Hiking Glacier National Park

One summer I worked about 45 minutes south of Glacier National Park on Flathead Lake in the town of Bigfork, Montana. I took advantage of living so close to the national park by hiking in the park on my days off. I got to do the top hikes and see some beautiful parts of the national park. Glacier is huge with massive mountain scapes. I highly recommend visiting Glacier anytime from July- October! I'll share with you some of my favorite experiences and hikes in Glacier from that summer! 


Early Summer Hikes in Glacier

Depending on the winter season snowpack, there can be snow in Glacier and on most hiking trails through July. The Going to the Sun road doesn't open for vehicle travel until after June 22nd as it goes up and over a large mountain pass full of snow and massive snowmelt waterfalls. In late May and early June, there are still some accessible trails leaving from West Glacier, Apgar, and Lake Mcdonald. 


Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Lake in May

Hannah and I drove up together to Glacier from Wyoming and decided to do a couple hikes before we started our seasonal jobs. We chose to do a hike out of Lake McDonald, West Glacier area. 

*Roundtrip length: 4.5 miles 

*Elevation gain: 730 feet

*Views: Big mountains, high alpine lake, rushing river through gorge, forests


Swiftcurrent Pass in May

Hannah and I decided we wanted to get some higher views in the park, so we chose to attempt to go up a mountain pass in May. Over zealous? Yes, that's how we roll! We ended up turning around about 1/4 a way up the pass because of intense snow deceiving of ice axes and crampons. But hey, we got some awesome views! 

*Roundtrip length: 12 miles (not to top off pass)

*Elevation gain: +-1500 feet (not to top)

*Views: Down the mountain valley, 3-4 different lakes, awesome rushing rivers


Biking the Going to the Sun road in June

Before the Going to the Sun road opens to vehicle traffic post June 22nd (sometimes it to doesn't open until late July due to a big snow winter), biking the road is the way to go! It is an intense bike ride. Don't get me wrong.

Here are the stats leaving from the Avalanche Parking area to the top of Logan Pass:

*Distance:32 miles round trip

*Elevation gain: 3,200 feet

*Views: Incredible waterfalls from snowmelt, famous 'weeping wall', beginning wildflower bloom, BEARS (saw a mom and cub), moose, big mountains, big valleys, at the top of Logan Pass you look toward east glacier


So yes, it's literally an ass kicker with a 16 mile climb of 3,200 feet. That being said though, it's a gradual slope on a road. So if you have a nice light road bike, it's actually not that bad... I stayed in the lowest gear I had on my hybrid $300 Trek bike and  just peddle peddle peddle! I got off my bike when I couldn't peddle anymore and walked it a bit.

It did take about 4-6 hours and I came down the pass at sunset which was really beautiful but my ass hurt so badly from my bike seat!! I rode downhill standing on my peddles practically the entire time. Riding downhill also required lots of breaking and trust that your bikes breaks work.

Overall, it was absolutely incredible. The endorphins from working hard when you get to the top of the pass, then ride down the pass really gives you an incredible feeling of accomplishment and feeling like you are on top of the world. And being up there before people can drive though the park...priceless. 


Avalanche Lake in July

After the snow starts to melt in the higher peaks more, the waterfalls really come to life. Hannah and I hiked Avalanche Lake in mid May prior to lots of snowmelt so we didn't have dramatic waterfalls that Avalanche Lake is famous for. So naturally, I went back with some new met buddies from FLL in July. It was INCREDIBLE. But also, very very busy. There's a different feel of beauty when shared with 15 other people crowded on a small trail. Still beautiful though.  


Cracker Lake from Many Glacier in July 

High mountain peaks surround this turquoise blue lake. It's an incredible hike in as you hike directly toward jagged peaks knowing a magical lake sits at the bottom of these peaks. You might only see a couple other people as it's a longer day hike. Theres a couple camp spots at the lake itself so those might be the only people you see. It's a magical spot. 

*Distance: 12.8 miles

*Vertical gain: 1300 feet

*Views: Turquoise lake, mining ruins, high peaks, bears, moose, wildflowers, marmots

The Highline Trail + Grinnell Glacier Overlook in August

I heard about the Highline Trail because it's an infamous trail in Glacier for scaling along high cliffs holding onto a chain. The photos lured me in! Then my good friend Becky who I did some longer hikes with in the Tetons came to visit me at FLL with her sister and friend. We all agreed to hike the Highline together. We camped the night before in the national forest just north of West Glacier. It was along a beautiful river in an open field. Really nice primitive dispersed camp spot. Here are the stats of what we were about to get ourselves into:

*Distance: 15.5 miles (including Grinnell Glacier Overlook)

*Elevation Gain: 2,830 (subtract 1,000 without the overlook)

*Views: Mountain goats, bears, marmots, high peaks, cliffs, wildflowers, mountain chalet, high overlook of sweeping valleys, forests 


The next day we woke up before sunrise and started out drive to the end spot of the hike, called "The Loop" to catch a shuttle to the top of Logan Pass where we would start our hike. I learned the hard way the summer before to always park your car at the END of your hike. We started the hike with incredible views, scaling the cliff holding onto the chain attached to the wall. There were falling rocks and some people wore helmets as they scaled this part.

Then you hike below massive peaks in meadows filled with colorful wildflowers. The wildflowers bloom later because of the later snowmelt higher up in Glacier. It was INCREDIBLE. Highly recommend doing this hike when the flowers are blooming. There is an offshoot of the trail to take you up to Grinnell Glacier Overlook. Becky and I both went up the off shoot. It was steep, difficult, but not that long. It did add on about 1 hour or so of hiking. The views were worth it. The glaciers are all melting in Glacier national park, and I didn't know when I would be back to the park..so it was a must to do. Incredible lookout!

We then got back on the Highline Trail and met up with the others at The Granite Park Chalet. It's a mountain Chalet serviced by horses and mules. Its a fully operating sleeping quarter with a little convenience store. The last 3 miles to our car from the Chalet were the toughest... They were downhill, but the afternoon sun was directly on the unshaded trail the entire way. We heat reflects off the trail and is brutal. We passed by multiple groups of people that were stopped on the trail calling for help because they had heat exhaustion or ran out of water and were feeling lightheaded. It was weird to see. A lot of people do the hike underprepared because it is such an infamous trail. The heat and brutality should not be overlooked before doing this trail.

I ran out of water the last 2 miles and felt way overheated. But seeing rescue teams hike up with body carrier things was motivation enough to get back to the car as fast as possible! The last half a mile, there was some tree shade on the trail, and then I heard rushing water... Then an OHHHH SOOOO beautiful site when you are dehydrated, sweaty, overheated...a stream with perfect pools of ice cold water to soak in. I stripped down and jumped in. Perfect end to a long hike. 



Bowman Lake Area

It's a long drive heading north, almost to the Canadian border and requires driving on a long dirt road. But Oh So Worth IT! It's isolated, beautiful, peaceful, and feels like the postcards of Glacier. I didn't do any hikes over here, but some friends and me set up hammocks right next to Bowman Lake and took naps and enjoyed the sunset. 


Last hike of the summer: Ptarmigan Tunnel & Iceberg Lake 

I knew about an awesome narrow, rocky tunnel that cuts through a giant mountain pass from watching the documentary 'Unbranded' about some cowboys that ride mustangs on the contintental divide trail and take their mustangs through the tunnel. It is a stunning scene and I knew that I wanted to hike through the tunnel. After looking it up in late September, it was due to close for the winter season in 2 days!! I had the next day off, the weather was good...so there was off to hike. 

Here are the stats which include hiking to Iceberg Lake after coming down from Ptarmigan Pass

*Distance: 10.7 Ptarmigan Tunnel, + 6 Iceberg Lake

*Elevation gain: 2300 feet

*Views: Massive Mountain scapes, bears, moose, high alpine lakes

It turned out to be a LONG solo hike and one of the scarier hikes, hiking into dusk not having seen any other people on the trail for hours. If you haven't heard, there are BIG grizzly bears and often BAD grizzly bear attacks in Glacier. So being alone I was terrified hiking home in the last light of day during one of the last days of summer. I had bear spray in hand and played music and sang loudly.

Anyways, it was an incredible solo experience where I felt a sense of 'bliss' when I finished the hike. 


Heading to the mountains on the far right

Trail on the left going up, came from the right beside the lake

You round a corner, then BAM a small metal door is half closed going through a massive cliff of a steep jagged rocky mountain ridge line. I walked up to it, half expecting it to be closed a day early and I missed it...but it was open! Walking through the tunnel, not knowing what was on the other side was thrilling. 

I could hear some voices of a couple ladies coming through the tunnel, and then it seemed like an oddly world to see a group of 3 other middle aged women hiking! After not having seen anybody else the entire hike. They snapped a photo of me at the tunnel 


Waterton Glacier International Peace Park

My mom came to visit and we took a mini vacation together. We drove up through Banff, to Lake Louis In Canada, and then down to Waterton, and then back across the US border to Many Glacier.

We took a hike up in Lake Louis to the Plain of Six Glaciers.  My mom came from sea level 2 days prior to this hike, and this hike was NO JOKE. It was all uphill, a mountainous climb, with snow,  dirt, ice, but there was a pleasant mountain tea house that served scones, soup, and tea that we stopped at halfway up to the glacier vIewpoint. 

Here are the stats: 

*Distance: 9.1 miles

*Elevation Gain: 1920 feet

*Views: mountain goats, sheep, Lake Louis, massive glaciers, high mountain peaks, mountain teahouse, moose, bears, marmots, climbing chalet at top of glacier, avalanches if timed right with weather


Getting to experience Glacier for a summer was a once in a lifetime experience for me living just a drive away from the park. To see all of the park would take a lifetime. It is a HUGE, incredible place with a lot to explore. It is still wild, a lot of it untouched. The North west of the park near Bowman Lake was the area that blew me away the most. It is such a vast, remote area. The mountains are huge and topped off with perfect climbing cliffs. To reach them would take days and tons of gear I imagine, true mountaineering. Looking at them from afar they seem majestic and almost untouchable. 

The wildlife is free, wild, and roam deep into the dense forests of the park. The park is flowing with life of all types during the summer. There is water everywhere for wildflowers of all colors to bloom, moose to thrive in, and grizzly bears to fish. The number one cause of human deaths in Glacier is by drowning. Most of the summer the water level is so high and so fast that it has a power to be respected. Respecting the land, and the animals is key. They rule these lands and if you don't respect it, they will kill you. 

Last of all: If you plan on doing any hikes in Glacier, you need to be experienced and know what you are getting into. Doing a lot of research before going and making sure you are in shape enough is key. I research hikes a lot before I head out and always pack a bag full of necessities. I also carry a GPS satellite phone because there's no service in most of the park. Being prepared for anything and doing your research is key to success. 

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