This is a weekly series that highlights an outstanding day hike or backpacking trip. The goal is to inspire you to want to get out and see these places for yourself. I know for us, just seeing amazing photos and reading about a great hike is enough to get us motivated.
This week's hike is Glacier North Circle in Montana's Glacier National Park.
Why this Hike?
Glacier National Park is outstanding for many reasons, including a ridiculous density of wildflowers and grizzlies. The first is great, the second, not as much. The North Circle loop gives you a chance to see plenty of both and amazing scenery at every turn. This is truly one of the classic hikes in North America!
How long is the hike?
As the name suggests, the hike is a loop which starts and ends at Many Glacier on the eastern side of the park. The loop is approximately 52 miles, so we recommend 6-7 days to really enjoy the trail.
How do I get there?
Many Glacier is most accessible by flying into Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, MT. From there, you can rent a car or use the various ground transportation options to get to local accommodation.
The National Park operates a free shuttle service along Going-To-The-Sun Road that connects Apgar Vistor Center on the west side of the park to St. Mary's Visitor Center on the east side. From there, Glacier National Park Lodges operates a shuttle to Many Glacier. Both the start and end trail heads are a short walk from Many Glacier.
The following map outlines our recommended route.
As shown, we recommend a 6-day, 5-night itinerary. The total distance is approximately 52 miles (84 kilometers). You could certainly extend the trip by spending an extra night or two and bag some of the incredible peaks in the area.
- Day 1 - Granite Park Campground (7.6 miles)
- Day 2 - Fifty Mountain Campground (11.9 miles)
- Day 3 - Stoney Lake Campground (8.2 miles)
- Day 4 - Glenn's Lake Head Campground (6.2 miles)
- Day 5 - Elizabeth Lake Campground (7.8 miles)
- Day 6 - Iceberg Lake Trailhead (10.5 miles)
When you arrive at the Glenn's Lake Head campground, we definitely recommend the one-mile side trip to Mokawanis Lake to check out the incredible waterfall there. It is a bit difficult to locate and will take some bushwhacking, but it's definitely worth it.
Glacier National Park also provides an excellent backcountry resource page which can be found here.
What will I need?
The trail is well maintained and the conditions are excellent. Weather is generally very good from July through September, however be prepared for afternoon storms and potential snow late in the season. As a result, a lightweight tarp could be a great addition to your pack. Water is plentiful and the insects aren't too bad, especially later in the season. If you go in the early part of the season when the insects are more numerous, treating your clothing and gear with insect repellant is recommended.
If you decide to go late in the season to avoid the crowds, be sure to pack a warm sleeping bag or quilt and an insulated sleeping pad. Temperatures can dip below freezing and could make for uncomfortable sleeping if you're not prepared.
Since this is a multi-day trip, you will need a full backpacking setup. Check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List for a complete list of things that we recommend and a handy printable checklist.
What do I need to consider?
Although the trail conditions are great, this is a medium difficulty hike. Be well prepared for some long days on the trail with significant elevation gain. The 3rd day is probably the most difficult with a steep ascent to Stoney Indian Lake.
There are bears in the area, including grizzlies, so practice bear safety at all times. The National Park maintains a good guide that you should get familiar with, as well as this thorough article that shows actual bear encounters.
Ptarmigan tunnel can be closed late in the season while the trail is still very accessible. Make sure you inquire about this at one of the Visitor Centers before leaving to avoid getting trapped and having to go over Redgap Pass to complete the hike. This will add at least one day of hiking.
Permits are required and it is highly recommended that you make reservations ahead of time during peak summer months. Reservations can be made on the National Park Service website starting on March 1st (or 15th, depending on group size).
Here are a few great resources to check out for more detail:
National Park Service Permit Reservations
Glacier National Park Shuttles
Glacier Park Lodges Shuttle Service
Trip Report by Don Geyer on NWHikers.net
Video of the Route (posted by Todd Shampine on YouTube)
Have you hiked in Glacier National Park? If so, are there any other must-see areas of the park? Do you have other outstanding hikes that you'd like us to write about? Please share your feedback in the comments.