Mountain Air

Glacier Institute's Blog

Anthony’s Top Five Hikes in Glacier National Park

Growing up in Minnesota, our annual trip to Montana was the highlight of the year. We’d load as many sandwich ingredients as would fit in the cooler into our ‘89 Plymouth Voyager and make the 17 hour drive to Bigfork, MT to stay with my uncle for the week. While we couldn’t afford much, Glacier National Park was better than Disneyland in my eyes. Some of my best childhood memories include driving Going-to-the-Sun Road, trying to get perfect pictures of Rocky Mountain Goats, and looking through binoculars for grizzly bears. 

Bringing it full circle, I now have the great privilege to bring my own three kids on these trails, but we’re fortunate enough to live here. Better yet, I get to work here. It’s hard to pick, and they are constantly changing, but these are my current top five hikes in Glacier National Park.

  1. Hidden Lake Overlook – 

I know, I’ll take some flack from the locals for this one. The trail to the Hidden Lake Overlook is one of the most popular trails in the park, and sits at the highest point of the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Logan Pass. Sharing the parking lot with the Highline Trail, it tends to be hard to find a parking spot at peak hours. 

This trail is only 2.7 miles roundtrip, and isn’t terribly difficult. With 540 feet of total elevation gain, there are some thigh burning stretches for those that don’t hike much. Hiking this trail as a kid, I couldn’t believe I could reach such a gorgeous place. This is actually why I love this trail, because of the reachability. I don’t care how cliche it is, this trail will always hold a special place in my heart.

  1. Siyeh Pass – 

This one requires more work, but it’s worth it. With nearly 2100 ft of elevation gain and 8.9 miles roundtrip, you will burn some calories on this strenuous hike. With the trailhead at Siyeh Bend, this journey leads you along a stream, through a beautiful forest, into open alpine meadows, across a creek, and up a winding switchback scurry to the pass. On this trail, I’ve seen Rocky Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, grizzly bears, golden eagles, mule deer, and many more. For those of you interested in plant life, the diverse ecosystems along the way do not disappoint. We once had a medicinal plants expert spend eight hours on just the first 400 yards of trail. (If this is something that interests you, check out our educational courses.)

If you have the gumption to get to the summit, the reward is breathtaking. I’ve taken dozens of pictures at the top, but none do it justice. You have to see it to believe it.

  1. Grinnell Glacier

Located on the East side of Glacier National Park, at the Many Glacier entrance, the hike to Grinnell Glacier provides for a beautiful platform for photography, wildlife viewing, and education. The geology along this trail is fascinating, but easy to walk right over, literally. Along the lake at the top of the trail, you can find a wide array of stromatolites, or fossilized cyanobacteria. If you don’t know where to look, however, you’ll miss it. 

On the 7.6 mile trek, you’ll traverse along a gradual incline looking down on Grinnell Lake. This is a common place to witness moose wading in the water, so be sure to look down. I recall one time looking down on what I thought was a duck, until I realized how far away I was and used the binoculars to zoom in on a cow moose swimming in the water. I recommend starting early on this trail, to avoid the crowds and heat of the day.

  1. Avalanche Lake / Trail of the Cedars

The theme of this trail is accessibility. The trail of the cedars was Glacier National Park’s first ADA accessible trail, routing just over a mile of easy-going pathway through a 600 year old cedar forest. There is an abundance of tranquil beauty amongst these ancient trees. Honestly, it is reminiscent of the Jurassic Park movies. Ferns, mosses, and lichens litter the forest floor. You’ll cross a bridge, providing excellent views of a waterfall system, smoothed and worn by thousands of years of hydronic erosion. I can easily spend an entire day on just this mile-long trail, but the continuation up to Avalanche Lake is a most-do.

5.9 miles, round trip, the walk to Avalanche Lake is heavily traveled. This is, however, a common place to see both black and grizzly bears. Please, make sure to have bear spray, keep it accessible, and know how to use it. 

While there are some steeper parts to this trail, it is generally a great trail for beginners. When you reach the lake itself, you can choose to stop at the head of the lake or continue around to the far side. While at the beach, please be courteous of visitors around you. Find a great place to sit and enjoy your lunch or snack. My wife and I like to hike to Avalanche on summer evenings with some wine and snacks to share. You’ll never forget this iconic trail in Glacier National Park. 

  1. Highline Trail

Often ranked as the most popular trail in Glacier National Park, this trail deserves every bit of that attention. Designed as a through hike, you can start from Logan Pass and end at The Loop parking lot. From this point, you can attempt to grab the shuttle back up to the Logan Pass parking lot. You can, of course, do it in reverse, but you will be gaining a good amount of elevation to climb to Logan Pass. 

Honestly, I mostly just hike to the saddle between Haystack Butte and Mt. Gould. Leading up to this is the steepest part of the trail, but the top is unforgettable. If you aren’t feeling up to the steep climb, the views are still amazing from anywhere on the trail. As long as you aren’t afraid of heights, this is a great trail to simply hike on until you get tired and want to go back. It’s relatively flat going from Logan Pass to Haystack Butte, with breathtaking views of the road and valley below. 

In reality, you really can’t go wrong on any trail in Glacier National Park. The vast majority of visitors never get very far from their vehicles, so count yourself adventurous if you tackle any one of these trails. Just remember to stay on the trails, carry your bear spray, and make good choices.

Of course, I’m biased, but I think every great hike in Glacier is even better when you go with The Glacier Institute. Our Personalized Education Tours allow you the opportunity to fully customize your day in the park– choose your hike (or let our team show you their favorite) and spend the day learning from our educational experts.