Start Planning Your Glacier NP Adventure Yesterday

Con­sid­ered the Crown of the Con­ti­nent, Glac­i­er Nation­al Park deserves to be explored at least once in a life­time if not every sea­son. While attrac­tions like the Going-to-the-Sun Road are a good launch­ing point for this ele­vat­ed ter­rain in north­ern Mon­tana, if you are going out of your way to vis­it this icon­ic nat­ur­al resource, hik­ing the trails is prob­a­bly of high pri­or­i­ty. Back­coun­try Per­mits go for advanced reser­va­tion in March and serve as the best way to con­nect the pass­es, camp­grounds, and views you intend to see. Don’t know where to start your trip plan­ning to Glac­i­er? Check out these back­coun­try and front coun­try recommendations.

Filled with vibrant ecosys­tems, an abun­dance of wildlife and burly moun­tain pass­es, Glac­i­er is a great place for back­pack­ers to find them­selves in mag­nif­i­cent sur­round­ings. The Con­ti­nen­tal Divide Trail spans the entire length of the park before find­ing its north­ern ter­mi­nus at the Cana­di­an bor­der, and the Pacif­ic North­west Trail begins in Glac­i­er and pro­ceeds to head 1,200 miles west to the Wash­ing­ton Coast. Nation­al Scenic Trails aside, Glac­i­er has sev­en back­coun­try areas, 65 dif­fer­ent back­coun­try camp­grounds, and numer­ous trail­heads to choose from. Check out this map for an overview of the trail system.

Boul­der Pass
North Fork and Goat Haunt Area
Found with­in the north­ern wilder­ness of the park, Boul­der Pass is one of the most pop­u­lar overnight routes avail­able in Glac­i­er. Typ­i­cal­ly, Boul­der Pass back­pack­ing routes begin at the Kint­la Lake trail­head in the North Fork Area of the park. From there, hik­ers strad­dle the shore of Kint­la Lake, pro­ceed­ing 18 miles to Boul­der Pass. Appre­ci­at­ing the views is easy the entire way, espe­cial­ly at the Hole-in-the-Wall basin. From Boul­der Pass, hik­ers can either go anoth­er 10 miles to the Goat Haunt Ranger Sta­tion or make a half-loop with 15 miles to the Bow­man Lake Trailhead.

Stoney Indi­an Pass
Bel­ly Riv­er and Many Glac­i­er Area
The Bel­ly Riv­er and Many Glac­i­er Area of the park affords many hik­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, includ­ing the sought-after Stoney Indi­an Pass. A pop­u­lar way to expe­ri­ence this high-alpine pass is through a mul­ti-day trek start­ing from the Chief Moun­tain Cus­toms trail­head on the east­ern edge of the park. Fin­ish­ing at the Goat Haunt Ranger Sta­tion, the total trav­el length is just under 30 miles. A grad­ual incline to begin the trail pass­es by numer­ous alpine lakes and the climb up Stony Pass allows hik­ers to real­ly earn the views.

Gun­sight Pass
Saint Mary and Lake McDon­ald Area
Com­ing in at rough­ly 20 miles and begin­ning near the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Gun­sight Pass can be done as an ambi­tious day hike, but 2–3 days real­ly lets hik­ers take in the scenery. With over 7,000 feet of ele­va­tion change, the pass is no cake walk, but views such as the turquoise waters of Gun­sight Lake make it well worth it. In addi­tion to hik­ers, Gun­sight Pass is always pop­u­lar with res­i­dent moun­tain goats (who deserve some space).

Two Med­i­cine Pass
Two Med­i­cine and Wal­ton Area
Depart­ing from the Two Med­i­cine South Shore trail­head in the south­east por­tion of the park, the one-way dis­tance to Two Med­i­cine Pass is just under eight miles. This hearty trek isn’t rec­om­mend­ed for first-timers though. Those who take on this hike climb their way past icon­ic land­scapes like Rock­well Falls and Cobalt Lake before hit­ting big views at the pass. To extend the trip into a mul­ti-night excur­sion, hik­ers can con­tin­ue to the Lake Isabel­la Camp­ground or head into the Wal­ton area of the park, where the Nyack/Cold Creek Camp­ing Zone offers undes­ig­nat­ed camp­ing opportunities.

Going-to-the-Sun Road
Cross­ing the heart of the nation­al park and span­ning for 50 miles, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a cen­ter­piece for near­ly everyone’s trav­el to Glac­i­er. Numer­ous trail­heads and points of inter­est can be found off the shoul­ders, as well as stun­ning land­scapes that make it hard to con­cen­trate on the road. Dri­ving your per­son­al vehi­cle isn’t the only way to trav­el, and it’s not even the rec­om­mend­ed course of action. Instead, Glacier’s free shut­tle sys­tem is a great way to ride.

Lake McDon­ald
As the largest lake in the park, this mas­sive glacial reser­voir is anoth­er icon­ic image for anyone’s vis­it. Eas­i­ly accessed from the Going-to-the-Sun Road and sur­round­ed by upright Rocky Moun­tain peaks, Lake McDon­ald is an award-win­ning pho­to eas­i­ly tak­en by acci­dent. Miles of hik­ing and back­pack­ing trails sur­round the 10-mile lake. For those look­ing to enjoy the water in style, the cen­tu­ry-old Lake McDon­ald Lodge offers rus­tic accom­mo­da­tions with a mod­ern appeal.

High­line Trail 
For a more stren­u­ous day hike with all the views, the High­line Trail is a point-to-point high­light reel of icon­ic Glac­i­er land­scapes. Both ends of the hike are accessed from the Going-to-the-Sun Road and made logis­ti­cal­ly easy thanks to the free shut­tle. The trail trav­els near­ly 12 miles between the Logan Pass Vis­i­tor Cen­ter and “the loop” sec­tion of the Going-to-the-Sun road. Hik­ers strad­dle the nar­row edge of the Gar­den Wall before pass­ing many view­points, includ­ing the reced­ing and well-pho­tographed Grin­nell Glac­i­er. The High­line Trail can be split between days thanks to the cen­tu­ry-old Gran­ite Park Chalet lodg­ing found along the way.

Trail of the Cedars
As a required stop with any vis­it, the Trail of the Cedars is less than a mile long and eas­i­ly acces­si­ble thanks to a well-con­struct­ed board­walk trail and paved hik­ing route. Eas­i­ly one of the most pop­u­lar trails in the park, for good rea­son, ancient avalanche-avoid­ed trees line the route and the mov­ing waters of Avalanche Creek can real­ly leave a great impres­sion on you. This mile-long trail is wor­thy of a pit stop along a larg­er jour­ney. If hik­ers find them­selves under­whelmed by the scenery (they won’t), the trail con­tin­ues for anoth­er 1.9 miles to Avalanche Lake.