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  • Writer's pictureDan Wagner

Eight Extraordinary Days in Montana's Glacier National Park

Often referred to at the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park is a world unto itself. Spread over more than one million acres of glacier carved peaks and valleys, the park's pristine turquoise lakes, millennia old glaciers, ancient forests and abundant wildlife attract visitors from all over the world every year. The park's 700 miles of hiking trails provide its travelers with one dramatic view after another. In addition to its large population of Bighorn sheep and mountain goats, Glacier also boasts the largest population of grizzly bears anywhere in the continental US - it's believed that more than 1,000 live inside the park's boundaries. Navigating the park along the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a major highlight of the park and a true modern marvel. Spanning more than 50 miles and crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, it slices through the park providing big views at every turn. This solo trip was done in early August after much of the snow had vanished and the daytime temperatures were pleasant.

Day 1: Many Glacier

Grinnell Glacier (11 miles/2,200')

After arriving at Kalispell Airport and snagging my car rental, I headed to nearby Columbia Falls to get food and supplies, and then headed to the Many Glacier Campground to set up camp for the next few days. The first hike that I went on was out to Grinnell Glacier. The trail began in a picturesque forest, tracing the southern edges of Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, ultimately revealing a breathtaking panorama of Lower Grinnell Lake and a distant view of Grinnell Falls.

Grinnell Lake

From this point onward, the scenery along the trail became truly breathtaking and I found myself pausing every few minutes to look all around me. Upon arriving at Upper Grinnell Lake, I walked along its rocky shores, closely watching the bands of mountain goats that were grazing the nearby area. The mesmerizing color of Upper Grinnell Lake left me shaking my head, and the view of Grinnell Glacier along the Garden Wall was outstanding.

Grinnell Glacier

While standing along the shores of Upper Grinnell Lake, I sought out a high spot on the Garden Wall to the right, anticipating my hike there in a few days during the Highline Trail. After about an hour, I left the lake and ventured along one of the many trails diverging away from it, moving away from the Garden Wall. These paths led me to a large, rocky cliff offering incredible views of Lower Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, Swiftcurrent Lake, and Lake Shelburne. After retracing my steps to the trailhead, I prepared a meal at the camp before heading to Swiftcurrent Lake to watch a gorgeous sunset.

Day 2: Many Glacier

Iceberg Lake (4 miles/500')
Ptarmigan Tunnel (11 miles/2,400')

The next morning, I woke up early and returned to Swiftcurrent Lake to catch the sunrise, then went back to camp for breakfast. Following breakfast, I left for a long day hike to Ptarmigan Tunnel and Iceberg Lake, both accessible from the same trailhead behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. The first few miles of the trail are known for a decent grizzly bear presence, so I stayed aware of my surroundings, and headed north. Approximately 2.5 miles in, I caught a fleeting sight of Ptarmigan Falls before reaching a junction guiding me towards Iceberg Lake, one of the park's many stunning lakes.

Iceberg Lake

Having relished the lake views, I retraced my steps to the earlier junction and continued towards Ptarmigan Tunnel, happy with the start to another fantastic day. Later on, well past Ptarmigan Falls, I spotted several Bighorn sheep before ascending a set of switchbacks that led me to the 240-foot-long tunnel. Emerging on the other side, I was greeted by breathtaking views of Natoas Peak, Elizabeth Lake, Crosley Ridge, Mount Merritt, and Old Sun Glacier.

Elizabeth Lake Glacier National Park

After enjoying the views for quite a bit of time, I returned to the trailhead and had a fantastic meal at the Swiss Lounge in the Many Glacier Hotel.

Day 3: Many Glacier

Apikuni Falls (1.8 miles/500')
Swiftcurrent Lake kayak
Cracker Lake (6 miles/1,400')

Today began with a short stroll over to Fishercap Lake where I watched moose graze from a distance. The day couldn't have started off any better.

Fishercap Lake

After relaxing at Fishercap Lake, I set out on a hike to Apikuni Falls. The brief trek runs parallel to Apikuni Creek, culminating at a rocky outcrop near the foot of the 100-foot waterfall.

Apikuni Falls

After returning from the falls, I returned to camp, packed up my gear, and drove to the Glacier Park Boat Company at the Many Glacier Hotel. There, I rented a kayak and spent a few hours paddling on Swiftcurrent Lake.

Swiftcurrent Lake

Following the paddle, I packed my backpack and started on an overnight backpack to what is often considered the most stunning lake in the park, Cracker Lake. The hike itself was relatively uneventful, traversing through a forested setting without any expansive views. However, upon reaching the lake, I was genuinely amazed by the nearly translucent color of Cracker Lake. I set up camp at the backcountry site beneath the towering Mount Siyeh, cooked dinner, and watched the sun descend below the horizon.

Cracker Lake

Day 4: Many Glacier & Rising Sun

Cracker Lake return (6 miles/200')
Glacier Park Boat Company St Mary Lake
St Mary & Virginia Falls (3 miles/400')

The sunrise the following morning was absolutely breathtaking, casting its beauty over the still waters of Cracker Lake as another incredible day in paradise unfolded. After leisurely making my way back from the lake, I made a pit stop at Frog's Cantina just outside of the park for a burrito. Then, I headed to the Glacier Park Boat Company at the Rising Sun Boat Dock. There, I went on one of their scenic cruises along St Mary Lake, passing Wild Goose Island and back. Following the cruise, I set up camp at the Rising Sun Campground for the next few nights, and left to hike out to St Mary & Virginia Falls. St Mary Falls, a three-tiered waterfall, was roughly three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead and featured a stunning emerald green plunge pool.

Virginia Falls Glacier National Park

Continuing my hike, I proceeded to Lower Virginia Falls, a little over half a mile farther, where I took a long break. After reaching Upper Virginia Falls a short distance beyond, I retraced my steps back to the trailhead and returned to camp for a nap. Later in the evening, I ventured out to Wild Goose Island Lookout, located about a mile west from camp. From the lookout, I noticed several unmarked trails leading down to the shore of St Mary Lake, which I decided to explore. There, I enjoyed relaxing a bit more before ascending back to the main lookout to watch the sunset.

Wild Goose Island Overlook

Day 5: Logan Pass

Highline & Grinnell Glacier Overlook (15.5 miles/2,600')

On the agenda for day five was a long day hike – the Highline Trail, with a brief detour up the Garden Wall to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. Following an early morning drive to Logan Pass, I hopped on the trail, hiking along the Continental Divide amid vast fields of wildflowers. Along the Highline Trail, especially after the first two miles, I encountered around two dozen mountain goats and around a dozen Bighorn sheep, which is fairly common for the Highline Trail.

Highline Trail Glacier National Park

At roughly 6.5 miles, I arrived at a trail junction with a steep one mile trail leading to the top of the Garden Wall where I found myself staring down at Upper Grinnell Lake, Lower Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, Swiftcurrent Lake, and Lake Sherbourne.

Grinnell Glacier

Following the side trail leading to the overlook, I continued along the Highline Trail, passing the Granite Park Chalet, before ultimately reaching The Loop shuttle stop where I picked up the park shuttle and returned to my car at Logan Pass.

Day 6: Logan Pass

Mount Oberlin (4 miles/1,500')
Hidden Lake Overlook (3 miles/500')

After a lengthy day on the Highline Trail, I aimed for a less strenuous day, so I headed back to Logan Pass. There, I picked up the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail and followed it to the summit of Mount Oberlin, enjoying 360-degree views of the surrounding peaks and lakes. Upon returning to the trailhead, I headed back to camp, took a nap, prepared lunch, and spent the majority of the day relaxing there.

As the day neared its end, I revisited the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail and hiked just beyond Hidden Lake Overlook to a large rock outcropping. From there, I watched one of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever experienced and was even approached by another curious mountain goat.

Hidden Lake Overlook

Day 7: Logan Pass

Mount Siyeh (8.5 miles/4,100')

Day seven proved to be challenging, both mentally and physically. I made the decision to hike to the summit of Mount Siyeh to gain a high vantage point overlooking the beautiful Cracker Lake. The trail navigates through prime grizzly territory and involves a few demanding scrambles that I was somewhat uneasy about. Despite encountering my first three grizzlies of the trip during the hike, everything proceeded without incident, and the class IV and V scrambles seemed more like class II and III in reality. The only drawback was the intense wind atop Siyeh, but it was only a minor inconvenience given the incredible views from the summit.

Mount Siyeh

Later in the day, I packed up my gear and headed over to the Big Bend Overlook, which turned out to be the most scenic overlook that I visited during the trip.

Big Bend Glacier National Park

After relaxing at the overlook for quite a while, I headed to the Apgar Campground near the park's western entrance where I camped during my last night in the park.

Day 8:

Glacier Guides whitewater rafting
Avalanche Lake (6 miles/700')

The next day, I woke up early to catch sunrise from the shore of Lake McDonald, the largest lake in Glacier National Park.

Lake McDonald Glacier National Park

A bit later, I met up with the folks at Glacier Guides for a half-day scenic float down the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Following the return from the excursion, I had one last opportunity for a day hike and opted for a trek to Avalanche Lake. Encountering crowds near the lake's entrance, I chose to follow the shoreline away from the masses, seeking a secluded spot where I could unwind for a few hours, taking in the stunning views.

Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park

As the day came to a close, I headed into Columbia Falls for a hotel, hot shower, and a good meal. The next morning I flew out of Kalispell Airport, really happy with all that I did during my first trip to Glacier National Park.


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