5 Best Hikes in Glacier National Park
Explore this park's forests, lakes, waterfalls and namesake glaciers with National Geographic’s day hike guide.
Hugging the Canadian border, Glacier National Park is like something out of a fairytale. From paths winding through old growth forests to trails hugging waterfall-laden cliffs to meadows awash in summer wildflowers, this park is a hiker’s paradise.
Glacier has more than 700 miles of trails to choose from, so picking one can be difficult. We love using National Geographic’s Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Park Day Hikes guide, part of the Trails Illustrated series. It includes an overview map of the whole park, trip planning resources and trail descriptions, and detailed maps of 18 of the best hikes in Glacier and its Canadian sister park, Waterton Lakes. Each hike has a two-page topographic map spread including points of interest, trail distances and stats, an elevation profile, and GPS coordinates and directions to the trailhead. Made of waterproof and tear-resistant paper, the map is small enough to easily tuck into your backpack to help you navigate on trail.
We’ve chosen five hikes from the guide to highlight, giving you a taste of the diverse range of trails this park offers from easy meadow meanders to difficult climbs with jaw-dropping views.
Note: Summer 2023, Glacier National Park is requiring timed-entry reservations for many areas of the park including Going-to-the-Sun Road, Many Glacier, Two Medicine and North Fork. Be sure to plan ahead.
Location: North Fork
Total Distance: 3 miles roundtrip
Total Elevation Gain: 280 feet
The site of an old homestead, Hidden Meadow is a tranquil spot tucked in the less-visited North Fork area of the park. Wildlife like moose and swans are frequent visitors at the picturesque pond in the meadow so hike quietly and keep your eyes peeled. This easy hike is relatively flat, making it great for families.
The trailhead is located off a dirt road approximately three miles southeast of the Polebridge Ranger Station. Hike through an area that was burned in a wildfire decades ago, a fresh and young forest regrowing in its place. The trees start to open up the farther you hike, lodgepole pines giving way to firs and aspens. Your final destination is Hidden Meadow, with a small pond at its heart.
Location: Lake McDonald
Total Distance: 4.6 miles roundtrip
Total Elevation Gain: 1,160 feet
Rating: Easy to Moderate
This trail packs an incredible amount of scenery in under five miles, making it a great choice for those short on time who are looking to experience some of Glacier’s best landscapes. Cascading waterfalls, a beautiful alpine lake and a stunning old-growth forest are the highlights of this excursion.
Find the trailhead on Going-to-the-Sun Road’s western side. Follow the Trail of the Cedars boardwalk loop and gaze up at 500-year-old hemlocks and cedars before continuing on the Avalanche Lake Trail just past a footbridge. A short, steep section will bring you to Avalanche Creek, which you’ll follow through a gorge all the way to the stunning alpine lake. Bring a picnic to enjoy on its shores.
Location: Two Medicine
Total Distance: 7.1 miles roundtrip
Total Elevation Gain: 740 feet
Rating: Easy to Moderate
This trail follows the northern shore of Two Medicine Lake to a set of two tumbling waterfalls. Along the way, you’ll catch incredible views of the surrounding peaks.
Start from the North Shore Trailhead, where you’ll cross a footbridge before hugging the shore of the small Pray Lake before reaching Two Medicine Lake. The trail alternates between stands of conifers and grassy meadows. Look for the imposing face of Rising Wolf Mountain along the way. From the falls, you can make your hike longer by continuing west for 1.2 more miles to reach Upper Two Medicine Lake.
This hike can be shortened by taking a boat tour across the lake with Glacier Park Boat Company. Tours are offered multiple times a day and allow you to get out at the dock on the west end of the lake and hike with a guide or on your own. This brings the total hiking distance down to 1.9 miles, with minimal elevation gain.
Location: Saint Mary/Logan Pass
Total Distance: 10.9 miles roundtrip
Total Elevation Gain: 3,810 feet
One of the highest maintained trails in the park, the trek to the top of Siyeh Pass is a challenge but the extraordinary views are well worth it. You’ll journey through wildflower-filled meadows with views of the surrounding peaks dominating the landscape on the way to the pass. From the summit, you may just feel like you’re on top of the world.
Start your hike from the Sunrift Gorge Trailhead, 7.5 miles east of Logan Pass along Going-to-the-Sun Road. The first part of the trail winds through thick forests before thinning out to the gorgeous meadows of Preston Park approximately three miles into the hike. There are two junctions along the way. Make sure to turn left at the first junction and right at the second. In Preston Park, keep your eyes out for grizzly bears that frequent the area. In early summer Siyeh Pass can still be covered in snow. If that’s the case, or if storms are looming, Preston Park is a worthy destination in and of itself.
The final climb to the top of the pass gains 700 feet of elevation in less than a mile. Pace yourself but don’t despair, the views from the top really are worth it. Views range from the valley you just hiked through to Siyeh Peak, one of six in the park that top 10,000 feet in elevation.
Upper Grinnell Lake
Location: Many Glacier
Total Distance: 10.2 miles roundtrip
Total Elevation Gain: 1,600 feet
Rating: Moderate to Strenuous
For views of the park’s namesake glaciers, there’s few better vistas than Upper Grinnell Lake. The hike is long, but not too challenging, making it worth the full day. You can also shorten this hike by approximately four miles by taking boat tours across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine offered by Glacier Park Boat Company.
The hike starts from the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead in the Many Glacier area of the park. Follow the trail through a forest, along the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake and then Lake Josephine. From the southwest end of Lake Josephine, the trail begins to climb. You’ll see Grinnell and Thunderbird falls along the way. Just past Thunderbird Falls, snow tends to linger through mid-July. Bring traction devices like microspikes.
The trail climbs along a narrow shelf with expansive views of the valley and lakes below. If you’re afraid of heights, this may not be the trail for you. You’ll top out at an open area where a picnic area and a pit toilet offer a great spot for a break before finishing the climb to Upper Grinnell Lake. Take in the stunning views of Grinnell and Salamander Glacier, which are rapidly shrinking. They lost 45% and 23% of their size respectively between 1966 and 2015. Gem Glacier, which is also visible from the lake, isn’t technically a glacier anymore because of its reduction in size.
Early in the season you may see snow and ice floating in the lake, while later season visits are rewarded with gorgeous turquoise water and Salamander Falls cascading across the lake.
Purchase National Geographic’s Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Park Day Hikes guide for maps of these trails and even more hiking options at www.natgeomaps.com.