Glacier National Park is one of the best places to experience pristine wilderness in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. There are alpine meadows, streams of cold mountain water running into clean, clear lakes, virgin forests and rugged mountains, all teeming with wildlife.
With hikes for all ability levels, anyone can get out and see this incredible place up close. The engineering marvel, Going-to-the-Sun Road, provides easy access hiking trails and a simple way to experience the splendor of Glacier National Park.
We’ve highlighted 11 fantastic hikes. Take a week and experience this amazing place. Happy Hiking!
Table of Contents
Glacier Trip Itinerary
This 7-day itinerary explores the park from west to east in 5 days and then travels north to Canada.
- Days 1 to 3. Discover the hikes and sites off Going-to-the-Sun Road.
- Day 4. Explore Two Medicine Valley and East Glacier Park.
- Day 5. Visit Many Glacier.
- Days 6 and 7. Travel north to Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier’s Canadian partner in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
The vehicle reservation system, begun in 2021, has been expanded to four areas of the park during peak times of the year.
Glacier National Park Map
This scenic road is an essential part of a visit to Glacier National Park. This 2-lane, 50-mile long road connects West Glacier and St. Mary. The engineering masterpiece, which took just over 10 years (1921 to 1932) to complete, is the only road across the park.
There are many spots to pull over and see park highlights along the way. Often these pull-offs are also trailheads for some spectacular hiking options. Be sure to stop at Jackson Glacier Overlook. See not only Jackson Glacier but Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, the road’s namesake. This stop is the best place to see a glacier from the road and learn about the glacier’s disappearance from the park.
Consider the “hop-on/hop-off” shuttle to avoid the frustration of finding parking. The shuttle stops at most of the trailheads on the road.
These 8 hikes and other must-see stops (from west to east) showcase the highlights of the impressive Going-to-the-Sun Road.
John’s Lake Loop
This easy 2-mile loop trail is a great way to see Sacred Dancing Cascade and McDonald Falls along McDonald Creek before it empties into Lake McDonald. The trailhead is 1.3 miles north of Lake McDonald Lodge.
This is one of the most scenic lakes in the park, measuring 10 miles long and is 464 feet deep. Enjoy a guided cruise on the lake or rent a canoe or kayak to paddle it at leisure. The rustic, 3.5-storey lodge, built in 1913, sits on the lake’s northeastern shore. It’s a National Historic Landmark.
Trail of the Cedars
The fully accessible, circular, boardwalk trail loops for about a mile through old growth red cedar and hemlock forest. Avalanche Creek runs through the middle of this beautiful, shady path. While the trail is busy, take the time to explore it. It is worth it. The trailhead is located close to Avalanche Campground’s entrance.
Avalanche Lake Trail
The 4.6 mile round-trip hike along Avalanche Creek to the lake is outstanding. At the opposite end of the lake, see several waterfalls plunging down the cliffs. Many of these waterfalls are meltwater from the Sperry Glacier, which cannot be seen from the lake. The hike has some steep sections but overall it is not technically challenging. The trailhead is just south of where the Trail of the Cedars crosses the creek.
Logan Pass runs along the Continental Divide, the roughly north/south line separating the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those that drain into the Atlantic Ocean.
Going-to-the-Sun Road’s highest point is where it crosses Logan Pass at 6,646 feet above sea level. Logan Pass Visitor Center explains the flora and fauna of the alpine meadow area around it. Filled with wildflowers, the meadow is an excellent place to see wildlife such as mountain goats, bighorn sheep and marmots.
This parking lot is always busy so arrive early.
Hidden Lake Trail
Hike, starting behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center, through an alpine meadow. See jagged mountain peaks, waterfalls and, ultimately at the overlook, Hidden Lake. The view is definitely worth the hike. The trail has sections of dirt trail and boardwalk with steps. It is not technically challenging but also is not wheelchair accessible. (It isn’t meant strollers either though we saw people attempting it.) It is a very busy trail, one of the most popular in the park. The hike to the overlook and back is about 2.6 miles.
For more, continue from the overlook down to the edge of Hidden Lake. Travel steep switchbacks, descending about 750 feet of altitude. Just remember this is an “out and back” trail and climbing back up is the only way back. The total round-trip hike from the parking lot to Hidden Lake is about 5.0 miles.
Highline is very popular. The trail, along the continental divide, travels through stunning scenery. It has some very narrow and challenging parts but the views are exceptional. People often park at the pullout called the Loop to the west of Logan Pass. From the Loop, hikers take the park shuttle to the Pass and then walk the 11.8 miles back to their car. This ensures a predominantly downhill walk with only a couple of gradual uphill sections. This route combines 7.6 miles of the Highline Trail with 4.2 miles from the Granite Park Chalet, a back country hostel, to the Loop parking area.
Sunrift Gorge Hikes
From the Sunrift Gorge parking area, there are a couple hiking options. On the north side of the road, hike in just 200 feet to see the water-carved Sunrift Gorge. Enjoy a short 0.6 mile round-trip walk on the south side, through the woods, to the hidden Baring Falls. We visited in the fall and the colours of the valley were lovely.
Sun Point Nature Trail
This short, easy trail runs along Saint Mary Lake for about 1.1 miles between Sun Point and Sunrift Gorge shuttle stops. The trail provides some outstanding views of the beautiful lake, the second largest lake in the park at 9.9 miles long and 300 feet deep. Wild Goose Island is in the middle of the lake and one of the most photographed spots in Glacier National Park.
This area, on the east side of the park and south of St. Mary, has its own ranger station, campground and store. It is less visited than the areas around Going-to-the-Sun Road. Two Medicine Creek running between two lakes and over Running Eagle Falls.
Running Eagle Falls Trail
Enjoy a pretty 0.6 mile round-trip hike to Running Eagle Falls, on Two Medicine Creek. The waterfall looks very different from spring to fall. In the spring, when water volume is greater, there are actually 2 waterfalls visible. One flows over the upper cliff and a second flows from a hole in the cliff wall. By the end of summer, the upper waterfall is dry making it appear that the water is falling from solid rock. This area has a wheelchair accessible loop.
The village of East Glacier Park is just outside the park and south of Two Medicine. In the early part of the 20th century, this was where many park visitors arrived in the area, brought by train. Glacier Park Lodge, built by the railroad between 1913 and 1915, sits directly across from the railroad station. The lodge and the rail station continue to serve park visitors.
Drive 45 minutes north of East Glacier Park to Many Glacier, another less-visited and equally worthy, area of the park.
The view of the mountains from the back of the Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake is spectacular. Grinnell Point dominates the view with Mount Gould to the left and Swiftcurrent Mountain to the right. In between Grinnell Point and Mt. Gould is the cirque where Grinnell Glacier lies.
Swiftcurrent Lake Trail
Begin this easy 2.6-mile loop trail around Swiftcurrent Lake at either the Many Glacier Hotel or the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead. The views from the hotel looking west are simply staggering, so be sure to take the time to enjoy the beauty.
Hike to Grinnel Glacier
While very strenuous, the hike to Grinnel Glacier is also very popular. From the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead, at Many Glacier campground, it’s 10.6 miles round-trip with a net elevation gain of about 1800 feet. A popular alternative is to take the shuttle boat from Many Glacier Hotel’s dock across Swiftcurrent Lake. Walk the short path from the dock southwest to Lake Josephine and take a second shuttle boat across this lake and save about 3.6 miles of hiking. There is a cost for the shuttle boat rides. In general, the hike to the glacier is uphill and return trip downhill.
Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada
Glacier’s northern border abuts the southern border of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta Canada. In 1932, advocates of the 2 parks worked together to create Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. The Peace Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2017 became an International Dark Sky Park. Like Glacier, Waterton offers outstanding Rocky Mountain scenery and great hiking.
Check out our article for the Best Things to do in Waterton.
Glacier Hiking Summary
|John’s Lake Loop||2 mile loop||Easy|
|Trail of the Cedars||0.9 mile loop||Easy|
|Avalanche Lake Trail||4.6 mile linear||Easy to moderate|
|Hidden Lake Trail to Overlook||2.6 mile linear||Easy to moderate|
|Hidden Lake Trail to Lake||5 mile linear||Moderate|
|Highline Trail (Logan Pass to the Loop pullout)||11.8 miles one way||Hard|
|Sunrift Gorge||less than 0.1 mile linear||Easy|
|Baring Falls||0.6 mile linear||Easy|
|Sun Point Nature Trail (between Sun Point and Sunrift Gorge shuttle stops)||1.1 miles one way||Easy to moderate|
|Running Eagle Falls Trail||0.6 mile linear||Easy|
|Swiftcurrent Nature Trail||2.6 mile loop||Easy|
|Grinnell Glacier Trail from Grinnell Glacier Trailhead||10.6 mile linear||Hard|
|Grinnell Glacier Trail from west end of Lake Josephine||7 mile linear||Hard|
Vehicle Reservation System
The vehicle reservation system, begun in 2021, has been expanded to four areas of the park: Going-to-the-Sun Road, the North Fork, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier. The system is a pilot project to try to reduce congestion and protect the park during peak visiting periods.
How does the vehicle reservation system work?
Separate reservations are required for each area. Reservations are in addition to a Park Pass needed by all visitors to enter the park and must be purchased before arrival at park entrances. Vehicle reservations are required for entry between 6 am and 3 pm. Reservations are not required for entry after 3pm OR if you are spending the night at a park accommodation.
Is a vehicle reservation required year-round?
Western entrances to Going-to-the-Sun Road and the North Fork, require vehicle registration between May 26 and September 10.
Eastern entrances to Going-to-the-Sun Road, Two Medicine or Many Glacier require registration only between July 1 and September 10.
How much does a reservation cost?
The only cost is a processing fee of $2.00.
How long does a vehicle registration last?
Reservations for Going-to-the-sun Road are for 3 consecutive days. All other reservations are for 1 day.
Do I need a separate reservation for each area?
Yes. For example, if you intend to be on Going-to-the-Sun Road and in Many Glacier on the same day, you will need 2 reservations.
When are reservations available for purchase?
They are released in monthly blocks beginning roughly 120 days in advance. The May and June block is released February 1, July block March 1 and so on. A limited number of reservations are held back and released daily at 8 am 24-hours in advance (e.g., remaining vehicle reservations for July 1 are available on June 30). For full details and to purchase reservations visit the Glacier National Park Vehicle Registration System webpage.
Know before you go
What is the best time to visit Glacier National Park?
July to September. There is often snow in June and October which closes the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The road and all park amenities close in winter.
When is peak tourist season?
July and August. The tourist season here is short and busy so try to be flexible in your choices and have a backup plan in case of large crowds, unexpected snowfall or forest fires. Some services and lodging options open as early as mid-April and close by mid-October. Check the park website for specifics.
What are the best short hikes in Glacier National Park?
If you have limited time, we recommend exploring some of the following short hikes (all under 1 mile in length): Trail of the Cedars, Sun Point Nature Trail/Baring Falls and Running Eagle Falls Trail.
What are some easy hikes in Glacier National Park?
If you are looking for a nice afternoon hike that isn’t too difficult, we recommend one of the following hikes: Avalanche Lake Trail, Hidden Lake Trail to Overlook and Swiftcurrent Lake Trail.
What is the weather like in Glacier National Park?
Weather is varied. Summer can be hot during the day and cool off dramatically at night. Even snow in the middle of the day is a possibility. Be prepared for anything. Wear sturdy shoes and warm clothes at any time of year. Dress in layers, as the weather in the mountains can change rapidly. Bring rain and sun protection year-round.
Are park waters safe to drink?
While generally clean, they could contain harmful bacteria and parasites found in most untreated waters. Carry water from the park’s treated sources. There are no taps on the trails.
Are there bears in Glacier?
Yes this is bear country, so be aware. Carry bear spray and know how to use it. Hiking in groups is recommended. Don’t walk silently. Announce your presence by talking, singing or clapping. Wearing bells is not enough. Information is available from park facilities about bear safety.
How long will it take me to do these hikes?
For an average hiker, assume an average walking pace of 3 miles per hour but you also need to take into account terrain, elevation gain and the weight you carry as all will have an impact. For every 1,000 feet of elevation a good rough guide is to add 1 hour to your hike time. A 3-mile trip with 1,000 feet elevation gain would take an average hiker about 2 hours.
How do you get to Glacier National Park?
The closest airports are Glacier Park International Airport outside Kalispell, Montana and Great Falls International Airport which accept domestic flights from western US airline hub cities. The closest Canadian airport is Calgary International Airport.
Car rental is available at all airports. Amtrak’s East Glacier station is open from April to October and Whitefish is open year-round.
Are RV’s and campers allowed on the Going-to-the-Sun Road?
Maybe. There are height and length restrictions on the Going-to-the-Sun Road due to its narrow width and hairpin turns. Check the Glacier National Park – Directions webpage for specifics.
Is there public transportation in Glacier National Park?
There is no public transportation network. In the peak season only, the park offers a free “hop on/ hop off” shuttle service along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Another option is to consider taking a Red Bus Tour.
What is a Red Bus Tour?
These are “for purchase” organized tours varying in length from 2.5 to 9 hours, with a knowledgeable park guide. The tour utilizes Red Jammers, the vintage red White Motor Company/Bender Body Company Model 706 buses, that have been used in the park since 1936.
Do I need a permit to camp in the back country?
Yes. Permits are available from ranger stations.
Where can I get information when I arrive?
There are three Visitor Centers in Glacier National Park. These are located by the St. Mary (eastern end) park entrance, at Logan Pass (park center) and at the Apgar (western end) entrance.
There are Ranger Stations at Two Medicine Lake and Many Glacier where you can get your questions answered as well.
Accommodations near Glacier National Park
There are a number of “in-park” options available; hotel, motel, cabins and campgrounds but reserve early as they fill quickly.
Looking for an accommodation near Glacier National Park?
Whitefish makes a great home base while exploring Glacier National Park. Check out these great options.
- Duck Inn Lodge – Whitefish – Where We Stayed
- The Garrison Inn – Kalispell – Highly rated
- Here are other great hotels in Whitefish
- Here are other hotels in Glacier National Park Region
For more great Montana destinations, check out our feature article, 5 Best Montana Road Trips – The Ultimate Guide.
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