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Best Hikes Near Glacier National Park (Bigfork & West Glacier)

Hikes Outside Glacier NP, Glacier National Park, Flathead National Forest, Bigfork

Looking for the best hikes near Glacier National Park but don’t want to deal with crowds and tickets? Explore these amazing hidden gem hikes of Bigfork and West Glacier outside the national park!

Glacier National is incredible—no questions about it, however the area outside of Glacier is a vast world of equally as beautiful forests, glaciers, and mountain peaks.

The Flathead National Forest region of West Glacier, Hungry Horse, and Bigfork, which sit right outside the national park entrance, are totally underrated are filled with endless adventures!

In this blog we’re sharing the best hikes in West Glacier and Hungry Horse so you can escape the crowds of Glacier National Park!

Rumor has it, national parks are going to very crowded this year.

It’s no surprise given that people are searching for local, outdoor destinations to take their summer vacations to this year in 2021.

What is a surprise is that’s it’s taken people this long to realize how amazing national parks are!

On top of that, Glacier N.P. is implementing a new ticketing system in 2021 that limits the amount of people allowed in the park each day (at least, in the west side of the park).

Unfortunately that means even if you don’t mind the crowds, you might not be able to snag tickets!

Learn more about visiting the National Parks in 2021 here.

Don’t worry, there are other ways!

Don’t be discouraged from visiting Glacier N.P. just because of the crowds. You just might want to consider exploring the area just outside of Glacier N.P. instead or in addition.

These 10 hikes give you a backup travel plan in case you can’t get a ticket for Glacier N.P. and along the way, you’ll probably discover the most amazing nature you’ll ever see!

Where is Flathead National Forest?

Flathead National Forest is a mountainous region right near Glacier National Park. The hiking here is accessed from a few different spots.

  • Hungry Horse – Just 5 minutes before you reach the turnoff for Glacier.
  • Bigfork – The east side of Flathead Lake (an alternate route to get to Glacier N.P.).
  • West Glacier + Essex – The northeast side of Highway 2, just minutes past the turnoff for Glacier National Park.

10 Beautiful Hikes Near Glacier National Park

1 | Ousel Peak

Location: West Glacier, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 6.5 miles, 3800′
Trailhead: 48.491304, -113.862539

Ousel Peak is an amazing mountain hike right next to the Glacier N.P. entrance! The views at the top are some of the best I’ve ever seen with mountain peaks filling the skyline as far as the eye can see. The views come with a price though, this hike is extremely steep and strenuous despite it’s moderate length.

Getting there: The trailhead is literally right on the south side of highway. There is a small side street on the left a couple hundred yards past the trailhead. You can park in the corner of the junction as long as you don’t block the turnoff.

2 | Strawberry Lake Trail No 5

Location: Hungry Horse, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 6 miles, 1900′
Trailhead: Strawberry Lake Trailhead

Strawberry Lake is a pleasant and easy alpine lake hike. The grade isn’t too steep making it a great beginners choice and on a warm Sumer day, Strawberry Lake makes for an amazing place to relax and enjoy the view.

Strawberry Lake is also a popular place for fishing. Pay attention for ATVs on the trail which are common here.

Getting there: 4WD is recommended but high clearance 2WD works too.

3 | Apgar Lookout Trail

Location: West Glacier, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 7 miles, 1800′
Trailhead: Apgar Lookout Trailhead

Apgar Lookout lies right immediatley after turn towards Galcier park. Don’t worry, you don’t need to enter the park or obtain a ticket to hike this.

Apgar Lookout gives you a grandiose view of Lake Macdonald and the Going-to-the-Sun road from afar. Experience lush panoramic views and stay away from the busier Glacier crowds with this summit trail.

Related: 5 Best Hikes in Glacier National Park

4 | Mount Aenas Summit Trail

Mount Aenas, Jewwel Basin, Flathead Forest, Bigfork
The Mount Aenas Summit Trail. Photo via AllTrails.com

Location: Bigfork, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 6.2 miles, 1800’
Trailhead: Camp Misery Trailhead

Located in the Jewel Basin trail network, Mount Aenas is by far the most epic hike in this trail network.

Mount Aenas is a secluded hidden gem that delivers stunning alpine environment and panoramic views. 

You can hike this trail as an out-and-back or make it an epic loop by combining it with Picnic Lakes and descending jewel basin (equal distance).

When you hike the loop, you will simply traverse the Mount Aenas ridge-line Northwest ridge-line to ascend or descend the park (depending on which way you loop it). See the exact route here.

Note On Getting There

What’s the difference between Camp Misery Trailhead and Jewel Basin trailhead?

When you park at Camp Misery trailhead, it cuts off the long, steep 2.3 mile Switchback Trail, which  most of us would probably prefer.

Important: Getting to Camp Misery trailhead is 4WD recommended. If you don’t have 4WD, you can usually get to the Switchback Trailhead (RVs not recommended).

When you park here, it’s steeper and adds .7 miles on each of your hike.

5 | Jewel Basin + Picnic Lakes via Switchback Trail

Picnic Lakes in Flathead NF, Montana
Picnic Lakes in Jewel Basin. Photo credit bigskyfishing.com

Location: Bigfork, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 6.5 miles, 2700’
Trailhead: Switchback Trailhead

If you don’t want to hike all the way to Mount Aenas, just head to Picnic Lakes.

This trail consists of steep switchbacks which take you up to a mountain crest with views of Flathead Valley and a meadow filled alpine wonderland.

You’ll be able to look down to Picnic Lakes or even better, hike another .5 miles further to go relax by their shores. 

Make it a loop by heading back on the Alpine 7 trail. Or continue to Mount Aenas (see hike #4).

Related: 7 Unforgettable Things to Do in Glacier National Park

6 | Birch Lake Trail

Birch Lake, Jewel Basin, Bigfork Montana
Beautiful Birch Lake in the Jewel Basin trail network. Photo via AllTrails.com contributor.

Location: Bigfork, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 6 miles, 1000’
Trailhead: Camp Misery Trailhead

Beginning from the same trailhead as Mount Aenas, Birch Lake is a great option for those wanting to explore the Jewel Basin trail network, but not wanting too strenuous of a hike.

Birch Lake is popular place for trout fishing and overnight camping. Along with that, you’ll still get great view of the Swan Mountains, the Mission Mountains, and more! The hike has switchbacks but they’re fairly moderate and it’s a great place to go berry picking in the summer.

 7 | Skiumah Lake Trail

Location: Essex MT
Distance + elevation gain: 3.8 miles, 1100’
Trailhead: 48.435392, -113.808486

This lesser known hike on the north side of Flathead National Forest is a classic walk in the woods that brings you to a glacial lake surrounded by a steep a glacial mountainside. Since this hike is less popular than others in the area, beware of an overgrown trail.

Related: Grand Teton to Glacier National Park Road Trip

8 | Great Northern Mountain

Great Northern Mountain, Glacier Montana
The stunning hike of Great Northern Mountain. Photo via summitpost.org

Location: Essex, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 9.5 miles, 4800′
Trailhead: 48.333901, -113.830904

Seeking the most intense and challenging hike in the area? Look no further than the Great Northern Mountain.

With nearly 4,800 feet of elevation gain in just under 5 miles, this hike is a thigh burner. Not only that, but it’s also technical and isn’t for the average hiker. Come with hiking experience and be prepared for exposure and scrambling.

The summit gives you iconic panoramic views of Glacier N.P. And Hungry Horse Reservoir and serious bragging rights.

Getting there: Road well maintained. Any car should be able to access.

9 | Stanton Lake

Stanton Lake, West Glacier, Montana
Peaceful Stanton Lake hike. Photo via AllTrails.com contributor.

Location: Essex, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 3.8 miles, 600’
Trailhead: Stanton Trailhead

Accessed from the Northeast side of Flathead National Forest, Stanton Lake is a peaceful and secluded lake similar to Glacier’s Lake MacDonald but without the crowds.

The hikes is very easy, great for families, and the perfect place to go berry hunting in July/August (so I hear). On a warm summer day, the lake if perfect for a swim.

10 | Hungry Horse Dam

Location: Hungry Horse, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 1 mile, 50’
Trailhead: 48.343799, -114.013636

A final notable mention is Hungry Horse reservoir itself. While I prefer seeing the colorful reservoir from above, if you’re looking for a short leg stretcher, a short stroll along the dam is lovely.


Are you visiting Glacier, Montana this summer? Let us know in the comments below and share which hike is highest on your bucket list!

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