Every time we visit, we are amazed by how unique Glacier National Park is. Glacier 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 truly has everything. Hikers, backpackers, and outdoor enthusiasts will be starstruck by Glacier. But the real question is, if you only have a few days, what’s the best hike to do?
We’ve done many of Glacier’s amazing hikes in varying difficulty. It really 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.
A few quick tips for hiking in Glacier:
#1: Get to the trailheads EARLY
Most popular parking lots fill up by 9 a.m.. Because of this we highly recommend all visitors to 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.
#2: Carry bear spray on all moderate to strenuous hikes
#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.
#4: Pack a lot of water
Like I said in my last point, it gets hot really 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 that way we can fill more water at tiny streams, lakes, or waterfalls and never have to worry about running out.
Related Blog: Tips For Camping In Glacier National Park
Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll or a hard but 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
This is the easiest hike in the whole park. The trail to Avalanche Lake starts out 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 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.
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
Hidden Lake Overlook
If you want an easy hike with a lot of reward, 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 really 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.
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.)
Best Moderate Hikes in Glacier National Park
St Mary and Virginia Falls
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 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.
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.
Best Strenuous Hikes in Glacier National Park
Not only is Grinnell Glacier 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?
The beginning of this hike trails though thick, flower-rich meadows and over creeks. After that, you’ll reach your first trail junction and then the elevation gain starts.
The higher you get, the more amazing the views of the valley are. The already incredibly blue lakes (due to the glacial moraine) only get bluer from above.
High on the ridge, you will come across many big horn sheep and there’s a good chance of you seeing a moose or bear. That being said, always carry bear spray.
At some points the trail is unnerving for those afraid of heights. Until mid July, snow covers segments of narrow trail and you have to traverse across the snow patches and in late summer, you will have to walk underneath a waterfall.
The long and hard walk will be extremely rewarding upon arriving at upper Grinnel Lake with Grinnell Gaclier towering above it 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 a one-of-a-kind, but the journey above the 3 beautiful lakes make the steep ascent less painful.
Distance roundtrip: 10.5 miles
Best for: Hikers who love glaciers or have never seen a glacier, views of 3 perfectly turquoise lakes, a high chance of seeing a bear and other wildlife, and seeing 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.
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 Grineel Glacier trail by 7 am. If you’re not a camper you can also stay at Many Glacier Hotel but you will need reservations.
Highline Trail + Grinnell Glacier Overlook
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, making it easy to get an early start on the trail. From the very beginning of this trail, the views are amazing.
While hiking it this direction is considered the “downhill” direction, don’t be fooled by this statement because there’s plenty of uphill too.
Soon you’ll pass over some creeks, below waterfalls, and over snowfields.
The trail then 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.
Finally, after a little more than 6 miles (and 3 hours when going at an average pace), you’ll reach the trail junction to Grinnell Glacier Overlook. After 3 hours of hiking, you’ll gaze up at this steep trail to your right and 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 really 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.
Distance roundtrip: 12.8 miles (including the short but steep detour to Grinnell Glacier Overlook)
Best for: Hikers who want to 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 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.
Related Blog: Tips For Camping In Glacier National Park
Got questions about hiking in Glacier? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll get back to you right away!