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Glacier National Park – One Week of Great Hiking

by Valerie Vanr

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.

Take a week and experience this amazing place.

Reynolds Creek valley with Clements Mountain in background
Reynolds Creek valley with Clements Mountain in background

Glacier Trip Itinerary

  • Days 1 to 3 Going-to-the-Sun Road
  • Day 4 Two Medicine Lake and East Glacier
  • Day 5 Many Glacier
  • Days 6 and 7 Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier’s Canadian partner in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

Glacier Road Trip Map

Map of One Week Roadtrip Glacier NP
One Week Itinerary

We’ve highlighted 11 fantastic hikes below. They are perfect for relatively active people. Happy Hiking!

Going-to-the-Sun Road

This scenic road is a pivotal part of a visit to Glacier National Park.  Many spots have an area where you can pull over to see park highlights along the way. Often these pull-offs are also trailheads for some spectacular hiking options. 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.  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.

Vehicle comes through East Tunnel on Going-to-the-Sun Road
East Tunnel on Going-to-the-Sun Road

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.

New in 2021, to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road you need to purchase an Entry Ticket before arriving at the entrance gate.  This ticket is only required from Memorial Day weekend (May) through to Labour Day weekend (September). Daily tickets are released for purchase in two batches; 60 days and 2 days in advance.

For all the details, including several exclusions, and to purchase your entry ticket click here Glacier National Park Ticketed Entry Page.

The following 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

2 photos - left Sacred Dancing Cascade - right McDonald Falls
Left is Sacred Dancing Cascade. Right is McDonald Falls. You’ll see both on 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.

Lake McDonald

Dock and boat ramp on Lake McDonald Glacier NP
Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier

This is one of the most scenic lakes in the park. It measures 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 your 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

Walking boardwalk loop through cedar forest Trail of Cedars Glacier NP
Trail of the Cedars is a boardwalk loop through a cedar and hemlock forest.

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. The trail is busy but you’ll be glad you took the time to explore it. The trailhead is located close to Avalanche Campground’s entrance.

Blue water of Avalanche Creek cuts through mossy rocks Glacier NP
Beautiful Avalanche Creek runs through forest
Huge trees along Avalanche Lake Trail

Avalanche Lake Trail

Person looking over downed tree debris on Avalanche Lake
North end of Avalanche Lake

The 4.6 mile round-trip hike along Avalanche Creek to the lake is outstanding. At the opposite end of the lake, you’ll 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.

Couple looking across Avalanche Lake at 3 waterfalls
Looking across Avalanche Lake at waterfalls

Hidden Lake Trail

Hikers on boardwalk segment of Hidden Lake Trail Glacier NP
Off to Hidden Lake

Starting from behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center, you hike through an alpine meadow, see jagged mountain peaks, waterfalls and, upon reaching the overlook, Hidden Lake. The view is definitely worth the hike. The trail has sections of dirt trail and boardwalk with steps but is not technically challenging. It’s not meant for wheelchairs (or strollers though we saw people attempting this). 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.

Hidden Lake surrounded by mountains Glacier NP
This view of Hidden Lake is worth the hike.
Valley with mountains on all sides Glacier NP
View looking west from Hidden Lake Trail with edge of lake on left

If you want 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. You have to climb back up. The total round-trip hike from the parking lot to Hidden Lake is about 5.0 miles.

Logan Pass

Hikers on winding dirt section of Hidden Lake Trail Glacier NP
Heading back to Logan Pass on Hidden Lake Trail

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.

The highest point on Going-to-the-Sun Road 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.

Highline Trail

Standing on path through alpine meadow Highline Trail
Highline Trail travels through the meadow on the Continental Divide

The trail along the continental divide travels through stunning scenery. Highline is very popular. 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 they are walking mostly downhill 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.

Person on narrow section of Highline Trail Glacier NP
At times the Highline Trail is narrow and rough so grab the handrail
Person on narrow section of Highline Trail Glacier NP
Highline Trail along the Continental Divide

Sunrift Gorge Hikes

Person standing beside Baring Falls Glacier NP
The hidden Baring Falls

From the Sunrift Gorge parking area you have a couple hiking options.  On the north side of the road, hike in just 200 feet to see the water-carved Sunrift Gorge. A short 0.6 mile round-trip walk on the south side brings you through the woods to Baring Falls, a hidden waterfall. We visited in the fall and the colours of the valley were quite 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.

Person in front of St.Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island
Beautiful Saint Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island

Saint Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island

Saint Mary Lake is 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 is one of the most photographed spots in Glacier National Park.

Two Medicine

This area on the east side of the park, 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. There are 2 lakes here with Two Medicine Creek running between them and over Running Eagle Falls.

Running Eagle Falls Trail

Enjoy a pretty 0.6 mile round-trip hike to a waterfall on Two Medicine Creek which looks very different from spring to fall.  In the spring, when water volume is greater, there are actually 2 waterfalls here. 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 also has a wheelchair accessible loop.

Running Eagle Falls waterfalls from center of rock wall Glacier NP
Running Eagle Falls also has water flowing over the upper rocks in the spring.

East Glacier Park

Visit this small town, just outside the park and south of Two Medicine.  Many park visitors arrived here by train in the early part of the 20th Century. 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 today.

Drive 45 minutes north of East Glacier Park to Many Glacier, another less-visited but equally worth, area of the park.

Many Glacier

Grinnell Point background Swiftcurrent Lake foreground Glacier NP
Grinnell Point anchors the view over Swiftcurrent Lake.

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.

Person on rock ledge Swiftcurrent Falls
Swiftcurrent Falls is just before you get to Many Glacier Hotel

Swiftcurrent Lake Trail

Start 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 your time and enjoy the beauty surrounding you.

Swiftcurrent Lake with Many Glacier Hotel and mountains in background
Looking over Swiftcurrent Lake to Many Glacier Hotel

Hike to Grinnel Glacier

This very strenuous hike 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.  You will 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

Foreground MV International docked with Prince of Wales Hotel background
MV International and Prince of Wales Hotel

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 biodiversity.

Check out our article for the Best Things to do in Waterton.

Glacier Hiking Summary

TrailRound-trip hikeDifficulty
John’s Lake Loop2 mile loopEasy
Trail of the Cedars0.9 mile loopEasy
Avalanche Lake Trail4.6 mile linearEasy to moderate
Hidden Lake Trail to Overlook2.6 mile linearEasy to moderate
Hidden Lake Trail to Lake5 mile linearModerate
Highline Trail (Logan Pass to the Loop pullout)11.8 miles one wayHard
Sunrift Gorgeless than 0.1 mile linearEasy
Baring Falls0.6 mile linearEasy
Sun Point Nature Trail (between Sun Point and Sunrift Gorge shuttle stops)1.1 miles one wayEasy to moderate
Running Eagle Falls Trail0.6 mile linearEasy
Swiftcurrent Nature Trail2.6 mile loopEasy
Grinnell Glacier Trail from Grinnell Glacier Trailhead10.6 mile linearHard
Grinnell Glacier Trail from west end of Lake Josephine7 mile linearHard
Person walking through woods on Avalanche Lake Trail Glacier NP
Walking through woods on Avalanche Lake Trail

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.
Vehicle on roadside with Chief Mountain in background Glacier NP

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.Blue Hidden Lake and mountains Glacier NP

What is the weather like in Glacier National Park?

Weather is varied here. 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. As per the park’s website,

“Vehicles, and vehicle combinations, longer than 21 feet (including bumpers) or wider than 8 feet (including mirrors), are prohibited between Avalanche Campground and the Rising Sun picnic area parking. Vehicle and vehicle combinations over 10 feet in height may have difficulty driving west from Logan Pass to the Loop, due to rock overhangs.”

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.Vintage red buses, nicknamed Red Jammers, used 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.Logan Pass Visitor Center with flags of USA and Canada flying

Map of Glacier National Park

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 Hotels

Make Whitefish your home base while you explore Glacier National Park. Check out these great options.

Reflections of trees in blue pond Whitefish Montana
Reflections in pond beside Duck Inn Whitefish Montana
Couple holding hands on boardwalk in cedar forest Trail of Cedars
Trail of the Cedars is a boardwalk through the cedar forest

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