I firmly believe that Glacier is the most underrated National Park in the U.S.
You hear so much talk about Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, etc, but rarely ever does Glacier come up in talks of National Parks (at least not in my experiences).
But, I’m hear to tell you that you should not forget about it because it is absolutely stunning. Montana really has a lot going for it with this little guy. I probably wouldn’t have visited it or even really thought much about it if it weren’t for my friends moving out there, so I’ll forgive you if you thought the same.
The Rocky Mountains extend all the way up into Canada and there’s beauty all along the way. Glacier is tucked in the northwest corner of Montana and extends over the border into Canada where it’s called Waterton Lakes National Park. I had the pleasure of driving all the way over to Montana. One of the most amazing things about this state is that the mountains jut up out of nowhere. The eastern half of Montana is mostly flat farmland, sometimes a rolling hill or two. Then, you round one corner on the highway and the mountains sky rocket straight up out of no where. It’s such the drastic change. Because of this feature, the mountain elevations are lower than places like Colorado. (10,000-11,000 feet versus 13,000-14,000) But, you have to realize that places like Denver are already at 5,000 feet before the mountains are even taken into account. The landscape is still just as drastic at any other majestic mountains.
flat fields shoot straight up into the Rockies
Now, like any other national park, Glacier is huge. We spent the better part of 5 full days hiking and exploring different trails and parts of the park and still felt like I only saw such a small portion. But, I’d at least like to share a little guide to the hikes we did do.
Going To The Sun Road
But, first, let’s talk about ‘Going To The Sun Road’. This is the most beautiful road in America, absolutely no competition. This road cuts straight through the park. It’s only open for a short time of the year, so make sure you visit in the summer months if you want to experience it in full glory. Complete with hairpin turns and deathly drop offs, this road has it all. (SNL’s ‘Sefton’ skit reference). The next few photos were all taken from the passenger seat.
the road that you come from runs right along that river down there
this photo was taken looking straight down from the car, on the left is the road, the washed out center pole is the “barrier”/end of road and the right is the straight down drop that is less than a foot away from the car
Now, if you can see all of that from the seat of a car, just imagine what you will see if you actually take a hike.
Hidden Lake Trail
This trial starts from the Logan Pass visitor’s center, which is a very popular stop along Going To The Sun Road. It’s right along the Continental Divide and it’s the highest point of the road. Get there early if you don’t want to wait for a parking spot.
This is a very popular trial despite the show fields you must pass through to get to the view. But, this doesn’t make the hike any less crowded.
However, there are two options on this hike. There is a 1.5 mile hike one way to the overlook, which is where the first photo was taken. Then, you can go another 1.5 miles down a moderately steep incline to the lake. This makes the trial either 3 or 6 miles roundtrip and is the different between a decently easy hike and a moderate hike. We went about halfway down to the lake before turning back because we were afraid we wouldn’t have enough time to do our other hike for the day.
Oh, and also a mountain goat passed 2 feet from us, so that’s pretty insane.
This trail begins from the Trail of the Cedars trailhead, which is also located along Going To The Sun Road. It’s not too far from the McDonald Lodge. This trial might be the most popular in the park, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not absolutely stunning. It’s a pretty easy hike, perfect for kids and adults alike. The roundtrip distance is only 4.5 miles, which makes is easy to do in a couple hours and still be able to squeeze 2 hikes into the day.
The white stripes lining the mountain are waterfalls feeding into Avalanche Lake. Absolutely dreamy.
The hike follows Avalanche Creek almost the entire time, which is a pretty fierce creek. Definitely wouldn’t want to slip and fall into this one.
This hike is located all the way across the park in the Many Glacier area. It was about a 3 hour drive from where we were staying in Lakeside, but it was definitely worth it. Plus, we got to drive the entire Going To The Sun Road, which we hadn’t done yet. Many Glacier is a quieter and more rustic part of the park, which already excited me. The trail starts behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, where there should be enough parking for any time of the day. This is a roundtrip hike just shy of 10 miles so I would start before 10am. It’s also a decently strenuous hike. The elevation gain is about 1,300 feet. Nothing too crazy, but enough to give you a bit of a challenge. Plus, this is the view you get upon arrival.
It’s hard to tell from the above photo, but this lake is surrounded by these cliffs on 3 sides. It kind of sits in this bowl. There are icebergs floating in the lake, even in mid July. It’s one of those scenes that tricks your eyes (kind of like the Grand Canyon) because it’s so vast and unreal.
The hike up is equally as stunning, with views of Mt. Grinnell and Swiftcurrent Mountain. There’s also Ptarmigan Creek and Ptarmigan Falls along the way and fields of wildflowers. It’s the total hiking package. In fact, if you could only choose one shorter day hike in Glacier, I might choose this one. But, please, don’t make me do this because it’s like picking between children, or so I can only imagine it would be. Supposedly, this is prime bear country, but we didn’t see nary a bear, black or grizzly.
I’ve done some of the best day hikes in my life in Glacier. There are so many stunning sites that only take a short hike to get to. Of course, there are amazing backcountry trails and hikes and backpacking excursions, but you can see a lovely portion of what Glacier has to offer doing these shorter hikes.