11 Best Hikes in Glacier National Park for Every Skill Level
Thanks to over 700 miles of trails, Glacier National Park hikes run the gamut from short and sweet to long, multi-day backpacking journeys. What they all have in common, though, is gorgeous scenery. With glaciers, waterfalls, and colorful wildflowers surrounding these routes, it's no wonder nearly three million visitors came to the park in 2022. And, when the hiking boots come off at night, famously dark skies make Glacier National Park ideal for stargazing: Along with Waterton Lakes National Park, which borders Glacier National Park across the Canadian border, this area has been named the world’s first transnational international dark sky park by The International Dark Sky Association.
From strenuous hikes with sweeping views, to relaxed boardwalk trails past waterfalls, there are Glacier National Park hikes that will thrill experienced and new trekkers alike. Below, we cover the best hikes in Glacier National Park, like Avalanche Lake and the 7,600-foot-elevation Piegan Pass trek—plus when to go and what to book ahead of time.
What to know before you go
Summer and fall are the best seasons to hike in Glacier National Park as more services are on offer. The roads are fully open to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road from early to mid-July until mid-October, and you can take advantage of free shuttle services from July 1 (or whenever Going-to-the-Sun opens; whichever comes first) through Labor Day. The shuttle is wheelchair-accessible, can be caught from the visitor center, and drops passengers off at several trailheads and viewpoints.
From a hike that ends with hot springs under the aurora borealis to an epic climb through America’s version of Patagonia, these mountain hikes have it all.
Temperatures tend to be low and cool during the summer and fall, rarely climbing above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re looking to fully immerse yourself in the scenery, consider camping in Glacier National Park for a few nights. (In the summer, it’s recommended to make a reservation for campsites that accept them.) The park has also announced plans for major construction during the 2023 summer season so prepare for traffic delays and closures starting in May. There will be at least a 30-minute wait due to construction on Going-to-the-Sun Road along Lake McDonald and there will be no entry to Going-to-the-Sun Road from the West Entrance before the 6 a.m. reservation period. Use the St. Mary Entrance to access Going-to-the-Sun Road to avoid delays.
On that note, you will have to pay an entrance fee for Glacier (unless visiting on a free entrance day) and vehicle reservations are required for the four areas of the park—Going-to-the-Sun Road, North Fork, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier. Glacier Institute Tours offers guided day hikes and multi-day hikes as well as backpacking trips if you prefer to explore with the guidance of a local expert.
For tips on where to stay in Glacier National Park, read our complete guide.
The best hikes in Glacier National Park
Distance: 4.6 miles
Best for: Cooling down in the lake and glistening basins
Get a taste of everything that makes Montana’s Rocky Mountains so special at Avalanche Lake. Start at Trail of the Cedars and walk until you reach Avalanche Creek where you will follow signs to Avalanche Lake trail. After meandering through a forest of cedar and hemlock trees you'll arrive at the water, formed by the melted snow and ice of Sperry Glacier. After completing the first half of your hike, enjoy a picnic or a dip at the beach area—despite the name, the lake tends to be warm in the summer.
St. Mary Falls & Virginia Falls
Distance: 3.8 miles for St. Mary; 5.4 miles total with Virginia Falls
Best for: Stunning views of mountains and waterfalls
On this trail, you’ll visit four waterfalls (two named and two unnamed). The hike begins from the St. Mary Falls Shuttle Stop, but you can also start your hike from the St. Mary Falls Trailhead. People love the St. Mary Falls hike for the spectacular 35-foot triple-tiered waterfall, and the fact that you can see several cascades along a single trail. Consider adding Virginia Falls (1.6 miles; easy), another multi-tiered waterfall trail, to your route, by continuing down St. Mary Trailhead.
Distance: 9 miles
Best for: Spectacular peaks and panoramic views
Starting from Siyeh Bend Trailhead, two miles east of Logan Pass, this route starts at a lower elevation of 5,810 feet and passes through a dense spruce-fir forest as it climbs skyward. Emerge from the trees and you’ll be rewarded with views of Blackfoot Glacier, the largest glacier in the park standing tall at 9,579 feet. The trail is also part of the Continental Divide Trail, which runs from the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico to the town of Waterton Park in Canada. Tack on another eight miles to reach Many Glacier Hotel or return to Siyeh Bend.
Hidden Lake Overlook
Distance: 2.6 miles
Best for: Outstanding views and wildflowers
Starting behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center, Hidden Lake Overlook is a moderately challenging route and a popular hike in Glacier National Park. Once you arrive at the Overlook, enjoy panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. You will get a glimpse of Sperry Glacier, but make sure to look out for wild animals—mountain goats are fairly common in the area, as are bighorn sheep and marmots. The parking lot at Logan Pass fills up quickly so get an early start to avoid the crowds. (Or consider taking the shuttle bus, as cars are turned away once the lot is full.)
Distance: 9.6 miles
Best for: Beautiful icebergs
This lake gets its name from the icebergs that float in its emerald waters come summer (earlier in the season the surface is frozen solid), making it what we consider one of the best mountain hikes in the US. The hike itself starts and finishes at the historic Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, built in 1933. Tackle this trail in the morning as the mountains create significant shadows as the day progresses; the trail also starts to get crowded in the middle of the day. Or, consider reserving a campsite to take in these views for even longer. Keep bear spray on you as there have been sightings of grizzly bears along the path.
Distance: 13.6 miles
Best for: Valley views and solitude
One of the most diverse trails in Glacier National Park, the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail takes hikers through the middle of Swiftcurrent Valley and up to the continental divide—meaning it starts flat but becomes quite strenuous as you climb more than 2,300 vertical feet in less than three miles. Make sure to peel off the route onto a side trail that leads to Swiftcurrent Lookout where you’ll get 360-degree panoramic views of mountain peaks, glaciers, and lakes on the highest maintained trail in Glacier. To ensure you'll make it back before sunset, start this hike as early as possible—it takes most people all day.
Running Eagle Falls
Distance: 0.6 miles
Best for: An easy, family-friendly hike
Located 1.1 miles west of the Two Medicine entrance, Running Eagle Falls is also known as "Trick Falls" because there are two falls that flow at this site rather than one. The flat-out-and-back trail is well-maintained and wheelchair accessible, with alpine forest and mountain peaks on both sides. Pull off at the viewing deck for a closer look at the falls, or sit on the rocks and soak your feet in the cool water.
Distance: 12.6 miles
Best for: A long but straightforward journey
This trail begins at the Many Glacier Hotel parking lot—and you'll need to be prepared to share the path with horses. But it'll take you through a forest, before the trees open up and offer a glimpse of rugged mountains beyond, including Mount Siyeh, one of the tallest peaks in the park at 10,019 feet. If you still have energy, you can head to the far end of the lake to see the old Cracker Lake Mine site, which was established in 1897 after copper was discovered nearby. Today, hikers will find remnants of the old mine . Though this trail is long, it is fairly easy to follow, making it ideal for active families.
Gunsight Pass Trail
Distance: 20 miles (one way)
Best for: Backpacking and camping
Starting at Jackson Glacier Overlook on Going-to-the-Sun Road and ending at Lake McDonald Lodge, this one-way hike is perfect for adventurers who want a two- or three-day overnight hiking adventure. (You’ll need to secure a backcountry permit, but you can sample the trail on a day hike to Gunsight Lake if you aren't successful.) During the first six miles, you'll pass Reynolds Creek and marshy meadows before arriving at Gunsight Lake. From there, navigate long, moderately-steep switchbacks, gaining an elevation of 3,190 feet. The upside: Views of Gunsight Mountain, Fusillade Mountains, and Gunsight Lake. Take your time passing cedars and waterfalls, and truly enjoy the area by booking campsites at Gunsight Lake, Lake Ellen Wilson, and near Sperry Chalet.
Distance: 11 miles
Best for: Views worth the effort
Grinnell is perhaps the most famous glacier in the park, and the out-and-back hike to reach it is steep. But the views don't quit here, with vistas of beautiful Grinnell Lake, waterfalls, and Salamander Glacier. This trek usually takes five hours, but you can shave off some of that time by taking the shuttle boat across Swiftcurrent Lake and Josephine Lake, making the hike only 7.5 miles roundtrip. Make noise while you walk as this area is prime grizzly bear country.
Trail of the Cedars
Distance: 1.4 miles
Best for: Encompassing trees and wheelchair and stroller accessibility
This loop trail hike is one of the most popular short hikes in Glacier National Park and one of two wheelchair-accessible hikes. The hike begins and ends on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Walk among gigantic red cedar and black cottonwood trees commonly found in the Pacific Northwest. And bring your binoculars, as this area is home to thrush and swift birds. Continue down the trail another 1.6 miles in order to pair this hike with the Avalanche Lake hike.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler