Outstanding 3 Day Itinerary for Hiking Glacier National Park

Embarking on a three-day hiking journey in Glacier National Park, you’re set to experience the raw beauty of the untouched wilderness. With just 72 hours, you’ll jump into a world where rugged peaks meet the sky and alpine meadows burst with color.

Your adventure will weave through iconic landscapes, from the mesmerizing Going-to-the-Sun Road to the tranquil shores of Avalanche Lake. This 3-day itinerary maximizes your time, hitting all the must-see highlights and the park’s best trails. Here’s to Happy Hiking and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

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Glacier National Park mountains, lake, and trail

5 Things you need to know about Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is a beautiful natural wonder in Montana, USA. It covers over a million acres and has over 700 miles of hiking trails. The park is famous for its glaciers, diverse wildlife, and outdoor activities like camping and fishing. It’s also an International Dark Sky Park, perfect for stargazing.

Understanding Park Passes and Entrance Fees

You can always pay for entrance when you arrive. However,  if you’re driving your own vehicle, a separate vehicle reservation is required during peak seasons. These time-entry tickets incur a minimal processing fee and must be reserved online, so plan to snag one.

As of the current year, an ‘America the Beautiful Pass‘ is your golden ticket, providing access to all national parks, monuments, and federal recreational lands for 12 months. This pass, priced at $80, becomes cost-effective if you visit three or more parks within a year.

Exploring Parking and Transportation Options

When exploring Glacier National Park, arrive early, as parking lots such as Logan Pass fill up by 9 am. Alternatively, the free park shuttle service offers a respite from the hassle of parking and driving. Shuttles run as frequently as every 15 minutes, but be ready to wait during busy periods.

For unique park transportation, try out the Red Bus Tours. They offer in-depth guided tours throughout the park, perfect if you’re not keen on driving or waiting for shuttles.

Planning Your Trip: Best Times and Seasons to Visit

Timing is everything, especially when planning a hike in Glacier National Park. Spring in Glacier NP will be beautiful, but most trails and many roads will still be covered in snow. Summer tends to offer warm weather and fully accessible trails, making it the peak season for visitors. But, for a more solitary experience with the added beauty of autumn colors, September can be an ideal time to explore the park.

October is the beginning of winter in Glacier NP, so plan accordingly.

Crowds and Visitor Management Strategies

Glacier National Park can get overwhelmingly crowded, especially during the summer. Start your hikes early to beat the crowds and secure parking spots. If you’re staying within the park’s lodging or campgrounds, taking advantage of early access to certain areas before the general public can be beneficial.

Accessing Glacier National Park: Routes and Recommendations

Access to Glacier National Park primarily stems from two main entrances: West Glacier, a 33 mile drive from Kalispell, Montana, and St. Mary. You can access the east side of the park, even when the Going to the Sun road is closed by driving Hwy 2 around the southern route, which is 130 miles from Kalispell. Make sure you have enough fuel before entering, as no gas stations are within park boundaries. For a memorable experience, whether driving yourself or cycling, the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road promises astonishing views. Still, you’ll need a vehicle permit reservation if you arrive between 6 am and 3 pm.

Colorful rocks just below the water in Lake McDonald, at Glacier National Park

The 5 Main Areas of Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is divided into five main areas: Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, the Goat Haunt and North Fork, the Two Medicine, and the Saint Mary.

Visitors to Glacier National Park can explore each of these areas through a variety of activities, including hiking, mountain biking, and scenic drives. Boat tours of the park’s many lakes are also available, giving visitors a chance to get up close and personal with the park’s diverse wildlife, including grizzly bears, elk, and mountain goats.

With over a million acres of protected wilderness to explore, Glacier National Park is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and adventurers alike. 

I’ve written about the 5 areas of Glacier National Park here, where you can download PDF maps of each region.

3 Day Hikes for Glacier National Park in the Spring

Springtime brings melting snow, fewer crowds, and the awakening beauty of Glacier National Park. As the high-elevation trails remain snow-laden, exploring the park’s lower-altitude hikes is your ticket to springtime adventures.

Avalanche Lake Trail: A Stunning Half-Day Hike

The Avalanche Lake Trail is an iconic spring hike in Glacier National Park, offering a perfect blend of accessibility and natural splendor. It’s a moderate, 4-mile round trip trek that weaves through a lush forest, past rushing streams and waterfalls, culminating in a serene lake framed by dramatic peaks. Even though there are potentially snowy patches, the trail usually remains accessible. It delivers spectacular views of the area’s changing seasonal colors. Hiking in the morning is advantageous as parking becomes difficult after 6:30 am.

Trail of the Cedars: An Easy, Scenic Hour-Long Walk

Next up is the Trail of the Cedars—a leisurely loop of roughly one mile that’s easy on the legs but rich in views. Here, you’re transported into a scene reminiscent of a dense rainforest. Towering cedars, some reaching up to 80 feet, line the way. It’s an ideal short stroll, even for those just looking to stretch their legs while seeing ancient trees and informative displays.

Hidden Lake Overlook: Full-Day Lower Elevation Trek

For a truly immersive experience, set your sights on the Hidden Lake Overlook, a lower-elevation hike that promises a full day of exploration. This trek offers diverse scenery and the potential for wildlife encounters. Starting from Logan Pass, you’ll navigate a well-trodden path that delivers you to grand vistas overlooking Hidden Lake.

3 Day Hikes for Glacier National Park in the Summer

Summer is peak season for Glacier NP, with all the trails and roads open and minimal snow. Expect much larger crowds and the need to start your hikes early. 

Highline Trail: An Incredible Half-Day Hike

If you’re looking for a challenging and rewarding hike, the Highline Trail is your go-to. Starting from Logan Pass, this trek serves up jaw-dropping scenery that typifies Glacier National Park. While the entire trail is a long journey, you can enjoy the iconic landscapes within the first few miles. Expect a round-trip distance of 3-4 miles if you turn around after a mile or two—as many experienced hikers suggest. This partial hike can be completed within half a day, reserving your energies for even more exploration.

Running Eagle Falls: A Quick, Breathtaking Hour-Long Hike

For those pressed for time but eager to experience Glacier’s natural beauty, Running Eagle Falls offers an exquisite, shorter trail. Named after a Pikuni (Blackfeet) warrior woman, this trail features a unique waterfall that seems to emerge straight out of the rocks, especially during low water levels. The round-trip distance is about 0.6 miles, making it an ideal hour-long outing. Don’t let the brevity fool you; the sights and sounds of the falls make a lasting impression.

Grinnell Glacier Trail: The Ultimate Full-Day Hike

Begin on the Grinnell Glacier Trail for an unforgettable full-day hike that embodies the essence of Glacier National Park. The path takes you beside pristine lakes, alpine meadows, and rugged mountain vistas. This round-trip hike spans approximately 10.6 miles and can take up to 6-7 hours, including breaks to absorb the sheer magnificence of the park’s landscapes. It is strenuously beautiful and will leave you amazed at every turn.

Embarking on these hikes with the right gear will add to the enjoyment of your day in Glacier National Park and enhance your safety.

3 Day Hikes for Glacier National Park in the Fall

Fall is a very short season in Glacier NP. It’s pretty much just September, as the snow will begin to accumulate soon. This is the best season to avoid the crowds. 

Iceberg Lake Trail: Half-Day Hike with Alpine Views

The Iceberg Lake Trail beckons hikers with its crisp alpine air and a diverse display of fall colors. A moderate 9.6-mile round trip, this path will guide you through a breathtaking ascent with an elevation gain of about 1,460 feet. The first section challenges you with a steep incline via the Ptarmigan Trail. After 2.6 miles, you’ll find solace in a gentler pathway leading directly to the unforgettable Iceberg Lake, its azure waters offering a tranquil break spot. Remember your camera; the view of the glaciated cliffs surrounding the lake is worth capturing, especially when autumn hues paint the world.

Mary Falls: A Short, Beautiful Hour-Long Walk

In contrast to the rugged terrain of longer treks, a visit to St. Mary Falls offers a serene reprieve. This 3.7-mile round-trip hike is an easy addition to any day hiking itinerary and takes roughly an hour to complete. Your journey will weave through remnants of the 2015 fires, opening up to expansive views of young forest growth, with Dusty Star Mountain gracing the horizon. The multi-tiered cascades of falls present a perfect spot to take a breather and enjoy some of Glacier’s natural music.

Grinnell Glacier Trail: The Must-See Full-Day Hike

We already covered this hike, but no matter the season, if the trails and roads are open, this is one you need to do!

You’re in for a challenge and reward when setting out for the Grinnell Glacier Trail. This remarkable full-day hike spans 10.6 miles round trip, should you forego the boat tour, which can cut the hiking distance to roughly 7.6 miles. Steep cliffs and breathtaking panoramas watch over you as you encounter the diverse ecosystem of Many Glacier. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife; bears often frequent the area. Reaching the Glacier, you’ll stand face-to-face with one of the park’s most awe-inspiring sights, a testament to nature’s raw power and beauty.

 

Things to avoid in Glacier National Park

Certain precautions and rules should always be noticed when planning your excursions within Glacier National Park. Your safety, the preservation of the park, and the overall enjoyment of your trip depend on these considerations.

Skipping Bear Safety Precautions: A Risky Mistake

I know, you can run faster than the others. But, can you outrun a 300 pound grizzly with a top speed of 35 MPH?

The wilderness of Glacier National Park is home to a significant population of bears. Keeping a safe distance and knowing how to respond during an encounter is crucial.

Black Bear and Grizzly Bear Numbers in Glacier NP

Glacier National Park is known for its healthy populations of both black bears and grizzly bears. There are estimated up to 600 black bears and 300 grizzlies in Glacier NP. While black bears tend to be less aggressive, encountering any bear requires caution and respect. Always be prepared to use bear spray – it’s your first line of defense. Make noise as you hike to prevent surprise encounters, and never approach these wild animals.

Ignoring Park Rules and Regulations: Avoid Fines and Hazards

The park’s rules and regulations are in place to protect both the natural environment and visitors. Violating these rules can result in hefty fines and create unnecessary hazards. For instance, leaving food or scented items unattended can attract bears to your campsite – always use bear boxes to store such items securely. Another example is bringing your dog onto trails in Glacier NP. Service animals are allowed, but you should know the risks of having a service animal in Glacier NP.

Trail Conditions or Closures: Research Before Arriving

Before your visit, checking the latest updates on Glacier NP trail conditions or roads closures is vital. Glacier’s dynamic environment means that trails can be affected by weather, wildlife activity, or ongoing preservation work. A backup hiking plan can save the day if your intended trail is inaccessible.

Remember to pack wisely and follow guidelines, ensuring you’re making the most of your three-day hiking itinerary at Glacier National Park. Enjoy the trails safely and responsibly, and leave no trace to preserve this majestic world for future visitors.

Turquoise water flowing in front of massive granite mountains in Glacier National Park

After the Hikes are done, Other Activities at Glacier

Best Spots to Catch a Sunrise in Glacier

Lake McDonald Sunrise from Apgar Lookout

Rising early to catch a sunrise in Glacier National Park is a must-do activity. Lake McDonald, known for its multi-colored rocks and serene waters, is best viewed from Apgar Lookout. Arrive 45 minutes before sunrise to experience the pre-dawn quiet and the initial glow illuminating the peaks. The vibrant display continues 30 minutes after sunrise, offering ample time for that perfect photo. Bring your camera; the mixture of colors and nature’s tranquility is too good to miss.

Wild Goose Island Lookout on St. Mary Lake

Another jaw-dropping location is the Wild Goose Island Lookout on St. Mary Lake. While a bit more secluded, the views are equally stunning. With the iconic Wild Goose Island in the foreground and sharp mountain ridges in the distance, the sun’s early rays cast a breathtaking scene. For a sublime experience, aim to be there at the crack of dawn.

Best Spots to Watch the Stars

Ranger Led Star Gazing Tours

After the sun has set and the night sky reveals itself, consider joining one of the Ranger-led Star Gazing Tours. These tours are fantastic for you to learn about constellations, listen to Native American stories, and maybe even catch a glimpse of the Milky Way. Check the park’s schedule for times and locations.

Going to the Sun Road

Alternatively, find a quiet spot along Going to the Sun Road. With minimal light pollution and high elevation, you’re in for an unmatched celestial show. Stargazing here is a profound experience, offering a sense of connection to the vast universe.

Best Spots to Watch a Sunset

West Side of the Going to the Sun Road

As the day winds down, consider heading to the west side of Going to the Sun Road for sunset. The majestic mountain silhouettes against a changing sky create a dramatic backdrop. Each overlook offers a different perspective, so why not explore a few? The receding light brings a new aspect to the world, revealing contours and colors missed in the full sun.

Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake

Alternatively, the historic Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake offers spectacular sunset views. The hotel’s east-facing position gives you a front-row seat as the sun dips behind the imposing peaks. The tranquility of the lake, combined with the alpine glow of the mountains, encapsulates the magic of Glacier National Park.

 

Hiking Gear List for Glacier National Park

Embarking on a hike in Glacier National Park means being prepared for a day of adventure. Your gear can make or break your hike, so it’s essential to pack right. Here’s a comprehensive list of hiking gear to include in your backpack for a fantastic trek in the park:

  • 60L – 70L Backpack: Ensure enough space for all your essentials, especially if you’re planning longer hikes. Your backpack should be durable and comfortable for all-day wear. Here’s some recommendations for women’s backpacks.
  • Appropriate Layers: Start with a moisture-wicking base layer, add an insulating mid-layer, and have an outer layer like a jacket ready for unexpected weather changes.
  • Water and Water Filters: Staying hydrated is vital. Carry ample water and a water filter since reliable water sources are from scarce to none along the trails.
  • Snacks: Pack energy-boosting snacks like nuts, fruits, and granola bars to maintain your stamina throughout your hike.
  • Bear Spray: Safety first! Bear spray is non-negotiable in bear country.
  • Headlamp: Useful for early starts or if your hike takes longer than anticipated.
  • Sun Protection: Bring sunglasses, sunscreen, and a sun hat to shield you from sunburn.
  • First-Aid Kit: Accidents happen. A compact first-aid kit can address minor injuries on the trail.
  • Map & Compass: GPS is great, but don’t rely on technology alone. Have a physical map and compass as reliable backups.
  • Knife: This versatile tool is handy for gear repair, food preparation, and emergencies.
  • Emergency Shelter: A lightweight emergency shelter can mitigate An unforeseen night out.
  • Trekking Poles: They provide stability and can reduce the strain on your knees.
  • Emergency GPS: For peace of mind and emergencies, an emergency GPS can ensure help is on the way when needed.

Remember, Glacier’s weather can flip instantly, so your gear should cater to versatility and safety. Prioritize items that serve multiple purposes and always leave room in your pack for those just-in-case scenarios. Whether tackling a short trail or a strenuous trek, these essentials will help secure a more enjoyable and safe hiking experience.

Final Thoughts on 3 Days of Hiking in Glacier National Park

You’re now equipped with the knowledge to tackle Glacier National Park’s trails confidently. Remember, the right gear makes all the difference between an average outing and an unforgettable adventure. With your backpack filled with essentials and the promise of breathtaking vistas awaiting, you’re set for an exhilarating three days of exploration. Embrace the journey, stay safe, and let the natural beauty of Glacier National Park inspire every step you take. Happy Hiking!

My name is Rich, and I love to hike!

I grew up in Idaho, with plenty of hiking and camping just minutes away from our home. Growing up, we spent summers at the lake and falls in the mountains. Camping and hiking with friends was such a special way to spend time together. I’ve spent a lifetime outdoors, hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

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