Montana boasts some of the most pristine tracts of land in the entire United States, with incredible attractions like Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Climate change has had a major impact on the park’s glaciers. In 1850, the park had 150 glaciers and now has only 25. Some of these can be seen from various roads in the park.
The park has more than 700 miles of trails for people to explore. Many of these trails have gained a reputation in the hiking community as some of the best in the United States. The park is comprised of a rugged mountainous landscape, with a number of peaks over 10,000 feet, alpine meadows, dense forests, and alpine lakes.
Hiking is an ideal way to explore these different terrains and take in the dramatic views that Glacier National Park has to offer. If you are wondering about which trails to choose, two are easy to access and noteworthy. Visitors should be aware that Glacier is home to 300+ grizzly bears. Bear spray, hiking in groups, and making some noise are highly recommended.
The Hidden Lake Trail at Glacier National Park
A trail that will give you a true sense of Glacier National Park is the Hidden Lake Trail. It starts at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Follow the Hanging Gardens trailhead toward your destination. You will immediately notice how open the trail is as it winds through alpine meadows. Be prepared to deal with a lot of sun and wind given the high altitude.
While the trail starts as a paved surface, it will quickly transition into a raised boardwalk that will keep you above the snow and slush that persists into the summer. This area may be full of wildflowers that were fed by the melting snow. Along the path, you will see both Clements Mountain, which has a peak of 8,760 feet, and Mt. Oberlin, which is also impressive at 8,180 feet.
Not far from the visitor center, the trail takes a turn toward the southwest and passes Bearhat Mountain, with both Heavy Runner Mountain and Mt. Reynolds on your left. Eventually, you will come to a small rise and walk by some small ponds. At this point, you will want to follow an unmarked trail running between the two ponds that goes to Dragon’s Tail, an area with remarkable views of Hidden Lake. Moving past this point, you will come to the Continental Divide, which is where the snow runoff begins its movement toward the Pacific Ocean.
This point is very close to the Hidden Lake Overlook, which has bird’s-eye views of the mountains and the lake. You will see Sperry Glacier in the distance. Mountain goats are fairly common at the overlook. Hikers also sometimes see marmots and bighorn sheep.
After the overlook, the trail moves downward along Clements Mountain and continues to provide spectacular views of both Hidden Lake and Lake McDonald’s valley to the west. The route will get steeper as you approach the lake until you encounter a series of switchbacks that take you to the water, where there is a small beach.
This lake was carved by the movement of glaciers and has historically been a major attraction for anglers. Notably, George H. W. Bush once spent hours fishing for trout along the shores of Hidden Lake.
The Avalanche Lake Trail
Another popular option for hikers at Glacier National Park is the Avalanche Lake trail, which starts at the Trail of the Cedars trailhead. Trail of the Cedars is a loop hike from the Going-to-the-Sun Road. While the western part of this trail is shorter, the eastern side offers more breathtaking views, including a forest comprised of ancient western hemlocks and red cedars.
Because of the humidity in this specific valley, the cedars have grown up to 10 stories high, with diameters of up to seven feet. Some of the larger trees are more than 500 years old. This area also features many ferns and mosses carpeting the forest floor.
About half a mile from the start of the trail, you will come to a footbridge across Avalanche Creek with a beautiful view of Avalanche Gorge. Shortly after this point, you will see the intersection for the Avalanche Lake trail. The trail starts with a sharp climb, but it is quite brief. Look to your right as you move up the include to see a patch of extremely thick forest.
The trail soon meets up with Avalanche Creek, which is filled with melted glacial water that rushes through a very narrow gorge. While the trail eventually turns away from the creek, it more or less follows its curvature. Even if you cannot see the creek, you will certainly hear it. Later along the path, you will cross a section full of trees knocked down by recent avalanches from Mt. Cannon.
Finally, you will reach Avalanche Lake, which has a large beach at the foot of Bearhat Mountain. The other mountain dominating the vantage point is Little Matterhorn. Both mountains have multiple waterfalls coming down the cirque on the far side of the lake. It’s a great spot to take pictures of your group with the lake, cirque, and waterfalls in the background. Many of these waterfalls come from Sperry Glacier, although you will not be able to see the glacier from the lake. If you want, you can follow the trail further to get to the other side of the lake, which is a bit more secluded.