Essential Glacier National Park Day Hikes

Ptarmigan Tunnel is one of the most rewarding Glacier National Park day hikes

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Glacier National Park has over 700 miles of hiking trails and over 50 day hikes. So how do you pick which ones to do? If you’re only in Glacier National Park for a few days, the best way to see the highlights of the park is through a series of day hikes to popular sights. This Glacier National Park day hikes guide takes you to all the can’t-miss destinations and essential trails.

On these hikes, you’ll see everything from grassy meadows to glaciers to wildlife. Here are the top 7 Glacier National Park day hikes.

Table of Contents

1. Highline Trail + Garden Wall

Region: Logan Pass

Trailhead: Logan Pass Visitor Center

Type: One-way

Mileage: 11.8 miles (13.6 ft with Garden Wall)

Elevation: 800 ft (1,700 ft with Garden Wall)

This one-way trail is often referred to as a sampler of Glacier National Park. With breathtaking vantage points, this trip is a must-do Glacier National Park day hike. While some hikers prefer to do this hike as an introduction to Glacier, I prefer this hike as the finale. The Highline Trail perfectly ties together everything you’ve seen over the last week.

Start your hike at the trailhead across the street from the Logan Pass Visitor Center. You’ll start the hike by navigating along the rocky cliffside before the trail opens up into grassy terrain.

Keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats and marmots on this part of the trail. Bring your binoculars and keep a safe distance from any and all creatures.

The Garden Wall Add-On

Just under 6 miles into your hike, you’ll reach the optional Garden Wall add-on. This super-strenuous, 1-mile, straight-uphill trek is the best part of the entire hike. Will you be out of breath and questioning yourself the whole haul up the mountainside? Yes. Is it worth it? 110%.

The Garden Wall takes you up the side of the mountain range to overlook Grinnell Glacier. As you stand to overlook the turquoise waters, you’re also standing atop the Continental Divide. The Highline Trail is much less impressive without the Garden Wall add-on.

The American Continental Divide is the ridgeline along the Rockies where water flows down to different outlets. Water that flows down the west side of the mountain ends up in the Pacific Ocean. Water that flows down the east side of the mountain ends up in the Atlantic Ocean.

Aside from the Garden Wall, the elevation change is gentle and isn’t very strenuous for seasoned hikers. The hike-in, hike-out Granite Park Chalet provides a place for a nice snack and restroom break before beginning your downhill trek to The Loop. This downhill is mostly unshaded due to past forest fires, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

Highline Trail Logistics

Since this is a one-way hike, you’ll need transportation from The Loop to your vehicle at Logan Pass Visitor Center. You have a couple of options:

  • Take the free park shuttle. The shuttle operates along Going-to-the-Sun Road and can be very crowded, with only 2-3 open spots by the time it reaches The Loop. Expect to wait for a shuttle with space for you to board. If you’re in a group, have one person board and return to pick everyone else up after retrieving the car from Logan Pass.  Bring plenty of water and snacks to refuel while you wait.
  • If you’re traveling in a group with more than one car, the easiest thing to do is park one car at The Loop and one car at Logan Pass. If you’re particularly trusting, you can also arrange to do this with other groups of hikers.
  • If not everyone in your group is doing the Highline Trail, arrange for your family or friends to pick you up at The Loop. I’d recommend arranging a pick up for around 8.5 hours after you start the hike.
A hiker walks along the dirt Highline Trail in a grassy field

2. Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint

Region: Many Glacier

Trailhead: Many Glacier Hotel

Type: Out-and-back

Mileage: 10.6 miles (reduced to 7.2 miles with the boat tour)

Elevation: 1,600 ft

This hike should be on your bucket list. The viewpoint at the top of this trail holds the bluest waters I’ve ever seen. Reward yourself after a long upward journey by peeling off your merino wool socks and dipping your toes in the near-freezing glacial melt. The viewpoint makes for the perfect picnic spot before making your return trip.

The Grinnell Glacier hike starts at the Many Glacier Hotel. The trail follows  Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine ascending to view Grinnell Glacier. If you prefer to cut distance off your hike, the Glacier Park Boat Company runs a tour across the lakes. You’ll disembark at the Lake Josephine dock, saving you 1.7 miles each way. Although be aware, you don’t cut off any of the elevation gains.

The climb begins shortly after the trail junction with the path up from Lake Josephine dock. The elevation gain is strenuous, gaining 1,600 feet over 3.6 miles. Take at least 2 liters of water per person.

Much of this trail is unshaded, so starting in the morning will keep you from climbing to the viewpoint in the blazing sun. But prepare for a warm hike in the afternoon sun on the way back down.

If you opt for the boat tour, return to Lake Josephine dock for the return trip.

A note on wildlife

Be prepared to see some of Glacier’s renowned wildlife up close and personal on this hike. I saw a mountain goat, a bighorn sheep, and a black bear on my trip. Be aware of your surroundings and give wildlife plenty of space. If you do encounter wildlife, slowly back away and wait for the animal to leave. You should carry bear spray in an easily accessible location, like a waist belt or outer backpack pocket.

Grinnell Lake is turquoise blue on the hike up to Grinnell Glacier

3. Hidden Lake Overlook

Region: Logan Pass

Trailhead: Logan Pass Visitor Center

Type: Out-and-back

Mileage: 2.8 miles (5.2 miles if going down to Hidden Lake)

Elevation: 460 ft (1,240 ft if going down to Hidden Lake)

This out-and-back trail is routinely rated as one of the top hikes in Glacier National Park. It passes through grassy meadows and ends at a vantage point overlooking Hidden Lake. You’ll cover 460 feet of elevation over the 1.4 miles out to the overlook, but the way back will be all downhill.

Parking can be difficult at many trailheads, so it’s important to arrive early. This is particularly true at Logan Pass Visitor Center. Arrive by 7:30 am to guarantee a parking spot.

The hike starts along a paved path behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center before changing to a boardwalk path and eventually a dirt trail. Expect heavy crowds on this trail as its one of the most popular hikes in the park.

As you proceed through the open and exposed meadows, keep an eye out for mountain goats. Bighorn sheep, marmots, and bears also frequent these areas. Bring your binoculars for an up-close view of wildlife.

If you have some extra energy, proceed all the way down to the shores of the lake. You descend 780 feet to the lakeshore, but you’ll have to climb that same distance back out.

Sunrise at Hidden Lake Overlook in Glacier National Park

4. Iceberg Lake

Region: Many Glacier

Trailhead: Iceberg Ptarmigan Trailhead

Type: Out-and-back

Mileage: 9.6 miles

Elevation: 1,200 feet

One of the more strenuous day hikes on this list, Iceberg Lake is also one of the more popular hikes on this list. In a park filled with crystal blue waters, this alpine lake is one of the best. Iceberg Lake’s teal waters often have icebergs (as the name implies) floating in the water, even in the summer.

The trail starts behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and shares the first 2.7 miles with the Ptarmigan Tunnel trail. As you proceed through this first section, be on the lookout for bears, particularly in September. Carry bear spray in an easily accessible location as a bear encounter is likely. Occasionally, bear activity may close this trail, so check trail status before you go.

Continue straight at the split from the Ptarmigan Tunnel trail,  just after Ptarmigan Falls. Once you reach Iceberg Lake, walk around to find your own unique vantage point away from the crowds and eat a snack.

In addition to bear sightings, this can also be a great trail to spot moose and their calves.

Icebergs float in the frozen lake on the Iceberg Lake trail

5. Ptarmigan Tunnel

Region: Many Glacier

Trailhead: Iceberg Ptarmigan Trailhead

Type: Out-and-back

Mileage: 10.6 miles

Elevation: 2,300 feet

Known for its frequent bear activity, this trail out to Ptarmigan Tunnel is the most strenuous of the Glacier National Park day hikes. The Ptarmigan Tunnel is a 250-foot tunnel built in the 1930s. It passes through the Ptarmigan Wall that separates Many Glacier Valley and Belly River Valley. The tunnel doors are closed in the off-season, typically only open from late July to September.

The first 2.7 miles of this trail is shared with the Iceberg Lake trail. Popular among hikers, it’s also a hotspot for grizzly bears. Be aware as you hike and carry bear spray in an easily accessible location.

Just after you reach Ptarmigan Falls, the trail splits for hikers going to Iceberg Lake. After the split, the Ptarmigan Tunnel trail will be much less crowded.

The final climb up to the tunnel is daunting, covering 500 feet in about two-thirds of a mile. But you’re rewarded with amazing views. Walk through the tunnel to see views of the Belly River Valley before returning back down through the Many Glacier Valley.

Optional Iceberg Lake + Ptarmigan Tunnel

If you’re interested in an exhausting hike, combine the hikes to Iceberg Lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel. Make the 2.7-mile trek to Ptarmigan Falls, then hike out to Iceberg Lake, before making the trek up to Ptarmigan Tunnel. This combined hike is roughly 14.8 miles and 2,800 feet elevation.

The morning sun shines through the doors of the Ptarmigan Tunnel

6. Baring + St. Mary + Virginia Falls

Region: St. Mary

Trailhead: Sun Point

Type: Out-and-back

Mileage: 6.4 miles

Elevation: 535 feet

This trail takes you past 3 of the parks more accessible, and well-known, waterfalls. While the official trail starts at St. Mary Falls Trailhead, I recommend starting at Sun Point. Starting here allows you to see Baring Falls in addition to St. Mary and Virginia Falls.

Sun Point has a larger parking lot than St. Mary Falls trailhead, increasing your likelihood of finding a spot.

The total out-and-back hike from Sun Point to Virginia Falls is 6.4 miles with 535 feet elevation gain. Most of the elevation gain is in the last stretch from St. Mary to Virginia Falls.

Baring Falls is less crowded and only 0.3 miles from the Sun Point parking lot. The stretch from Baring Falls to St. Mary Falls passes through the woods along the shores of St. Mary Lake. It’s the perfect place to spot quietly feeding deer and other wildlife.

From St. Mary Falls, it’s about 0.8 miles uphill to Virginia Falls. Stop at the top of Virginia Falls, eat your picnic lunch, and then begin your trek back to the Sun Point parking lot – a little over 3 miles.

St. Mary Falls at sunset in Glacier National Park

7. Avalanche Lake via Trail of the Cedars

Region: Lake McDonald

Trailhead: Avalanche Creek Picnic Area

Type: Out-and-back

Mileage: 4.6 miles

Elevation: 500 feet

This hike is a moderate option for days between strenuous hikes, like Grinnell Glacier or Ptarmigan Tunnel. As the only west side trail on this list of Glacier National Park day hikes, it is well suited for days where you’re traversing the park. This hike could provide a great break from the drive.

Just like other areas of the park, get to the parking lot at Avalanche Campground early. These parking spots will fill up by 9.

The first part of this hike follows the Trail of the Cedars loop – a handicap accessible, wooden boardwalk through towering trees. This part of the trail is family-friendly and crowded. Once you make it onto the Avalanche Creek trail (about a third of a mile), crowds will decrease. 

The trail takes you through a forest out to Avalanche Lake. This area of the park is some of the oldest growth in the park, left untouched by recent forest fires. Hike through the shaded forest to Avalanche Lake and sit on the shore for an afternoon snack.

If you have some extra energy, proceed to the far side of the lake for a different vantage point. Afterward, head back to the car the same way you came.

Avalanche Lake in the forefront of avalanche chutes on the mountainside in Glacier National Park

A Quick Recap on Glacier National Park Day Hikes

Glacier National Park has so much to offer and by far the easiest way to see it all is by hiking. This list of essential Glacier National Park day hikes is the perfect introduction for your first trip to the national park. Here a quick recap of the can’t miss day hikes:

  1. Highline Trail + Garden Wall
  2. Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint
  3. Hidden Lake Overlook
  4. Iceberg Lake
  5. Ptarmigan Tunnel
  6. Baring + St. Mary + Virginia Falls
  7. Avalanche Creek via Trail of the Cedars

Every hiker should be to be prepared and carry emergency gear and bear spray in Glacier National Park. Read my full list of day hiking essentials to carry in your day pack for every hike.

More Tips for Your Trip to Glacier

My goal at Well Planned Journey is to help you plan epic national park adventures with detailed guides and itineraries!

Check out some of my other resources to help you plan your trip to Glacier National Park!

>> More Ideas for Glacier National Park:

>> More National Park Inspiration:

>> Pack the Right gear:

Have questions?

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Hi, I’m Julia! I’m a national park lover and avid planner on a mission to visit every U.S. national park. My goal is to empower you to visit America’s national parks by providing super-detailed national park guides and the tools to grow your hiking and camping skillset so you can feel confident outdoors.

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Hi, I’m Julia! I’m on a mission to see every United States national park and I’m happy to have you along for the ride. Here I share super-detailed itineraries and guides to help you plan the national park trip of a lifetime.

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