Glacier National Park is renowned for its plethora of hiking trails, catering to all levels of fitness, from the easy Trail of the Cedars to the moderate Avalance Lake, and the challenging Grinnell Glacier. The breathtaking alpine scenery along each path is a feast for the eyes, with jagged peaks, alpine meadows, and glacial lakes, all vying for your attention. With over 700 lakes to choose from, including the famous Lake McDonald, a guided Glacier Park Boat Company tour is a must-do experience. For a quick day trip, head north to Waterton Lakes National Park, the world’s first International Peace Park, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To access park information, ranger-led programs, or trailheads, the visitor centers at Apgar and Logan Pass are ideal starting points.
Trail of the Cedars
The Trail of the Cedars is one of two trails in the park that are wheelchair and stroller accessible. This short loop hike, less than a mile in length, offers visitors the flexibility to hike in either direction as it begins and ends on Going-to-the-Sun Road. The trail boasts a raised boardwalk that leads through an aromatic old-growth red cedar forest. However, the highlight of the hike is the footbridge over Avalanche Creek, providing stunning views of the gorge and an impressive waterfall.
The only drawback is that parking can be challenging to find during peak season (July to Labor Day), as this easy hike is accessible to visitors of all skill levels. Nonetheless, many recent visitors have praised this trail as the best walk in the park, offering breathtaking views of the gorge and an easy, accessible path. They recommend visiting early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowded parking lots. The picnic grounds near McDonald Creek are an excellent place to take a break for lunch or dinner. Visitors also noted the lovely cedar fragrance in this old-growth forest.
Access to the trail is free with park admission, and it is located about 5 miles northeast of Lake McDonald Lodge. Alternatively, visitors can take the park’s free shuttle to the Avalanche Creek stop.
Red Bus Tours
Exploring Glacier National Park through the windshield of your vehicle is undoubtedly breathtaking, but it can also cause you to miss out on the beauty around you. Why not let someone else take the wheel? Hop on one of the iconic Red Bus Tours, which have been transporting visitors since the 1930s. With their canvas rollback tops, these buses offer unobstructed views of the stunning landscape, and each one only accommodates a maximum of 17 passengers, ensuring a personalized experience.
There are nine different tour routes to choose from, with five departing from the east side of the park and four departing from the west. Depending on which route you select, you’ll get to see top attractions such as Lake McDonald Lodge, Logan Pass, St. Mary Valley, and Two Medicine, as well as the alpine areas of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Tour-takers have raved about the experience, noting that it’s far more relaxing than driving yourself and that the guides provide informative commentary. However, it’s important to book your tickets well in advance, as tours sell out quickly.
Lake McDonald, the largest body of water in the park, serves as the bustling epicenter of activity on the western side. Eons ago, colossal glaciers carved out the valley, which now houses the charming Lake McDonald Lodge – a highly sought-after accommodation option – and a handful of historic chalets. The area brims with a diverse range of activities, including bus and boat tours, horseback riding, ranger presentations, and access to two of the park’s most popular trails – the Avalanche Lake Trail and Trail of the Cedars. The lodge boasts a hunting lodge atmosphere and offers a plethora of dining options, complete with a crackling fireplace in the lobby. The lodge welcomes guests from late May to late September, and it is strongly advised to make advance reservations. Tours, activities, and the park’s free shuttle service operate on a similar schedule. Additionally, several campgrounds surround Lake McDonald, and it is recommended to reserve them online before your visit. Recent visitors have raved about the lake’s crystal-clear waters and rainbow-colored rocks, suggesting that the west end of the shore is the most appealing. Some visitors recommend visiting in early May to avoid crowds, but keep in mind that roads, shops, and restaurants may not open until later in the month. Although guests adore the lodge’s rustic ambiance and tranquil location, some have lamented the limited parking and weak Wi-Fi service, as well as the absence of televisions.
Avalanche Lake Trail
Located in the northeast region of Lake McDonald, Avalanche Lake is a renowned hiking destination for visitors of Glacier National Park. Commencing with a thrilling cross over Avalanche Gorge, the trail then leads hikers through a moderate uphill path amidst the lush green forest. The trail culminates at the breathtaking Avalanche Lake, which is surrounded by steep cliffs and adorned with cascading waterfalls that enhance the beauty of the gray crags. Seasoned hikers highly recommend this trail, lauding the lake as a magnificent reward for completing the hike. The sound of rushing water at various points along the trail was also appreciated by many. Parents with children found the hike to be easy to moderate, with minimal difficulties. However, caution is advised as the trail has rocks and tree roots that can cause tripping hazards. The round-trip distance of the Avalanche Lake Trail is approximately 5 miles and is connected to the Trail of the Cedars. Most hikers choose to complete both trails on the same day, allowing for a half-day excursion, including ample time to rest at the lake, relish the views, and indulge in a snack. The free shuttle to Avalanche Creek is the preferred mode of transportation, as the parking lot near the trail is small and fills up quickly during the summer months, according to reviewers.
The allure of this trail is undeniable, as evidenced by the more than 1,500 hikers who traverse it daily. The Hidden Lake Overlook, located at the halfway point, offers a breathtaking panorama of mountains, valleys, and the Sperry Glacier, albeit requiring binoculars to fully appreciate. The trail’s culmination presents the lake itself, but it’s important to note that the first half of the trail ascends 460 feet, while the second half descends 780 feet to the lake. While past hikers highly recommend the trail, they caution that it can be challenging, especially the uphill climb to the overlook. Proper footwear, bear spray, and an abundance of water are strongly advised, particularly if venturing down to the lake. Early morning hikes before 7 a.m. grant fewer crowds and a better chance of securing a parking spot at Logan Pass. The Hidden Lake trailhead is located at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, and the round-trip hike to the overlook is approximately three miles, while the hike to the lake and back is just over five miles. Access to the trail is included in the park entrance fee.