5 ‘must-do’ hikes in West Glacier National Park

The scenery, trails, and lakes of Glacier National Park are in the upper echelon of destinations the United States offers. It’s America’s version of the Canadian Rockies, and it’s no surprise its nickname is the ‘Crown Jewel of the Continent.” While I’d argue the eastern side of Glacier has better views, today, we’re highlighting west Glacier hikes. Even though the other is amazing, this area still has some of the best hikes in Glacier National Park.

West glacier hikes

Bowman Lake Trail

This was our surprise for the trip. I’d never been this far north in Glacier National Park, and Bowman Lake reminded me of the Canadian Rockies. For Glacier National Park hikes, it’s mostly flat with some ups and downs and goes the entire length of the lake if you so choose. We went about 2.5 miles in and then flipped around. This isn’t as popular and is in grizzly country. Remember to make noise, hike in groups of three or more, and carry bear spray at all times.

West glacier hikes
West glacier hikes

Avalanche Lake Trail

The Avalanche Trail is one of the best hikes in Glacier National Park. You’ll hike to a stunning lake with a massive granite backdrop at a little under six miles round trip. This is perfect for sunset as the rock glows with a magical orange. Be aware of bear activity, though. They’re common in the area, and it is wise to have your bear spray accessible.

West glacier hikes West glacier hikes

Sperry Chalet Trail

At 13 miles round trip, this West Glacier hike will take up most of your day. But it’s worth it, though! You’ll climb 3,500 feet up that winds you through a forest up to the Sperry Chalet, starting from lake level. Unfortunately, the temperature difference and sweaty clothes mean you may be QUITE cold at the top. So I’d recommend bringing a change of clothes for the way down. Overall, its one of the best hikes in Glacier National Park.

West glacier hikes West glacier hikes

Apgar Lookout Trail

From the bottom of McDonald Lake, this seven-mile round-trip trek gets you above the lake and offers some stunning views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the lake itself. This is especially great early in the season before the rest of the higher-elevation trails melt out.

McDonald Creek Trail

Starting at McDonald Lake Lodge, enjoy a nice walk along McDonald Creek. This nearly 6-mile out and back is generally flat and is excellent for the family. However, keep your eyes peeled as we saw a deer hanging out in the forest just off the trail. Honestly, I wouldn’t say this is one of the best hikes in Glacier National Park, but it’s a nice family hike to get fresh air and see some wildlife.

Read more  Tips for hiking in Portofino National Park

West glacier hikes

Bonus: Hangout at McDonald Lake

There’s nothing wrong with grabbing dinner and bringing it down to the Lake McDonald shoreline to watch the sunset. This lake is famous for its ‘fruity-pebble’ like rocks that glisten in the clear water and is a favorite of photographers. I highly recommend bringing camp chairs and spending an evening here. You won’t be disappointed with this Glacier National Park spot.

West glacier hikes
West glacier hikes

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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— Update: 17-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Best Hikes Near Glacier National Park (Bigfork & West Glacier) from the website www.nomadswithapurpose.com for the keyword west glacier hikes.

West glacier hikes

Looking for the best hikes near Glacier National Park but don’t want to deal with crowds and tickets? Explore these amazing hidden gem hikes of Bigfork and West Glacier outside the national park!

Glacier National is incredible—no questions about it, however the area outside of Glacier is a vast world of equally as beautiful forests, glaciers, and mountain peaks.

The Flathead National Forest region of West Glacier, Hungry Horse, and Bigfork, which sit right outside the national park entrance, are totally underrated are filled with endless adventures!

In this blog we’re sharing the best hikes in West Glacier and Hungry Horse so you can escape the crowds of Glacier National Park!

Rumor has it, national parks are going to very crowded this year.

It’s no surprise given that people are searching for local, outdoor destinations to take their summer vacations to this year in 2021.

What is a surprise is that’s it’s taken people this long to realize how amazing national parks are!

On top of that, Glacier N.P. is implementing a new ticketing system in 2021 that limits the amount of people allowed in the park each day (at least, in the west side of the park).

Unfortunately that means even if you don’t mind the crowds, you might not be able to snag tickets!

Learn more about visiting the National Parks in 2021 here.

Don’t worry, there are other ways!

Don’t be discouraged from visiting Glacier N.P. just because of the crowds. You just might want to consider exploring the area just outside of Glacier N.P. instead or in addition.

These 10 hikes give you a backup travel plan in case you can’t get a ticket for Glacier N.P. and along the way, you’ll probably discover the most amazing nature you’ll ever see!

Where is Flathead National Forest?

Flathead National Forest is a mountainous region right near Glacier National Park. The hiking here is accessed from a few different spots.

  • Hungry Horse – Just 5 minutes before you reach the turnoff for Glacier.
  • Bigfork – The east side of Flathead Lake (an alternate route to get to Glacier N.P.).
  • West Glacier + Essex – The northeast side of Highway 2, just minutes past the turnoff for Glacier National Park.

10 Beautiful Hikes Near Glacier National Park

1 | Ousel Peak

Location: West Glacier, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 6.5 miles, 3800′
Trailhead: 48.491304, -113.862539

Read more  25 Best Hikes in New England: New England Hiking Options for Everyone

Ousel Peak is an amazing mountain hike right next to the Glacier N.P. entrance! The views at the top are some of the best I’ve ever seen with mountain peaks filling the skyline as far as the eye can see. The views come with a price though, this hike is extremely steep and strenuous despite it’s moderate length.

Getting there: The trailhead is literally right on the south side of highway. There is a small side street on the left a couple hundred yards past the trailhead. You can park in the corner of the junction as long as you don’t block the turnoff.

2 | Strawberry Lake Trail No 5

Location: Hungry Horse, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 6 miles, 1900′
Trailhead: Strawberry Lake Trailhead

Strawberry Lake is a pleasant and easy alpine lake hike. The grade isn’t too steep making it a great beginners choice and on a warm Sumer day, Strawberry Lake makes for an amazing place to relax and enjoy the view.

Strawberry Lake is also a popular place for fishing. Pay attention for ATVs on the trail which are common here.

Getting there: 4WD is recommended but high clearance 2WD works too.

3 | Apgar Lookout Trail

Location: West Glacier, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 7 miles, 1800′
Trailhead: Apgar Lookout Trailhead

Apgar Lookout lies right immediatley after turn towards Galcier park. Don’t worry, you don’t need to enter the park or obtain a ticket to hike this.

Apgar Lookout gives you a grandiose view of Lake Macdonald and the Going-to-the-Sun road from afar. Experience lush panoramic views and stay away from the busier Glacier crowds with this summit trail.

Related: 5 Best Hikes in Glacier National Park

4 | Mount Aenas Summit Trail

West glacier hikes
The Mount Aenas Summit Trail. Photo via AllTrails.com

Location: Bigfork, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 6.2 miles, 1800’
Trailhead: Camp Misery Trailhead

Located in the Jewel Basin trail network, Mount Aenas is by far the most epic hike in this trail network.

Mount Aenas is a secluded hidden gem that delivers stunning alpine environment and panoramic views. 

You can hike this trail as an out-and-back or make it an epic loop by combining it with Picnic Lakes and descending jewel basin (equal distance).

When you hike the loop, you will simply traverse the Mount Aenas ridge-line Northwest ridge-line to ascend or descend the park (depending on which way you loop it). See the exact route here.

West glacier hikes

Note On Getting There

What’s the difference between Camp Misery Trailhead and Jewel Basin trailhead?

When you park at Camp Misery trailhead, it cuts off the long, steep 2.3 mile Switchback Trail, which  most of us would probably prefer.

Important: Getting to Camp Misery trailhead is 4WD recommended. If you don’t have 4WD, you can usually get to the Switchback Trailhead (RVs not recommended).

When you park here, it’s steeper and adds .7 miles on each of your hike.

5 | Jewel Basin + Picnic Lakes via Switchback Trail

West glacier hikes
Picnic Lakes in Jewel Basin. Photo credit bigskyfishing.com

Location: Bigfork, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 6.5 miles, 2700’
Trailhead: Switchback Trailhead

If you don’t want to hike all the way to Mount Aenas, just head to Picnic Lakes.

This trail consists of steep switchbacks which take you up to a mountain crest with views of Flathead Valley and a meadow filled alpine wonderland.

Read more  5 of the Best Hikes in The Poconos

You’ll be able to look down to Picnic Lakes or even better, hike another .5 miles further to go relax by their shores. 

Make it a loop by heading back on the Alpine 7 trail. Or continue to Mount Aenas (see hike #4).

Related: 7 Unforgettable Things to Do in Glacier National Park

6 | Birch Lake Trail

West glacier hikes
Beautiful Birch Lake in the Jewel Basin trail network. Photo via AllTrails.com contributor.

Location: Bigfork, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 6 miles, 1000’
Trailhead: Camp Misery Trailhead

Beginning from the same trailhead as Mount Aenas, Birch Lake is a great option for those wanting to explore the Jewel Basin trail network, but not wanting too strenuous of a hike.

Birch Lake is popular place for trout fishing and overnight camping. Along with that, you’ll still get great view of the Swan Mountains, the Mission Mountains, and more! The hike has switchbacks but they’re fairly moderate and it’s a great place to go berry picking in the summer.

 7 | Skiumah Lake Trail

Location: Essex MT
Distance + elevation gain: 3.8 miles, 1100’
Trailhead: 48.435392, -113.808486

This lesser known hike on the north side of Flathead National Forest is a classic walk in the woods that brings you to a glacial lake surrounded by a steep a glacial mountainside. Since this hike is less popular than others in the area, beware of an overgrown trail.

Related: Grand Teton to Glacier National Park Road Trip

8 | Great Northern Mountain

West glacier hikes
The stunning hike of Great Northern Mountain. Photo via summitpost.org

Location: Essex, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 9.5 miles, 4800′
Trailhead: 48.333901, -113.830904

Seeking the most intense and challenging hike in the area? Look no further than the Great Northern Mountain.

With nearly 4,800 feet of elevation gain in just under 5 miles, this hike is a thigh burner. Not only that, but it’s also technical and isn’t for the average hiker. Come with hiking experience and be prepared for exposure and scrambling.

The summit gives you iconic panoramic views of Glacier N.P. And Hungry Horse Reservoir and serious bragging rights.

Getting there: Road well maintained. Any car should be able to access.

9 | Stanton Lake

West glacier hikes
Peaceful Stanton Lake hike. Photo via AllTrails.com contributor.

Location: Essex, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 3.8 miles, 600’
Trailhead: Stanton Trailhead

Accessed from the Northeast side of Flathead National Forest, Stanton Lake is a peaceful and secluded lake similar to Glacier’s Lake MacDonald but without the crowds.

The hikes is very easy, great for families, and the perfect place to go berry hunting in July/August (so I hear). On a warm summer day, the lake if perfect for a swim.

10 | Hungry Horse Dam

Location: Hungry Horse, MT
Distance + elevation gain: 1 mile, 50’
Trailhead: 48.343799, -114.013636

A final notable mention is Hungry Horse reservoir itself. While I prefer seeing the colorful reservoir from above, if you’re looking for a short leg stretcher, a short stroll along the dam is lovely.

Related Blogs

  • Best Hikes Glacier
  • Things To Do In Glacier NP
  • Best Hikes Tetons
  • Get Our Free Hiker’s Fitness Guide

Are you visiting Glacier, Montana this summer? Let us know in the comments below and share which hike is highest on your bucket list!

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About the Author: Tung Chi