/10 Best Day Hikes in Glacier National Park

10 Best Day Hikes in Glacier National Park

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With over 700 miles of trails winding through Glacier National Park, it can be hard to choose what areas you want to explore. The good news? You can’t go wrong in Glacier. With towering peaks, glistening turquoise lakes, wonderful wildlife sightings, and the possibility to get up close to a glacier, your options are endless. In this guide, we hope to outline a range of options, from easy day hikes to full-day adventures.

If you you have the time and energy, we highly recommend taking a couple nights to explore some of the backcountry trails the park has to offer. For more information on backcountry travel, check out our Guide to Backpacking in Glacier National Park. As you begin planning your trip to Glacier, check out our additional CleverHiker resources:

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Getting Around – free Shuttle Service

A comprehensive system of shuttles makes transport to trails fairly easy during peak tourism season. Once you pay the national park entrance fee, you get free and unlimited access to the Park Shuttle System.

 MAP OF SHUTTLE ROUTES & STOPS PROVIDED BY NPS.GOV

MAP OF SHUTTLE ROUTES & STOPS PROVIDED BY NPS.GOV

The shuttle operates as a hop-on hop-off two-way service along Going-to-the-Sun Road between the Apgar Visitor Center and St. Mary Visitor Center. The shuttle runs on the west side from the Apgar Visitor Center to Logan Pass every 15-30 minutes. On the east side the shuttle runs from Logan Pass to St. Mary's Center. If you are planning on riding the full Going-to-the-Sun Road, you'll have to switch shuttles at Logan Pass.

There’s room for 12 or 16 passengers on the smaller shuttles and 20+ on the larger ones. All seats are first come, first serve, and at times packed. If the shuttle is full, you’ll have to wait for the next one. There is also limited pack storage on the buses especially when every seat is full, so you’ll likely need to set your pack in an aisle or on your lap.

Also, plan to park your car at a shuttle hub parking lot instead of other locations where parking is limited. The east hub is St. Mary Visitor Center and the west hub is Apgar Visitor Center. Be aware that parking is competitive throughout the park, particularly at Logan Pass Visitor Center. During peak season, many parking lots are full by mid-morning.

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Best Easy day hikes

Hidden Lake Overlook and Lake

  • Mileage: 2.7 miles (overlook only) & 5.4 miles (overlook and lake)

  • Trailhead: Logan Pass Visitor Center

  • Elevation Gain: 540 ft. & 1325 ft.

Hidden Lake is one of the most iconic images of Glacier National Park and because of this, it’s also one of the most popular trails. You’ll start this hike from the Logan Pass Visitor Center, which is at the conjunction of the two shuttle systems. Heading out on a raised boardwalk, you begin hiking towards the Continental Divide and the hulking 8684-foot Bearhat Mountain on your way to the overlook. If you have it in you, we recommend continuing on to the shores of Hidden Lake, which will add 2.7 miles of hiking and an additional 770 feet of elevation loss and gain, but is totally worth it. Expect to see goats quite habituated to humans along this route, but please keep your distance and don’t feed them!

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Avalanche Lake

Located only 5.5 miles from Lake McDonald Lodge along the Going to the Sun Road, the flat, easy, and wheelchair accessible trail to Avalanche Lake is a great introduction to Glacier National Park. You’ll walk along raised boardwalks as you pass Avalanche Creek and the spectacular Avalanche Gorge on your way to the lake. This loop hike is one of the most popular in the park, so expect to be among crowds. Also, the parking lot is quite small so we highly recommend taking the free shuttle from the Lake McDonald Lodge.

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best Moderate day hikes

Highline Trail Loop

The Highline Trail is one of our favorite full-day hikes in the park. You’ll traverse the Continental Divide for a good portion of this hike, with spectacular views every step of the way. Just after you set off, you’ll hike on the exposed ledge trail high above the Going to the Sun Road on your way to the Garden Wall. All along the route, you’ll get a panorama of peaks to your west as you hug the wall. Around mile 7, you’ll hit the Garden Wall Trail junction, which offers a burly, but absolutely worthy 0.9 mile side trail that climbs steeply to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook (see photo below). Continue on and make a quick stop at the Granite Park Chalet before beginning your long descent down the Granite Park Trail (also known as the Loop Trail) on your way to trailhead and shuttle stop.

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Firebrand Pass

This out-and-back hike takes in the east side of the Continental Divide in the Marias Pass area in the south end of the park. You’ll traverse through aspen forestland as you are rewarded with views of horizon-bound prairies and endless mountain peaks. It takes you through wildflower meadows (Yellow Columbine, Subalpine Spiraea, and Fireweed often still blooming into late September) and aspen groves and up into a stark, rocky landscape different from what is often seen throughout the park. But it’s the view at the pass that will blow you away. The trailhead is a little difficult to find: Look for mile marker Number 203 along Highway 2 on the southern border of Glacier Park. Park in the dirt pullout and cross the train tracks and head for the gate and trailhead sign.

Ptarmigan Tunnel

This hike is moderately strenuous and absolutely intriguing. The tunnel, built back in the 1930’s by the CCC for horses and mountain tours, is about 150 feet long and is a fascinating piece of Glacier history. This route will surely be crowded, but the trail should thin a bit after the Iceberg Lake junction, where you’ll continue straight to the Ptarmigan Tunnel. Along the route you’ll visit a spectacular lake and experience views out the backend of the tunnel you will never forget – we’ll just leave it at that. This trail is prime grizzly habitat and is often closed due to bear activity, so always check trail status at a ranger station in the park prior to heading out.

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Siyeh Pass Loop

One of the most spectacular and visually rewarding day hikes in Glacier, it begins in a dense spruce and fir forest. It then climbs to high alpine meadows, crosses rivers and creeks to views of Blackfoot, Jackson, Piegan, and Sexton glaciers, and finally to the bases of Matahpi Peak and Mount Siyeh. The final set of switchbacks takes you to knockout views, than heads down around the top of the rocky pass with views of Saint Mary’s Lake and the Baring Creek Valley, and finally terminates at Sunrift Gorge. Although it’s designated as a loop trail, it’s really a one-way trail that loops back to the start with a hop on the free shuttle.

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Quartz Lake Loop

  • Mileage: 12.8 miles

  • Trailhead: Bowman Lake

  • Elevation Gain: 2,378 ft.

This wonderful woodland hike in the in the North Fork Valley area of the park travels up and over one of two forested ridges (depending on which direction you go; Cerulean or Quartz ridge) then down into a basin that holds both Upper and Lower Quartz Lakes. It can be very buggy in early summer, but by September the bugs diminish quickly. Besides offering considerable solitude for a hike in Glacier, this trail is filled with birdsong and offers views of Vulture, Numa and Rainbow peaks. Keep an eye out for nesting loons on the lakes!

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Grinnell Glacier

This is a day hike with an ultimate reward -an incredible glacier at the end of the route. But the views along the way are just as jaw-dropping. As you climb up the flanks of Mt. Grinnell, the views down the valley and ahead of you continue to increase. Keep your eyes out for the tall cliffs of Angel Wing rising abruptly from the horizon as Grinnell Lake's incredible emerald color comes into focus. Keep in mind that the trail is not completely accessible until late July most years, when the snow melts and the park opens higher portions of the trail.

Cracker Lake

Famously known for its milky turquoise lake hugged by towering cliffs and a fascinating old mine site, the hike to Cracker Lake remains one of the most popular trails in the park. You’ll pass impressive waterfalls and dip in and out of the forest as you make your way towards the magnificent headwalls of Mt. Siyeh and Allen Mountain. The reward for your hard work is glorious Cracker Lake 6.3 miles in. The trail leading to the lake is prime grizzly habitat with its tall brush and plethora of berry bushes, so take adequate precautions and make a lot of noise. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to snag a backcountry permit and spend the night at the lake.

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best Strenuous day hikes

Dawson-Pitamakin Loop (Two Medicine Area)

Though many choose to do this loop as a backpacking trip, for those in good physical shape, this loop may be accessible as a day hike. You’ll be traveling around the massive Rising Wolf Mountain while passing stunning turquoise lakes and traversing exposed and wildly scenic trails. The loop hike is best traversed in a clockwise direction – first climbing to Dawson Pass and then over Pitamakin Pass. By doing it this way you’ll get the ascent completed in the morning, with the rest of your day being relatively easy and enjoyable. Of all the trails we hiked in Glacier, we saw the most wildlife on this loop.

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Gunsight Pass Trail

Because competition for backcountry permits along this route is fierce, some complete the Gunsight Pass Trail as a day hike – though it’s not for the faint of heart. Make sure you’re in good physical shape and know your limitations before attempting. Over the course of 20 miles, you’ll climb nearly 4,000 feet and descend nearly 6,000 ft. The trail begins with a descent into the Reynolds Creek Valley, then evens out as you traverse alongside St. Mary River. Eventually, you’ll begin a gradual climb uphill after a footbridge approaching Gunsight Lake. The climb to Gunsight pass is spectacular with stunning view of Lake Ellen Wilson awaiting you at the top. As you cross over the second and highest pass – Lincoln Pass – you'll begin your long descent through the 2017 burn area, passing through the Sperry Chalet area as you head down to Lake McDonald.

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Piegan Pass

Equally as exciting as the Highline Trail, but far less crowded, this trail is a great option for hikers looking for an epic sunrise to sunset hike. You begin the route with spectacular views over St. Mary’s Lake as you dip in and out of the forest. As you climb to the pass, the views begin to open up, providing jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. The flora and fauna are the highlights of this trip, capturing the best that Glacier has to offer. There are options to shorten this route, like starting at other pullouts along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Also, if you complete this route as a one-way trip you’ll need to arrange transportation, such as the Glacier National Park Lodges Hiker's Shuttle, as the free shuttle does not make a stop in the Many Glacier area.

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What Gear Do I Need?

Whether you’re doing a short day hike to Avalanche Lake or tackling a full-day adventure on the Highline Trail, carrying the proper equipment is absolutely critical. When things go wrong, as they often do, this can mean the difference between a minor inconvenience and a dire result. For first-timers and sage backcountry traveler alike, dialing in essential day hiking gear is an important part of any pre-trip preparations. Check out our post on 10 Things You Should Bring on Every Day Hike in order to ensure you have the gear for a safe and enjoyable trip.

More Information

We hope this guide helps you plan an awesome visit to one of our nation’s most spectacular national parks. You really can’t go wrong in Glacier, so pack a bag and hit the trails!

For more information as you begin planning your trip to Glacier, check out our additional CleverHiker resources:

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Original Article