Oh, how we love this bit of paradise! NW Montana is special for many reasons, including the mountains, lakes, people, and abundant wildlife. We’ve planned a two-week trip this July and we can’t wait to hit the trails. Glacier National Park is big, so you will want to plan time on the West and East sides of the park. In today’s post, I’ll share some favorite trails and a few we might explore this summer.
Be sure to check the National Park Service website for details on trails, Going to the Sun Road, Park and Road Pass requirements, shuttles, tours, lodging suggestions, and road closures. I recommend exploring links and events featuring the living and history of the local Native people. You’ll want to book your adventure early, including your lodging, rental car, bus and boat tours.
Jake at hike734 creates fantastic day hike maps for Glacier, as well as Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountains, Zion, Yosemite, and Olympic National Parks. Jake provides distance, elevation changes, and a description of the trails.
As I write this post, the snowplows are currently clearing Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTTSR) for the summer. In spring, for a short time cars are banished and bicycles rule on parts of GTTSR. Construction and a required 3 Day Road Pass will limit access to the park this summer. The number of cars allowed on GTTSR daily is limited again this year, but afterhours restrictions are new due to road construction. We are starting on the West side of Glacier, which is close to Glacier International Airport and several interesting towns nearby, including Kalispell, Big Fork, Columbia Falls, Polson, and Whitefish.
Flathead Lake and Wildhorse Island
We plan to rent a boat to tour Flathead Lake and explore Wild Horse Island’s deer, bear, big horn sheep, and hopefully the elusive wild horses. We are looking forward to a relaxing and delicious dinner at Belton Chalet. On the east side, we are super excited to attend an authentic Blackfoot dinner at Duck Lake by Mariah, which will feature stunning views of Single shot, Yellow and Chief Mountains.
Glacier National Park
West Side Trails
Spending several days at the R Lazy S rental in Columbia Falls gives us plenty of time to do everything we want, including some great trails. Remember to pack it in and out when hiking and camping. For a day hike, start in the morning and bring plenty of water and food, as well as layers for unexpected weather. Pack out all trash and if you must go poo, dig a hole and bury it. Below are a few of the West side trails we are considering this trip:
Mt. Brown Lookout – It’s not the distance but the 4,200-foot elevation gain that makes this trail very challenging.
Loneman Lookout – You’ll get stunning views on this 13.9-mile trail, which includes a river crossing and a substantial 3,800-foot elevation gain.
Elk Mountain – Another challenging trail with 3,300-foot elevation gain over 6.6 miles but the views at the top will be worth the effort.
Numa Ridge Lookout Trail
We had a lot of fun on this trail, which started at the Bowman Lake campground. Be warned the road is extremely rutted getting to this spot. There are beautiful stops along the road, which will take over an hour from Camas to Bowman Lake Road.
The trail took us through a pine forest along the shoreline, which offered occasional glimpses of Bowman Lake. We love to go up for the views, which didn’t disappoint on this trail. Always be prepared for bad weather, which we didn’t need because Granola Bill invited us into the Fire Lookout tower. While we enjoyed lunch, we watched a storm of wind, rain and sleet move dramatically past us. Bill kept us entertained with tales of adventure during the storm.
East Side Trails
We are staying a week at Hikers Haven, which will give us time to explore the east side of Glacier, including Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier. It’s a bit of a drive from place to place, so head out early to ensure parking for the best trails. In addition to Mariah’s dinner on Duck Lake, we are considering these amazing trails:
Ptarmigan Tunnel – This 10.5-mile trail features stunning views on both sides of a man-made tunnel with a 2,400-foot elevation gain. The meadows on the slopes above are frequented by bighorn sheep and grizzlies.
Grinnell Glacier – This 10. 3-mile trail brings you the park’s most visited glacier. The emerald waters of Grinnell Lake get their color from suspended “glacier flour” – rocks ground into fine powder by glaciers.
Cracker Lake – This 12.5-mile trek brings you to the mint green waters of Craker Lake, which is surrounded by 3,000-foot cliffs. You’ll have a good chance of spotting larger animals on this trail, making the 1,500-foot elevation gain well worth the effort.
Apikuni Falls – This is a short trail at 1.6-miles with an elevation gain of 600-feet, but it offers great views of the falls, as well as a great view into the valley.
Pitamakan/Dawson – This 17.9-mile trail with a 3,300-foot elevation gain will be one of the hardest we have ever explored. It features stunning views, waterfalls, avalanche shutes, and plenty of opportunities to see wildlife.
Triple Divide Pass – This 14.2-mile trail gets its name from the fact that depending on where a drop of precipitation lands, it will end up in one of three different oceans. Beautiful views make the 2,400-foot elevation gain worth the effort.
Otokomi Lake – You will follow Rose Creek on this 10.4-mile trail, which features little waterfalls and pools as the water flows. The lake is tucked below Goat Mountain and surrounded by interesting red rock. The unrestricted views make the 2,100-foot elevation gain worth it.
Rising Sun – This short .8-mile trail follows the shoreline with frequent access to the lake. It is super easy and great for families.
Firebrand Pass Trail
We only saw one other person on the Firebrand pass trail, which is a 10.2-mile loop that starts just east of Marias Pass. Look for mile market 203 to find the start of this trail. This trail travels through meadows and aspens, low sub-alpine fir and has some fantastic views. The surrounding peaks at the top are worth the 2,100-foot elevation gain.
Glacier offers over 700 trails to explore, but when it gets crowded, we explore other Montana wilderness areas, which can be found at the Wild Montana website. This nonprofit organization’s goals include, protecting wildlife, confronting climate change, enhancing public access, and helping these communities thrive. You can become a member at
Visit the site below to find more trails to explore!
Stay and Fly
One day soon, we will build our Mountain Modern home, but for now we are content to take in the views, design a floorplan and walk our 12+ acres when we visit. For this trip, we booked two rentals, both with kitchens and laundry. We highly recommend the first spot, R Lazy S Apartments, which is located in Columbia Falls and is close to Glacier, as well as the airport. Great views on this property, which borders the Flathead River. Ask the owners if you can check out the river during sunset for great wildlife viewing. Visit the website for more information:
We are staying at Hikers Haven during the second half of our trip. A bit more affordable than the first spot and it is a great spot to explore the east side of Glacier National Park. The website is listed below:
We recommend flying into Glacier International Airport for convenient access to Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake and the surrounding areas. Visit the link below to learn more: