Thursday, February 7, 2013

Glacier National Park: Best Hikes

The scenery at Glacier National Park in Montana will take your breath away!  The Road to the Sun is one of the most famous park roads for its stunning views.  After visiting Glacier numerous times, there are a few hikes that have become my favorites.
1. Highline Trail
The highline trail has some of the most beautiful scenic views in Glacier National Park.  The trail starts at Logan Pass Visitor Center, and continues parallel with the Road to the Sun for the first part of the hike. 
As you start there is a short section that is cut into the side of the mountain with exposed ledges.  For those of you that are scared of heights they added a rope on the one side to hold onto.  This part does not last long.  You can see on this picture the Road to the Sun below the trail.
This trail offers many scenic views as well as opportunities for wildlife.  We saw mountain sheep, goats, and marmots along the way.
The trail continues for 7.6 miles to the Granite Park Chalet.  Don't let the distance of the hike intimidate you though.  Most of the hike is level with a little climb before reaching the chalet.  You may even hike in a little snow. 
A park employee hikes out to the chalet everyday to open up the store to sell snacks and drinks to hikers.  Its a great place to stop and eat, talk with other hikers, and enjoy the view.
 From the chalet you can continue on towards Grinnel Glacier, or take the shorter route down to the Road to the Sun on the Loop Trail.  It is 3.8 miles from the Chalet to the bottom of the Loop Trail.  From there a shuttle bus can take you back to Logan Pass where you began.
The Loop trail is a steep descent back down.  Although it will be easier on your lungs, your feet and legs may feel the effects by the time you reach the bottom.  This part of the hike was once completely burned by a fire in 2003, but is beginning to grow back.  The Highline Trail is definitely a favorite and popular choice in Glacier National Park!
Total Distance:  11.5 miles
Difficulty:  Moderate
Tips:  Hiking poles help while hiking in the snow and provide relief on your knees when going up or down hills.  Wear sturdy shoes, especially for the steep descent down the Loop Trail.

2. Ptarmigan Tunnel
The trailhead begins at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn at the end of Many Glaciers Road.  The start of the trail requires little effort.  At 2.5 miles you will reach Ptarmigan Falls, shortly after will be a junction to Iceberg Lake which is worth the extra distance.  The Ptarmigan Trail however will turn right shortly after.  Once turning, the trail gains alot of elevation and the climb begins!
This is a common area for bear sitings in the park.  While we did not see any on this hike, we started the trail with two park rangers running past us with guns over their shoulders.  This definitely got me thinking about all the possibilities of what could have happened, and I made sure to make noise around every corner. 
The climb will continue to be steep, but the view that awaits is worth it!
The trail will open up with a view of Ptarmigan Lake and the switchbacks up to the tunnel.
While most of the trail is through the woods, the last half mile up to the tunnel will feel like your hiking in the dessert as you climb the steep switchbacks on gravel with no vegetation.
The 240 foot tunnel was originally built in the 1930's for horses to pass through. The park added steel doors to the tunnel which remain closed from October through July.
 Through the tunnel is a spectacular view of Elizabeth Lake.

Total Distance: 11 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Tips: Bear spray is something you should always carry in your pack when hiking in Glacier.  You can also check out my tips for bear encounters post.  The mosquito's were also pretty bad during alot of the trail, so don't forget mosquito repellent.

There are alot of great family friendly hikes in the park.  Here are some of my recommended shorter and easy hikes:
1. Sunrift Gorge
This trail is only feet off of Road to the Sun near St. Mary's Lake.  This narrow channel that was formed from glacier water is a popular stop for all visitors.
2. St. Mary's Lake
Stop at one of the overlooks or hike along St. Mary's Lake. 
3. St. Mary's and Virginia Falls
Take the 3 mile hike to St. Mary and Virginia Falls.
4. Barings Falls
Only 1.5 miles to this beautiful waterfall.
5. Grinnel Lake
 Many Glaciers visitor center has a lodge overlooking one of Glaciers beautiful lakes.  Relax and enjoy the view, or take one of the many hikes around Swiftcurrent, Sherburne, Grinnel or Josephine Lake which are all nearby.
6.  Running Eagles Falls
Near the Two Medicine Visitor Center is this easy 3 mile hike to Running Eagles Falls.  On a hot day it is not uncommon to see people swimming and enjoying the cool glacier water on this hike.
Hope you are all able to visit and enjoy the wildlife and scenery in Glacier National Park as much as I do!   Let me know if you ever have any traveling or hiking questions!


  1. Oh my gosh GORGEOUS photos. I feel inspired to go hiking now, even though I think I've only been once in my life- lol!

  2. I love glacier national park! It's so beautiful. Have you ever crossed over onto the Canadian side, Waterton national park? That's where I normally go hiking. So lovely :)


  3. What beautiful photos! This is one of the places I'm most looking forward to visiting :) I love how informative your description is, definitely added some must sees to my trip plan!