Trekking and Backpacking Overview: Glacier-Waterton National Park

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Bear grass in Glacier National Park
Bear grass in Glacier National Park (Michael S. Quinton/National Geographic/Getty)

Glacier National Park, Montana

  • Camp at Atlantic Creek and Red Eagle Lake on a shuttle trek between CutBank and St. Mary that takes you over the Triple Divide Pass. Rain falling on nearby Triple Divide Peak flows to the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay.
  • The nearly 25-mile Ptarmigan-Redgap loop shows off the spectacular peaks of the Many Glacier area, as well as the Old Sun Glacier and the Ptarmigan Tunnel, a triumph of dynamite over mountain. It's a short road walk from the east trailhead at Apikuni Falls back to the Swiftcurrent Lodge starting point.
  • A trek through the Waterton Valley and across the Highline Trail is pure, unadulterated Glacier. Take the ferry from Waterton to the ranger station at Goat Haunt. From there, hike a strenuous 30 miles deep into the park's interior and high atop its crown to the Logan Pass Visitor Center.
  • The Nyack-Coal Creek loop explores the park's underutilized southern portion, threading its way through the Nyack wilderness camping zone. A number of challenging fords make this a trek for later in the season when water levels are low.

The Highline and Waterton Lake area lies at the northern edge of Glacier, along the Continental Divide. Highline is closed to horse traffic from Logan Pass to Granite Park. This area offers short hikes and longer hikes into Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. On the map, Waterton looks more developed than Glacier (it even has a golf course!), but it is possible to get away from the development into country that is high and rugged and isolated.

If you've got the time and the itch, there are extended hikes to consider, the premiere perhaps being the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This trail is a 3,100-mile journey along the "spine" of North America from the Canadian to the Mexican border.

But hey, whether you're clutching Grandma's arm along a quarter-mile nature trail, going out for a leg-stretching day hike, or sinking into a wilderness sojourn, Glacier will amaze you. It's that kind of place.

Overnight Trips

If you wish to camp in the backcountry, you will need a backcountry camping permit, which you can get at Apgar, St. Mary, and major ranger stations. Half of these permits are set aside on a "first-come, first-served" basis. The other half are available through advance reservations using a special form that you can get by calling the park office . The park charges a processing this form. So if there's a hike that you've set your heart on, it couldn't hurt to put dibs on it.


Published: 28 Jul 2009 | Last Updated: 9 Jun 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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