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USA: MONTANA: Glacier + Waterton NP guide

Recommended hikes and campgrounds in Waterton-Glacier National Parks.

Glacier National Park is a hiking paradise, one of our favorite world natural areas. See our latest trip article, fall 2022. Since 1932, Canada and USA have shared Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which UNESCO honored as a World Heritage Site (1995) containing two Biosphere Reserves (1976).

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Waterton-Glacier campground tips (as of 2007)

  • Due to their width and length, RVs and trailers aren’t allowed to cross Logan Pass, on the Going-to-the-Sun Road between Avalanche Campground (on Lake McDonald) and the Rising Sun picnic area (on Saint Mary Lake).
  • Hot Showers are available at:   Rising Sun Campground Store;  Apgar West Entrance KOA;  St. Mary Lake KOA;  adjacent to Many Glacier Campground at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn; Rising Sun Inn (6 miles west of St. Mary Visitor’s Center, and 5 miles west of St Mary Campground); Waterton Park townsite campground; and others outside the park.
  • Per site limits are 2 vehicles, 8 people, & 2 tents (where space is available) in Glacier NP.
  • After Labor Day, all Glacier NP campgrounds are “first come first served” (non-reservable) campgrounds — arriving between 10am-1:30pm very likely gets a site. Check out time is 12:00 noon (re-register by 11:30 am).
  • Camping along Going-to-the-Sun Road:
    • Rising Sun Campground on Lake McDonald is open thru Sept 17, 2007. Adjacent to the campground is a camp store, a casual restaurant, and token operated showers (1 shower stall for men, 1 for women). Flush toilets; dump station. $20. In August 2007, it usually filled up after 6:00pm.
    • Saint Mary campground, $23. Flush toilets; dump station, open 5/25 – 9/23/07; first come first served after Sept 3 (sites are reservable June 1 through September 3).
    • Campgrounds near Lake McDonald / West Glacier:
      • Apgar Campground (rarely fills up)
      • Fish Creek campground is closed after Sept 4, 2007. Reservable in summer, but usually doesn’t fill up.
      • Sprague Creek Campground) is open thru Sept 17. $20. Flush toilets.
      • Avalanche Campground is closed after Sept 4.
  • Many Glacier Campground open thru Sept 23, then primitive (waterless) thru Sept 29. $20. Flush toilets; dump station.  Filled up most days from 2 to 7:00pm in August 2007. Public showers & laundry are located behind Swiftcurrent Motor Inn’s Registration building. 3 shower stalls for men, 4 for women.
  • Two Medicine Lake Campground:  generally shaded by trees, some privacy. Open thru Sept 23. $20. No showers.
  • Glacier NP campgrounds, current filling status & details
  • Plus numerous RV parks outside the National Park, with full facilities, such as the towns of West Glacier, East Glacier, & St Mary:
    • Polson / Flathead Lake KOA (800) 562-2130
    • West Glacier KOA (800) 562-3313
    • St. Mary / East Glacier KOA  (800) 562-1504

Glacier NP animals and insects: photo gallery

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Waterton-Glacier weather

If Logan Pass is closed, driving around the south end of Glacier NP on Highway 2 takes only an extra 30 minutes, by way of East Glacier, to West Glacier.

Global warming melts Glacier National Park

Glaciers carved spectacular U-shaped valleys and pyramidal peaks here as recently as the Last Glacial Maximum (the last “Ice Age” 25,000 to 13,000 years ago). 150 glaciers existed in the mid 1800s, but in recent times, based on aerial imagery from 2015, only 26 named glaciers met the size criteria of 0.1 km² (nine fewer than in 1966). Of the 26 remaining in 2015, some may now already be too small to be considered glaciers. See for yourself, such as the nearly-gone Siyeh Glacier at Cracker Lake.  Read more about global warming and climate change.

Glacier NP stone patterns and natural abstracts: photo gallery

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Glacier NP backpacking & backcountry lodges

Check weather and reserve backcountry campsites at 8:00am, one day in advance, at the following offices: Apgar Visiter Center, Polebridge Ranger Station, St. Mary Visitor Center, Two Medicine Ranger Station, or Many Glacier RS. Be flexible and come prepared for alternative plans, as popular campsites may be hard to get. Backpacking permit fees are inexpensive.

On January 10, 2022 I tried to arrange a pricy private room for two, for 2–4 nights in September in the backcountry Sperry Chalet (meals included). Sadly, 700+ people got ahead of us during the couple of minutes required to fill the online application, and weeks later came a confirmation that summer accommodation had fully booked. This led to a second option:

In a March 15 lottery ($10 nonrefundable), Tom booked a solo backcountry trip on the 3-day traverse of Gunsight Pass (read article). From September 19–21, I trekked for 29 miles, vertically ascending 9400 feet and descending 8000 feet. Driving our RV, Carol dropped me off at Rising Sun picnic area on Saint Mary Lake, where I hitchhiked (on the third passing car) to Jackson Glacier Overlook — the Gunsight Pass Trailhead. I backpacked to Gunsight Lake Campground and Sperry Campground, day hiked Comeau Pass, and finished at Lake McDonald Lodge, where Carol picked me up. Carol chose to stay at West Glacier RV Park (booked in advance) for sewing and walking. Carrying a 3.5-ounce Garmin InReach Mini 2 [Amazon] reassuringly tracked my progress for Carol and allowed Text communication via satellite — a great innovation!

Glacier NP flowers and plants: photo gallery

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Waterton-Glacier hikes

Check trail status at:
Rainy day activities include waterfall hikes, games, or a good book.
Tom’s PRIORITY KEY below rates hikes with asterisks:   ***Best.   **Excellent.   *Good if you have extra time.

West Glacier area hikes

  • ** Avalanche Lake hike: park early before the lot fills.
  • ** Bowman Lake, Numa Ridge Lookout (11.4 mi round trip, 2935 ft). See jade colored Bowman Lake and Valley from above.  Drive 21 miles from Apgar to Polebridge, via Camas Road, to the “Outside North Fork Road” of which 11 miles are bumpy gravel. (Don’t take the “Inside Road”, which is very slow & bumpy, almost 4wd). From Polebridge, drive 6 miles gravel road to the trailhead at Bowman Lake Campground.
  • Sperry Chalet (or Campground) hiked from Lake McDonald Lodge (13.4 miles/3300 ft round trip). Done in 2022, the hike to Sperry Chalet is just a walk through mostly-burnt forest, but the day hikes from there are well worthwhile: *** Sperry Glacier Trail (7–8 miles round trip with 1900–2200 feet gain & loss); *** Gunsight Pass (8.5-10.2 miles round trip with 1800 feet gain & loss).
Glacier NP: Lake McDonald, Avalanche Lake and Gorge: photo gallery

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Glacier NP: Bowman Lake and Flathead River North Fork: photo gallery

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Two Medicine Lake area hikes

  • ** Upper Two Medicine Lake (9.4 miles round trip, 370 feet gain)
  • ** Dawson Pass (10+ miles) plus *** Flinsch Peak (gives a stupendous panorama of Dawson Pass, Oldman Lake, Young Man Lake, Two Medicine Lake). *** Dawson Pass loop adds Oldman Lake (15.4 miles with boat, or 18.3 miles without boat after Labor Day).
  • * Cobalt Lake (11.4 miles round trip, 1400 feet gain) good viewpoints, attractive Rockwell Falls, colorful rocks, beautiful lake, beaver ponds, meadows. With extra energy, hike Two Medicine Pass (4.4 miles round trip, 830 feet, from Cobalt Lake) for “commanding view” of neighboring Paradise Park and Park Creek drainage.
  • Short hikes:
    • Running Eagle Falls (0.6 miles round trip)
    • Paradise Point (1.2 miles round trip) scenic peninsula that juts into Two Medicine Lake
    • Aster Falls (2.4 miles round trip)
Glacier NP: Two Medicine hikes: photo gallery

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Going-to-the-Sun Road area hikes

  • *** Siyeh Pass (10.3 miles traverse one way with shuttle, 2390 up, 3300 down) (or 9.4 mi round trip without shuttle, 2390 feet gain). High alpine scenery.  Open 8/9/07.   Or even better to hike the following:
  • ***  Piegan Pass (13 miles traverse one way with shuttle, 1720 feet up) via Grinnell Lake & Josephine Lake to Swiftcurrent Lake trailhead. Same trailhead as Siyeh Pass, at Siyeh Bend.
  • * Otokomi Lake (10 mi round trip, 1900 ft) Deep red rocks, green forest, colorful scenery. Start at Rising Sun Campground.  Open 8/9/07.
  • ** Gunsight Lake (12.6 miles round trip; 1700 feet gain): a popular day hike, starting at Jackson Glacier turnout, 4.9 miles east of Logan Pass.
  • *** Gunsight Pass Trail traverse: From September 19–21, 2022 I backpacked this 3-day traverse starting from Jackson Glacier Overlook (Gunsight Pass Trailhead) and hiking to Gunsight Lake Campground then Sperry Campground, where I day hiked Comeau Pass, then finished at Lake McDonald Lodge (29 miles, vertically ascending 9400 feet and descending 8000 feet).
  • *** Hidden Lake (3–6 miles, 600–1200’ cumulative gain, to Overlook or down to the Lake). One of our favorite hikes in the world — well worth hiking several times. The parking lot at Logan Pass usually fills between 10:00am–2:00pm, though this can vary during peak weekends. Logan Pass (6,646 feet elevation) is 32 miles from the west entrance and 18 miles from the east entrance. If you’re not afraid of heights: *** Dragon’s Tail Ridge (6 miles round trip, 1520’ gain from Logan Pass, using the unsigned Nature Trail south of Hidden Lake Overlook).
  • *** Swiftcurrent Pass (15.2 miles one way, backpacked in two days, 1400 feet gain, car shuttle) via Garden Wall (which can also be hiked 11.8 mi, 800 ft, one way with shuttle; plus 1200-ft, 2-mile side trip to spectacular Grinnell Lake overlook) “If you just have one day in the park, hike this”. Swiftcurrent Pass can also be day hiked 1 to 15 miles round trip, from zero or 3500 feet gain. Hiking up 2300 feet gains you a sufficiently good view.
Glacier NP: Logan Pass hikes: Hidden Lake and Garden Wall: photo gallery

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Glacier NP: Saint Mary hikes: Baring Creek, Piegan Pass, Siyeh Pass: photo gallery

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Many Glacier Campground area

  • *** Iceberg Lake (9.4 miles RT, 1220 ft) (see also Ptarmigan Tunnel) Ice bergs in milky blue lake below 3000-foot cliffs. TRAIL OPEN – 8/8/07.  4.8 miles roun trip to junction above Ptarmigan Falls, plus 4.6 miles RT to Iceberg Lake.
  • ** Ptarmigan Tunnel (11.2 miles RT, 2315 ft) (see also Iceberg Lake) Fun tunnel, spectacular scenery. 4.8 miles round trip to junction above Ptarmigan Falls, plus 5.2 miles round trip to Tunnel.
  • ** Cracker Lake (11.2 mi RT, 1140 ft) Most eye-catching turquoise lake in park; 3000-foot cliffs; nice waterfalls. TRAIL OPEN from Cracker Flats to Cracker Lake 8/2/07.
  • *** Grinnell Glacier (7.6 miles with boat rt, 11 miles without, 2000 ft) Ascends spectacular ledges above Grinnell Lake to reach Upper Grinnell Lake to observe its small, rapidly-melting glaciers. Or hike Grinnell Lake, best via Piegan Pass traverse (above).
Glacier NP: Many Glacier hikes: photo gallery

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Waterton Lakes NP, CANADA (bring USA passport)

  • ** Carthew Traverse (12 miles one way, 2300 ft, car shuttle) Lovely high alpine lakes, red & yellow mountains, meadows, and waterfalls. (Stays within Canada; no boat required.)
  • *** Akamina Ridge loop to Forum and Wall Lakes (12 miles with 3440 feet ascent & descent) From Waterton Park village in Alberta, a paved road reaches Akamina Pass Trailhead to hike this epic loop, in Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, British Columbia. Optionally add a mile round trip to overlook Cameron Lake. Forum and Wall Lakes themselves make good separate day hikes, especially Wall Lake.
  • * Bertha Lake (8.6 mi rt, 1542 ft) “Beautiful subalpine lake”. Falls.
  • * Goat Lake (8 mi, 984 ft rt) “Pretty area”. This trail starts at the exceptionally colorful Red Rock Canyon (which has a nice short nature trail, seen in 2002).
  • Goat Haunt(2-12 miles round trip, 1000 ft gain). Requires boat ride on Waterton Lakefrom Canada into USA (& back). Bring USA passports. In 2002, this boat ride was not very scenic in the opinion of Carol and I — * you probably need to hike or backpack into the mountains for better views. (Must get backcountry permit in Glacier NP, not Waterton.) The commercial boat (403) 859-2362 down Waterton Lake (Canada) to Goat Haunt, USA, may be cancelled, but other boats may run. Must leave Waterton dock by 4pm sailing to enable check in to US customs at Goat Haunt between 9am-5:30pm. At Goat Haunt you can do any or all of the following:
    • Day hikes from Goat Haunt: several “excellent hikes” 2-12 miles, and/or
    • camp overnight at open-sided shelters at the Goat Haunt boat dock, without having to carry a pack, or
    • backpack from Goat Haunt: Lake Francis 12.4 miles round trip, 1000 ft, plus optional 8 mile rt day extension to Brown Pass where “views are tremendous”
Canadian Rockies: Waterton Lakes: photo gallery

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