Glacier is one of the best parks for kids — with a variety of animals, waterfalls, mountains, and lakes, there is something for each kid and adult to enjoy. Our kids were 5 & 7 when we went, and they were troopers (a hiking stick or pole really helps!). We did each of these as the primary activity of the day and then lighter activities the remainder of the day. This isn’t the final list of all the hikes we did, but rather those that we would do again if we went back. Our kids are good hikers, but we don’t love heights, so some trails were off limits to keep us from crawling back to the car…
Trail of the Cedars
This short, easy hike (1 mile loop on a boardwalk or paved path) was quick, pretty, and a perfect way to ease into the park. The hike is handicap accessible, making it a great hike for all ages. The humidity, beautiful river, and tall trees all come together in a memorable way and provide some shade on a hot day. Trail of the Cedars makes this list because it is the perfect warm up to the main event! There are bathrooms both at the parking area (across the road) and to the right side of the trail if you go counter-clockwise around the loop. For those of us who drink a lot of water, we used both 🙂
If Trail of the Cedars sounds like a good warmup, it is a warmup for the hike to Avalanche Lake! I wouldn’t really want to think about going to Glacier without making this hike. At 4.5 miles roundtrip, it is a good length and gains 730 feet of total elevation. This hike has good distractions for the kids along the way — much of the trail runs along a creek and every so often you peek out of the woods to great views. As you get closer to the end you see the reason you came, Avalanche Lake. There were a total of 4 waterfalls flowing down into the lake and it was a great place to take our Christmas card photo. The hike is popular, but there is a good deal of parking at the trailhead and a bathroom there as well.
Oh sweet Virginia Falls… You were a gift to see at the end of the hike! But before you get there, you get to see St. Mary Falls and walk along Virginia Creek, which has a series of unnamed waterfalls. When we look back on our time in Glacier, Virginia Falls ranks at the top because it was the tallest waterfall our kids had seen close up. Really close up! The area also has a lot of boulders to climb on and nice places to rest after the hike. The hike to Virginia Falls is 3.6 miles round trip and climbs 525 feet, and is generally a pretty easy hike. The falls have multiple viewpoints, getting you both right up into the spray and also able to capture a perspective back and below the falls. In one of the pools below the falls a fly fisherman was casting his line and that seemed to sum up the beauty of Virginia Falls all in one shot!
Grinnell Lake is either an 8 mile hike from the historic Many Glacier lodge or a 3 mile hike if you elect to ride the boat across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Ride the boat! I recommend making reservations well ahead of time – especially if you have opinions about which boat time slot you would want to be on. We booked about 3 or 4 months ahead of time and planned our days around this. We took the 9AM boat, which included a guided hike to Grinnell Lake. In retrospect, we learned a lot from the geologist who guided the tour, but we are more the type of people to want to just jump in and make our own agenda. We did learn a lot more than we otherwise would have, and that would have been fantastic until we arrived at Grinnell Lake and the people already there shared that we missed a mother moose and her baby by less than 10 or 15 minutes. Would I do it again? Probably not. However, getting an early boat (either the 8:30 or 9AM) includes the guide to either Grinnell Glacier or Grinnell Lake, so you could always take the early boat and stick with it until you are across Lake Josephine and at that point do whatever you would want. That doesn’t hold you back on time but does allow you a chance to learn about what you are seeing all around you. Regardless, this is the best boat ride in the park and the shortcut to beautiful Grinnell Lake is worth every penny.
This waterfall, on the drier Eastern side of the park on the way to Many Glacier lodge, was an “issue.” The kind where someone (Dad) decides that we may not be back here and we shouldn’t miss out on seeing that one other thing. Yes, this is my primary failing on…well, pretty much every trip we have taken. If you ignore that fact, Apikuni Falls is pretty cool. Well, cool is the wrong word entirely as it is literally a hotter, drier, steeper, but shorter hike than either Virginia Falls or Avalanche Lake at 1.7 miles and 625 feet of elevation gain. We did it after riding the boat on Swiftcurrent and Lake Josephine and hiking from there to Grinnell Lake. I would recommend not missing Apikuni Falls, but do remember that a rest day in between big hikes are an important part of hiking with kids. This hike is remote and you really only should do it if you already in the area. When I say remote, it is because we had raced from our rental home in Columbia Falls all the way up and over Going to the Sun Road to catch the 9AM boat ride (a more than 2.5 hour drive). Virginia Falls is hands-down our favorite, but if this works better in your plans you will be doing okay!
Hidden Lake Overlook
At Logan Pass, this hike is a family favorite for many reasons. When we were there we wildflowers were in full bloom; the mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and marmots were everywhere, and the peaks that surrounded us were simply awesome. At 2.7 miles, this medium hike was kid friendly because of the animals and the modest 540 foot elevation gain. Most of that elevation gain comes early and is in the form of stairs. It looks painful, but that first view is all you need to climb The terrain is fairly flat after that as you walk across an alpine meadow and also when you arrive at the peak where the overlook is. We would have considered going down to the lake itself but the trail after the overlook was closed due to bear activity in mating season. (This also would have doubled the length of our hike and added 800 feet of elevation gain). There are other trails that originate from here, and with the Logan Pass visitor center at the trailhead the hardest part of this spot is parking! Suggestions would be to get there early, ride a bus / tram, or be really patient! We had the best luck early or late in the day. We literally saw road rage, a lot of frustrated people, and a long line at the toilets. Plan ahead and be patient!
Find more great suggestions in this post by Courtney Stone at Glacier Guides. How about you? What were your favorite hikes in Glacier?