Glacier National Park, often referred to as the “Crown of the Continent” because of its location and towering Rocky Mountain peaks, offers hikers more than 740 miles of maintained trails. More than 2 million visitors flock to this trekkers’ paradise each year during its short summer season. While many of those visitors spend some time hiking during their time in the park, relatively few take on the park’s more challenging and most rewarding trails.
As avid hikers who consider Glacier our favorite place in the world, we’ve covered a good portion of the park on foot. Here are the five trails we believe best represent the grandeur and awe-inspiring beauty of the park.
Siyeh Pass Trail
Glacier National Park is home to numerous ecosystems, many of which can be experienced on this one 10.3-mile point-to-point hike. The front end of the hike has you climbing through dense sub-alpine forests and high-alpine meadows ablaze with fiery red Indian Paintbrush (you gain 2,240 feet of elevation in all). Several shifting shale switchbacks take you to the barren saddle of the pass, where you can survey the dazzling vistas while the wind cools you down.
One especially welcome treat: When you hike Siyeh Pass from the Siyeh Bend to Sunrift Gorge, the descent is almost twice as long as the ascent. The protracted trek down into the verdant Baring Creek Valley is flanked by its namesake creek, which continues to shape the valley as it flows toward the trail’s end.
Viewfinder Tip: Glacier runs a free shuttle through the park, which makes it easy to do point-to-point hikes such as Siyeh Pass and the Highline-Loop trail.
Grinnell Glacier Trail
As you traverse this popular 11-mile round-trip trail, a chain of glacial lakes unfolds like a story. First is placid Swiftcurrent Lake. A short climb has you arriving at the foot of Lake Josephine, which is a favorite of the park’s Moose population. The trail then skirts Lake Josephine’s north side before it begins to ascend more aggressively toward Grinnell Glacier. Hikers are treated to views of distant Lake Grinnell far below the trail before arriving at the milky-green Upper Grinnell Lake, which often is heavy with glacier flour and floating chunks of ice.
Just when you need it most, you’ll encounter a waterfall that douses and refreshes as you take on the final ascent, a welcome respite that makes the final climb of the 1,600 feet of total elevation just a little easier.
Highline Trail to The Loop
Starting just a short walk from the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center is one of the park’s most popular hikes and the best way to acquaint yourself with the sheer magnificence of the area. The exposed trail clings to the side of the continental divide for 11.6 miles, gains a total of 1,920 feet in elevation, and provides unobstructed views of the west side of the park, including dizzying peeks down the entire Lake McDonald Valley.
Just before arriving at the historic Granite Park Chalet, a 0.8-mile, lung-busting spur takes you up to the edge of the knife blade-like Garden Wall and over to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook, where you are afforded epic views of the east side of the park.
Iceberg Lake Trail
Be prepared, this 9.4-mile round-trip hike starts with a very steep climb. The good news is that after about the first quarter mile, the trail flattens out (it climbs a total of 1,200 feet) and hugs the side of mountain, which provides open views to the entire Many Glacier area below. The bears that call this area home especially are fond of the slopes along this trail, so be very bear aware (and be sure to wear bear bells)! The expansive vista disappears as you tuck into a thick forest, where the shade gives some respite and ice-cold melt off streams down the mountainside.
After you’ve rested your legs and re-hydrated at Ptarmigan Falls, you’ll carry on until the forest gives way to fields bursting with Monet-like pastel wildflowers. Just beyond, in the ever-present shadows of Mount Wilbur, Iceberg Peak, and the Continental Divide, sits frigid Iceberg Lake.
Most visitors don’t make it down to the Two Medicine area on the Southeast side of the park, which makes it worth the trip all the more. Not far from the area’s visitor center and campground is the trailhead for the 6.2-mile round-trip Scenic Point hike. You’ll want to rest your legs before tackling the series of punishing switchbacks that total 2,350 feet in elevation gain. Stunted shrubs and silvery, long-dead trees inform you this is fairly inhospitable terrain.
As your quads burn and your lungs strive to fuel your ascent, you may wonder why you opted for this hike. Moments later, when you reach the zenith and have jaw-dropping views of East Glacier and Two Medicine Lake thousands of feet below, you’ll know why you did.
While we love camping in the backcountry, we also enjoy tackling hikes like these, knowing we can return to warm showers and fluffy beds. The Lodge at Whitefish Lake offers some of the most luxurious accommodations near the park. Additionally, if hiking isn’t your thing, you can experience other Glacier National Park trails on horseback.
What, in our opinion, makes a great hike?