Top 10 Things To Do In Glacier Park
A view along the Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park.
Below is a brief description of each of the Top Things To Do In Glacier Park. Choosing this list was not an easy task, as there are seemingly infinite things to do in Glacier Park... And of course everyone has different tastes and preferences, so the audience that we are hoping to relate to on this list of Top Things To Do In Glacier Park is the typical Glacier Park vacationer who likes to do some day hiking as well as enjoy looking at scenery from a vehicle and/or from overlooks. As you read through our Top Things To Do In Glacier Park, simply pick and choose the ones that fit best for you...
Top Ten Things To Do In Glacier Park:
Going To The Sun Road
The Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park is one of the most scenic drives on earth and is our number one on our list of Top Things To Do In Glacier Park. Completed in 1932, the Going To The Sun Road is 52 miles long with its endpoints being West Glacier Montana (West Entrance) and St. Mary Montana (East Entrance). Also known as the Sun Road, this civil engineering marvel takes visitors up and over the Continental Divide with only ONE switchback the entire way. The highest point (6,646 feet) on the Going To The Sun Road is at Logan Pass, which is also the Continental Divide. But don't let this relatively low altitude fool you.... you will feel like you're on top of the world when you're up there because the valleys below are at extremely low elevations... as low as 3,000 feet in some areas. Therefore the "vertical expression" of the mountains from their base to their summit is remarkable, and in any other area of the Rockies along the high plateau such as Wyoming or Colorado, Logan Pass would be easily over 11,000 vertical feet above sea level.
The Going To The Sun Road is not only a National Historic Landmark, but is also National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark... and is the only road in the country with this distinction of both honors. One of the many remarkable features of this stunningly scenic road is that much of it is built on cliffs, which makes for a thrilling experience. And having only one switchback as it gains over 3,000 vertical feet and loses 3,000 vertical feet is an astounding engineering accomplishment, and is one of the key features in making this one of the most scenic roads on the planet.... all you see is pristine mountains, valleys and streams rather than a road below you and above you.
And along the Going To The Sun Road are numerous pullouts and turnouts that allow you to stop and take in the beauty. There are also several trailheads to world class hiking trails all along the Going To The Sun Road that take hikers into pristine sub-alpine and alpine wonderlands. And with all this being said, it's no wonder that the Going To The Sun Road is at the top of our list of Top Things To Do In Glacier Park.
Hidden Lake Trail Overlook
The Hidden Lake Trail Overlook is likely to be one of the most scenic 1.5 mile hikes (one way) you will ever experience and is why it is on our list of Top Things To Do In Glacier Park. The Hidden Lake trailhead is located along the Going To The Sun Road at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, where you will immediately be surrounded by breathtaking alpine beauty. Because of the extremely sensitive tundra in the open meadows above the Visitor Center along the Hidden Lake Trail, there is a boardwalk for a portion of this hike to minimize erosion due to heavy foot traffic.
Not only are you surrounded by towering mountains and a remarkable meadow where you wouldn't be surprised if you saw Julie Andrews singing "The Sound of Music" in it, but there are also fantastic opportunities to see mountain goats and bighorn sheep close up and personal.
The Hidden Lake Trail Overlook is halfway (mile 1.5) along this 3 mile long trail (one way) to Hidden Lake. This overlook is a popular place for hikers to enjoy a snack and take in the view before returning to Logan Pass. Beyond the Hidden Lake Trail Overlook, hikers have the option of continuing on downhill to the shore of Hidden Lake. This is an additional 1.5 miles (one way), and a 500 vertical foot drop in elevation from the overlook, which of course you have to climb back up upon your return. If you're feeling ambitious and have the time, keep going to Hidden Lake, but keep in mind the best view is from above, at the Hidden Lake Trail Overlook.
The Highline Trail on Logan Pass in Glacier Park is also one of our Top Things To Do In Glacier Park, as it takes hikers along what is known as "The Garden Wall" as it works its way northward along the west side of the Continental Divide. The Highline Trail is incredibly scenic trail and is one of the most popular hikes in the park... so you definitely will not be along. However, the views are so stunning that you won't even notice the other hikers.
As stated earlier, the Highline Trail begins at Logan Pass along the Going To The Sun Road, and ends about 30 miles to the north at Goat Haunt Montana in Glacier National Park. (Well, technically the trail turns into the "Waterton River Valley Trail" about 22 miles to the north at Fifty Mountain Campground, but it actually a continuation of the Highline Trail.) Those long distances are of course for multi-day backpackers, but there are several options for day hikers along the Highline Trail.
The most popular option for Highline Trail day hikers in Glacier Park is to begin a Logan Pass, and hike 7.9 miles to the Granite Park Chalet, then down what is known as "The Loop" Trail to a shuttle stop on the west side of the Going To The Sun Road. Hikers then take a shuttle back up to their car parked at Logan Pass. The total hiking distance is 11.6 miles.
About a mile before the Granite Park Chalet along the Highline Trail is a short spur trail that takes hikers up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook where they can stand literally on the Continental Divide and look down on the world famous Grinnell Glacier, Salamander Glacier and Gem Glacier. This short but steep hike is well worth the effort as the view from up top will knock your socks off. The Highline Trail is without question high on our list of the Top Things To Do In Glacier Park, and is a "must do" for anyone who enjoys day hiking.
Grinnell Glacier Trail
The Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier Park is not only among our Top Things To Do In Glacier Park, but is our all time favorite day hike in Glacier National Park. The only reason it isn't listed higher on our Top Things To Do In Glacier Park is the fact that it is more strenuous than the Hidden Lake Overlook hike or the Highline Trail hike as you gain over 1,600 vertical feet, so we felt we should drop it down on the list just a little.
The Grinnell Glacier Trail begins between the Many Glacier Hotel and the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, along the Many Glacier Road, and is about 5.5 miles (one way) to Grinnell Glacier. Another option is to take the Many Glacier Boat Tour, where the boat will drop you off at the head of Lake Josephine, shortening the hike to 3.8 miles (one way).
The Grinnell Glacier Trail is one of only two maintained hiking trails in Glacier Park that takes hikers directly to a glacier... the other being the Sperry Glacier Trail.... both being remarkable opportunities to see up close in person these iconic alpine glaciers. But as an additional bonus, once you reach Grinnell Glacier, you'll also be directly under Salamander Glacier and Gem Glacier, which are perched along the cliffs above you.
The one exceptional aspect of the Grinnell Glacier Trail besides being able to touch a glacier, is the fact that the view all the way up to the glacier is nothing short of spectacular. The entire hike is jaw-dropping and every step will astound you. The trail climbs about 1,600 vertical feet in less than three miles, and with every step, the scenery becomes more and more impressive. You'll pinch yourself as you look down on Grinnell Lake halfway up the trail and make sure you aren't dreaming.
Iceberg Lake Trail
The Iceberg Lake Trail is yet another popular hike in the Many Glacier Area, and is definitely one of our recommended Top Things To Do In Glacier Park. The trailhead is located at the far end of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn parking lot, and is a wonderful 4.7 mile (one way) trail with a vertical elevation gain of 1,200 feet. The trail is so scenic and climbs so gradually that you will barely notice the elevation gain. The Iceberg Lake Trail takes hikers up the north side of the Many Glacier Valley, all the while providing fantastic views of the surrounding mountains such as Grinnell Point, Grinnell Mountain, Swiftcurrent Mountain and Mount Wilbur.
The Iceberg Lake Trail then crosses Ptarmigan Creek and begins to work around Mount Wilbur to the left and the amazing Ptarmigan Wall to your right. At the end of this stunning setting lies a deep cirque with 3,000 foot cliffs. This is where Iceberg Lake awaits you. Icebergs usually remain on the lake until late July into early August, however icebergs or not, this hike and this lake is very much worth your effort. As you stand on the shore of this frigid lake, cliffs thousands of feet high tower all around you in this deep cirque... where you'll have trouble fitting it all in one photograph. A bonus along the trail is the beargrass if your timing is right, as these iconic wildflowers blanket the open fields below the Ptarmigan Wall just before you get to Iceberg Lake. The Iceberg Lake Trail is easily one of our recommended Top Things To Do In Glacier Park, and we highly recommend it.
Swiftcurrent Pass Trail
Located in the Many Glacier Area of Glacier National Park, the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail definitely belongs on our list of Top Things To Do In Glacier Park. The beauty of this trail is it’s great for all types of hikers... from someone who just wants a level, easy short day hike, to someone who wants to hike to the Continental Divide or even a mountain summit. This trail offers it all. The trailhead to the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail is found at the far northwest corner of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn Parking Lot, where the first 4 miles of this remarkabe trail is reasonably level and easy as it works its way up the Many Glacier Valley. Towering mountains loom above the trail on both sides, providing spectacular views the entire way.
The first treat awaiting hikers is Fisher Cap Lake, which is less than a quarter mile from the trailhead. Moose LOVE Fisher Cap Lake, and no matter what time of day, there is a pretty good chance you’ll see a moose feeding in the middle of the lake. The next lake is Red Rock Lake and just beyond this scenic pristine body of water lies Red Rock Falls at mile 1.8 (one way). These beautiful cascades are a very popular place for hikers to enjoy a snack while enjoying the crystal clear water pour over vivid red rocks. The hike from the trailhead to this point is quite level and easy.
Beyond Red Rock Falls, the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail continues westward up the Many Glacier Valley, with very little elevation gain. At about 4 miles (one way) from the Swiftcurrent Pass Trailhead, you’ll encounter Bullhead Lake. The ominous Swiftcurrent Headwall towers over it to the west, and Grinnell Mountain to the south. This is a very scenic spot and is a great place to rest, enjoy a snack and take in the view. Shortly after Bullhead Lake, the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail begins an extremely steep ascent up the Swiftcurrent Headwall, climbing over 2,200 vertical feet in less than 3 miles. With each step, the view down the Many Glacier Valley becomes more and more breathtaking. The “Devils Elbow” is a fun section of the trail where it wraps around a cliff, providing thrilling exposure below you.
Eventually you’ll reach Swiftcurrent Pass, which is on the Continental Divide about 6.7 miles from the trailhead. This broad pass takes you over the Continental Divide westward, and then works its way down the west side to the Granite Park Chalet, which is only about a mile from the west side of Swiftcurrent Pass.
Midway along the broad Swiftcurrent Pass you will encounter the Swiftcurrent Mountain Lookout Spur Trail, which is a short but very steep trail that takes hikers to the summit of Swiftcurrent Mountain. The trail climbs 1,000 feet in about a mile, but thankfully there are many switchbacks to make it a bit easier than it sounds. There is also an historic fire lookout here that is still being used. The views from the top of Swifcurrent Mountain are nothing short of magnificent in all directions. This is the only major peak in Glacier Park that has a trail leading up to it, which allows non-climbers to get to enjoy being on top of the world.
There are of course other ways to get to Swiftcurrent Pass and Swiftcurrent Mountain. The easiest way is to hike from Logan Pass along the Highline Trail, which meets up with the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail at the Granite Park Chalet. The other option is take “The Loop” Trail from the west side of the Going To The Sun Road and climbing several thousand feet in about 5 miles... which is quite a work out.
Many Glacier Boat Tour
The Many Glacier Boat Tour without a doubt deserves to be on our Top Things To Do In Glacier Park, and once you take this amazing ride, you’ll agree. The Many Glacier Boat Tour begins at the boat dock on Swiftcurrent Lake next to the Many Glacier Hotel. Two lakes and two boats are involved. The first leg of the tour will be on the historic wooden boat “Chief Two Guns” as it takes you across Swiftcurrent Lake. At the end of the lake, you then have to leave the boat and walk several hundred yards to the next lake, Lake Josephine, where the historic wooden boat “Morning Eagle” awaits you to take you across this pristine lake.
At the far end of the Lake Josephine is another boat dock, where you can either choose to stay on the boat and return to the Many Glacier Hotel, or to leave the boat and hike either the Grinnell Lake Trail or Grinnell Glacier Trail. Hikers who choose this option can catch another boat later in the day to return to the hotel. Not only is the tour entertaining, interesting and informative, the scenery is stunning the entire tour and is definitely one of our recommended Top Things To Do In Glacier Park.
Saint Mary Falls Trail and Virginia Falls Trail
If you like waterfalls, gorges and cascades, then you will LOVE the trail to Saint Mary Falls Trail and Virginia Falls Trail in Glacier National Park. You will completely agree with this trail being on our list of Top Things To Do In Glacier Park, as this trail is relatively easy and provides access to some amazing waters, cascades and gorges. Located along the East Side of the Going To The Sun Road in Glacier Park, the trailhead and parking area is well marked. The entire hike is only 1.8 miles (one way), and is packed full of beauty. The first waterfall you’ll encounter is Saint Mary Falls, which is about 1.2 miles from the St. Mary Falls Trailhead.
You will then hike along beautiful gorges, cascades and unnamed waterfalls until you reach the grand finale: Virginia Falls. These amazing falls are 1.8 miles (one way) from the trailhead, and are very much worth the effort getting there. Just before you reach Virginia Falls, there is a junction. The trail to the right (straight) takes you directly to the base of the falls, the other takes you down stream a bit where you get to look up at the falls. We recommend that you take the right fork first, and then head down the other trail and enjoy a snack along the stream as you look up at the falls and take in its beauty.
Two Medicine Area
One of our favorite places in Glacier Park is the Two Medicine Area. Among our Top Things To Do In Glacier Park, the Two Medicine Area is a whole new world with endless possibilities and things to do. The seven mile long paved Two Medicine Road begins about 3 miles north of East Glacier Park Montana, just off Montana Highway 49 (a.k.a. Looking Glass Highway). The Two Medicine Road takes you through a wonderful forest with Rising Wolf Mountain dominating the skyline to the west. Just about a mile before you reach the end of the road, make sure you stop at Running Eagle Falls (Trick Falls) to see an unusual waterfall that has water pouring down the top like a regular waterfall, and directly midway below it there is another waterfall joining the taller one. It’s really quite remarkable, especially early in the summer season as the seasonal snow begins to melt.
The parking lot at Two Medicine Lake marks the end of the road, and just before it is the turn off to the beautiful Two Medicine Campground and picnic area. The historic Two Medicine General Store is also located by the main parking lot, which is a great place to enjoy a snack and shop for gifts. The view from the shore of Two Medicine Lake of Sinopah Mountain and surrounding peaks is an iconic image of Glacier Park, and you’ll definitely be snapping a lot of photos of this astounding landscape.... especially if Two Medicine Lake is glass.
There are seemingly endless things to do at Two Medicine. There is a boat tour, kayak rentals, boat rentals, and hiking trails that will take you to “infinity and beyond”. There is so much to do here that its best that you visit our page on the Two Medicine Area to truly get a grasp of what is available at this very special area of Glacier Park.
Trail of the Cedars
Yet another destination on our list of Top Things To Do In Glacier Park is Trail of the Cedars along the west side of the Going To The Sun Road. Located about 6 miles west of Lake McDonald Lodge, the Trail of the Cedars is a 0.7 mile board walk loop (handicap accessible) that takes visitors through an ancient forest of huge western cedars, black cottonwoods and hemlocks. Midway through this magical walk is a foot bridge that crosses Avalanche Gorge, which is another iconic image of Glacier Park. Just before Avalanche Gorge is the trail junction to Avalanche Lake, where you can enjoy a pleasant 2.3 mile hike that takes you to the shore of Avalanche Lake. This scenic lake is surrounded by a steep headwall with several cascading waterfalls pouring off the top of it into the lake. Keep in mind that the Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake is the most popular hike on the entire west side of Glacier Park, so you will NOT be alone. But the beauty of this area makes up for the crowds. Trail of the Cedars in Glacier Park is without question among our list of the Top Things To Do in Glacier Park.