With more than 700 miles of maintained trails, the park is best explored by hiking. Because most of these trails are rather short, you might also wish to check out "Exploring the Backcountry," below. Many of the longer trails described there can be done fully (or at least partially) in a day, and are likely to take you farther off the beaten path than the shorter routes, and away from the crowds.
Trail maps are available at outdoor stores in Whitefish and Kalispell, as well as at visitor centers and the major ranger stations at each entry point. The park's new free shuttle can take you to numerous trail heads; there is a comprehensive guide in the Glacier Visitor Guide newspaper. Glacier Park Inc. (tel. 406/892-2525) also operates a hiker's shuttle on the east side to get people from St. Mary to Many Glacier, Waterton, and East Glacier.
Before setting off, check with the nearest visitor center or ranger station to determine the accessibility of your destination, trail conditions, and recent bear sightings. It can be a bummer when, 10 miles into a trip, a ranger turns you back.
The Park Service asks you to stay on trails to keep from eroding the park's fragile components. Also, do not traverse snowbanks, especially the steeper ones. Before approaching any trail head, you should have proper footwear and rain gear, enough food, and, most important, enough water. A can of pepper spray can also come in handy when you're in grizzly habitat. If you plan on hiking in Canada, be sure the spray is USEPA-approved. Contact Canadian Customs (tel. 204/983-3500 or 506/636-5064) for regulations.
Lake McDonald Area
Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail -- This level trail, consisting of a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk, offers a respite from the crowds in a forested area. There are interpretive signs along the way. .75 mile RT. Easy. Access: Across from Avalanche Campground Ranger Station.
Trout Lake -- This is a good workout if you're around Lake McDonald Lodge, sipping coffee and skipping rocks off the lake. The hike is straight up and straight down, 2,100 feet each way. The trail takes you from the north end of Lake McDonald to the foot of Trout Lake and back. 8.4 miles RT. Moderate. Access: North end of Lake McDonald, 1 1?2 miles west on Lake McDonald Rd.
Logan Pass Area
Hidden Lake Overlook Nature Trail -- This trail climbs 460 feet and requires more spunk than others in the area, yet it's not too hard. It's a popular trail, but if you go past the overlook up to the lake, you'll get past most of the crowds. This is an interpretive nature trail, with signs along the way that point out what you are seeing. 3 miles RT. Easy to moderate. Access: Logan Pass Visitor Center.
The Loop -- Not considered easy mainly because of its altitude gain of 2,200 feet, The Loop is a popular hiking trail that winds up to Granite Park Chalet and back. Many people use it as a continuation of the Highline Trail, but this is the section to do if you're short on time. The Highline Trail is 7.6 miles one-way to the chalets, but not nearly as steep as the Loop. If you want to spend the night in a chalet, contact Granite Park Chalet for reservations (www.graniteparkchalet.com; tel. 888/345-2649). 8 miles RT. Moderate. Access: Along Going-to-the-Sun Rd., about halfway btw. Avalanche Campground and Logan Pass Visitor Center.
Sunrift Gorge Trail -- Most hikers approach Siyeh Pass from the Piegan Pass trail head, but I prefer ascending to this gorgeous glacial valley from Sunrift Gorge. The creekside trail climbs through a forest and switches back to reveal a hanging glacier and several waterfalls, before ascending the pass up a wall that is prime bighorn habitat. 11 miles RT. Difficult. Access: Sunrift Gorge parking area, 10 miles west of St. Mary.
Many Glacier Area
Iceberg Lake -- This beautiful hike traverses flower-filled meadows to a high lake backed against a mountain wall. Even in summer, there may be snow on the ground and ice floating in the lake. Look for mountain goats or bighorn sheep on the cliffs above. As in many of the backcountry areas, keep an eye out for the grizzlies. 9.6 miles RT. Moderate. Access: Trail head in a cabin area east of the Swiftcurrent Coffee Shop and Campstore.
Swiftcurrent Nature Trail -- This is a fun hike along the shore, through the woods, and near a marsh. You may see deer and birds -- watch for blue grouse. If you have time, continue on the trail as it circles Lake Josephine, another easy hike that adds 2.8 miles to the trip. Dramatic Mount Gould towers above the far end of the lake. Midsummer wildflowers can be spectacular. Access to a longer, 10-mile round-trip trail to Grinnell Glacier, the park's largest, is also from this area. 2.5 miles RT. Easy. Access: Picnic area 1/2 mile west of the hotel turnoff.
Two Medicine Area
Appistoki Falls -- This trail, with an elevation gain of only 260 feet, climbs through a forest of fir and spruce, then runs along Appistoki Creek before ending at an overlook that provides views of a 65-foot waterfall. 1.2 miles RT. Easy. Access: 1/4 mile east of Two Medicine Ranger Station.
Running Eagle Falls -- Hardly even a hike, the easiest trail in the area leads to Running Eagle Falls along a path that winds through a heavily forested area to a large, noisy waterfall. The path is wheelchair accessible. .6 mile RT. Easy. Access: 1 mile west of the Two Medicine entrance.
Twin Falls Trail -- The most popular hiking path in this area is the one to Twin Falls, which originates at the campground. Hikers may walk the entire distance to Twin Falls on a clearly identified trail, or boat across Two Medicine Lake to the foot of the trail head and hike the last mile. 7.6 miles RT. Easy. Access: Two Medicine Campground.
Exploring the Backcountry
Depending upon your point of view, negotiating the backcountry may translate to a leisurely stroll or a strenuous experience in the high country. Choices range from 4-mile day hikes to multiday treks, so consider your experience and fitness level before heading out. Study a park map that illustrates trails and campsites in the area you want to explore.
Backcountry campgrounds have maps at the entrance to show you the location of each campground, the pit toilet, food-preparation areas, and, perhaps most important, food-storage areas. In addition, you can obtain a free loan of bear-resistant food containers at most backcountry permit-issuing stations. If you fish while camping, it's recommended you exercise catch-and-release to avoid attracting wildlife in search of food. If you eat the catch, be certain to puncture the air bladder and throw the entrails into deep water at least 200 feet from the nearest campsite or trail. When backpacking in Glacier, especially in the high country, it's important to remember to pack as lightly as possible and make sure you're aware of the trail's degree of ascent. And remember the cardinal rule: Pack it in, pack it out. No exceptions.
Wherever you decide to go, remember that you must secure a backcountry permit before your overnight trip. Advance reservations can be made June 15 to October 31 for $30; a fee of $5 per night per camper is also charged. Call tel. 406/888-7857 for additional information.
A Guided Backcountry Trip -- Many folks like to let someone else make the arrangements, leaving themselves free to concentrate on the hiking experience. The exclusive backpacking guide service in Glacier National Park is Glacier Guides, P.O. Box 330, West Glacier, MT 59936 (tel. 800/521-7238 for reservations, or 406/387-5555; www.glacierguides.com). For a price, the company will put together any kind of trip; it has several regularly scheduled throughout the season, from the end of June through the beginning of September. These include a 3-day "taste" of the park for about $450 per person, and an entire week in the wilderness for about $850 per person. Custom trips run $170 a day per person, with a four-person minimum. Glacier Guides will even organize a trip that lets you spend the day hiking and the night cuddled in a comfy inn inside the park or in the Granite Park Chalet. Gear rentals are also available.
The main office is 1 1/2 miles west of West Glacier on U.S. 2. For information and reservations, contact the company.
Kintla Lake Area
Kintla Lake to Upper Kintla Lake -- Skirting the north shore of Kintla Lake above Polebridge for about 7 miles, before climbing a couple of hundred feet, this stretch of the Boulder Pass hike is a breeze. However, once you hit Kintla Creek, you may want to reconsider going farther. With 12 miles under your belt at this point, climbing 3,000 feet may not seem like a great idea. The trail, once it breaks into the clear, offers views of several peaks, including Kinnerly Peak to the south of Upper Kintla Lake. 12 miles one-way. Moderate. Access: Kintla Lake Campground.
Bowman Lake -- This trail (14 miles to Brown Pass) is similar to the Kintla Lake hike in difficulty and, like the Kintla Lake Trail, passes the lake on the north. After a hike through rolling hills sheathed in foliage, the trail climbs out of reach for anyone not in top shape, ascending 2,000 feet in less than 3 miles to join the Kintla Lake Trail at Brown Pass. A left turn takes you back to Kintla Lake (23 miles), and a right takes you to Goat Haunt at the foot of Waterton Lake (9 miles). 7.1 miles one-way. Moderate. Access: Bowman Lake Campground; follow Glacier Rte. 7 to Bowman Lake Rd., just north of Polebridge, then follow signs to Bowman Lake Campground.
Quartz Lake -- The loop runs up and over an 1,800-foot ridge and down to the south end of Lower Quartz Lake. From there it's a level 3-mile hike to the west end of Quartz Lake, then 6 miles back over the ridge farther north (and higher up) before dropping back to Bowman Lake. An interesting aspect of this trail is evidence of the Red Bench Fire of 1988, which took a chunk out of the North Fork area. 12 miles RT. Moderate. Access: Bowman Lake Picnic Area; cross the bridge over Bowman Creek and you're on your way.
Logan Pass Area
Highline Trail -- This relatively easy hike gains a mere 200 feet in elevation over 7.6 miles. It begins at the Logan Pass Visitor Center and skirts the Garden Wall at heights of over 6,000 feet to Granite Park Chalet. Give yourself plenty of time for the return hike to Logan Pass. Or, rather than retracing your steps, continue from the chalet to The Loop, the aptly named section of Going-to-the-Sun Road. The trail terminates here (an additional 3.5 miles), although you'll need to plan for a shuttle back to your car. (It's also possible to continue all the way to Upper Waterton Lake, but if you do, you should allow 3 days for the trip.) 12 miles one-way (including The Loop). Moderate. Access: Granite Park Chalet.
Two Medicine Area
Pitamakan Pass Trail -- This trail presents several options: You can take one or two long day hikes, or you can use it as the jumping-off point for an extended trip. From the trail head, the path winds to Old Man Lake and a campground, and then up 2,400 feet to Pitamakan Pass. At this point, your options are to return on the same trail or to continue to Dawson Pass, through Twin Falls, and then back to the campground, which adds about 10 miles to the trip and completes the loop. Or you could head north on the Cut Bank or Nyack Creek trails, which will add days to your trip. 6.9 miles one-way. Moderate. Access: Two Medicine Campground.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.