Best Hiking Trails in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park, as the name suggests, was carved by glaciers from the last ice age. The remaining glaciers throughout the park have significantly retreated over recent years and continue to be monitored for climate change research. Milky white streams, opaque turquoise lakes, and forests line the u-shaped valleys throughout the park with towering peaks, cirques, and aretes above, some higher than 10,000 feet above sea-level. The rocks and mountains within the park are the best preserved Proterozoic sedimentary rocks in the world.
In the early 1900s, George Bird Grinnell was a major advocate for the protection of the pristine land with the help from the Great Northern Railroad using nature as a marketing ploy to encourage passengers to ride the train outside the southern border of the park. President William Howard Taft signed a bill in 1910 to change the 1897 forest preserve to a protected national park.
Expect long drive times from point A to point B within the park as traffic is known to crawl as visitors (vehicles and bicyclists) take in the beauty of the landscape and wildlife. The 53-mile long Going-to-the-Sun Road includes a free shuttle along the route with various stops throughout the park. A hiker's shuttle option is also available for a fee. Some shuttles include bike racks. Find out more about shuttles for cyclists here.
From the east, you have three entrance options: Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier. Polebridge Ranger Station and West Glacier are the popular entrances to access the western side of the park. Hikers and backpackers can start from various ranger stations with obtained permits.
Learn more about the park by stopping in at one of the three visitor centers: Apgar (near West Glacier entrance), Logan Pass (along Going-to-the-Sun Road), and St. Mary (adjacent to the entrance).
Lake McDonald Valley
Enter the West Glacier entrance and be welcomed by tall mountains surrounding Lake McDonald, which is the longest, largest, and deepest in the park. The valley now sparse of glaciers is now home of hanging valleys and several hiking trails, including Snyder Lake and Gunsight Pass.
Situated on the Continental Divide and the highest section of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Logan Pass hosts a visitor center with sub-alpine habitat exhibits. Reynolds Mountain and Clements Mountain tower above alpine meadows. Hikers trek along the Highline Trail for alpine views of the park that follows the Continental Divide with exposure along the Garden Wall.
Before Going-to-the-Sun Road was constructed, Two Medicine Lake brought tourists to the park. Now, you'll find this area to be a breath of fresh air if looking for an accessible, less-trafficked part of the park. Rising Wolf Mountain sets the backdrop from the campground. Hike around the lake or consider obtaining a backcountry permit and hiking Two Medicine Loop via Pitamakan Pass and Dawson Pass (after the snow melts).
St. Mary Lake is the second largest lake in Glacier National Park. Rising Sun, located midway along the lake, is a popular viewpoint of the lake and one of the most photographed locations within the park. Rising Sun Auto Camp was established in the early years of the park to ensure an up-close experience for tourists.
The Lewis Range surrounds Many Glacier and provides multiple access points to glaciers within the park. Grinnell Glacier is a popular hiking destination in the area. Many Glacier Hotel is the largest in the park and overlooks Swiftcurrent Lake. Rent canoes or join a boat tour. Many hiking trails leave from the hotel, including hiking to Lake Josephine. The spring brings bighorn sheep down close to the road.
The northeastern section of the park borders Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park with access to Cosley Lake via Belly River. The trail gives stunning views of the geologically unique Chief Mountain still located in the Great Plains which varies from the landscape of the rest of the park.
Great Northern Railway built most of the historic Swiss architected lodges and chalets within the park to promote tourism. Make sure to reserve your accommodation early as lodges and campgrounds fill up fast during the busy summer months. Learn more about camping in the national park, reservations, food storage, and regulations. The more popular campgrounds can be reserved on recreation.gov.
When to Go
Though the park can be enjoyed throughout the year, the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road remains closed throughout the winter due to snow. The road connects the eastern and western entrances and normally doesn't open until late June to early July making a park visit more appealing in August or September. Learn more about Glacier's operating hours and seasons here.
Similar to most U.S. national parks, Glacier requires an entrance fee.
Backcountry Advance Reservations can be made if you plan to hit the trail and camp at the many established backcountry campsites. To preserve the ecology of the many lakes, boating permits and inspections are required if you plan on kayaking or fishing.
The park allows dogs in the developed areas of the park but not on the trails. Be sure to follow the information on the park page about bringing your pets. If you're not sure, call the park rangers or leave furry family members at home.