In this article, we explore the top sites and attractions in Glacier National Park, Montana, known for its outdoor adventures, hiking trails, pristine lakes, and colorful wildflowers. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a first-time tourist, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Discovering Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is situated in the northwest corner of Montana, right at the border with Canada. This colossal park spans over a million acres and is celebrated for its towering mountains, pristine lakes, cascading waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and, of course, its stunning glaciers. The park is divided into various areas for exploration, with the most popular and accessible parts being the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Many Glacier, and Two Medicine. In this article, we’ll delve into these areas and provide our top things to do, which encompass easy hikes, challenging hikes, and activities beyond hiking.
1. The Iconic “Going-to-the-Sun Road”
One of the park’s highlights is the “Going-to-the-Sun Road,” a 50-mile scenic drive stretching from the west entrance to St. Mary Lake. It’s one of the most scenic drives in America and offers breathtaking views of the park’s landscapes. The entire drive takes around one and a half hours, but you’ll want more time to make stops along the way. There are numerous turnouts for parking and enjoying the stunning views. Some of our favorite stops include McDonald Falls, Sacred Dancing Cascade, Red Rock Point, the Loop, Paradise Meadow, St. Mary Lake Overlook, and Wild Goose Island Lookout, which is especially mesmerizing at sunset.
2. Logan Pass: A Hiker’s Paradise
Logan Pass serves as the highest elevation reachable by car and is the starting point for two spectacular hiking trails: Hidden Lake and the Highline Trail. These trails provide opportunities to witness wildlife and enjoy panoramic mountain vistas.
3. Hidden Lake Overlook Hike
Beginning from Logan Pass, the Hidden Lake Overlook is another favored short hike within Glacier National Park. Combining boardwalks and gravel trails, it guides you through a beautiful alpine meadow where you may encounter the park’s rich wildlife, including bighorn sheep. The three-mile round trip trail with 574 feet of elevation gain is considered an easy hike in comparison to others we’ll cover later in the video.
4. “Trail of the Cedars” and Avalanche Lake
The “Trail of the Cedars” takes you through the park’s dense forest, providing a quick and scenic hike. You can extend your adventure by continuing on to Avalanche Lake, offering a total of 4.5 miles of natural beauty. The Avalanche Lake Trail offers a moderate out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of about 800 feet. Starting at the Trail of the Cedars, it takes you through a lush forest along Avalanche Creek, leading to the picturesque Avalanche Lake. You can also choose to hike along the lake’s shoreline, adding approximately 1.6 miles to the hike. Keep in mind that this trail is quite popular, so it’s best to start early or hike later in the day.
5. Saint Mary Valley and Virginia Falls: Waterfall Wonderland
Saint Mary Valley, located near Logan Pass, has several stunning waterfalls, including Virginia Falls and St. Mary Falls. These falls and their surroundings are a refreshing stop for hikers. Alongside St. Mary Lake, several cascading waterfalls can be found. The St. Mary and Virginia Falls Trail takes you from the lake’s edge through a forest recovering from a 2015 fire. Upon reaching the two-tiered waterfall, you can continue up the trail to the even more impressive Virginia Falls. The round-trip hike to both waterfalls takes about two hours.
6. Many Glacier: Swiss-Style Beauty
Many Glacier is another picturesque area within the park, offering early morning hiking opportunities, rustic accommodations, and various activities like hiking to Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake.
7. Paddle Your Way: Lake McDonald and Josephine Lake
For a different perspective, explore the park by paddling across Lake McDonald or Josephine Lake, offering a unique way to experience the natural beauty. Lake McDonald, accessed from the West Entrance near West Glacier, is the largest and most popular lake in Glacier National Park. It boasts crystal-clear waters and picturesque surroundings. You can enjoy various activities here, such as leisurely strolls along the lake, sunbathing, scenic boat tours, kayak rentals, and evening programs at Apgar Campground Amphitheater. Don’t miss the historic Lake McDonald Lodge, built in 1914, located at the lake’s edge.
8. Two Medicine: A Quieter Experience
Two Medicine, with reduced foot traffic, is an ideal destination to avoid crowds. Explore various hiking trails leading to waterfalls and mountain slopes, and even consider wilderness camping for an extended stay. The Two Medicine area, located in the park’s southeast, offers a slightly off-the-beaten-path experience, receiving fewer visitors compared to Going-to-the-Sun Road or Many Glacier. Nonetheless, the scenery here is equally breathtaking. Besides soaking in the beauty of Two Medicine Lake from its shores, you can embark on a tranquil boat tour or explore several scenic trails.
9. North Fork and Goat Haunt: Solitude Seekers’ Retreat
For solitude seekers, a trip to the North Fork and Goat Haunt area offers isolated and wild terrain accessible via rough dirt roads. Bowman Lake and Kintla Lake are two destinations that shouldn’t be missed.
10. The Splendor of Cracker Lake Hike
Cracker Lake is likely the most beautiful lake in the park. The trailhead is situated near the Many Glacier Hotel in the Many Glacier area of the park. Although the hike covers about 13 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of over 1,600 feet, it offers a gradual ascent. The trail is moderately difficult due to its length, but the gradual incline makes it manageable. You can find a complete overview of the hiking route in the video’s description.
11. The Enchanting Grinnell Glacier Hike
Our absolute favorite hike in the park is the Grinnell Glacier Trail, known for its stunning scenery from start to finish. The trail commences near the Many Glacier Hotel and is approximately 10.5 miles round-trip. Along the way to Grinnell Glacier, you’ll come across picturesque lakes, alpine landscapes, waterfalls, wildflowers, and numerous viewpoints. A viewpoint just before reaching the glacier offers fantastic views of the layers and the lakes below.
12. Embarking on the Highline Trail Hike
The Highline Trail, which follows the Continental Divide, provides awe-inspiring views of towering peaks, alpine meadows, and expansive glaciers. The trail can be hiked in different ways, but we recommend the point-to-point route from Logan Pass to the Granite Park Chalet, finishing on the Loop Trail. This route involves minimal elevation gain and doesn’t require hiking back the same way. Along the trail, you’ll encounter the Grinnell Glacier Lookout, a side trip worth taking for its incredible viewpoints. Please note that Logan Pass parking fills up quickly, so arriving early is advisable. If you conclude your hike on the Loop Trail, you can take the free shuttle back to Logan Pass.
Blackfeet Indian Reservation
Black Bones RV Resort and Campground, located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation just outside Glacier, on the banks of the lower St. Mary’s Lake. The hosts at the reservation were very accommodating. Even the tribal chief came out to welcome them at a performance featuring traditional Native dances in full costume.
Additional Hike Options
While these are our top recommendations, Glacier National Park offers numerous other trails to explore. For example, the Red Rock Lake and Falls trail in the Many Glacier area provides captivating views of red-hued rock formations. Additionally, the Iceberg Trail, which we were unable to hike due to bear activity in the area, is worth considering. The video’s description includes a list of other beautiful hikes you can explore in the park.
Exploring Glacier National Park by Boat
Exploring the park’s pristine lakes can be achieved by taking a boat tour. Our journey led us to St. Mary Lake, departing from the Rising Sun Boat Dock. The one-hour cruise allowed us to soak in the beauty of the surrounding peaks, small islands, and glacial-carved valleys while our guide shared insights into the lake’s geology. Boat tours are also available on Lake McDonald, Two Medicine Lake, Swiftcurrent Lake, and Josephine Lake.
Camping Options At Glacier National Park
If you are planning to camp in Glacier National Park here are some options to find the perfect campsite, so you can enjoy a beautiful night under the stars in Glacier National Park. However, be aware that securing a camping spot can be highly competitive.
- Apgar: Located at the park’s western entrance, Apgar is the largest campground, ideal for RVs and close to major attractions.
- Fish Creek: Situated on the shore of Lake McDonald, Fish Creek offers showers and is well-developed but has smaller RV sites.
- Spragg Creek: A small tent camping campground along Lake McDonald’s shoreline, with no space for trailers.
- Avalanche Creek: Near the popular Trail of the Cedars trail and Avalanche Lake, this campground has beautiful but not trailer-friendly sites.
- Rising Sun: Convenient for hiking trails and Logan Pass but may require hard-sided camping due to bear activity. It’s not ideal for larger vehicles.
- St. Mary: Offers open views and better options for larger RVs and trailers, suitable for exploring the park’s east side.
Travel Tips for Your Glacier National Park Visit
Following travel tips can be useful to enhance your experience in Glacier National Park:
- Plan your Glacier National Park visit during the summer months, typically from June to September, when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is open. Check the official National Park website for updates on road status.
- Be aware of vehicle restrictions on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Vehicles longer than 21 feet or wider than 8 feet are not allowed, including most RVs and trailers. If you have a larger vehicle, take advantage of the free Park Shuttle.
- Glacier National Park is a popular destination, so plan your visit in advance. You’ll need a vehicle reservation to access some areas, which can be reserved up to four months in advance.
- Be bear-aware and carry bear spray. Familiarize yourself with bear safety protocols, as the park is home to a significant population of grizzly bears.
- Prepare for unpredictable weather conditions. Pack layers of clothing, waterproof gear, and sturdy hiking shoes to ensure you’re ready for various weather scenarios.
In Conclusion: A Nature Lover’s Paradise
Glacier National Park is a stunning destination for nature lovers, offering something for everyone, from trail hikers to wildlife watchers. If you have limited time, drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and visit the Logan Pass area. For those with more time, exploring Many Glacier, Two Medicine, or the North Fork and Goat Haunt area provides a deeper and more secluded experience. To avoid crowds and maximize your chances of wildlife sightings and sunset views, plan your visits during early mornings or late evenings. Enjoy the natural wonders of this incredible park.
John Muir’s Perspective
Finally, we’d like to share the words of famous author and naturalist John Muir on his experience in Glacier National Park:
“Wander here a whole summer if you can. Thousands of God’s wild blessings will search you and soak you as if you were a sponge, and the big days will go uncounted.”