Glacier National Park boasts an extensive network of over 700 miles of trails, offering a diverse range of hiking experiences. Whether you prefer a quick and easy stroll or an extended multi-day backpacking adventure, there’s a trail for you. What unites them all is the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you.
From magnificent glaciers and cascading waterfalls to vibrant wildflower meadows, it’s no wonder that nearly three million visitors flocked to the park in 2022. Furthermore, after the sun sets and your hiking boots are off, the park’s renowned dark skies make it an ideal destination for stargazing.
For those of you who are new to Glacier National Park or embarking on your first visit, you’re probably eager to discover the top-day hikes that will allow you to make the most of your time here. In this article, I’ll introduce you to what I consider to be the finest hikes in Glacier National Park while offering valuable insights along the way.
Distance: 13.6 miles
Elevation gain: 2,300ft
Time to complete: 8 hours
The adventure begins at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, leading you into the picturesque Swiftcurrent valley. Among the many remarkable hikes within Glacier National Park, this one stands out for its enticing side excursions, albeit adding some extra mileage.
One of the most remarkable detours is the Swiftcurrent Fire Lookout trail, the highest maintained trail within the park. Regarding the primary course, the final six miles present a formidable ascent demanding skill and stamina.
While many hikers opt to conclude their journey upon reaching the pass, as the view doesn’t substantially differ at the summit, this hike is tailored for seasoned adventurers in peak physical condition.
Siyeh Pass Trail
Distance: 4.6 miles
Elevation gain: 2,240ft
Time to complete: 5 hours
Two trailheads lead to the Siyeh Pass Trail. The first begins at Piegan Pass and the other at the Sunrift Gorge Trail. The primary distinction between the two lies in the Piegan Pass route, which is somewhat shorter and involves less elevation gain. Regardless of your choice, both courses are characterized by steep and challenging ascents to reach the pass.
Upon reaching the pass, you will proceed towards the saddle of Mount Siyeh. Once you reach the summit, you will be treated to one of the most breathtaking hikes in Glacier National Park, offering panoramic vistas from this lofty vantage point. Afterward, you can retrace your steps on the same trail or descend via an alternative path leading to the Sunrift Gorge.
Distance: 4.6 miles Roundtrip
Elevation gain: 500ft
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Time to complete: 3 hours
The journey to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park begins at the Trail of the Cedars Trailhead, situated 5.5 miles to the east of Lake McDonald Lodge. The Trail of the Cedars, designed to be wheelchair accessible, forms a loop hike that commences and concludes along the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road.
While the western portion of this loop is a bit shorter in length, the eastern side boasts a far more picturesque route. On the eastern stretch of the trail, hikers traverse a raised boardwalk as they meander through an enchanting forest teeming with ancient western hemlocks and majestic red cedars.
At the eastern edge of the Pacific Northwest’s maritime climate, Lake McDonald Valley also marks the furthest eastern boundary where these magnificent trees thrive. The higher humidity of this valley provides ideal conditions for cedars to reach towering heights of up to 100 feet, with trunk diameters ranging from 4 to 7 feet. Astonishingly, some of the trees in this region have stood for over five centuries.
Hidden Lake Overlook
Distance: 2.8 miles Roundtrip
Elevation gain: 460ft
Time to complete: 1.5 hours
One of the most renowned hikes within Glacier National Park is the Hidden Lake trail. The trail starts at Logan Pass and features several breathtaking spots. As you embark on this journey, you’ll traverse a blend of boardwalks and gravel paths leading to a captivating viewpoint overlooking Hidden Lake.
While making your way, be sure to stay vigilant for the presence of mountain goats, as this location offers one of the rare opportunities to spot them in the park. If you wish to extend your adventure, you can follow the trail for an additional 1.2 miles, completing a round trip of 2.4 miles to reach Hidden Lake from the overlook.
Distance: 10.6 miles Roundtrip
Elevation gain: 2,300ft
Time to complete: 6 hours
In the 1930s, the Ptarmigan Tunnel was constructed to provide a passage between Many Glacier Valley and Belly River Valley. The Ptarmigan Tunnel, an impressive feat of construction measuring 250 feet in length, is a highlight of this hike and one of Glacier National Park’s most remarkable attractions.
To embark on the hike, commence your journey behind the cabins near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. A parking area near the trailhead can accommodate about 10-15 cars, but given the area’s popularity, it’s probable that the lot will be full. In that case, you can park in front of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, adding two-tenths of a mile to your walk to reach the trailhead.
Just past the Iceberg Lake Trailhead, hikers will veer right at a junction, leading to a brief connector trail that links to the Ptarmigan Trail. This connector trail involves a relatively steep ascent, gaining around 185 feet in just a quarter-mile. However, the elevation gain becomes more gradual once you’re on the Ptarmigan Trail. Keep in mind that weather conditions affect tunnel accessibility, limiting it to a few months each year. Generally, you can walk through the tunnel from July to September.
Glacier National Park is a hiker’s paradise, boasting some of the most breathtaking scenery in the United States. Whether you are a seasoned backpacker or a casual day hiker, there are trails to suit all levels of experience and fitness. From the awe-inspiring Avalanche Lake to the family-friendly Hidden Lake Trail, each hike in this park promises unforgettable vistas and a deeper connection to the natural world.
Before embarking on your adventure, check trail conditions and obtain any necessary permits. So, lace up your hiking boots and get ready to explore the wonders of Glacier National Park—one step at a time.