Glacier National Park boasts 734 miles of hiking trails. While we’re not suggesting you walk all of those miles (like outdoor enthusiast Jake Bramante did in 2011), we highly recommend you get a few treks under your treads during your visit. There’s no better way to experience the park’s grandeur and wildlife than on foot, hearing the whisper of the wind in the pines, glimpsing a white-bearded mountain goat in a field of wildflowers, or feeling the spray of a misty waterfall.
Here, we offer five classic hikes within and near Glacier National Park that will whet your appetite for adventure, whether you’re seeking a quiet nature walk or a grind to a glacier overlook.
#1 Going-to-the-Sun Road & Waterfalls
If you’ve heard of Glacier National Park, you’ve heard of Going-to-the-Sun Road. This epic, 50-mile scenic route is the park’s pride and joy. It is as exhilarating in its steep inclines and hairpin turns as it is astonishing in its vistas. (If you simply want to gawk at the views and leave the driving to someone else, Classic Journeys can help.)
The best tip our family received before our Glacier trip was to hit the Going-to-the-Sun Road at dawn. As much groaning as we heard from the tweens, it was worth it to avoid a caravan of cars along the route, and it gave us plenty of time for walks and waterfall views.
First up, McDonald Falls, not far past Lake McDonald. You can’t see the cascade from the road, so look carefully for the large parking lot and viewing platform. If you’re heading east on the Going-the-Sun Road, this can be your first stop – and you’ll likely have the place all to yourselves, especially if you get going early in the morning.
Head up and over Logan Pass en route to 35-foot-high St. Mary Falls. Start from the St. Mary Falls Cutoff Trailhead, or for a longer hike, start at the Sun Point parking lot. Farther on, the multi-tiered Virginia Falls are accessed via a 3.6-mile roundtrip hike. If you’d like to make a longer trek out of it, there are connecting trails between St. Mary and Virginia Falls. Finally, don’t miss Sunrift Gorge, from which it’s a quick .7-mile hike to reach Baring Falls.
#2 Highline Trail
The Highline Trail was a hands-down favorite during our family’s Glacier National Park experience. The stirring views, the chance to see wildlife (bighorn sheep! marmots!), the wildflowers, and trickling streams – there’s a lot to love. You’ll feel like you’ve trekked into the remotest wilderness and, yet, with just 800 or so feet of elevation gain over 12 miles, the trail isn’t that difficult.
Starting from the Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot, the fast, relatively flat trail hugs cliffs and passes through boulder fields before taking you within view of Grinnell Glacier. One of the prettiest parts of the hike was the Garden Wall, a stretch of several miles where the trail winds through small stands of trees and wildflower patches, across scree slopes, and past small waterfalls.
The Highline Trail officially ends at The Loop (which you passed coming east on the Going-to-the-Sun Road), where you can hop on the shuttle to get back to your car at Logan Pass. If you’re in it for the best glacier views, don’t miss the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. It adds 1.6 miles roundtrip and 900 feet of elevation gain to the hike, but the reward is that you’ll be standing on the Continental Divide at the top (take your Instagram photo here!). The Granite Park Chalet is a bit farther along the trail, before you arrive at The Loop.
#3 Grinnell Glacier Trail
If you can’t get enough of the park’s namesake ice sheets, tackle the 10.6-mile roundtrip Grinnell Glacier Trail. Access it from the main trailhead on the Continental Divide Trail, or take about 3.5 miles off the hike by taking boats across Swiftcurrent Lake at the Many Glacier Hotel, and after that, Lake Josephine.
If you’re skipping the boat, it’s a 2.1-mile, fairly flat walk to the far end of Lake Josephine (look for moose at the water’s edge). From here, you’ll start to climb steadily; as you get close to the top, scramble up natural staircases made of rocks and boulders. It is just over 3 more miles from the lake to Grinnell Glacier, but don’t worry, the spectacular views will keep you going. Each vista is even more jaw-dropping than the last, so keep that camera handy (and your binoculars, to scan the area for mountain goats and bighorn sheep).
#4 Two Medicine Lake & Aster Park
If you like variety on your hikes, and prefer a loop to an out-and-back, head to Two Medicine Lake. This 9.7-mile loop trail near East Glacier Park Village is moderately challenging and takes you through some of the park’s least-visited (read: quietest) portions of the park, home to dramatic views, placid lakes, and rushing waterfalls.
Hikers have a few options at Two Medicine, including an easy .25-mile walk to Running Eagle Falls, a boat ride, then a 4.8-mile roundtrip hike to Upper Two Medicine Lake (with a side trip to Twin Falls) or a strenuous 17-mile day hike with 2,935 feet of elevation gain on the Dawson/Pitamakan Pass loop trail.
Two Medicine is also known for its fantastic wildlife viewing (likely due to the quieter nature of this corner of the park). Scan the Rising Wolf mountainside for bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and black or grizzly bears.
While you’re here, consider the 3.5-mile roundtrip Aster Park Trail. This moderately challenging route starts on the South Shore Trailhead, located behind the boathouse at Two Medicine Lake. At about 1 mile in, take the short .2-mile spur trail to a pretty waterfall, then return to the main trail to continue to the Aster Park Overlook. From here, you’ll have memorable views of the lake, as well as Rising Wolf Mountain, Mount Ellsworth, and Appistoki Peak.
#5 Swift Creek Nature Walk, Whitefish
While not within the boundaries of Glacier National Park, the Swift Creek Nature Walk is among our favorite hikes nearby. This easy walk through an old-growth forest of trees more than 100 years old follows crystal-clear Swift Creek. Everywhere you look, natural unspoiled beauty is showing off, and if you’re lucky, some local wildlife will make itself known.
Our favorite way to experience this walk is with a local Blackfeet Nation guide, who regales us with stories and music that describe his culture and history. It’s a hike that not only teaches you about the area’s plants and animals, but about how the 10,000-year-old Blackfeet Nation has been impacted over time.
Later, spend some time in the quaint western town of Whitefish, where you can take the gondola to the summit of Big Mountain for dramatic views of Glacier peaks, the Flathead Valley, and Whitefish Lake.