The 5 Best Family Hikes in Glacier National Park
When we took a family trip to Glacier National Park the hikes we could do were limited by our two-year-old and my father, who had torn his ACL a few months before. Through a lot of planning, and some trial and error, we found some great hikes that put us in the middle of some beautiful scenery and gave us a little exercise while not pushing anyone too hard.
There were five hikes we particularly enjoyed. Most of these hikes take you to scenic places without much difficulty. At the same time, you can follow the trail a little further for additional adventures, giving you flexibility. If you’re going to Glacier National Park with a family, and want some hikes that will take you to fun, gorgeous places while limiting whining, this article is for you.
1. Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake
In my opinion, Trail of the Cedars and the Avalanche Lake trail are places everyone that visits Glacier National Park should experience. Trail of the Cedars is wheelchair accessible. Just a half-mile from the parking area mineral blue Avalanche Creek spills out of a slot canyon. The crystal blue water of the creek contrasted by the vibrant mosses growing on the drab rock epitomizes the beauty of the park.
Follow break off from the Trail of the Cedars to the Avalanche Lake trail and after 1.5 miles of following the beautiful Avalanche Creek, you’ll arrive at Avalanche Lake, located at the base of a stunning cirque. Waterfalls and cascades sprint down the cliffs and outcroppings and the natural amphitheater magnifies the sound of water just enough to create a palpable peace in the valley.
Almost anyone can accomplish the 1-mile Trail of the Cedars. The Avalanche Lake trail is a little more difficult but was easily navigated by my father who had not yet recovered from his ACL tear. Our two-year-old also hiked a good distance on the trail. You can find more details about this hike in this article.
2. Hidden Lake Overlook
The Hidden Lake Trail starts at the Logan Pass visitors center. It is an easy, 3-mile round-trip Hike to the overlook, which offers beautiful views of the Hidden Lake valley. With an extra 1.25 miles (5 miles round-trip) you can make it down to Hidden Lake itself. Note that Hidden Lake is closed during May and June when cutthroat trout are spawning to protect fish, bears, and humans.
After leaving the Logan Pass visitors center, the trail works its way through a series of alpine meadows with tall peaks poking up all around. The trail passes several small lakes and offers wonderful vistas of some of the park’s tallest peaks. The views are exquisite.
The trail to the overlook is not steep and about half of it is on a boardwalk to protect the meadow habitats it passes through. The rest of the trail well-word and mostly flat. If you decide to make the descent to Hidden Lake, the trail is steeper and more difficult.
The Hidden Lake Overlook trail may be the best place in the park to get a good look at mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Mountain goats frequently feed in the meadows adjacent to the trail and bighorn sheep occupy the steep rocky slopes that jut up above the trail. For more information about the best places and times to see wildlife in Glacier National Park, check out this article.
3. Saint Mary Falls and Virginia Falls
The Saint Mary Falls Trailhead is located about 10 miles from the Saint Mary entrance to Glacier National Park. There is a shuttle stop and limited parking at the trailhead.
After leaving the trailhead the trail descends to the Saint Mary River, then follows the river to Saint Mary Falls. The total distance to Saint Mary Falls from the trailhead is just under 1 mile. The hike to the falls is fairly mile. You lose a little bit of elevation at the beginning, then the trail flattens out as it reaches the river.
Just below the falls is a bridge, which offers a wonderful viewpoint for the picturesque cascade. The main falls are comprised of two beautiful cascades upstream of the bridge and a smaller cascade downstream of the bridge. The pool below Saint Mary Falls is a popular place for a swim during the summer.
Virginia Falls is about three-fourths of a mile farther along the trail from Saint Mary Falls. Along the way, you will pass two other waterfalls, which are unnamed, but magnificent.
Virginia Falls is a tall, lovely waterfall. Visitors can easily get close to this cascade. The mist from Virginia Falls often produces some exquisite rainbows as it cascades down the rock face and it’s quite cooling on a warm day.
Overall, Saint Mary and Virginia Falls is a great family hike. Depending on your family you have the option to go all the way to Virginia Falls turn around after Saint Mary Falls. Either way, you’ll see some beautiful landscapes and water features.
4. Redrock Falls
Redrock Falls is located two miles along the Swiftcurrent Trail (4-miles round-trip), which is located in the Many Glacier Area of Glacier National Park. Sights along the way include Fishercarp Lake and Redrock Lake. The falls occur as Redrock Creek navigates bedrock shelves and large boulders.
The Redrock Creek valley is surrounded by magnificent peaks which can be viewed at many points along the trail. Huckleberries also abound and provide a great distraction and snack. Out two-year-old was especially happy to be handed huckleberries as he rode along in the backpack.
This portion of the Swiftcurrent Trail is relatively mild. The trail is mostly flat and easy to walk. The 4-mile round trip distance might be a little long for some families but there are so many great things to distract you and experience along the way that you’ll have a great experience even if you don’t make it to the falls.
5. John’s Lake Trail
From the John’s Lake trail you get wonderful views of MacDonald Falls and Sacred Dancing Cascade. These two falls are located on MacDonald Creek right next to Going-to-the-Sun Road.
MacDonald Falls and Sacred Dancing Cascade are popular roadside stops in Glacier National Park. By taking the Johns Lake Trail, which crosses MacDonald Creek, you can get a different view with fewer people. From Going-to-the-Sun Road it is about a 1.5-mile hike (3-miles round trip) to reach Sacred Dancing Cascade. From the footbridge that crosses MacDonald Creek, you can look upstream for a view of MacDonald Falls.
After crossing the MacDonald Creek footbridge, the John’s Lake Trail parallels the creek as it winds through a shady, mature forest. The trail is flat and easy to hike. Our two-year-old opted to hike (for him it’s more a combination of running and resting) all the way to the cascade. There are several good viewpoints of Sacred Dancing Cascade along the trail.
Even if you have little kids, or have other mobility limitations, don’t let it stop you from getting away from the roads to experience what Glacier National Park has to offer. There are so many places where you can get away from the road just a little to be and feel completely surrounded by pristine landscapes. Use the trails and destinations in this article as a starting place to plan adventures that your family will remember for a lifetime.
Originally published at https://publiclandsjournal.com.