You could literally hike for days in Glacier National Park. I am all for hiking, but I also take a decidedly moderate take to most things in life (alcohol, exercise, food, spending, political beliefs, etc.). My friend Nicole, while she’s done crazy things like hike the Grand Canyon in a day, was in alignment that we should pick some moderate hikes during our visit to conserve energy (and, let’s be honest, be able to go out and have a few drinks at the end of the day).
If you’re like us and want to visit this part of Montana but not go all out (i.e. going on a multi-day hike while looking over your shoulder for bears) the below list of things to do in Glacier National Park should help.
1. Hike to Avalanche Lake
There are dozens of hikes to choose from in Glacier National Park. It all depends on a) what you want to see b) how strenuous and time-consuming you want it to be and c) how far you want to travel to get there.
Glacier is large and it takes time to drive to the different parts of it. Most roads are one way in and one way out. So, if you find two different hikes in different parts of the park, say one on the east and one on the west, you have to take into account the travel time.
After perusing our Glacier National Park travel guide, Nicole and I settled on a moderate 5-mile hike to Avalanche Lake. There is limited parking at the entrance off Going-to-the-Sun Road and a short stroll to the beginning at the Trail of the Cedars trailhead. It’s a fairly popular path, but not too overcrowded. Along the way through the forest hike, there is Avalanche Creek, through which flows glacially melted waters. At the lake itself is a beach area surrounded by two mountains alongside which you can see waterfalls and mountain goats. If you bring a picnic, you’ll likely met some striped chipmunks scurrying about looking for a snack.
Though we decided to skip it (We like risks? We’re lazy?) it’s smart to bring bear spray and bells to ward off any of the forest’s mighty inhabitants.
2. Going-to-the-Sun Road
Going-to-the-Sun Road winds 50 miles through the interior of Glacier National Park. It’s a crazy journey (coming from someone who has driven on treacherous terrain in New Zealand, Hawaii and California) full of sharp turns and steep cliffsides up and down mountain roads. You could drive it yourself—but then you might miss out on some of the views and also have your nerves wracked by the twisty path. Which is why we decided to do a red bus tour all along Going-to-the-sun Road.
The red buses are vintage 1930s vehicles with roll-back tops that allow passengers to really take in the park’s vistas. They only hold about a dozen passengers, which makes the tour intimate. Some points of interest include
– Jackson Glacier: The seventh largest of Glacier National Park’s 25 remaining glaciers, on the north side of Mount Jackson.
– Logan Pass: This is a pretty special spot, not only for its incredible green views but for the fact that it’s the highest elevation, at 6,640 feet, you can reach in the park by car.
– Lake McDonald Lodge: It’s more than just a lunch spot—the lodge is cradled in the mountains overlooking a lake and the views can’t be beat (the food’s not bad either).
A remote town called Polebridge has a 100-year-old mercantile that supposedly makes the best pastries around. You can also get other foodstuffs, souvenirs, alcohol and toiletries. There’s a campground, hostel, bar and restaurant. Young workers man the amenities, and pairs take turns being the official winter groundskeepers each year (no, this place is not like The Shining). It’s a neat little place and worth a stop.
But back to the pastries. We tried bear claws, like an iced danish stuffed with huckleberries. They are huge and delicious and can be paired with other equally large pastries freshly made daily. Do it. It’s worth it. Eat now, hike later.
4. Bowman Lake
Instead of going back the way you came from Polebridge, you can go a little further down the road into the park itself and take a dirt road more gravely and bumpy than the one that gets you to Polebridge. Six miles on this road will take a half an hour or more—it’s pretty much a one-way path, and you need to keep your eye out for cars coming from the other direction and bears.
We weren’t sure our two-door economy rental could make the trek, but we did it! Once at Bowman, it was shocking to see how many people there were camping or doing various activities like kayaking. The lake is just a short walk from the parking lot, and its views are ridiculously gorgeous.
So there it is—a few options for exploring Glacier National Park if you don’t want to get overly athletic or outdoorsy. The trip was the perfect pace for us and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat (especially the bear claws).