Home USA The Best Hikes at Glacier National Park – One Week Itinerary

The Best Hikes at Glacier National Park – One Week Itinerary

by Valerie Vanr

Glacier National Park has hikes for all ability levels. Anyone can get out and experience pristine wilderness in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. The engineering marvel, Going-to-the-Sun Road, provides easy access to hiking trails and a simple way to experience the splendor of Glacier National Park.

We provide an itinerary for a one week visit and highlight fantastic hikes that are the perfect way to experience this amazing place.

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

1-Week Glacier National Park Trip Itinerary

This 7-day itinerary explores the park from west to east in 5 days and then travels north to Canada and Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier’s Canadian partner in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

The vehicle reservation system is in effect in three areas of the park during peak times of the year.

Glacier National Park Map

Map Glacier National Park starred highlights
Click on the map for an interactive version.

9 Best Glacier National Park Hikes

This table lists a number of Glacier National Park hikes ranging from less than a mile to just under 12 miles one way. We have highlighted our 9 favourites. Click on the trail name link for more details.

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
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
Andy is walking through woods on Avalanche Lake Trail.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

This scenic road is an essential part of a visit to Glacier National Park.  The 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.

Vehicle comes through East Tunnel on Going-to-the-Sun Road
East Tunnel photographed from a pull-off on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Consider the free “hop-on/hop-off” shuttle, which operates in the summer, to avoid the frustration of finding parking.  The shuttle stops at most of the trailheads on the road.

These are Going-to-the-Sun Road’s TOP 7 hikes and other must-see stops as you drive the impressive road from west to east.

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.

2 photos - left Sacred Dancing Cascade - right McDonald Falls
We are standing on the bridge above Sacred Dancing Cascade. McDonald Falls is on the right. See both on John’s Lake Loop.

Lake McDonald

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.

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

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.

Walking boardwalk loop through cedar forest Trail of Cedars Glacier NP
I am walking along the boardwalk on the Trail of the Cedars loop through a cedar and hemlock forest.

Avalanche Lake Trail

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

Person looking over downed tree debris on Avalanche Lake
I am trying to take a picture on my phone from the north end of Avalanche Lake toward the south.

Logan Pass

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.

Hikers on winding dirt section of Hidden Lake Trail Glacier NP
Andy is on his way back to Logan Pass.

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

Hikers on boardwalk segment of Hidden Lake Trail Glacier NP
Andy standing on one of the sections of boardwalk on the 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.

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

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 Trail

Standing on path through alpine meadow Highline Trail
Andy has stopped to check out the meadow’s fall colors on the Highline Trail.

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.

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

See the water-carved Sunrift Gorge on the north side of the road.

Baring Falls

On the south side of the road at Sunrift Gorge, hike through the woods to the hidden Baring Falls. Begin at the parking area and enjoy the short 0.6 mile round-trip walk. We visited in the fall and the colours of the valley were lovely.

Person standing beside Baring Falls Glacier NP
We managed to find the hidden Baring Falls so I posed in front of it.

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.

Person in front of St.Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island
Andy has beautiful Saint Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island as his backdrop.

Two Medicine

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.

Running Eagle Falls waterfalls from center of rock wall Glacier NP
This picture of Running Eagle Falls was taken in the fall. In the spring, water also flows over the upper rocks.

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.

Many Glacier

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.

Grinnell Point background Swiftcurrent Lake foreground Glacier NP
Grinnell Point dominates the view over Swiftcurrent Lake.
Person on rock ledge Swiftcurrent Falls
Swiftcurrent Falls is just before you get to Many Glacier Hotel

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.

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

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 Lakes offers outstanding Rocky Mountain scenery and great hiking.

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

Boat dock lake green-roofed building on hill

Vehicle Reservation System

The vehicle reservation system is in effect in three areas of the park during peak times of the year: Going-to-the-Sun Road entering from the west, the North Fork, and Many Glacier. The system is an effort 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. If you are spending the night at a park accommodation (campground, lodge, hotel) or have commercial activity reservations (e.g. tours, horseback riding) the proof of that reservation becomes vehicle entry pass (a separate vehicle reservation is not required).

Is a vehicle reservation required year-round?

Going-to-the-Sun Road (western entrance) and the North Fork – vehicle reservation required between May 24 and September 8, 2024.
Many Glacier – reservations required between July 1 and September 8, 2024.

How much does a reservation cost?

The only cost is a processing fee of $2.00.

How long does a vehicle registration last?

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?

A portion are released on a daily rolling basis 120 days (approximately 4 months) in advance, starting on January 25, 2024 at 8 am MST. A limited number of reservations are released daily at 7pm MDT for the next day starting May 23, 2024 on a daily rolling basis. For full details and to purchase reservations visit the Glacier National Park Vehicle Reservations webpage.

Vehicle on roadside with Chief Mountain in background Glacier NP
View of Chief Mountain from Chief Mountain Highway

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 about conditions.

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. 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 and the “Are there restrictions on Going-to-the-Sun Road?” dropdown 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?

“For purchase” organized tours are called Red Bus Tours. 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. They varying in length from 2.5 to 9 hours, with a knowledgeable park guide. 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. They 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 rangers will answer your questions as well.

Logan Pass Visitor Center with flags of USA and Canada flying
Exhibits at Logan Pass Visitor Center discuss the flora and fauna around Logan Pass

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

Whitefish makes a great home base while exploring Glacier National Park. Check out these great options.

Reflections of trees in blue pond Whitefish Montana
Reflections in pond beside Duck Inn Whitefish Montana

For more great Montana destinations, check out our feature article, 5 Best Montana Road Trips – The Ultimate Guide.

Grassland river valley mountains behind

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