Conquer Glacier Park

Five essential hikes that will crown your summer with unforgettable success

By Dillon Tabish
Hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park on August 7, 2014. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

With 734 miles of designated trail, Glacier National Park is truly a hiker’s paradise. Everybody has his or her own favorite trek in the park, and each trail is unique and worthwhile in its own right. Sometimes the hardest part is picking which one to tackle.

Remember to stay safe in the outdoors by packing bear spray and notifying others of your whereabouts.

Here are five hikes of varying degrees that will reward you with lasting memories of summer:

Apgar Lookout

Beta: 7.1 miles round trip. Trailhead near West Glacier entrance. 1,845 feet elevation gain.

Not every memorable hike has to be an epic adventure in the high country. The trail to the Apgar Lookout, although overshadowed by more grandiose hikes in the park, is still worth experiencing, especially on a busy day when the upper stretches of the Sun Road are clogged with traffic. The trailhead is only a short drive from the west entrance. At the top of the mountain is the Apgar Lookout, a small outpost built in 1929. It was once a fire lookout but is no longer in use.

Highline Trail

Beta: 11.8 miles from Logan Pass to The Loop. 1,950 feet elevation gain.

The quintessential hike in Glacier Park, the Highline Trail is one of the most popular routes and boasts breathtaking views. The trail typically opens in mid-July. The best route is to start at Logan Pass and travel along the Garden Wall, which is also the Continental Divide. The early section of trail is rather narrow, with sections only three- to five-feet wide. The trail leads to Granite Park Chalet, a remote backcountry destination that is open for overnight stays, before winding down to The Loop.

Grinnell Glacier

Beta: 7.6 miles round trip. Trailhead near Many Glacier Hotel. 1,840 feet elevation gain.

Get to see one of the last glaciers in the park before it’s gone. Grinnell Glacier is one of the most prominent glaciers remaining and it rests on the north side of Mount Gould in the Many Glacier region. The best way to reach the glacier is to take a ride across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, two scenic floats that are worth the trip on their own. Follow the trail to the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead and start climbing. Not too far up you’ll start seeing the glaciers painting the side of the mountain, as well as an idyllic waterfall. Remember this is prime grizzly bear country and always be prepared.

Ptarmigan Tunnel

Beta: 11 miles round trip. Take off from Iceberg Lake Trailhead in Many Glacier. 2,300 feet elevation gain.

This is a tough hike, but worth it. Hikers are rewarded with some of Glacier’s trademark features, including Mount Grinnell, Iceberg Lake and the grand pyramid of Mount Wilbur. An impressive piece of history, Ptarmigan Tunnel is the park’s only trail tunnel, which digs 250 feet through Ptarmigan Wall. Crews blasted and jack-hammered the tunnel in 1930. Park at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn on Many Glacier Road. This section is closed sporadically depending on heavy bear activity. It also doesn’t open until mid July due to snow.

Piegan Pass

Beta: 9 miles round trip. Take off from Siyeh Bend. 1,850 feet elevation gain.

The first few miles of the trail are forested but once it breaks out into the open the panoramic scenery is stunning. The grand views include Jackson Glacier and Blackfoot Glacier, the largest remaining glacier in the park. The trail wraps 4.5 miles to the top of Piegan Pass, in between Piegan Mountain and Cataract Mountain. The views just keep improving.

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