Your Beginner's Guide to Glacier National Park Hikes

Glacier National Park is called the Crown of the Continent for a reason... it's stunning.

Comprised of 1,583 square miles or 1,013,120 acres, Glacier National Park in Montana boasts over 700 miles of hiking trails!

There is no shortage of spectacular lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and viewpoints within the boundaries of the park.

I (Sapphire & Elm Travel co-owner, Stephanie) went to Glacier National Park in June, 2016.

I spent 4 full days hiking easy and moderate trails in the park. Since I do not consider myself an extreme or avid hiker, we did not do any strenuous or overnight backpacking trips. Therefore, I will not be reviewing any of those here. 

After 4 days hiking different parts of the park, talking to rangers and other locals, and studying maps while driving between hikes, I wanted to share with you notes and reviews on a dozen day hikes in the beautiful national park.

All hikes marked with an * are ones we completed.

West Glacier

*Avalanche - Located in West Glacier, past Lake McDonald on the Trail of the Cedars, about 16 miles in from the West Entrance. Depending on what time of year you go, this could be the last stop before the Going-To-The-Sun Road is closed.  Avalanche Lake trail starts at the Trail of the Cedars and is a easy-moderate 3.8 mile hike roundtrip, gaining only 500 feet in elevation. There are a couple parking lots in the vicinity so parking shouldn't be a problem.

 

Akokla Lake - Located at the Polebridge Ranger Station at Bowman Lake. This hike is an easy 11.6 mile walk. I have included it because I have heard many good things from locals and rangers about both Bowman Lake and Polebridge. Bowman lake offers forests and ridges, and significantly less people on the trailheads. Polebridge is a cute community with a mercantile, sweet factory, etc. 

Hidden Meadow - Located 3 miles south of the Polebridge Ranger Station. The hike is both short and easy, only 2.4 miles round trip. The sign is often covered by trees, and is easy to miss. The trail is marked off the Inside Fork Road, halfway between Polebridge and Quartz Creek. One reason perhaps this hike often has many less people. Making this a good opportunity for wildlife viewing. Trail leads you to a grassy meadow and very large pond.

 

Going to the Sun Road

Hidden Lake - Located on the Going to the Sun Road at Logan Pass. The lake is 3 miles from the Logan Pass Visitor Center. 1.5 miles in is the Hidden Lake Overlook. A good view point, and stopping point for those only wishing to do a 3 mile round trip hike. 

Highline Loop - Located on the Going to the Sun Road at Logan Pass. The Highline Trail offers many points of interest, such as the Granite Park Chalet and the Grinnell Glacier Overlook, and the Swiftcurrent Mountain Lookout, just to name a few. Whether you only walk up a few miles, or really go for it and visit the Granite Park Chalet and then take "The Loop Trail" down to the highway, the Highline Trail is one of the most famous and incredible hikes in Glacier National Park

 

East Glacier

*South Shore - Located in East Glacier at Two Medicine Lake.  The trails starts quite mildly. An easy walk, and forks .5/1 mile in. Left to continue on, and right takes you to Paradise Point, a quite pit stop to a peninsula on the lake. It was very windy, but a nice flat area for resting, viewing, chatting, or lunch. After the quick detour, we continued on to Aster Falls and Aster Park.  

There is a meadow and lake where bear and moose are often spotted. We were told moose can hold their breath for 2.5 minutes so we sure to stop and stay for a bit to try and see if one emerges from the water! We continued on to the base of Aster Falls and Aster Park.

From the base to the top of the park is 0.8 miles. Albeit short is distance, the hike becomes rather steep with many switchbacks. When you reach only 0.1 miles, there is an opportunity for a lovely viewing spot of the falls! I highly recommend stopping here!

If you decide to continue on to Aster Park, continue back on the path. It was truly a nice hike, with often times steep switchbacks which definitely got our heart rates up. When we completed the hike middle of June, it snowed on us! So definitely do not rule out the possibility of snow, especially if you're visiting at the start of the season!

After enjoying the views from the top, we came back down to the base and split ways with the rest of the group.

A few of us continued on around the rest of the South Short trail on Two Medicine Lake. We came upon a fork, right for Horse Ford and left for Foot Bridge. While right followed the lake, we went left towards the Foot Bridge. The Horse Ford is not part of the or any trails. 

This hike was quite incredible because we didn't see many other people on the trail. It was fairly flat, and we did see two moose while on the ladder half of the trail! On the far west side of the lake, we took the short trail from the West Boat Dock to Twin Falls, then took the boat back to the beginning/parking lot instead of continuing about 3.5 miles around the north side of the lake.

*Iceberg Lake - Located in East Glacier at Many Glacier. The trail starts at Iceberg & Ptarmigan trail head. The lot is really small, so I recommend parking at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, then head to the left of the building and you'll see a sign for the Iceberg & Ptarmigan trail head.

The first 0.4 miles is uphill and has some steps. This is the steepest part of the hike, but for a 9.8 mile hike less than half a mile feels like nothing. Even though this hike is long, it is still suitable for people with little hiking experience. It is a pretty easy hike for such an incredible payout. 

This hike has beautiful mountain side views and many creeks and waterfalls as you make your way through the crevices of the cliffs. 

You'll hike 2.8 miles to Ptarmigan Falls. This is a perfect rest and lunch spot, or a good place to turn around. Shortly after the falls, the trail forks and you can continue straight (left) for Iceberg lake, or right for Ptarmigan Tunnel & Lake. 

Depending on the time of year you visit, you might run into snow fields near the end of the hike. This was such a cool surprise! We were unprepared (some people brought snow shoes), but don't let some snow deter you! 

There are two lakes at the base of the crater like mountains. See both! Iceberg lake is at the back left. Do not be confused at the first lake and assume it's Iceberg Lake, it is not Iceberg Lake. Continue on to the other one.

We went middle of June and the lake was almost completely covered in one giant iceberg. So if you go later in the season expect to see varying levels of ice broken apart!
 

Grinnell Lake - Located in East Glacier at Many Glacier. Grinnell Lake is the shorter and easier hike of the two Grinnell options. You can hike from the Many Glacier Lodge 3.4 miles to the lake, or take two boats from the lodge to the other side and then hike 0.9 miles to the lake. 
 

Grinnell Glacier - Located in East Glacier at Many Glacier. Grinnell Glacier is the longer more difficult of the two Grinnell options. However if you are up for it and have the time, this is a spectacular option! The Grinnell Lake hike (above) is the start of this trail, or you can opt for a boat ride to the other side of the lake. This is perhaps the hike I'm most looking forward to completing next time I'm in Glacier National Park!
 

*St Mary's Falls & Virginia Falls - Located in East Glacier at St. Mary's Lake. Parking is tough here, only 10-15 spots. So upon arrival park at the first spot you see. Or you can take the shuttle if it's running.

From the lot and trail head, St. Mary's Falls is a short downhill walk of 1.2 miles. Even with recent fires in the park, the hike is beautiful. Life is growing again.

From St. Mary's Falls continue on to Virginia Falls. 

You will begin to climb slightly, although not steep. You will see rivers and waterfall after waterfall. It's stunning, and the payoff is truly mind blowing.

This was my favorite hike in the park. It was highly recommended by the locals so we opted for this over Grinnell Lake on our last day of hikes. I am so thankful we chose this hike. This is how I will forever picture Glacier National Park. 



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Glacier National Park Hiking recommendations
Glacier National Park Hiking recommendations