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12 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Glacier National Park, MT

Written by Brad Lane
Nov 28, 2019

Leading to iconic spots like Grinnell Glacier, Ptarmigan Tunnel, and Iceberg Lake, the best hiking trails in Glacier National Park really take you somewhere special. With over 700 miles of trails spread throughout this massive national park in northern Montana, it's hard to quantify what makes any hike in Glacier better than the others. A common denominator between all the best hiking trails in Glacier, however, is the deep feeling of grandeur the glacial valleys leave behind.

Great day hikes are found in every region of Glacier, especially along the impressive Going-to-the-Sun Road, which spans the national park for fifty miles from east to west. Iconic hiking trails like the Highline Trail and Hidden Lake Overlook are located at Logan Pass—the highest point along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Logan Pass hiking trails are so popular that trailhead parking routinely fills to capacity, though the park's free shuttle system offers a great alternative to driving.

On the west side of the park, short hiking trails like Avalanche Lake encourage the whole family to get outdoors, and the inviting waters of Lake McDonald facilitate other types of water-based adventures. On the east side of the park, the Two Medicine region provides less-crowded day hikes, including the looped Pitamakan and Dawson Pass. Farther north, Many Glacier is considered the heart of the park, with higher elevations and numerous hiking trails leading in every direction.

Every hiking trail in Glacier National Park crosses through bear habitat, as well as habitat for numerous other species of wildlife big and small. Proper precautions like bear spray, traveling in groups, and following Leave No Trace guidelines should apply when exploring hiking trails in Glacier.

For details on where to go, read our list of the best hiking trails in Glacier National Park.

1. Highline Trail

Impressive views from the Highline Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Departing from Logan Pass, the Highline Trail is a signature hiking trail in North America. Spanning 7.6 miles from Logan Pass to the historic Granite Park Chalet (built in 1914), this relatively flat trail follows the Continental Divide through the heart of the park. With jaw-dropping views of glacier valleys and imposing alpine landscapes, there's moments on the Highline Trail where you don't even want to blink.

At the beginning of the trail near Logan Pass, hikers encounter a short stint of ledge hiking with enough space for hikers to pass in opposite directions. Farther along the route, hikers have an opportunity for a short side trip to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.

Despite the consistent crowds and popularity of the trail, wildlife sightings, especially mountain goats, are a common occurrence on the Highline Trail.

After traveling the 7.6 miles to the Granite Park Chalet, where snacks and beverages are available for purchase, those on the Highline Trail need to figure out a way back to the original trailhead. A common approach is hiking the steep 4.2 additional miles down the Loop Trail to the Going-to-the-Sun Road and taking the free shuttle back up to Logan's Pass. Another option is to hike back the 7.6 scenic miles you came, making for a 15-plus-mile day hike.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/hikingthetrails.htm

2. Grinnell Glacier Editor's Pick

Upper Grinnell Lake | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Within the Many Glacier region of the park and departing near one of the campgrounds in Glacier, the 5.3-mile hike to the Grinnell Glacier viewpoint offers some of the most iconic scenery in the park. Beginning near the banks of Swiftcurrent Lake, with views of the Many Glacier Hotel, the first two miles of the hike are fairly level as the trail crosses to the banks of Lake Josephine.

At 2.1 miles, hikers come across a junction that either continues flat to the aquamarine waters of Lower Grinnell Lake, or begins a steady ascent towards Upper Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier. The trail climbs over 1,500 feet in the proceeding 3.2 miles leading to Upper Grinnell Lake as it steadily gains a great vantage point of the glacial valley below. Pit toilets are available 0.4 miles from the lake, just before the steepest and final section of trail.

Filled with massive icebergs and backdropped by vertical mountain peaks known as the Garden Wall, this shimmering glacier-fed lake is worth every step of the trail. Packing an extra jacket makes eating lunch at the lake a warmer endeavor, and the rocky banks have plenty of space to find your own spot to enjoy the surreal alpine landscape.

A fee-based ferry ride across Swiftcurrent Lake is available to cut down on trail miles.

3. Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake

Near Lake McDonald on the west side of the park, the 2.3-mile trail leading to Avalanche Lake is one of the best short hikes in Glacier National Park. Beginning from a busy parking area, the hike to Avalanche Lake immediately runs parallel to Avalanche Creek with great views of the icy, blue water carving its way through a canyon. With a total elevation gain of roughly 500 feet, the trail is suited to most abilities and wide enough to support two-way traffic.

About halfway through the hike, hikers pass through a massive tree fall from the trail's namesake natural disaster, and begin a steady but moderate uphill push to the lake.

A rocky shoreline dotted with makeshift benches welcomes hikers to Avalanche Lake, providing an iconic spot for a picture with the waterfall-laden Little Matterhorn as a backdrop. Hikers can continue along the west bank of the lake to escape the crowds.

From toddlers riding in backpacks to senior citizens navigating the trail, numerous types of hikers enjoy the five-mile round trip to Avalanche Lake. For an easier adventure in this lush part of the park, the interpretive Trail of the Cedars also shares a trailhead with Avalanche Lake. This less-than-a-mile interpretive hike follows a flat, wooden boardwalk and passes through a dense forest of ancient western hemlocks and red cedars.

4. Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Departing from behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in Many Glacier, this aptly named day hike travels 4.5 miles and 1,200-feet up to Iceberg Lake. Passing the trail junction for the Ptarmigan Wall, the trail to Iceberg Lake is wide enough to accommodate both directions of hikers.

Near the end of the trail, hikers encounter vibrant and sensitive alpine meadows before descending into the bowl of Iceberg Lake. Alongside icebergs and alpine meadows, bears and other wildlife are known to be spotted along this route.

5. Pitamakan Pass and Dawson Pass

Old Man Lake from Pitamakan Pass | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

One of a few looped day hikes in Glacier National Park, this demanding 18-mile trail steadily climbs and traverses two mountain passes with stunning views. Departing from the Two Medicine Campground, hikers can head either clockwise or counter to climb over 2,400 feet up to Dawson or Pitamakan Pass. Both directions enable views of glacier lakes and pointed mountains, as well as wildlife sightings, including marmots and mountain goats.

The 3.4-mile moderately flat stretch of trail that connects Dawson and Pitamakan Pass has very mild exposure and some of the best views of any day hike in Glacier.

While the roughly seven miles it takes to climb up to either pass is challenging, it's really the downhill in the other direction that creates sore legs after this long day hike. Hikers can opt to take a fee-based ferry across Two Medicine Lake to cut down on some miles.

6. Hidden Lake Nature Trail

Hidden Lake Nature Trail

A popular short hike in Glacier National Park, the Hidden Lake Nature Trail departs from the west side of the Logan Pass Visitor Center and crosses through an area also known as Hanging Gardens. The 1.4-mile trail through Hanging Gardens is filled with a dominating view of the snow-crusted Clements Mountain and very minimal elevation gain. Wildflowers and wildlife, including marmots and bighorn sheep, are also commonly sighted along the trail.

Hikers may recognize the Hidden Lake Overlook from postcards of Glacier or social media feeds, and the view really does inspire an appreciation for the park. Hikers can proceed another 1.2 miles from the overlook down to the lake itself, with an additional 780 feet of elevation drop.

Parking is extremely scarce at Logan Pass, making the Hidden Lake Trail most accessible in the early morning or by riding on the free Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle to Logan Pass.

7. Cracker Lake

Cracker Lake | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Departing from behind the Many Glacier Hotel, the 6.4-mile route to Cracker Lake includes the stunning Cracker Flats area of the park. The long stretch of pointed peaks lining this part of the hike are comparable to an alpine wonderland. Ascending 1,400 feet to the banks of Cracker Lake and adjacent viewpoints, this bucket-list trail in Glacier takes most hikers the entire day to hike.

The aquamarine waters of Cracker Lake are simply mesmerizing, and the surrounding mountain peaks are filled with bands of color and a stark geologic presentation.

Near the banks of the lake are many great spots to grab a snack before heading back to the trailhead. Cracker Lake has a reputation as one of the windiest spots in the park, and bringing an extra layer for warmth can help alleviate the chill.

8. Ptarmigan Tunnel

The Belly River valley seen from the Ptarmigan Tunnel | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Ptarmigan Tunnel is a dynamited passageway that connects two stunning glacial valleys. The trail is a popular choice for backpackers heading deep into the park, and day hikers can reach this impressive feat of trail engineering from Many Glacier with a 10.6-mile round trip. A demanding day hike with plenty of scenic stops along the way, the route climbs over 2,300 feet to reach the tunnel.

The junction for Iceberg Lake is encountered about halfway up the trail to the Ptarmigan Tunnel, where hikers will want to head right towards Ptarmigan Lake. The sight of the big switchbacks leading up to the tunnel seems intimidating at first, but the view of the Belly River valley on the other side of the tunnel is well worth the effort.

The entire route goes through heavily populated bear country, and hikers will want to make noise, travel together, and carry bear spray.

9. Stoney Indian Pass

Stoney Indian Pass | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Most easily accessible from the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead near the Canadian border, Stoney Indian Pass is an eye-popping backpacking destination within the park's extensive backcountry. A popular 27-mile trip includes starting at the Chief Mountain Trailhead, heading up and over Stoney Indian Pass, and ending at the Goat Haunt Ranger Station near Waterton Lake.

Every step of this drool-inducing route includes views of outstanding mountain peaks, icy-cold alpine lakes, and numerous tumbling waterfalls splashing hundreds of feet down the mountains.

Like all backpacking in Glacier National Park, those looking to spend the night and explore Stoney Indian Pass will need to have permits to camp in the backcountry. Backcountry permits are allocated between reservations and walk-up availability.

Alongside permits, any overnight travelers will need to bring bear precautions, including bear spray and a rope to secure food at designated bear hangs.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm

10. Swiftcurrent Pass

The view from Swiftcurrent Pass | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Extending nearly seven miles one way with over 2,200 feet of elevation gain, the trail up to Swiftcurrent Pass from the Many Glacier region of the park is an ambitious day hike. With numerous scenic stops like Redrock Falls along the way, and with much of the elevation gained near the pass, hiking even part way to Swiftcurrent Pass makes for quite the memorable day hike.

Moose sightings are a regular occurrence along this slightly less crowded hike in the park.

11. Siyeh Pass Trail

Preston Park on the Siyeh Pass Trail

A less-crowded alternative to the Highline Trail at Logan Pass, the Siyeh Pass Trail delivers with a similar caliber of stunning scenery. Hikers have the choice between starting at the Piegan Pass or Sunrift Gorge Trailhead, with both trailheads located a couple miles east of Logan Pass. The climb up to Siyeh Pass from the Piegan Trailhead involves less miles and climbing, though the 4.6 miles and 2,240 feet of elevation gain to the top is still a challenging endeavor.

Alongside an abundance of wildflowers and alpine meadows, the Siyeh Pass Trail traverses through the subliminal Preston Park area of Glacier. The trail officially ends at the saddle and pass of Mount Siyeh, where hikers can head back on the same 4.6 miles they came or descend the 5.5 miles to Sunrift Gorge. Like many trails in Glacier, bears are known to congregate along this popular trail.

12. Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

For a less crowded place to hike in Glacier, any trail departing from the northwest Bowman Lake area of the park offers remote surroundings and equally stunning hikes. It's also a popular starting point for backcountry hiking.

Near the Polebridge Ranger Station and departing from the Bowman Lake Campground, the trail along the western edge of Bowman Lake extends for seven rolling miles next to the water. With the water in sight the entire way, the best views of Bowman Lake come from the head and foot of the lake.

Another great day hike from the Bowman Lake area includes the nearly 12-mile round trip to Akokala Lake. Those with permits can access stunning places like Hole-in-the-Wall and Goat Haunt with an overnight trip from Bowman Lake. For snacks and supplies, the nearby Polebridge Mercantile is the only place to stock up on the essentials.

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More to Explore in Glacier National Park: Including iconic areas and attractions like Logan Pass, St. Mary, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the Top Things to Do in Glacier give preview to all the grandeur found in this esteemed national park. Covering such a large amount of space and natural attraction, the only way to really explore Glacier is by taking a multi-day trip. The Best Campgrounds in Glacier National Park provide great places to spend the night under the stars to enjoy the park by day.

Montana Camping and Hiking Trails: Montana's big sky beauty doesn't stop at Glacier National Park—the rest of the state is filled with great places to explore and spend the night. While many of the Best Hiking Trails in Montana are found on the west side of the state, numerous adventurous routes are spread throughout every corner of the state. For a great place to spend the night, the Best Campgrounds in Montana offer access to wild rivers, underground caves, and unfettered wilderness.

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