Glacier National Park, the centerpiece of the “Crown of the Continent” Ecosystem in the U.S. Northern Rockies, is famed the world over for its exceptional, ice-carved scenery. (The “glacier” in the park’s name refers more to the huge topographic influence Pleistocene ice had in these highlands, not so much the scrawny remnant glaciers still to be found—for the time being, anyway—among them.)
Glacier National Park is also one of the best places in America to hike, bar none. With the gob-smacking vistas and the tremendous potential to see wildlife, including such “charismatic megafauna” as mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, grizzly bears, black bears, and gray wolves. Glacier National Park should be on every hiker’s bucket list!
In this roundup, we’ll put the spotlight on some of the very best of the 700-plus miles of hiking trails in this extraordinary park: more than a million acres in extent and part of the larger Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park that sprawls across the U.S.-Canada border and ranks as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Highline Loop Hike at Glacier National Park
Easily one of the best-known of Glacier’s great footpaths, the very popular Highline Trail edges that span of the Lewis Range’s Continental Divide in the park called the Garden Wall for its summer wildflowers. Rather than hiking the entirety of the Highline Trail proper to Fifty Mountain Backcountry Campsite, many hikers trek between the Logan Pass and Loop trailheads on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, following the Highline north from Logan Pass to the Granite Park Chalet. From the Granite Park Chalet, you can then take the Granite Park Trail down to the Loop.
The views are spectacular, not least from 7,024-foot Haystack Pass, where mountain goats and bighorns aren’t uncommon sights; among the peaks, you’ll see along the way are Mount Cannon, Mount Oberlin, Heavens Peak, and Mount Gould, the 9,557-foot apex of the Garden Wall. Not far from Logan Pass, the Highline Trail bottlenecks a short way along a particularly narrow ledge where you’ll likely appreciate the provided hand-cable.
Hike Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint in Glacier National Park
Take a gander at several of the remaining alpine glaciers in Glacier National Park on the well-trammeled trail to the Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint, reachable by a 5.6-mile one-way hike from the trailhead along Many Glacier Road—or via a 3.6-mile trek if you take the concession boat across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine (for a fee). Marvel at views of multiple glacial lakes, tumbling waterfalls, and such epic peaks as Angel Wing and Mount Gould, the north face of which shelters the Grinnell Glacier, as well as two other glaciers hanging along the Garden Wall, the Gem and the Salamander.
St. Mary & Virginia Falls Glacier National Park Hike
With all that steep (often sheer) terrain and a generous seasonal snowpack, Glacier boasts a surfeit of waterfalls and hiking from the St. Mary Falls Trailhead up the St. Mary River, and then Virginia Creek shows off a number of the most celebrated waterfalls. At St. Mary Falls, the St. Mary River plunges some 35 feet or so via three picturesque drops; farther onward, the similarly multitier Virginia Falls is taller yet. Along the way, you’ll also savor views of such towering peaks as Dusty Star and Little Chief Mountain framing the Virginia Creek canyon as well as Fusillade and Heavy Runner mountains to the west.
Hike at Iceberg Lake - Glacier National Falls
Another iconic hike out of the Many Glacier areas besides the Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint is the roughly 9.5-mile round-trip trek up to Iceberg Lake via the Wilbur Creek basin. Passing Ptarmigan Falls, the Iceberg Lake Trail veers southwestward along the knife-edged Ptarmigan Wall base—part of the divide between the Belly River and Swift current Creek to reach its destination. Glowered over by 9,149-foot Iceberg Peak and 9,326-foot Mount Wilbur, Iceberg Lake gets its name from the chunks of ice often floating in its snowfield-edged waters: an ethereal place for a lunch break, needless to say.
Trail of the Cedars Hiking Glacier National Park
Not all of Glacier’s incredible trails are strenuous or long by any means. The one-mile, wheelchair-accessible Trail of the Cedars takes you through one of Glacier National Park’s most unique habitats. These trails offer a slice of inland temperate rainforest featuring some hefty western red-cedars (aka giant arborvitae) and western hemlocks, two conifers of primarily Pacific Coast distribution reach their easternmost range limits in northwestern Montana. This shady, moss- and fern-laden greenwood calls to mind, at least a little, the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, dramatically far from the pounding Pacific surf though it may be.
The giant trees are the main attraction, but the Trail of the Cedars also gives you a striking look at Avalanche’s Creek tight whitewater gorge—and sets you up for a hike to Avalanche Lake if you want to extend your walkabout.
Crescent Moon Hiking Poles: Your Best Friends in Glacier National Park
Don’t forget your Crescent Moon trekking poles (or your bear spray!) on your trail-pounding getaway to Glacier: Our carbon-fiber and aluminum poles support your balance and footing while easing some of the bodily strain of hiking, allowing you to hike longer, farther, and safer while reveling in that sublime Crown of the Continent majesty.