May 11, 1910
  • Connected to Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, known as the “Peace park”
  • Home to approx. 762 lakes
  • Official symbol is a Mountain Goat
  • 71 species of mammals, 276 species of birds
  • Over 700 miles/1,126 km of trails
  • 26 active glaciers
  • Highest Mountain: Mt. Cleveland at 10,448 ft/3,190m
  • Welcomed 3 million visitors in 2017
  • Famous for Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50 mile/80km scenic road in the mountains
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of Waterton Glacier International Peace Park

Please note: To enter the park, you will have to pay an entrance fee. There are 7-day permits, single day permits, and annual passes available. If you are looking to stay at the park, there are several options for lodging and camping. It is recommended to make reservations for your accommodation in advance. For backcountry camping, you must make a reservation and pay a small fee.

The Park has recently closed all waters to motorized and trailered watercraft due to the increase of invasive mussel species.

Found in the Rocky Mountains in Montana, Glacier National Park offers so many opportunities for various activities. The park is over 1,583 sq miles in size, making it the perfect place for backpacking, cycling, and camping. No wonder it welcomed over 3 million eager adventurers last year.

Going-to-the-Sun Road is one thing Glacier Park is best known for. A mountain called Going-to-the-Sun Mountain inspires the roads name. It is 50 miles in length and provides stunning mountain views from the comfort of your car. The highest point of the road near Logan Pass reaches 6,646ft. There are a few legends behind this road from Native Americans and European Americans, believing that a spirit would come from the sun and land upon this road.

Topography

Glaciers from the last ice age have formed the mountain peaks we see today. Although, due to Climate Change, the glaciers have vastly disappeared and decreased to only 26 remaining in the park. Glacier National Park run a Global Climate Change research program by the U.S. Geological Survey agency to monitor and analyze data of the melting glaciers.

The park has dozens of large lakes, Lake McDonald being the longest and deepest at 9.4 miles long and 464ft deep. The geology of the park is primarily sedimentary rocks dating back 1.6 billion to 800 million years ago. There are over 6 mountains in the park exceeding 10,000 ft, Mt. Cleveland being the tallest. Climbing is becoming increasingly popular in the park as there are 6 official technical peaks sponsored by the Glacier Mountaineering Society.

Wildlife and Plants

Plants and wildlife find the perfect ecosystems within Glacier National Park. Most of the ecosystems are highly preserved as they are near a glacier. These ecosystems are known as the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem.” There are 1,132 plant species, 71 animal species, and 276 species of birds.

The park houses two threatened species of mammals including the grizzly bear and Canadian lynx. Other mammals that inhabit the park are the mountain goat, moose, elk, and mule deer. In regards to birds, expect to see the majestic bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and hawks flying above the park year round.

With 23 species of fish found in the park alone, fishing is a popular activity in the park. Especially for the cutthroat trout, northern pike, and mountain whitefish.

For the park’s protection, Wildland Urban Interface Fire Management manages and educates others within the community about fire prevention. They have ensured that all neighboring buildings are designed to be fire resistant.

Hiking

Hiking in Glacier National Park is an absolute dream. With over 700 miles of trails filled with historical glaciers, protected ecosystems, and unique wildlife, you are guaranteed to never want to leave. There is so much to do and see within the park. According to National Geographic, Glacier Park in 1910 had an estimated 150 glaciers. Since then, there are now less than 30. Visiting and hiking throughout the park today may be the less opportunity to see natural glaciers.

Regional Map

glacier-national-park

Glacier National Park is found in the northwest corner of Montana, USA. It is located within the Rocky Mountains where the nearest city is Columbia Falls. It is accessible by car and the nearest airports are Kalispell and Great Falls. The park encompasses 1 million acres of land, including some of the Canada-United States border.

There are always free maps and information available at the any of the 3-visitor centers. The Apgar visitor center is found in West Glacier, Logan Pass visitor center is found on the Continental Divide in the sub-alpine region of the park.

Lastly, the St. Mary visitor’s center is found on the east entrance of the park. If you are looking for brochures and maps digitally, you can find them here.

Glacier National Park Hikes


1. Highline Trail

  • Area: Logan Pass
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Distance: 11.4 miles, one-way
  • Elevation Gain: 1,950ft
  • Best Time to Hike: July-October
Route Description

The Highline Trail is a one-way hike. It begins at the North side of the well know Going-to-the-Sun Road at Logan Pass. This hike is highly popular for its beautiful scenery but is not recommended for families with young children. There are several long switchbacks that include steep climbs.

While on the hike you will reach a ledge along the infamous Garden Wall. There are cables to guide you along this portion of the hike. If you have a strong fear of heights, this will sincerely test you. This hike is easily customizable whether you are looking to lengthen or shorten the hike. To shorten, you can stop at Haystack pass or continue to along a side trail to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.

Accommodation

West Glacier Motel and Cabins, Many Glacier Hotel, Grand Park Chalet

Highline Trail Top Tips
  • Proceed with the caution when walking along the garden wall. The ledge is steep and you will want to hold onto the hand cable. If hikers are passing by, provide them with plenty of room.
  • Stop for a picnic at Haystack Butte while going on the trail. This is the perfect setting to sit down and enjoy breathtaking views of the park and Mount Gould.
  • Do not venture off the trail. Accidents occur at the park for this reason, especially during the winter. You may walk on top of a snowfield that hides deep holes that a hiker may fall down into.
  • Glacier Park is known for their wildlife. Be aware of bears, mountain lions, and mountain goats. When seeing a bear, maintain 300ft distance, when seeing a moose or mountain goat, remain 75ft away. Do not feed the animals by any circumstances.
  • Ticks are active during spring and early summer and may be carrying diseases. Check for bites frequently.

2. Grinnell Glacier Trail

  • Area: Many Glacier Hotel Boat Dock
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Distance: 7.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,840 ft
  • Best Time to Hike: Late July-October

Route Description

The Grinnell Glacier Hike is 7.6 miles round trip but has a difficult rating of strenuous. This trailhead can be reached by shuttle boats, which cross Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Along with this trail, you will see Grinnell Falls, Mt. Gould, and three glaciers: Salamander, Grinnell, and Gem. This is a trail you will not want to miss to catch a glimpse of what this national park is known for.

As this hike is only 7.6 miles long, it would be the perfect outing for a family. Keep in mind that your young children will need to be monitored at all times. There is no technical skill involved with climbing or hiking this trail. Although, keep a lookout for mountain goats and grizzly bears. This is a prime habitat for both of these animals and you will want to keep your distance.

Accommodation

Many Glacier Hotel, Granite Park Chalet, and Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.

Grinnell Glacier Hike Tips

  • As you will be taking a boat shuttle, it is important to know all the safety precautions while around water in the park. Always wear a lifejacket and do not lean on the side of the boat. The water is often so cold; you could get hypothermia if you enter. Never swim or wade.
  • Grinnell Glacier Trail is within a prime bear habitat. Follow these tips to remain alert and safe. Hike in groups, no trail running, carry bear spray, make loud noises, keep your food and garbage secured, and always be aware of your surroundings. You never want to surprise a bear.
  • You are able to access the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead on foot, but you will save 3.4 miles off your round trip by taking the shuttle boats.

Recommended Guidebook

glacier-map

For a fantastic guide of everything to do with Glacier National Park and the neighboring park in Canada, Check out the Hiking Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Park: A Guide to the Parks’ Greatest Hiking Adventures (Regional Hiking Series) by Erik Molvar.

Travel Insurance

Hiking insurance is not a mandatory requirement for hikes in Glacier National Park, but in general we recommend having insurance.

Check out the World Nomads calculator for a quick calculation of the cost of travel insurance for your trip to the States.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I camp in Glacier National Park

How much are Glacier National Park entrance fees?

When do most trails open?

Is altitude sickness a risk?

What other activities are there in the Park?

What gear do I need?

Is driving along the Going-to-the-Sun road worth it?

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