Spanning across more than 1,500 miles within the Rocky Mountains of Montana sits one of the most beautiful National Parks in the world, Glacier National Park. With over 700 miles of hiking trails open for exploration, it can be difficult to settle on just a few trails to hike.
This post will go in detail about the two best day hikes in Glacier National Park. That way, you can spend less time planning and researching, and more time adventuring and creating memories.
Getting to Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is located in the Northwest Corner of Montana and can easily be accessed by vehicle from the Western or Eastern side of the park.
If you're coming from the West, you can find the park's entrance located about 30 miles from Kalispell. The western entrance provides access to the Park Headquarters, Lake McDonald area, and the Apgar Visitor Center.
If you're coming from the East, you have a few more options. You can opt for the any of the St. Mary, Two Medicine, or Many Glacier Entrances. All three entrances can be reached by taking Highway 89 north from Great Falls to the town of Browning (approximately 125 miles) and then following signage to the respective entrance.
However, for the two best day hikes in Glacier National Park that we'll outline in this post, we recommend aiming to enter the park at the Many Glacier entrance, as this will put you very close to the Cracker Lake and Iceberg Lake trailheads.
You can get a better idea of how to find each entrance on Glacier National Park's website.
First up on the list of the two best day hikes in Glacier National Park is Cracker Lake. At 12 miles round trip, the hike to Cracker Lake is a lengthy one, but with a vertical climb of 1,650 feet, it isn't a very difficult hike. You'll walk amongst meadows and forest until eventually reaching a lake bluer than the Caribbean perched underneath Siyeh Peak, the fifth tallest peak in Glacier National Park.
The trailhead to Cracker Lake can be found in the Many Glacier area of the park. More specifically, you'll want to find the Many Glacier Hotel. At the south side of the Hotel's parking lot, you'll find the trailhead to Cracker Lake.
You'll start off hiking on a trail amongst meadows and thick brush. It is important to note that Glacier National Park is Grizzly Bear territory, and it can be common to see bears on the Cracker Lake Trail. It is good practice to be loud when hiking on any trails in glacier to alert the bears of your presence. Sing some trail songs, make your conversations extra loud, anything to make sure you don't stumble upon a bear on accident. It is also a very good idea to carry bear spray. Be sure to carry it on your hip or chest for easy access, not in your backpack. You will see signs at the trail head warning of bears in the area.
The first 1.3 miles of the trail is a shared horse path, so don't be alarmed if you run into a pack of people on horseback. At 1.3 miles into the trail, you'll find a split in the trail. Stay right to head towards Cracker Lake, and get off of the shared horse-trail. Here, the trail will put you amongst the forest and you will begin to climb through several switchbacks.
After the switchbacks, you will continue to gain elevation, but in a much more gradual fashion spread out over the rest of the hike. You'll continue to hike through forest, rock fields, and over a few bridge crossings.
At about 4.75 miles, you will reach an opening in the forest canopy where you will get your first clear views of Siyeh Peak. You will likely see snow-patches on the rock face and water running down feeding in to Cracker Lake. Continue hiking for less than a mile through open meadows and enjoy the vast canyon walls towering above you until you see the magical site of Cracker Lake come into view.
The trail will wind you around the left side of the Cracker Lake where you can find a spot to rest and eat lunch upon a field of rocks that overlook the lake, or you can continue towards the North Side of the lake where you will find a small beach area. If you're feeling hot and sweaty from the 6 miles you just hiked then don't hesitate to jump in for a swim.
After hanging out at the lake, grabbing some food, and taking your fair share of photos, make your way back to the trailhead. Remember to continue to be loud on the hike back!
The second of the two best day hikes in Glacier National Park is Iceberg Lake. At 9.3 Miles round-trip with about 1,400 feet of elevation gain, Iceberg, similar to Cracker Lake, is not a crazy leg burner. Most would say it is a moderate hike, although you are hiking amongst a valley with minimal shade for a good portion of the hike, so make sure you have plenty of fluids.
The trailhead to Iceberg Lake can also be found within the Many Glacier section of National Park. Look for the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and you will find the trailhead. It's a popular hike, so be sure to arrive early to get a good parking spot.
The trail to Iceberg Lake is notorious for Grizzly bear sightings, even more so than the Cracker Lake trail. You will clearly see signs notifying you of the possibilities for Grizzly Bear encounters at the beginning of the trail. You need to have bear spray on you for this hike, and be prepared to be nice and loud while hiking to ensure you are startling any bears.
While we did not see a bear on the Iceberg Lake Trail, we heard some fellow hikers say they saw a mama bear and two cubs. It is important to always be on the lookout for bears in the area, especially if cubs are involved.
Getting back to the hike, you will start the Iceberg Lake Trail by climbing a rather steep pitch. It will only last for about 300 feet, and it is really the only steep pitch for the entire hike, so don't let it discourage you for the rest of the trek. As you continue on the trail, you'll be amongst meadows and open terrain for about 2 and a half miles until you reach Ptarmigan Falls. At the falls, you will find some shade and the only outhouse on the hike. It is a good spot to rest and grab a snack before continuing to Iceberg Lake.
As you continue onward, you'll wind your way in and out of the forest and meadows while getting panoramic views of the valley and mountains in front and behind you. There aren't really any switchbacks in the Iceberg Lake Trail, rather you gradually climb up to the lake over the length of the 9 miles trail.
Eventually, you'll reach a clearing with a meadow full of flowers and a bridge over a small creek. Once you cross the bridge you will veer to the right and gaze upon the magical walkway down to Iceberg Lake.
Iceberg Lake is perched underneath Mount Wilbur and is sheltered from the sun a good portion of the time. This is how Iceberg Lake is able to remain so cold and hold onto Icebergs all throughout the summer. The water is frigid, but feels all too refreshing after a long, hot hike. Dip your feet in, enjoy some well-deserved lunch, and fill up that SD card.
There are so many amazing hikes throughout Glacier National Park, but Cracker Lake and Iceberg Lake top our list when we think of the Best Day Hikes in Glacier National Park.
I hope this post helped you prepare for your next adventure. Happy hiking, and don't forget the bear spray!
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