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.

Overview
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.

Glacier National Park, Montana.

Glac­i­er Nation­al Park is one of the last pris­tine pieces of wilder­ness in the Unit­ed States. With over one mil­lion acres of moun­tain ranges, lakes and native wildlife to dis­cov­er it cer­tain­ly lives up to its nick­name as the Crown of the Con­ti­nent. Hard­core climbers, in par­tic­u­lar, have found it to be a fan­tas­tic place to vis­it with a seem­ing­ly end­less array of crag to explore and switch­backs to traverse.

The region is not for the faint of heart. The rocks are infa­mous­ly treach­er­ous and unsteady and dur­ing the cool­er months, much of the park becomes an avalanche zone. If you’re an expe­ri­enced climber, whether rock or moun­tain, you’ll find that the untouched rocks here are a great place to find new routes amid the crowd-free wilderness.

Mount Oberlin, Glacier National Park, Montana.Mount Ober­lin
Mount Ober­lin is wide­ly con­sid­ered the entry point for moun­tain climb­ing in Glac­i­er Nation­al Park. It’s one of only two moun­tains in the area that are con­sid­ered “safe” to climb with a some­what straight­for­ward route to the top. The Clements Sad­dle Route will get you to the peak in rough­ly half a day and the views from above are excel­lent. Ober­lin is the go-to route for those want­i­ng to climb when the con­di­tions aren’t very favor­able for harsh­er ascents.

Going-to-the-Sun Moun­tain
The West Face of Going-to-the-Sun hous­es a 4,000-foot ver­ti­cal ascent up a crum­bling façade designed to weed out the weak. It’s list­ed as a Class 3/4 but even the most expe­ri­enced climbers have a tough time mak­ing it to the top thanks to crap­py infra­struc­ture. If you find your­self eas­i­ly tra­vers­ing to the peak, the oppo­site side of the moun­tain is where the real chal­lenge lies. You’ll find some pret­ty great crags to tack­le here too.

Mount Saint Nicholas
Mt. Saint Nicholas is often tout­ed as the most dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous major sum­mit in the park. Its loca­tion in the remote south­west­ern por­tion of GNP makes it hard to reach and even hard­er to ascend. The steep ver­ti­cal horn of the moun­tain and stur­dy crag makes it appeal­ing for avid rock climbers, while moun­taineers love the tech­ni­cal routes to the top. You might have to ford the mouth of Muir Creek to get there, or trek in 18 miles, but the views from the top make it worth the effort.

Kin­ner­ly Peak
Expect to set aside at least a week in the back­coun­try if you’re going to make an attempt at Kin­ner­ly Peak. This mas­sive glacial horn is just less than 10,000 feet high and rests in the remote north­west region of the park. All four sides are incred­i­bly steep, with the one-mile ele­va­tion dif­fer­ence on the north face between the peak and Upper Kint­la Lake. With a rel­a­tive­ly high spire mea­sure and no real trail to choose from, Kin­ner­ly ranks up there with the best of them.

Mount Mer­ritt
Mount Mer­ritt isn’t the most tech­ni­cal climb in the park, though it’s cer­tain­ly not easy by any stretch, it does have inar­guably one of the most breath­tak­ing views from the top. Scenic over­looks of the sur­round­ing Mokowa­nis and Bel­ly Riv­er val­leys along with the neigh­bor­ing Old Sun Glac­i­er paint a mar­velous por­trait of one of the nation’s most valu­able nat­ur­al trea­sures. With only two stan­dard routes avail­able to the sum­mit, expect to spend days in the back­coun­try mak­ing your ini­tial approach. The Moka­nis Lake route requires an ice ax to help car­ry you across a steep screen slope and Class 3 ledges while the Old Sun Glac­i­er path is a com­pli­cat­ed route full of 50-degree climb­ing and exposed scram­bling most of the way up.

Glacier National Park, Montana.

Good camp­ing mem­o­ries are like a soft flame that burns through the night. Some­thing about that fresh air, open scenery, and step away from it all can real­ly stick around in your mind and define what you want out of life. Choos­ing a great camp­ground is gen­er­al­ly pret­ty easy; avoid any open sewage reser­voirs, make sure you have access to clean water, and if you can find a nice lev­el spot to pop the tent, even bet­ter. But there are places in this coun­try that are defined by their beau­ty and sur­round­ings that can also be con­sid­ered elite camp­ing spots. Places so amaz­ing that their beau­ty is not just seen, but felt along­side those open tent flaps and stove­top goulash. And here for you today, to get some of your tent stakes in the ground, are ten icon­ic camp­sites in the USA:

Sahale Glac­i­er Camp, North Cas­cades Nation­al Recre­ation Park

To spend the night at Sahale (derived from a Native Amer­i­can word for “high place”) one needs to obtain a back­coun­try per­mit through the North Cas­cades Nation­al Park. These per­mits are free, but are also on a first come, first serve basis, and there is not nec­es­sar­i­ly an abun­dance of room at this well-sought camp­site. But find your­self hold­ing a per­mit, sharp­en your moun­taineer­ing skills, and this camp­site and its high moun­tain peaks can pro­vide you with a life­time of moun­tain memories.

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Bright Angel Camp­ground, Grand Canyon Nation­al Park

It should be not­ed that trekking down to the Bright Angel Camp­ground locat­ed at the base of the Grand Canyon is total­ly option­al, but it is the trek back up, that is manda­to­ry. Filled with enough deep canyon views to inspire you to take up land­scape paint­ing, the trek down to this icon­ic camp­site is a lit­tle treach­er­ous for the first-time hik­er, but as you spend your night in the mid­dle of the Grand Canyon near the banks of the Col­orado Riv­er, the sore legs you will feel in the morn­ing (and on your way back up) will be well worth the sense of won­der you’ll expe­ri­ence at this campsite.

Rich­land Creek Camp­ground, Lake of the Ozarks

The best way to explore all the Ozarks has to offer is by spend­ing a night at the Rich­land Creek Camp­ground. Near­ly inac­ces­si­ble by your ordi­nary com­muter vehi­cle, this camp­ground is espe­cial­ly wel­com­ing to those who can trav­el by foot. What this means for you is a chance to explore the sur­round­ing Rich­land Creek Wilder­ness and its wildlife, water­falls, and rolling moun­tains with­out the encum­brance of the RV next door rock­ing its 90’s rock all night. Most sites here offer a pic­nic table and fire-pit, and all have access to fresh water includ­ing a near­by swim­ming hole that is per­fect for cool­ing off dur­ing the hot sum­mer months of the Ozarks.

Lone­some Lake at the Cirque of the Tow­ers, Wind Riv­er Range, Wyoming

You real­ly have to earn your camp­site when vis­it­ing the Cirque of the Tow­ers in the Wind Riv­er Range of Wyoming. That’s because it’s no gen­tle slope to access this sought after view, instead, it’s a requiem for a Stair­mas­ter as you make your way up the 5–10 miles to the dis­persed camp­ing area. Despite its dif­fi­cul­ty, the fan­tas­tic 270⁰ range of huge moun­tain peaks attracts quite the crowd to the Big Sandy Trail­head (which is the access point). Despite that, camp­ing is free once you make it fair­ly far up the path (and must be ¼ mile beyond the shores of Lone­some Lake), and you’ll need to bring your Leave No Trace Ethics because no ameni­ties are avail­able that far up the mountain.

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White Riv­er Camp­ground, Rainier Nation­al Park

If you can’t feel the excite­ment once you enter the gates of Mount Rainier Nation­al Park, you can cer­tain­ly see it. That’s because at the cen­ter of this Pacif­ic North­west Nation­al asset is the impres­sive Rainier peak stand­ing at 14,000+ feet. And while the park itself has a num­ber of great camp­sites that you would have a hard time not enjoy­ing your­self at, the most notable site is the White Riv­er Camp­ground. That’s because, besides dra­mat­ic Pacif­ic North­west views, the White Riv­er Camp­ground offers loads of access points to your favorite adven­ture oppor­tu­ni­ties. And whether you con­sid­er your­self a high alti­tude alpin­ist, pro­fes­sion­al day hik­er, or an avid shut­ter-bug, reser­va­tions to White Riv­er Camp­ground should be made today.

Jede­di­ah Smith Camp­grounds, Jede­di­ah Smith Red­woods State Park

There is some­thing unique about camp­ing near the Red­woods that dom­i­nate North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Maybe it’s just a rem­i­nis­cence of watch­ing Fern Gul­ley as a kid, but spend­ing time near these trees that can be traced back to a time before Amer­i­ca exist­ed gives you a reju­ve­nat­ing spir­it on just how big this world real­ly is. And while there are plen­ty of spots to bask in this age-old glo­ry, Jede­di­ah Smith Camp­grounds holds a spe­cial place in the Red­woods offer­ing its users a dai­ly dose of wildlife, ecol­o­gy, and sure­ly some of that same adven­tur­ous spir­it that Jede­di­ah expe­ri­enced when he first explored what we know today as California.

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Gar­den Key Camp­ground, Dry Tor­tu­gas Nation­al Park

To access the prim­i­tive Gar­den Key Camp­grounds in the Flori­da Keys of Dry Tor­tu­gas Nation­al Park you have to take a small fer­ry, so a lit­tle advanced plan­ning is need­ed to stay at these sandy shores. But make your arrange­ments and be pre­pared for a camp­ing expe­ri­ence like no oth­er. Snor­kel­ing, coral reef watch­ing, amaz­ing sun­sets, and tours of the his­toric Fort Jef­fer­son, all this is only made bet­ter by the stun­ning views of this ocean­ic island on the out­skirts of the Gulf of Mex­i­co. Be pre­pared to camp at Gar­den Keys, because, with lim­it­ed access to the out­side world, you’ll be left with your own resources and know-how while vis­it­ing Dry Tortugas.

Apgar Camp­ground, Glac­i­er Nation­al Park

All mighty Apgar, this is one camp­ground to put on your buck­et list. Locat­ed on the south­ern tip of Lake McDon­ald in Glac­i­er Nation­al Park of north­west­ern Mon­tana, you can expect to see high alpine views, dense forests, and an abun­dance of wildlife includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to griz­zly bears, Har­le­quin ducks, gray wolfs, and gold­en eagles. And it’s not even just the rus­tic scenery and diverse wildlife that makes this camp­ground worth vis­it­ing, Apgar also has access to over 700 miles of trails to explore for a life­time to come.

Camp 4 – Yosemite Nation­al Park

Often ref­er­enced as the birth­place of mod­ern climb­ing, Camp 4 in Yosemite Nation­al Park has the quick­est access to the equal­ly famous El Cap­i­tan big wall. Come take part in the fun at Camp 4 which fea­tures 35 tent spaces for climbers around the world to cram togeth­er and share sto­ries of their recent crags (and share a lit­tle whiskey as well). It’s first come, first serve at this famous camp­site, and make no mis­take, it can fill up fast. But while you are there, bask in the glo­ry that is mod­ern rock climb­ing and share the space with climb­ing his­to­ry as you try to avoid shar­ing your space with the local black bear denizen that roam the park.

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Watch­man Camp­ground, Zion Nation­al Park  

Sleep tight in Zion Nation­al Park know­ing that the Watch­man has an eye on you. And no, we’re not talk­ing about that creepy park ranger who you’re not even sure is actu­al­ly employed by the park, we’re talk­ing about the rocky peak that is promi­nent­ly vis­i­ble from every camp­ing spot in the Watch­man, and which acts as a good appe­tiz­er for all the Zion has to offer. What’s even nicer about the view from this often times busy camp­site (which is locat­ed just ¼ mile from the south entrance), is that it is a great launch­ing point for explor­ing every­thing that heav­en on earth has to offer.