With its rocky peaks, turquoise blue glacier-fed lakes, and towering forests, Glacier National Park held my heart from the very first visit. There is something extraordinary about this place that is hard to explain. It has a soul, a heartbeat, and an irresistible force that keeps bringing us back. In the first of the Belle & Rose National Park series, I wanted to share with you some of our favorites from our favorite park.
We are east side lovers. There is a stark contrast from the west side to the east. The West includes Apgar and Lake McDonald. These areas are not to be missed, but tend to be more crowded. The Many Glacier and Two Medicine areas lie to the east, and although park traffic has definitely increased over the last decade, these areas feel a little quieter than the west, and if you hit the trails you’ll find it easy to escape the crowds. With over 700 miles of trails in the park, Glacier is a hiker’s paradise. We’ve hiked a large portion of those miles, but here are some of the Belle & Rose Family favorites:
Avalanche Lake is about 4.5 miles round trip, mostly flat but climbs a bit as you near the lake. The trail follows Avalanche creek which tumbles beautifully down through towering cedars. The lake itself is a great spot to get out your binoculars while stopping for a snack to spy for wildlife coming down for a drink, or mountain goats higher up on the ridge. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll be entertained skipping rocks and dipping their little toes into the icy water.
You can also do Trail of the Cedars which is super short if the kids aren’t feeling a longer hike. It’s about a mile loop through the cedar forest.
If you’re looking to take some time off of the trail, Lake McDonald is a great place to rent a kayak or canoe and drift the day away. Boat rentals are available at the head of the lake near the Lake McDonald Lodge.
If you get a wild hair, drive the gravel/dirt road up to the North Fork/Polebridge area, it’s super remote, and Bowman Lake there is one of our favorites. There’s also a bakery in Polebridge that serves up amazing pastries for a treat while you’re there. The hiking in this area may be a bit too much for kids to make it all the way to a destination, but it’s a beautiful area just to hike a bit around Bowman Lake or through the meadow. The road is gravel with potholes galore, plan on around 1-1.5 hours from Lake McDonald.
Many Glacier has many options for great hiking with kids. When you arrive, be sure to stop in the Ranger Station for trail maps, info on trail conditions, wildlife sightings, and bear frequenting areas. Yup, I said bears. The park rangers do an excellent job of monitoring trails and posting signage in areas where there has been a lot of activity. That being said, it’s best to be prepared on even the shortest hike in order to keep both you and the bears safe! The best way to prevent a surprise encounter is to make noise, which usually isn’t too difficult when hiking with kids! Sing a song, talk loudly, or just call out an occasional “Hey bear!”, but whatever you say, say it loudly and don’t be shy! Carrying bear spray is also a must for the trails. Chances are you’re not going to use it, but it is definitely best to be prepared. If you’re new to bear spray, stop by a ranger station, they are happy to help with any questions you may have and assist in learning how to effectively use the spray. Also, the kids can do the junior ranger program while you’re there and earn a GNP badge!
Rangers usually set up scopes in the evening in front of the Swiftcurrent Motel to spot bears, big horn sheep, and mountain goats up on the mountain side. Park Rangers also hold campfire talks at 8:00 p.m. each night at a designated campsite. These are fun for kids but also very informative and cover topics on everything from birds to Native American history and culture in the area.
While in the MG area, eat at Cattle Baron Supper Club for what may be the best steak ever. The cuts are ginormous, cooked perfectly and served with a side of fresh veggies and a salad. This meal is always our reward after many days of camp food. Pizza at Swiftcurrent Motel is decent. It’s not going to be the best pizza you’ve ever had, but can be great if you’ve been eating camp food for a while or are a pizza lover like me! One of our favorite evening activities is grabbing a beer at the Many Glacier Lodge and hanging out on the deck to watch the light change over Swiftcurrent Lake. Take binoculars and look for bears up on the mountains to the right.
The hiking in Many Glacier is incredible. It’s hard to pick favorites, but here are just a few that are great to do with kids:
Fishercap, Red Rock, and Bullhead Lakes- This trail is in the valley of Many Glacier and is nice because you can make this a short jaunt up to Fishercap, or go the distance to Bullhead Lake which is the last of the three lakes all accessed from same trail. This one is super flat and easy for kids. If you camp or stay in the valley, walk up to Fishercap at dusk to look for moose and deer.
Grinnell Lake- If you hike the whole way it’s about 7 miles round trip, but super flat. The other option is to take boat from Many Glacier Lodge which cuts off about 2 miles. Lots of moose and bear in the area. Trail goes along Lake Josephine which is crazy beautiful (and Josie Belle’s namesake!) Grinnell Glacier trail spurs off of this, and is amazing, but we’ve yet to attempt it with the girls. I think they are ready and would do fine at their current ages of 7 and almost 10. It has a pretty big elevation gain right as the trail leaves the lake trail, but Grinnell Glacier is definitely a must see if you are up for it!
Iceberg Lake- It’s almost 10 miles round trip, but can be done with lots of snacks and rest stops. Even if you don’t do the whole thing, definitely get out on this trail! There’s a steep but short climb to start, but then it’s relatively flat. The trail passes Ptarmigan Falls at about 2 miles. If you don’t plan on hiking all the way to Iceberg, be sure to go past there a bit as it opens up to crazy wild flowers and an awesome view of the valley. We saw a grizzly pretty close to the trailhead last year, so they’re definitely out there! Iceberg Lake is amazing if you can make it, but the hike is well worth it either way.
If you don’t do the campfire talks anywhere else, do it here! There’s a ranger named Pat that is the rockstar of campfire talks. We met him on our honeymoon and look forward to seeing him every time! He does the best mountain goat talk, so even if you’ve seen it in another area of the park, it’s worth going again to see his version.
Serranos Mexican is our favorite place if you’re going to eat out a night (in East Glacier). If you go, get there when the doors open or expect to wait a bit. Whistle Stop is our favorite for breakfast and huckleberry pie. Check out the historic East Glacier Lodge, whether it’s to sit by the cozy fireplace, walk around and take in some of the area’s history, or to grab a beer and sit out on the deck and enjoy the view. There are also tipis out front the kids can play in!
Two Medicine is one of our favorite areas. The valley is rich in history of the Blackfeet. As you enter the valley, something about this place lets you know that you are somewhere special. Again, it’s hard to go wrong with hiking in this area, but here are some of our favorites:
Aster Park- 4 miles round trip, takes you through the valley and then a short climb up to an overlook of the Two Medicine Valley. We’ve seen a lot of moose on this trail as they like all of the ponds down in the valley.
Upper Two Medicine Lake- You can take the boat to cut this down to about 4.5 miles round trip if you catch it both ways. Think it’s almost 10 miles round trip without the boat, but it’s pretty flat.
Running Eagle Falls- This is not really a hike, but it’s beautiful and super easy if you’re not feeling a big hike. Kids can throw rocks in the creek and the falls are gorgeous. It’s a quick 0.5 mile round trip.
Take the trail to No Name/Old Man Lakes around to the other side of Rising Wolf Mountain. It may be too far for kids to make it to the lake unless you have older kids, but it’s a beautiful hike and nice to see what’s on the other side of the mountain. Rising Wolf is massive, and if you have binoculars it’s fun to sit by Two Medicine Lake in the evening and look for bears. We have seen lots of grizzlies and black bear there.
Going to the Sun Road is a must do at least once! The date it is open can vary wildly from year to year. Plan on around July 1 if this something you definitely want to experience while in the park. You can check the park website for updates as the plowing of the road is completed as well as some incredible photos!
Some of my favorite hikes are accessed from the road, but we have yet to attempt many of them with the girls. Siyeh Pass, Piegan Pass, and the Highline Trail are just a few that I can’t wait to experience again in a few years when the girls will be up to the task.
The Hidden Lake trail leaves from the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center at the peak of Going to the Sun Road. It's a crowded trail, but the views are incredible and definitely worth the short climb up to the Overlook. It's about 2.7 miles roundtrip, with the option to continue on an additional 1.4 miles down to the lake. Just remember, what goes down must come up! The parking lot fills up early in the morning, so if you are driving, be sure to prepare to get up there early or utilize the park’s awesome shuttle system!
Wherever you decide to spend your time while in the park, Glacier does not disappoint! If you’ve visited the park, I’d love to hear some of your favorite Glacier moments. Remember the rule of the trail- leave only footprints, take only pictures.