Top 10 Things to Do in Glacier National Park

by Jon D. B.
top-10-things-to-do-in-glacier-national-park

If there’s an ultimate hiker’s paradise, it’s Glacier National Park. Prepare for the ultimate Montana excursion with these 10 can’t-miss Glacier features.

Ask anyone who’s been to multiple national parks out West, and they’ll tell you: It’s hard to top Glacier. Few places on Earth rival the pristine beauty of this vast, nearly-untouched landscape. It truly is a hiker’s paradise, too, with over 700 miles of trails. 158 individual trails are available to visitors in total, but that’s only the beginning.

From the most stunning lakes in North America to the wild geology of the Rockies and Continental Divide, you’ll find Outsider’s Top 10 can’t miss aspects of Glacier National Park below.

10. Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1995), Montana, United States of America. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Avalanche Lake is a must-see for visitors to the park. This pristine wonderland offers everything from one of Glacier’s best hikes to one of the most picturesque lakes in North America.

The lake’s trail starts off with a boardwalk, but beware that elevation gains kick in where Avalanche Lake Trail splits from Trail of the Cedars. It’s beyond worth it, though, as you ascend 500-feet through gorgeous evergreens and majestic canyon vistas.

Prepare for a half-day trip at least to get to Avalanche Lake and back. As always, carry bear spray in Glacier, as this trail is their home.

9. St. Mary Falls

UNITED STATES – 2013/09/14: Saint Mary Falls in Glacier National Park, Montana, United States. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Virginia Falls gets all the hype, but there’s a far more accessible, yet less-crowded, waterfall we’d recommend: St. Mary Falls.

Head to the St. Mary Falls Shuttle Stop, then for the easy & short hike. Recent fires have changed much of the landscape, but the forest recovering and thriving, making for fairytale-like scenery with the bluest water you’ve ever seen at the center.

Be sure, however, to heed the “Active Bear” signs, as grizzlies are prominent in this area.

8. Trail of the Cedars

Mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) among the Cedars in Glacier National Park, Montana, United States. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A leisurely .9 mile loop,Trail of the Cedars is adjacent to Glacier’s Avalanche Campground. Famous for its picturesque boardwalk, pristine waterways, and cedar trees (of course), this trail offers every sort of view you could hope for on a forest journey. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, including the park’s mascot, the mountain goat.

The earlier you get to Glacier trails, the better. Trail of the Cedars tends to fill up around 9:30-10:00 AM, so be sure to get there first thing. It’s an excellent trip for the whole family, too, as the park has (actual) restrooms along the loop.

7. Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

USA, Montana, Glacier National Park (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1981). Landscape (Photo by DEA / G.SIOEN/De Agostini via Getty Images)

Want to go ahead and visit a gorgeous chunk of Canada on your Glacier National Park excursion? Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and World Heritage Site straddles the border in the northern Rocky Mountains, and it is full of some of the most gorgeous scenery you’ll ever see.

From glacial landforms and sprawling wildlife to surreal rock formations, the world’s first international peace park is a true gem in North America’s crown. Many endangered species are protected here, and it’s not hard to see why they’ve chosen this magnificent landscape as their home.

Be sure to check for closures ahead of time, as weather here can be extreme. But once you arrive, there’s enough hiking trails among rivers, mountains, and valleys to keep an explorer busy for a full year.

6. Iceberg Lake & Trail

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MO – July 26: Iceberg Lake, which has only recently started thawing out. To get to the lake, visitors must hike five miles uphill, then five miles down the eastern side of the park. (Photo by Nancy Trejos The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Put on your bear bells and be sure to bring some loud friends, as this magnificent trail cuts through prime grizzly country. If you’re up for the challenge of both bears and elevation gain (1,200-feet), Iceberg Lake Trail will reward you with unrivaled scenery and the coolest (literally) glacier-carved lake on Earth.

Hiker on Ptarmigan- Iceberg Lake Trail, Eastside of Glacier National Park, Montana. (Photo by: Jumping Rocks/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

According to locals, the trail is best traversed in May or June when ice is still substantial on Iceberg Lake. Be sure to dedicate a full day to this hike if you want to spend time at the lake, too, as it’s a 10 mile round trip from the nearest campground, and almost 13 miles from the nearest hotel.

5. Highline Trail

View of mountain slopes near Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, Montana, United States. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

One of the most breathtaking trails in Glacier (and that’s saying something), Highline Trail travels along the “Garden Wall,” an entire cliffside of wildflowers to one side of the Continental Divide.

Here, you’ll see scenery like nowhere else, but beware: the full Highline Trail hike is a 20+ mile commitment. The trailhead is in Logan Pass (6,646 ft on the Continental Divide). Once on the journey, you’ll traverse the CD’s most incredible geological structures and experience some of the most unique environment on the planet.

Several side-trails are available from Highline, too. Backpackers could spend a full week on this trail, hitting up the likes of Grinnell Glacier Overlook and Swiftcurrent Mountain, the latter offering a breathtaking 360 degree panoramic view of the valley below.

4. Lake MacDonald

Kayaker floats leisurely and seemingly alone in Lake McDonald on a hazy summer day in Glacier National Park Montana, Lake McDonald is in the southwestern section of Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana and is accessible on paved Going to the Sun Road that traverses the park from West Glacier to St. Mary, Montana. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Come to the west side of Glacier National Park, and you’ll find the Lake McDonald Valley as the center of activity. Massive glaciers once settled here, and when they retreated they left behind this serene valley.

Today, hiking trails, diverse species of plants and animals, historic chalets, and the grand Lake McDonald Lodge are all available to visitors. The lake is a popular kayaking spot, too. At 10-miles-long, there’s no shortage of water available for paddlers, to be sure.

Take to the smaller offshoot valleys for some of the park’s best trails and waterfall chasing.

3. Logan Pass & Mount Bearhat

View of Bearhat Mountain above Hidden Lake at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, Montana, United States. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

You can’t come to Glacier without traversing as much of Logan Pass as possible. And while you’re there, be sure to snap a few photos of the park’s most iconic feature: Bearhat Mountain.

In the Pass, Reynolds Mountain and Clements Mountain tower over this harsh, but spectacularly beautiful landscape. You’re likely to see Glacier’s iconic mountain goats in Logan, alongside bighorn sheep and even grizzly bears. It’s both a hiker’s and wildlife watcher’s paradise.

Interestingly, Logan Pass is the highest elevation reachable by car in the park at over 6,646-feet. All of the above means this is easily one of the most visited areas of the park, however, so plan accordingly. The parking lot typically fills up before 9:00 AM and stays that way well into the evening.

While there, be sure to hit up Hidden Lake Trail alongside #5 on our list, Highline trail.

2. Going-to-the-Sun Road

There’s no better drive in any national park than Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. But take note, as this incredible Continental Divide-spanning roadway is only open for about half of the year. And to drive it, you’ll first have to get a pass/permit for your vehicle earlier in the year. You can do so here. Or, you can stick to the park’s “Red Jammer” tour busses:

Red tour bus at waterfall coming down next to the Going-to-the-Sun Road near Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, Montana, United States. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Due to heavy snowfall, GTSR doesn’t typically open until July, just in time for the busy season. And the day it does, visitors jam-pack the highway with their vehicles. All this aside, this is one drive you absolutely cannot miss. Below the road is one of the most incredible glacier-carved landscapes to ever exist. Waterfalls abound, as do trailheads, three visitors centers, and several campgrounds.

For more information on the famous road, see our coverage here.

1. Grinnell Glacier

A hiker rests at the edge of the Grinnell Glacier after reaching the top of the Grinnell Glacier Trail at Glacier National Park in Montana. Photos taken in July 2006. (Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

One of the most revered trails in America, Grinnell Glacier Trail leads to the titular glacier. Grinnell is a reminder of a time long since past for Glacier National Park as one of the last remaining ice formations. But what’s left behind is easily the most rewarding hike in Glacier.

Be warned, however, that this is not a beginner’s trail. Quite a few hikers have fallen to their death by the exposed, steep cliffsides that also offer stellar views. You’ll need waterproof gear, too, as Grinnell Glacier Trail passes you through a small waterfall (yes, really).

Glacial striations and receding Grinnell and Salamander glaciers in cirque, Glacier National Park, Montana. Bedrock consists of Proterozoic Helena Dolomite of the Belt Supergroup. Purcell Sill, an intrusive diorite, forms the black stripe in the glacial headwall. (Photo by: Marli Miller/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

If you come prepared, Grinnell will reward you with the best Glacier National Park has to offer as marmots, bighorn sheep, and other species live their lives around you. As with all other trails in the park, be sure to have bear spray present (and know how to use it), as this is prime grizzly bear country.

To learn more ahead of your Glacier excursion, be sure to see our Top 10 Things to Know About Glacier National Park next.

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