Fondly known as the backbone to the world by the Native Americans of old, Glacier National Park is a superb land of rugged mountains, alpine meadows and valleys carved from glacial waters. Encompassing over a million acres of parkland, there’s a treasure trove of hikes and climbs to explore. The park attracts thousands of visitors annually, all looking for adventure on one of the many exciting hiking trails in Glacier National Park.
Situated in northwest Montana, on the Canadian border, the park is home to a rich variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, moose and of course, the famous mountain goat. Don’t let the bears and wolves put you off though, encounters are rare, especially if sensible precautions are taken. Spectacular scenery awaits anyone bold enough to explore, with the wilderness offering absolute solitude and tranquility.
With the Great Continental Divide ripping through the park, hiking in Glacier is phenomenal and trails take in 175 named mountains, in excess of 750 lakes and almost 3000 miles of streams. On top of that, 25 named glaciers remain to this day, the largest being Blackfoot Glacier. There’s around 750 miles of exciting hiking trails to discover, leading you to some of the most breathtaking landscapes on Earth.
It’s well worth doing your research before heading out into the wild, in order to make the most of what Glacier National Park has to offer. With that in mind, here are some of the best hiking trails in Glacier.
The famous naturalist John Muir wrote that one should take at least a month to fully appreciate the phenomenal reserve that is Glacier National Park. However, if you don’t have so much time to spare, you can enjoy a variety of shorter, one day hikes. Who knows, if you keep coming back for more you might well spend a month or more in the reserve!
Fortunately, there are several incredible hikes to take your time over and still be back in time for supper.
Swiftcurrent Lake Nature Trail (easy)
Situated in the Many Glacier Valley, Swiftcurrent lake is one of the most popular areas to explore. There are several places to stay in the area, making it a fantastic base for short hikes. One of the most scenic is the nature trail, which starts and ends at the Swiftcurrent Hotel.
This easy going 3 mile hike takes in spectacular views of the snow capped mountains across the water, forests and of course, plenty of lakeside hiking. Rising just 25 ft in elevation across the entire distance, it’s not too strenuous, and makes an ideal starting point in which to test your fitness. Keep your eyes peeled for moose and grizzlies!
St. Mary Area Waterfalls Hike (moderate)
For those looking for more challenging hiking trails in Glacier, this 5.2 mile trek takes in 5 different waterfalls and offers spectacular lake views. Climbing a total of 700 ft in elevation, it can be hard going at times, but the scenery is well worth the extra effort.
The trail starts at the St. Mary Falls Trailhead on the Going to the Sun Road, which can be rather busy during summer months due to the popularity of this spectacular area. Passing through thick coniferous forest, rocky gorges and lakeshore trails, this is a hike that offers a little bit of everything. But it is the magnificent waterfalls, including St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls – arguably the most spectacular in Glacier National Park – that really make this trail stand out.
Siyeh Pass Loop (difficult)
Despite being called a loop, this is actually a one way semicircular trail. Hikers will either need to take one of the famous red shuttles, or use two vehicles. But don’t be put off, this is one of the most breathtaking hiking trails in Glacier, taking in some of the highest maintained paths in the park. Enjoying out of this world views and Alpine meadows, be sure to pack the camera!
Taking in almost 10 and a half miles, and climbing up 2,280 ft, this makes for a long day of hiking, and it’s not for the faint hearted. For anyone craving the solitude of the wilderness however, there are few better escapes. You’ll climb to the summit of Mt. Siyeh via the Siyeh Pass, and be rewarded with staggering views. The descent offers close up views of Sexton Glacier, as well as a whole spectrum of color as you pass through canyons and waterfalls before returning to the Going to the Sun Road.
Long Distance Hiking Trails in Glacier
For those looking to spend a long weekend hiking, but don’t really fancy carrying a ton of equipment with them, Glacier National Park offers a fantastic three day hike. With accommodation along the way, there’s no need to carry a tent or additional camping gear with you, though there’s no reason why you can’t if you’d like to!
Glacier’s Grand Loop Hike (difficult)
This three day hike takes in the best scenery that the park has to offer, including mountain passes, waterfalls, glaciers, creeks, forests and Alpine meadows. Logistically, the best option is to park your car at Rising Sun or Apgar, then take the shuttle to Logan Pass, where the fun starts.
The three day trek takes in some of the most exciting hiking trails the park has to offer, first climbing up the Highline Trail to the Granite Park Chalet, where you’ll spend your first night – be warned though, you’ll need to book in advance. The next day finds you descending into the Many Glacier Valley via the Swiftcurrent Pass. In the valley there are a number of great places to spend the second night.
The third day is the most strenuous, but the rewards are worth it. After leaving Many Glacier Valley, you’ll climb over the Piegan Pass, one of the lesser known hiking trails in Glacier, though no less beautiful for that. The descent leaves you at Siyeh Bend on the Going to the Sun Road, where you can take a shuttle back to your car. In all, the trail covers around 28 miles and has many options for additional detours and side trails if you have the time and energy.
Stay Safe and Enjoy
With a huge number of exciting hiking trails in Glacier National Park to enjoy, you could perhaps spend a lifetime exploring this fantastic reserve. But in order to make the most of your trip, it’s wise to be aware of the dangers, and plan for safety. By following a few simple, common sense tips, you’re sure to have a great time.
- Remember you’re in bear country, so be sure to take all the necessary precautions. Attacks are extremely rare, but a startled bear may become aggressive. When hiking through bear country, make a lot of noise so that predators can hear you coming and leave the vicinity. When camping, use bear proof containers to store trash and food.
- Always check in at ranger stations before heading out, especially on longer hikes. Let them know where you plan to hike, and ask for the latest reports regarding wildlife and weather reports.
- Pack emergency supplies and a medi kit. It’s always best to hope for the best, and plan for the worst. It only takes a small slip to twist an ankle, dramatically slowing you down. Prepare warm clothes, extra food and most importantly, water.
Now all that’s left to do is get out there and have your breath taken away by the views, the fresh air and the tranquility of Glacier National Park. Enjoy!