Glacier National Park is a hiker’s paradise. There are numerous day hikes and multi-day hikes to choose from, each getting you far from crowds and closer to wildlife. For some of us, though, the easier and shorter trails are what we want. Perhaps you’re hiking with young children or you have limited mobility or you have limited time. Whatever your reason, here are four easy hikes in Glacier National Park to consider.
I used two sources to plan these hikes: “Moon Glacier National Park: Hiking, Camping, Lakes & Peaks” and “Day Hikes of Glacier National Park Map-Guide.” You don’t need both, and as a casual hiker, I thought the Moon’s guide was more helpful in planning activities beyond hiking and even outside the park.
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How to pick the right trail for you in Glacier
With more than 700 miles of trails – many in remote backcountry – planning a hike in Glacier National Park is overwhelming to a first-time visitor (at least, it was for me). My recommendations for things to consider when looking for the right trails for you and your group or family:
- Be honest about your abilities and fitness level. Not only look at the distance of a trail, but the level difficulty.
- If you want to see wildlife, determine what it is you hope to see and head to the part of the park that is known for them. For instance, mountain goats and bighorn sheep are known to roam Logan Pass, and I can vouch for that!
- What kind of scenery are you looking for? Waterfalls? Glaciers? Read trail descriptions to learn which trail takes you to the kinds of things you want to see. Don’t leave it to chance.
Related post: For the days you don’t plan on hiking, here are some things to do near Glacier National Park.
What to bring on your hike
You need to be prepared even for an “easy” hike. Follow the national park’s guidelines for what to bring:
- Sturdy footwear (your feet may get wet on trails covered in snow), and I’m talking sturdier than the running shoes I wore!
- Plenty of water (I saw a family with a GRAYL GeoPress Water Purifier Bottle and I was so envious. They were able to filter spring water on the hike!)
- Plenty of snacks or lunch food (bring more than you think you’ll need)
- Bring bear spray and consider attaching a bell to your backpack as an added measure to make noise.
- Bug spray and sunscreen
- Hat and/or sunglasses. A hat is a must when hiking the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail – there is no shade.
- Rain gear like a compact, packable poncho
- Loud kids…or loud adults, whatever suits you. Do not hike alone and make noise when you hike to let wildlife know you’re near.
Easy Logan Pass hikes and trails
Wildlife spotted: Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, marmot, ground squirrels, grizzly bears (in the far, far distance)
One of the park’s most visited areas is Logan Pass, found on Going-to-the-Sun Road at the Continental Divide. Most likely, at some point on your Glacier National Park trip, you’ll be stopping here or passing by it, at least.
Tip: Believe the hype that the parking lot fills up fast here. If you arrive after 8 a.m., you will end up driving in circles or parking on the road about a mile or so away.
Two popular trails start from the visitor center at Logan Pass, Hidden Lake Overlook and Highland Trail. It’s also where you can find the paved Logan Pass Interpretive Trail. Interpretive, in this instance, means there are informative signs throughout the trail.
Take this easy path to learn about the unique flora and fauna, and some of the animals found in the area. There are hand-crank audio stations that will appeal to younger kids. Be sure to keep cranking it because the audio will stop otherwise.
Highland Trail is popular but a tad too long for most families with younger kids. Instead, I highly recommend the 2.6-mile Hidden Lake Overlook Trail (there is an option to continue down to the lake — adding several miles to the hike).
It’s the shorted hike that ranks among the favorites of many guidebooks. That said, it’s still not an easy stroll. But it can be done with kids, and it’s well worth the effort. Just be prepared with sturdy shoes, plenty of water (and maybe treats for bribery), and if you have them, hiking poles.
The hike starts out with wooden walkways and steps heading steadily higher up the mountain. In mid-July, the trail goes along beautiful fields of wildflowers. There are about 30 rare flora and fauna at Logan Pass, so take a moment to look around.
It’s a delicate ecosystem so stay on the trail at all times.
There’s no shame in stopping frequently as you head up the stairs. Blame it on the altitude and your love of wildflowers. There aren’t benches, though, so find a comfy-looking step or boulder.
Once the steps end, the trail is dirt and, possibly, snow covered in parts. We hiked in mid-July and there was quite a bit of snow to trek through.
The snow was melting, so it was a mix of slick slush with pockets of loose snow that your heavy footsteps may break through. I filled a shoe with some refreshing snow.
The kids enjoyed the snow, though. I saw some hikers use their backpacks as sleds.
At this point in the hike, look up at the rocky mountain walls for bighorn sheep and mountain goats. We saw several.
In fact, a few bighorn sheep decided to make their way down the mountain, crossing our trail in the process. I’d say that twas the exciting part of the hike, and also the scariest. They were very close to us!
Once you make it passed the snow-covered portion, the hike gets considerably easier and you’re less than a half-mile from the overlook and the trail flattens out.
The trails passes a couple of small lakes and grassy areas that may have some mountain goats lounging around. Don’t be surprised by ground squirrels or marmots following you. The little scavengers.
In a short time, you’ll reach Hidden Lake Overlook.
The nearby herd of mountain goats and their kids vied for our attention. I’m not complaining – they were neat to see so close up.
Ranger tip: Clapping is all you need to do to get a mountain goat to move along,
However, train your binoculars onto the area around the lake. While we were there, an eagle-eyed park ranger pointed out a sow grizzly bear and her two cubs. She was hunting in the lake while the cubs stood on the shore.
Not to make it seem like they were really close to us. The naked eye couldn’t spot them.
Because of the bears by the lake, the rest of the Hidden Lake Trail was closed after the overlook. I heard the ranger say it’s typically closed in July because of bear sightings.
A great trail in Avalanche
Wildlife spotted: Birds and ground squirrels
My favorite short, easy hike is the 0.9-mile Trail of the Cedars at Avalanche. It’s as close to a rainforest as you’re going to get in Montana. The towering Cedars and Black Cottonwoods block most of the sun’s rays, creating a cooler, shaded space for a casual hike. It’s a loop that will take about 20 minutes or less.
The trail is a nature trail, and a mix of paved and boardwalk pathways. It’s wheelchair accessible and ideal for families with young children. There are several benches throughout.
Don’t let the sound of it being too easy dissuade you from stopping. It’s beautiful along the flat trail.
Ferns and moss covered boulders may be found along the trail. My favorite point is the small bridge at Avalanche Gorge, which had the bluest water I’ve seen in ages. You can hear the sound of the water from the falls as it flows on either side of the trail’s loop.
There’s one point along the trail that you can get close enough to the creek. There, you can take your shoes off and venture into the icy cold creek.
Apgar Bike Trail
Wildlife spotted: Birds
The 2-mile Apgar Bike Trail is most paved and mostly flat, making it another great one for people with limited mobility. While there are plenty of walkers on the trail – it’s near a lot of campsites and Apgar Village – the trail was never too crowded to make a beginner biker feel flustered.
We rented bikes at Glacier Outfitters in Apgar Village (you can also rent kayaks there) and road through wooded area (crossing some roads) to get too West Glacier.
I liked the yellow and white wildflowers that lined parts of the trail and the towering trees. We didn’t pass too many other geological features while on the trail, except for the lovely Flathead River.
Be sure to get a picture by the iconic Glacier National Park West Glacier entrance sign. To make it an out-and-back route, turn around at this point.
Or, you can walk carefully along the road, and turn right onto the employees’ road to cut part of that return trip in half.
Best Glacier National Park trails that are short and easy
If you have more time to spend in Glacier – lucky you – here are more trails that guides I’ve scoured have recommended for easy day hiking:
West Glacier & Apgar area: Along with Apgar Bike Trail (2 miles), there’s Rocky Point (about 1.5 miles round-trip) map
North Fork: Hornet Lookout (2 miles round-trip), Transboundary Flathead River Interpretive Trail (.3-mile loop). The best details for these are in the Moon guide book.
Avalanche: Trail of the Cedars (.9-mile loop) or you can add to it the Avalanche Lake trail (6.1-mile round-trip)
Logan Pass: Hidden Lake Overlook (2.6 miles round-trip), Logan Pass Visitor Center interpretive trails
St. Mary Lake: St. Mary and Virginia Falls (3.4 miles round-trip), Baring Falls (1.2 miles round-trip) map
Many Glacier: Lake Josephine and Grinnell Lake (2.2-mile round-trip; this one requires a boat ride on Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine)
Two Medicine: Aster Park (3.8 miles round-trip), Twin Falls (2 miles round-trip) map