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  • Writer's pictureJalin Coblentz

10 Best Hiking Trails at Glacier National Park

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Glacier National Park is easily one of the most unique and beautiful national parks in North America. In addition to the many lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and mountains you'll see at the park, Glacier is also home to some of the best hiking trails in the country.

Hikers will have the option of choosing short, easy trails or long, arduous ones, depending on their experience and skill level. However, no matter which hiking trail you choose, you're sure to see something you can't experience anywhere else in the park.

While all the hiking trails in Glacier National Park are unique and rewarding in their own way, some are certainly more popular than others. If you want to experience these trails but aren't sure where to start, this is the article for you. We'll break down each of the top hiking trails in Glacier National Park based on our personal experiences and preferences, as well as those of experienced hikers around the world. Let's get started!

Avalanche Lake

The Avalanche Lake Trail is easily one of my favorite hikes at Glacier National Park. The trail is great for hikers of all skill levels, ranging from beginners on their first hike to veterans on their thousandth. Avalanche Lake is such a great hike because it's long enough to push your limits but not very steep or difficult.

The Avalanche Lake Trail is also great because of the incredible views you'll get at the end. It's deceptive because there aren't a ton of views along the trail, which makes you wonder if the hike is worth it. However, when you reach the end and dip your toes into Avalanche Lake, you'll be kicking yourself and forever having doubts. You'd be remiss if you visited Glacier National Park and didn't do the Avalanche Lake Trail hike.

Trail Length: 6 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 757 feet, but very gradual

Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate because it's a fairly long trail, but not steep and easy to navigate.

Grinnell Glacier Trail

While Avalanch Lake was nearly our favorite hike at Glacier because of the views at the end, the Grinnell Glacier Trail took the cake. We loved Grinnell Glacier because it was an immense challenge but not unattainable. It also had outstanding views at every turn along the trail, as well as at the end when you have an unfettered view of the Grinnell Glacier.

If you hike the trail in early spring, the glacier is still frozen, and you can see it in all its glory. However, when you hike the trail in summer, the glacier has melted enough to turn into an incredible, translucent lake. Either way, the upper part of the glacier remains frozen, so you'll get cool glacial views year-round.

Pro Tip: Make sure to carry bear spray with you on this trail. We saw three bears at the trailhead and another one in the middle of the trail as we were hiking, so beware!

Trail Length: 10 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 2,050 feet, and some places are extremely steep

Difficulty Level: Very difficult - The Grinnell Glacier Trail is steep, narrow at times, and requires high-stepping at certain places. There's also a point where you have to walk beneath a small waterfall that results in a slippery trail.

Highline Trail

If you're looking to push your limits and see what you're capable of, we recommend hiking the Highline Trail. This trail is extremely long, steep, and difficult to navigate, thanks to its narrow trails and steep drops. However, while difficult, this trail is also one of the most rewarding and has some of the best views in the park.

The nice thing about this trail is that you can opt to do all 15 miles of it or stop at any one of the many lookouts and trailheads along the way. You can make it whatever you want it to be, keeping in mind that it's 15 miles if you do the whole thing. This is also one of the best trails if you want to see a variety of wildlife in its natural habitat.

Pro Tip: If you're scared of heights, you might want to think twice about hiking this trail. The Highline Trail is famous for its steep drop-offs and lack of railings.

Trail Length: 15 miles out-and-back if you do the whole thing

Elevation Gain: 2,600 feet and most parts are gradual, but there are several long, steep areas

Difficulty Level: Very Difficult

St. Mary and Virginia Falls Trails

The St. Mary and Virginia Falls Trails was the first hike we completed at Glacier. You can hike to just St. Mary Falls, which is roughly 1 mile, or proceed another .7 miles to Virginia Falls. I recommend hiking to both trails because the extended version of the hike isn't overly difficult, and it's definitely worth the views.

The hike to St. Mary's is fairly exposed and mostly downhill. The lake and falls, however, are extremely popular, and you can take a dip in the water if you so choose. When you navigate from St. Mary Falls to Virginia Falls, most of the hike is uphill, along a creek, and through a forest. We felt that the views at Virginia Falls were much better than those at St. Mary, which is why we recommend hiking to both sets of falls.

Trail Length: 3 miles out-and-back for both falls or 2 miles for just St. Mary Falls

Elevation Gain: 450 feet

Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate

Trail of the Cedars

If you're looking for more of a morning stroll than a strenuous hike, we recommend the Trail of the Cedars. This trail is short, flat, and very well-maintained and is a great way to start the day. We did it the morning before completing the Avalanche Lake Trail because the two are fairly close together, and the Trail of the Cedars only takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete.

Although this trail is short and very popular, it has some unique views and features, including massive, dense cedars. You won't regret taking a few minutes to complete this trail if you're visiting Glacier National Park.

Trail Length: 1 mile

Elevation Gain: 50 feet

Difficulty Level: Very Easy

Hidden Lake Overlook

The Hidden Lake Overlook hike is considered a staple for many people who visit Glacier National Park. This trail is nice because you can choose to hike just to the overlook or extend your hike from the overlook to Hidden Lake itself. Because of the steep descent and reascent to and from the lake, many people choose to hike to the Overlook and return.

The hike to the overlook is roughly 1.3 miles, and it takes another 1.3 to get from the overlook to Hidden Lake. You'll have breathtaking views from Hidden Lake Overlook, and there's a good chance the allure of the lake will make you want to continue on down and take a dip. Either way, you won't regret adding the Hidden Lake Overlook hike to your schedule.

Pro Tip: As with Grinnell Glacier, there's a lot of bear activity on this trail, so plan accordingly.

Trail Length: 2.7 miles out-and-back for Hidden Lake Overlook or 5.2 miles out-and-back for Hidden Lake

Elevation Gain: 550 feet for Hidden Lake Overlook or 1,000+ feet for Hidden Lake

Difficulty Level: Easy for Hidden Lake Overlook, but moderate if you hike down to the lake

Honorable Mention

In addition to each of the hikes that we took an in-depth look at, there are dozens more that are worth a look. In fact, the "honorable mention" hikes are often more enjoyable because the trails aren't as crowded. These trails tend to be more peaceful and are reserved for the hardcore hikers rather than those looking to check trails off their list.

Swiftcurrent Pass

Swiftcurrent Pass is a lengthy, challenging trail with lots of lakes, falls, and sights to see. However, because it's located at the Many Glacier entrance, is just over 14 miles long, and has 2,400 feet of elevation gain, not many people attempt this venture.

Pitamakan Dawson Loop

The Pitamakan Dawson Loop is considered by many to be the hardest hike in Glacier National Park. This loop is nearly 19 miles long, has just shy of 3,800 feet of elevation gain, and has some of the craziest views in Glacier. There are also spots along the way to stop for the night if you want to turn it into a two-day affair.

Siyeh Pass

The Siyeh Pass Trail is another ultra-popular hiking trail in Glacier. It's just shy of 10 miles long and has around 2,500 feet of elevation gain, making it a very challenging undertaking. The trail ends at a shuttle stop on the Going-to-the-Sun road, so you can hop on a shuttle when you're finished.

Iceberg Lake Trail

The last hiking trail we'll mention in this article is the Iceberg Lake Trail. Coming in at 9.5 miles long and 1,500 feet of elevation gain, this is a challenging but rewarding trail. You'll begin at the Iceberg Ptarmigan Trailhead and finish at Iceberg Lake on this out-and-back trail. While the views along the trail are great, the lake at the end takes the cake.

Final Thoughts

The beautiful thing about hiking in Glacier National Park is that you can ask 10 different people what their favorite trail is and you might get 10 different answers. That's just how good the hiking is! With more than 50 different hiking trails and over 700 miles of designated trails, this should come as no surprise. However, if you want to hit the most popular trails that will offer the most famous views of Glacier, you should prioritize the trails on this list.

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