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5 Best Hikes in Glacier National Park: Easy, Moderate, and Strenuous Day Hikes

Hikers, backpackers, and outdoor enthusiasts will be starstruck by Glacier National Park. But the real question is, if you only have a few days, what are the best hikes in Glacier National Park?

Every time we visit, we are amazed by how unique Glacier National Park is.  Glacier National Park truly is the closest you can get to the Alps in America.  With ancient glaciers, huge, towering mountains, waterfalls, meadows, lakes, forests, and wildlife, Glacier National Park has everything you could want from an outdoor vacation.

We’ve done many of Glacier National Park’s amazing hikes in varying difficulty.  It pays to take the strenuous routes.  The views just don’t get much better.

If you’re not as experienced in hiking, Glacier is one of the best places for you because there are a lot of rewarding short hikes. 2 of these hikes are among the 7 bucket-list things you can’t miss in Glacier!

If you’re visiting Glacier this summer, make it a road trip! Driving through Grand Teton and Yellowstone N.P. on the way makes for an unforgettable road trip and has 10 things you have to see once in your life!
Do I need a reservation to visit Glacier National Park?

Yes, from May 28th to September 10th a ticketed entry reservation is required along Going to the Sun Road from Apgar to St Mary’s. And from July 1st to September 10th, a reservation is required for all entrances into Glacier National Park.

What if I have a Glacier N.P. lodging or tour reserved?

If you have lodging, camping, a boat ride, a bus ride, a horseback ride, or a guided hike reserved inside Glacier National Park, you will NOT need to obtain a ticketed entry reservation.

How do I reserve a Glacier National Park ticketed entry?

You can reserve a ticket at Recreation.gov. A percentage of reservations become available 120 days in advance with a block system. The remaining percentage of vehicle reservations will be released on a rolling 24-hour in-advance basis at 8 am. Get more details by reading our simple guide to Glacier reservations.

Do I need a ticket to hike in Glacier?

It depends on what you want to hike. Some of the best hikes in Glacier National Park lie along Going to the Sun road (which requires a ticket), but other park areas like Many Glacier don’t require a ticket.

What hikes can I do in Glacier National Park if I don’t have an entry ticket?

You don’t need a reservation to hike Grinnell Glacier. There are also a lot of great hikes near West Glacier and Essex that don’t require a ticket to get to. See this blog for the details.

What is the Absolute Best Hike in Glacier National Park?

In our opinion, the best hike in Glacier NP is the Highline Trail. While Grinnell Glacier is a close runner-up, it requires driving to Many Glacier, which is a very long drive that you might not have time for.

What is the Best Hike to do in Glacier National Park with Kids?

Avalanche Lake. Get here early to find parking! And if you don’t have a ticket, go in after 5:30 pm and you’ll still have plenty of time to do this hike since the sun sets so late in Montana 🙂

Gunsight Lake, Glacier National Park
A hidden lake in Glacier National Park

Ticketed Entry To Hike in Glacier in Summer

You may have heard the news that Glacier National Park now requires a reservation permit which must be obtained in advance. Even if you have a parking pass, all vehicles entering still need a reservation permit.

Beginning in 2023, a reservation permit is required to access ALL roads into the park between July 1 and September 10th plus. This includes the Going-to-the-Sun from the west and east side, Many Glacier Road, North Fork Road, and Two Medicine Road. Each location requires a separate reservation. Between May 26 and June 30, you also need a reservation for Going-to-the-Sun Road from the west side.

Get complete details on how to get your reservation here in our guide to Glacier’s reservation system.

Important: If you have a “Service Reservation” including lodging, camping, a boat ride, a bus ride, a horseback ride, or a guided hike reserved, you will not need to obtain a ticketed entry reservation.

If you find yourself near Glacier and can’t get a ticket, there are a lot of great hikes nearby that DO NOT require a ticket to access.

Visiting in September

All these crowds and reservations make September the best time to visit Glacier. Click here to read more about things to do in Glacier in September and what you need to know.

Tips for Hiking in Glacier National Park

Summertime in Glacier National Park
Summertime sunsets in Glacier National Park

1 | Get to the trailheads early

The best hikes in Glacier National Park get crowded fast. Most popular parking lots fill up by 9 a.m.

Because of this we highly recommend all visitors utilize the amazing free shuttle systems that can take you to almost any trailhead in the park from both the Saint Mary’s side and the Apgar side.

Take a quick look at this map below to get your bearings for where each trail is located.

Tips for visiting Glacier National Park

2 | Carry bear spray on all moderate to strenuous hikes

So many people forget bear spray on their hiking trip to Glacier. Bear spray is expensive to buy once you’re in the park.  Save money and buy some ahead of time at REI or Amazon.

3 | Wear layers

If you’re not used to hiking in the mountains, you won’t realize how much the weather can change in a day.  If you’re starting your hikes early in the morning (like you should be), it will be very cold in the morning but by noon you’ll be baking and will need lightweight clothes but also some sun protection.

Related: 7 Amazing Things to do in Glacier N.P.

4 | Pack a lot of water

Like I said in my last point, it gets hot fast in the summer.  When you start your hike in the morning you may think you won’t need that much water but when you’re hiking a steep trail in the heat by midday, you are going to want a sufficient supply of water.

We carry water bottles with water filters inside them from HydroBlu. With these, we can fill more water at tiny streams, lakes, or waterfalls and never have to worry about running out.

5 | Have a comfortable day hiking pack

Before you head out on your epic hike in Glacier National Park, check out our absolute favorite day hiking backpack, REI’s Flash 22. This backpack has seen over 3,000 miles and it’s our go-to pack for all our hiking adventures.

Related: Tips For Camping In Glacier National Park

Free Glacier National Park Hiking Pack List

Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll or an epic trek, here are some of the best hikes in Glacier National Park:

Best Easy Hikes in Glacier National Park

Trail of the Cedars/Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake Hike in Glacier National Park
An amazing family-friendly stroll in Glacier brings you to Avalanche Lake

Distance Roundtrip: 4.5 miles

Best for: Families with little kids, beginner hikers, a picnic on the lake, or a night hike.

Trailhead and tips: Park at Trail of the Cedars Trailhead or take the shuttle to this bus stop

This is the easiest hike in the whole park. The trail to Avalanche Lake starts on Trail of the Cedars, a pretty boardwalk with huge trees.  Done by itself, Trail of the Cedars is a 1-mile loop.

Continue beyond the Trail of the Cedars past some pretty creeks and falls to see the beautiful Avalanche Lake. This moraine-colored lake is surrounded by dozens of waterfalls and a glacier. 

Related: Best Hiking Shoes: La Sportiva Bushido

Hidden Lake Overlook

Hidden Lake Hike, Glacier NP
It’s hard to believe you can experience this Glacier National Park wonder in a short 3-mile hike

Distance Roundtrip: 3 miles

Best for Families, beginner hikers, a quick hike upon arriving in Glacier, seeing mountain goats, hiking in snow, a warmup for a big day hike

Trailhead and tips: Park at Logan Pass or take the shuttle to Logan Pass (Note: Parking fills up by 8 am on Logan Pass in the summer. Unless you’re hiking early, take a shuttle.)

This hike is probably the most incredible 3-mile hike in the world!

If you want an easy hike with a lot of rewards, this is the trail for you. This short 3-mile trail has amazing views of Logan Pass throughout the entire hike.

This trail often sees traffic from mountain goats and occasionally bears if you’re lucky. While this hike is short, it’s a bit more difficult than Trail of the Cedars since the trail is often covered in snow, even in the summer.

Though the snow makes it a bit more difficult, it also makes it fun for kids (and adults) and distracts them from the difficulty of the hike.

The views of Hidden Lake are amazing. The vivid blue lake sits in a glacial valley below a towering mountain range. However, I wouldn’t recommend this as a good picnic spot due to the crowds, vicious squirrels, and the lack of comfortable rocks or trees to sit on.

Related: Best Healthy Hiking Snacks (Paleo + Vegan)

Best Moderate Hikes in Glacier National Park

St Mary and Virginia Falls

Distance roundtrip: 5.5 miles from Sunrift Gorge (or 3.6 from St Mary Trailhead but you’ll miss 1 waterfall)

Best for: An easy day hike with little elevation gain, seeing blue waterfalls in gorges, mountain views, and hiking along the park’s most iconic lake St Mary’s Lake.

Trailhead and tips: Park at Sunrift Gorge or take the shuttle to this bus stop.  You can also start this trail at St Mary’s trailhead for a shorter hike.

While we didn’t have time to hike this trail ourselves, multiple park rangers who have spent years in Glacier NP told us that St Mary and Virginia Falls was one of their absolute favorite hikes in the entire park. The hike passes through beautiful alpine meadows, goes alongside the iconic St Mary’s Lake, and of course, takes you to 3 amazing waterfalls in beautiful gorges.

Related: Yellowstone 1-Day Itinerary

Best Strenuous Hikes in Glacier National Park

These are amazing hikes if you love hard hikes! The only negative of these two strenuous hikes is that they can be crowded (and some people are uncomfortable with the exposure on the Highline Trail which you can see in this video)

If you have time and want a much less crowded strenuous hike, check out Dawson to Pitamakin Pass in the Medicine area. We have all the details for it in our 50 Best Hikes Glacier blog.

Grinnell Glacier

Distance Roundtrip: 10.5 miles 

Best for: Hikers who love glaciers! Views of 3 perfectly turquoise lakes, a high chance of seeing a bear and other wildlife, and one of North America’s most amazing glaciers, Grinnell Glacier

Trailhead and tips: Park at Grinnell Glacier trailhead in the Many Glacier region of the National Park.  This hike cannot be accessed by shuttle.

2023 Update: As of now, the east entrances plan to open for the summer, and BONUS this hike doesn’t require a ticketed entry!

Grinnell Glacier is one of the most spectacular glaciers left in existence! But this hike also brings you along 3 of the brightest turquoise lakes you’ll ever see, through alpine meadows, and likely near some incredible wildlife.

This trail can be shortened by taking paid ferries across the first 2 lakes, but where’s the fun in that?

Related blog: How to Train for a Strenuous Hike

The beginning of this hike trails through thick, flower-rich meadows and over creeks. The higher you get, the more amazing the views of the valley are.

High on the ridge, you may come across many bighorn sheep. There’s even a chance of seeing a moose or bear.

At some points, the trail is unnerving for those afraid of heights. Until mid-July, snow covers segments of narrow trail and in late summer, you will have to walk underneath a waterfall.

The long, hard walk will be extremely rewarding upon arriving at Upper Grinnell Lake. Grinnell Glacier towers above on a steep rock face.  Beautiful blue pools of melted glacier accentuate the frozen lake and a second smaller glacier lies frozen to the right of Grinnell.  

Needless to say, this hike is an absolute must-do for experienced hikers. Not only is the destination one-of-a-kind, but the journey above the 3 beautiful lakes makes the steep ascent less painful.

Tip for Hiking Grinnell Glacier

I highly recommend getting to the National Park the day before you want to hike Grinnell Glacier and grabbing a first-come first-serve site at Many Glacier campground.

Your best chance of getting a site is between 7 am and 10 am.  This way, you can have a restful day at the park’s best campground (with the most common wildlife sightings) before waking up early and getting on the Grinnell Glacier trail by 7 am.  If you’re not a camper you can also stay at Many Glacier Hotel but you will need reservations.

Gear up for Glacier! Our Kuhl pants have been everywhere with us and are truly one of our favorite hiking pants!

My personal favorite, the women’s  Splash Roll Up is one of my top picks. They’re stylish, comfortable, and durable and have been on adventures with us for 26 countries, which goes to show truly how long-lasting they are! The women’s Trekkr pants are another top choice, due to their slimmer fit and cinched capri-fit.

Kuhl has a style for every hiker with skinny, straight, and relaxed fits for both men and women. “Fueled by independence,” Kuhl combines a mountain mindset with effectively designed, stylish apparel for active people. Shop now at Kuhl.com.

Highline Trail + Grinnell Glacier Overlook

Distance roundtrip: 12.8 miles (including the short but steep detour to Grinnell Glacier Overlook)

Best for: Hikers who want to see the best views on the park. Those seeking that WOW factor, constant mountain views, and seeing Grinnell Glacier from above

Trailhead and tips: Park at Logan Pass or take the shuttle to this bus stop. If you take your car you will want to try to get there no later than 8 a.m. If you want to take the shuttle, get an early start by taking the express shuttles which run every 15 minutes from 7:00 – 8:00 am from Apgar visitor center. The Highline Trail is one-way and finishes at The Loop bus stop. Here you can take the shuttle up to Logan Pass where you parked or down towards Apgar.

This is a total bucket list hike that every avid hiker should do in their lifetime!

The trail starts directly across the street from the Logan Pass visitor center.  Right from the very beginning of this trail, the views are amazing.

Hiking in this direction is considered the “downhill” direction, but don’t be fooled, there’s plenty of uphill too.

The trail moves in and out of valleys along the mountainside and you’ll be granted amazing views of Heavenly Mountain across the way framed by the glacial valley surrounding you.

As you start walking closer to the edge, the trail becomes even more beautiful. 
Highline trail, Best Hikes in Glacier National Park, Strenuous
Incredible views of Apgar Valley as you round a corner

After a little more than 6 miles (3 hours for us), you’ll reach the trail junction to Grinnell Glacier Overlook. After 3 hours of hiking, you might think “It’s probably not worth it,” but trust me, it’s 100% WORTH IT! This slight detour makes the hike go from Amazing to Epic.

It’s only .6 miles to the Overlook, however, it’s so steep that it will take longer than expected.  Account for 2 hours to get to the Overlook, take in the views, and hike back down to the junction.

Once you reach the junction. It’s only a little less than 2 miles to the Chalet, which is your last good rest spot before making the painful descent down to The Loop Trailhead.  

This really is a pretty easy hike for a 13-miler except for these last 2 hours.  The final descent drops more than 2,000 feet in only 4 miles.  

While the views are still relatively amazing, they’re not quite as epic as they’re on the rest of the trail so this section is brutal for sure. At The Loop, the shuttle makes for easy transportation back to your car or to your accommodation.

Got questions about hiking in Glacier?  Let us know in the comments below and we’ll get back to you right away! And don’t forget to join our tribe + live stoked with us!

We Use Booking.com To Find Great Deals On Hotels Near Glacier NP

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Don’t forget to check out our Tips For Camping In Glacier National Park!

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James

Sunday 3rd of December 2023

Thank you so much for this guide. I can't wait to explore Glacier in mid-September. If we do the Highline Trail and Grinnell Glacier Overlook, can we still catch the shuttle back to our car at Logan Pass if it's mid-September and the typical shuttles aren't running? What's our best bet for doing that trail at that time of year? Thank you for your guidance, James

Gabi

Thursday 21st of December 2023

Shuttle run on a reduced service through mid-September. Check the NPS website for exact dates. But if the shuttle isn't running, you can still complete the thru-hike by shuttling 2 cars, dropping 1 at the Loop on the way up and driving to the top of Logan Pass to start the hike. You'll have to go early to ensure parking at The Loop and of course, you'll need 2 drivers.

If you don't have 2 drivers, then you're only other alternative would be to park at Logan Pass and hike to Grinnel Glacier Overlook as an out-and-back hike.

Go Wander Wild

Tuesday 18th of May 2021

Your recommended best hikes in Glacier National Park is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!

The Best Hikes to Epic Glaciers Around the World • Nomads With A Purpose

Thursday 30th of August 2018

[…] Cool things nearby: A trip to Glacier National Park would be incomplete without driving or taking the shuttle along Trail Ridge Road.  If you’re looking for other stunning hikes in the park, check out our list of Best Day Hikes in Glacier National Park […]

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