Glacier National Park has been one of our favorite 6 stops during our first 6 months of travel. We spent almost 2 weeks in this Montana wilderness paradise, hitting all the major areas of the park and hiking nearly every day.
By the time we left we were confident we hit every one of the best things to do in the park and now we are sharing them with you! Glacier National Park is a must visit in the United States. They don’t call it the crown of the continent for nothing!!
We are going to share with you the best hikes in each area of the park. West Glacier, Going-to-the-Sun, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier. We went everywhere in the park and found the very best things to do! Without further ado, let’s adventure.
West Glacier is the first part of the park you’ll reach. At least, if you are coming from Kalispell as most visitors do! Kalispell is home to the Glacier Airport and has most of the lodging options in and around Glacier National Park.
However, this comes with one small negative: this is likely going to be the busiest part of the park. Nevertheless, it is a HUGE area! There is a 100% foolproof way to escape the crowds: hiking. The crowds will gather in touristy spots, and once you hit the trails they will all melt away and you’ll be surrounded by natural beauty. Now let’s get to it.
Avalanche Lake trailhead begins at the Trail of the Cedars about 5 miles past Lake McDonald Lodge on the Going-to-the-Sun road. It is an easy 4.5 mile roundtrip hike that gains 730 feet in elevation.
Along the trail you will get TREMENDOUS views of Avalanche Creek and the bright blue rushing water down the Avalanche Gorge and continue through the lush forest.
Once you reach Avalanche Lake, you will be rewarded with an incredible view of the lake with a gorgeous mountain backdrop. Like every lake in Glacier National Park, the water is crystal clear.
Although it may look inviting, trust us when we say it is VERY cold. We got in to our shins for a quick photo and couldn’t feel our feet after only a few seconds!
Avalanche Lake has many visitors each day, and this was definitely the most crowded hike we did. Our advice is to continue down the western shoreline to the head of the lake to escape the crowds.
We absolutely LOVE photography, and sharing pictures! These are the cameras we use on all of our adventures. The drone and GoPro help us get cool new perspectives (underwater, in the air, wide angle) and the Rebel we use on a day-to-day basis for most of our shots!
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Most people hang out at the foot of the lake but we think the view just gets better the further you continue around the lake. Enjoy a picnic while drinking in that view!
On your hike back out, take the Trail of the Cedars trail back to your parking spot and spend some time learning about the different species of trees that you see in the area. This information will be useful on your other hikes and a fun way to test your memory!
Bowman Lake sits in the Northwest corner of the park just 30 miles from the Canadian border. This area of the park is not commonly visited by most visitors to the park because of its remote location, but we think it is a must on your trip to Glacier National Park!
On your drive you will pass through Polebridge, MT. A teeny tiny town! If you have time stop at the gift shop and have a look and grab one of their freshly baked goods. They bake them fresh every morning at 4am and, although we didn’t get one due to our budget, our mouths were sure watering.
To get to Bowman lake you will have to drive on a dirt road for nearly 10 miles, showing you just how remote this place is. Although the road is bumpy, we didn’t have any issues getting there in our campervan Winnie.
Once you get to Bowman Lake, head to the foot of the lake and admire the beautiful scenery you are surrounded by. It looks like a beautiful painting, and if you are there on a still day you will get a gorgeous reflection of the backdrop mountains on the lake.
Start your hike at the foot of the lake and hike the shoreline to the head. It’s a 12 mile hike but nearly flat and easy. And since this is an out-and-back hike, you can turn around whenever you feel like it!
If you are looking for an additional challenge hike the shoreline for 1.7 miles and then take the Numa Ridge Lookout trail. It’s a 5 mile climb to an awesome fire lookout, giving you an amazing view of the surrounding lakes and mountains. The higher you go, the bluer Bowman Lake looks! We had to keep stopping to peak through the trees to admire its beauty.
One major tip before you head up to Bowman Lake – fill up on gas! We got stuck in Polebridge desperate for some fuel and couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the price tag. $6.50/gallon!! Was this gas made out of gold?? NO! But we had no choice but to put in 2 gallons. Now that might give you an idea of how small Polebridge is.
Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park, and may be the best known lake too. You can’t miss it as you drive into West Glacier and you may just find yourself slamming on the breaks to admire it.
Hiking is our number 1 favorite activity. You get outside, get exercise, see amazing things, and don’t spend a lot of money. It is literally the perfect activity! You do need to have the right gear to go though. Here is all the best gear we use for our hikes.
Again, like most lakes in Glacier, the water is crystal clear and the very unique and cool thing about Lake McDonald is the rocky bottom. These rocks consist of beautiful colors like we’ve never seen before! A mix of blue, yellow, red, orange, purple, basically the entire rainbow and the water really makes their colors shine bright on a sunny day.
We recommend grabbing an ice cream cone in Apgar village (Huckleberry was soooo good!) and hanging out on the dock while you devour it. Then walk around the lake as far as you want. There is a trail on the west shoreline where you can walk the entire length of the lake, 10 miles one way, if you choose!
Another option is to rent a kayak, canoe, or a stand-up-paddleboard from Glacier Outfitters in Apgar village and enjoy a day on the water.
Going To The Sun Road & Logans Pass
Going To The Sun Road
If you are visiting while the entire road is open, then a drive across Going To The Sun Road is a must. Because the road is only open for a few months per year, the novelty of driving the entire thing is awesome, but the real treat is of course the stunning views.
This road drives through the heart of Glacier National Park and will bring you from West Glacier to St. Mary’s Lake on the east side of the park. It’s 50 miles in length, but plan a good 3 hours to drive the entire thing since there are numerous stops and lookouts.
The road climbs to over 6,000 ft at it’s highest point and is literally carved out of the side of a mountain, giving you jaw dropping views of the mountains and valleys throughout the entire drive.
It’s a very windy drive and at times you will be driving very close to a straight drop off so take your time. You will definitely want to stop and pull over a couple times for photos. This is by far the neatest and most beautiful drive we have ever done!
We visited at the end of June and the road fully opened on our 4th day in the park. There is no set date for the road to open and it can close randomly due to snowfall. Your best bet is to check the road status here on the day you plan to drive it.
Also, you should know there is a vehicle size restrictions on the Going-to-the-Sun road. Your vehicle must be less than 21 feet long and 8 feet side. On our last day in Glacier we ended up with a flat tire in Many Glacier Area and our tow truck driver had to drive all the way around the park due to these restrictions. Phew – 4 hour tow ride later we made it to a tire shop and got Winnie a new limb!
At the highest point of the Going To The Sun Road, stop at Logan Pass Visitor Center to hike Hidden Lake Overlook. You should expect snow, wind and a larger crowd on this hike considering it is one of the more common trails at this high of elevation.
Who doesn’t love camping?? Getting out into the great outdoors, enjoying Mother Nature’s beauty, it is the best! We love waking up with a cup of coffee after camping by the lake under the stars. Here is all the camping gear we use and love!
Therefore we recommend getting an early start to beat the crowds. This easy 3 mile hike will bring you to an outstanding panoramic view of the lake and surrounding mountains. The lake is very reflective when still, doubling the mountainous views if you get lucky!
If you are feeling up for it continue your hike down 1.4 miles to the lakes shoreline and this is exactly what we recommend. Most people stop at the overlook and we are always down for escaping the crowds for a better view. Mountain goats are fairly common in this area so keep your eyes open!
Two Medicine Lake
Pitamakan Pass to Dawsons Pass
This hike was a new record for us! The longest we have hiked in a single day. 19.4 miles in total and every step was worth it!
This hike makes a huge loop, however if you wanted a shorter version you could choose to just hike to Pikamakan Pass or Dawson Pass and make it an out and back trail. We have a feeling once you get to the top and see the views you will be super motivated to continue on to the full loop! At least that’s what happened to us…
This trail begins at the Two Medicine Campground. We chose to start with Pitamakan Pass, and we were very happy with our decision once we got started. This trail starts by taking you through the forest until you come to an open valley where you start gradually making your trek up.
While in the valley we did see our very first ever Grizzly bear print, but we never saw the owner of it (thankfully)! Finally, you will make it to your first lake, Oldman lake! You can choose to hike down to the shoreline which is a .6 mile detour and we highly recommend you do. This is about 6 miles into your journey and a great place to stop for a lunch break.
Once you are ready to continue up to Pitamakan Pass you will be fueled and ready to go! And you will need it because now begins your ascent… As you climb you will get an amazing view of the Oldman lake from above and admire how far you have climbed. Finally you will reach the pass!
Plan on sitting here for a few moments and taking in the view. From this point you can see 6 beautiful bright blue lakes and admire the ginormous mountain peaks and valleys in front of you.
As you continue to Dawson pass the great views are never ending, and as a bonus you can see a huge stretch of trail you just hiked. You will look down feeling extremely accomplished for how far you hiked!
As you complete this hike you will have a walk along Two Medicine Lake making for a great finale. All in all, we rate this hike a 10 out of 10! Don’t let the distance scare you. This hike was one of the best in our lives and shouldn’t be missed when in Glacier National Park!
We love to read, especially on a trip! We get our books on a Kindle so we can bring multiple books anywhere. Reading is a great way to relax and unwind while also getting caught up in a great story. We love everything from novels to self-help, business books to memoirs. Here are our favorites!
Upper Two Medicine Lake
Upper Two Medicine lake is a 10 mile hike from the Two Medicine Campground. This hike starts along the Two Medicine lakeshore, so it’s mainly flat and very easy.
Once you pass the first lake you will begin a slight ascent to Upper Two Medicine Lake. Along the way you can take a quick 0.2 mile detour to Twin Falls… If you haven’t noticed we always suggest taking the detour to see MORE! After all it may be a once in a lifetime view.
Although the trail to Cracker Lake might deter you from hiking all the way to the lake, don’t stop!! The first mile or two of this trail is also a very commonly used horse trail so you may be dodging a lot of horse poo, and if it’s a wet day like we had you will also be hiking through a lot of mud which isn’t very fun!
But we promise you it gets better and the end of the hike is 100% worth it. Cracker Lake is a 12 mile trail but relatively easy. In total you gain 1400 feet in elevation but only an average of about 200 feet per mile therefore this trail will feel pretty flat.
Finally you will finish your ascent and come over a ridge where you will get your very first view of the beautiful blue water that makes Cracker Lake. Every lake in Glacier National Park is a beautiful blue color, but this one is a much brighter light blue than the others.
I’ll let the photos below do the talking! The cherry on top at this hike was spotting our first mountain goat and a moose with her baby!
You will begin Iceberg Lake trail by the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in the Many Glacier area of the park. This hike is almost 10 miles long but again fairy flat!
Apparently this trail is a haven for grizzly bears so don’t forget your bear spray! We didn’t see any, but some hikers just before us saw one, so we know we definitely passed one somewhere. It was just hiding in the forest. A bear is only ever seen when she wants to be seen…
Iceberg Lake is a super unique lake and it was one of our favorites in the entire park. The mountain range that makes the bowl for the lake is extremely steep so as the ice and snow melts, huge chunks fall into the lake creating icebergs.
These were the first icebergs we’ve seen in our lives and some were massive on the top! We could only image how big they were beneath the water surface. Now we can say we stood on top of an iceberg!
What is Harvest Hosts?
Harvest Hosts is a network of free camping locations all over the USA! Wineries, breweries, farms, museums, and even golf courses. You can camp free at all of them! And even better, if you click this link you’ll get 15% off!
We may have saved the best for last! This trail will start along the Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine before it begins it’s ascent. We came across a mama bear and her two cubs while hiking around Lake Josephine!
Of course we stayed a safe distance away but we definitely snapped some pictures with our super zoom lens before we went the other way. Not going to lie, the cubs looked super cute and cuddly… Of course we couldn’t ACTUALLY cuddle them, but still.
Soon after you start your climb you will get a view of Grinnell Lake in the distance. This lake’s water color was similar to Cracker Lake. A beautiful bright blue surrounded by gorgeous mountains in every direction. This trail is full of good views and don’t forget to look down! You will be rewarded with colorful wild flowers the entire way.
This hikes is an ABSOLUTE MUST when in Glacier National Park! If we had to pick our favorite view in the entire place (and it’s huge) this would be it! It is a true stunner and simply needs to be seen with your own eyes.
Unfortunately while we were there the trail to Grinnell Glacier was closed due to some pretty steep snowy patches that ended in rocky cliffs. One slip and it would have been BAD news. However, if it’s open while you are there absolutely continue to Grinnell Glacier!
On our hike back we saw a moose swim across the entire Swiftcurrent Lake. It was an awesome site to see. Those moose sure are great swimmers! 10 times better than Zach or myself even on our best day…
Where to stay?
Of course we always encourage free camping and we were able to find amazing free campsites near every major part of Glacier National Park using the iOverlander app.
If you aren’t traveling on such a tight budget and are looking for more luxury, there are plenty of options within the park boundaries. From campgrounds, cabins and lodges, there are amazing places to stay in all 3 main areas of Glacier National Park.
The weather changes extremely quick in the mountains! There were plenty of hikes where it started raining on us multiple times before we finished. We recommend packing a rain jacket. These are the ones we use and love!
When hiking high miles, a good hiking shoe is important to give you support and keep those feet fresh! We absolutely love ours. They are waterproof and get us through the toughest hikes!
The most important thing to remember when you hike: WATER! We love this bladder because it is big enough to get us through long hikes and is very affordable!
While you’re hiking you are going to want to capture these beautiful sites. We use the canon t6 and every photo in this post was taken using that camera.
If you want to get in some of those photos we recommend using a tripod and the timer on your camera to capture the perfect image. Here is the one we use!
When hiking in Glacier National Park you should carry bear spray and have it easily accessible at all times. We saw a ton of bears during our time here! Although we never felt scared or threatened by them, since these animals can be unpredictable it’s best to have it along! We HIGHLY encourage you to purchase it before you go. It’s way more expensive once you get there.
Glacier National Park is one of the only places you can fish without a permit! Bring a pole along and see if you can catch dinner. Zach had fun trying his best in a few different lakes throughout the park but unfortunately came up empty handed.
There you have it! The very best hikes to do in every area of Glacier National Park, and the absolute stunning views you can look forward to!
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