Well-known for its impressive mountain cliffs, Glacier National Park is one of the best places in the Canadian Rockies mountains to train your hiking skills. Indeed, Glacier National Park has mainly hikes for experienced hikers. In this blog post, I’m happy to share with you the best challenging and rewarding hikes in Glacier National Park, located in Canada.
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How to get to Glacier National Park?
Glacier National Park is part of the famous Canadian Rockies mountains. Located in British Columbia, Glacier National Park is geographically situated between Revelstoke National Park and Yoho National Park. Consequently, it’s quite easy to access to get to this park. Indeed, you can easily reach the park from two main roads:
- from Golden
- from Revelstoke
“I would say that the roads that lead to Glacier National Park are steeper than the other ones around the Rockies mountains. However, you don’t need to have a 4×4 during summer months.”
How to move around Glacier National Park?
No surprise if I say that all the Nationals Parks across Canada are huge and vast, with no exception for Glacier National Park. Although almost all hikes start from Illecillewaet Campground, you will need to have a means of transportation to reach the camping. Not to mention that the ride throughout Glacier National Park is spectacular so it’s always nice to be able to explore the park at your own pace and stop whenever you want to.
Frankly, I don’t see how it would be possible to discover Glacier National Park without a means of locomotion. Indeed, there is no public bus as such that will bring you here, unfortunately.
Moreover, for all my backpackers out there, another important thing to note is that hitchhiking is illegal. In fact, as per the law, it’s forbidden to pick up a hitchhiker and the driver could be fined. So you can imagine that you won’t easily find a kind soul to help you.
This is why, as per my own experience, you have three different options to move around Glacier National Park:
- by car
- by camping cars or van
- by electric bike or classic bike (it may surprise you but we met so many of them along the roads!)
How long to stay in Glacier National Park?
Glacier National Park has different day hikes with also some very short hikes and two multi-day hikes. On a side note, there is a good chance that the trail of the multi-day hikes will not be maintained for hiking, even during summer months. At least it was the case for all 2022 summer. Therefore, even though the scenery of the multi-day hikes looks fantastic, I would only concentrate my time on doing day hikes across Glacier National Park.
The difficulty of the hikes in Glacier National Park is all from moderate to difficult levels (no easy ones). As a result, it makes almost impossible to combine two hikes in a day. Having said that, I would therefore recommend staying at least three full days in Glacier National park so that you can be able to hike the following trails.
Of course, if you have a limited time, you can choose from the hikes below and stay only for one day. On the contrary, if you have more time, I can say that five days won’t be too much since there are 10-day hikes to do.
Where to stay in Glacier National Park?
Even though Glacier National Park is vast, most of the trailheads start in the same area. Thus, you have different ideal places to stay depending on your mode of travel. In other words:
- if you’re visiting the Rockies mountains by staying in hotels/Airbnb, Golden is the place to stay since its location is one hour away from Illecillewaet Campground. Moreover, this will also allow you to visit Yoho National Park without changing accommodations.
- if you’re visiting the Rockies by staying camping, it’s even better to stay in one of the three front-country campgrounds or the two backcountry campings inside Glacier National Park. I can highly recommend staying at Illecillewaet Campground has is the starting point of all the hikes I will describe below. All info about Glacier National Park’s campgrounds is here.
Things to know before visiting Glacier National Park
- Glacier National Park is home to one of the steepest hikes in the Rockies mountains. Therefore, I would highly suggest the use of hiking poles at all times even though you don’t have knee problems.
- there is no hiking loop trail in Glacier National Park, only an out-and-back trail.
- as with any mountain environment, there is a risk of avalanches. It may surprise you, but avalanche warnings can still be active until the end of the summer (August). It’s therefore essential to check the condition of the trail before each hike. To do so, click here to get the trail conditions.
- since the park is at a higher elevation than the rest of the Rockies, most hikes are impassable until late in the summer due to snow.
- Glacier National park is prone to wildfires. Be fire smart, always!
- trails are not maintained between October and May. In other words, trails are most likely not in good condition or even not practicable with fallen trees, avalanche debris, etc.
- campings operate from mid-May to early October only.
- Illecillewaet Campground is the starting point of most of the hikes in Glacier National Park, which makes it the best place (and the best front-country camping) to stay while camping. Therefore, book your spot as soon as possible as it gets busy very quickly.
- if you want to camp in a backcountry campground, you need to book your spot way in advance to avoid any disappointment. Usually, the spots are open in a 3-month advance window. To book, go to the government website, create an account with your data and that’s it. Check it out here.
- wild camping is prohibited in Canada. You must camp only in a designated area with a valid pass, always.
- as its name indicates, Glacier is a National Park. As a result, you must use a pass to enter the park. The price for a day pass is CAD 10,50 per adult, free for youth until 12 years old, and CAD 21 for a family in the same vehicle (up to 7 people). Therefore, if you plan to visit the Rockies mountains and its National Parks, I highly suggest you buy an annual pass (also called a “discovery pass”). The discovery pass will be paid off after 7 days of use in any national park. This pass gives you access for a full year to all the National Parks and historical sites of Canada. You can either buy a family pass, which works for 7 people in the same vehicle (CAD 145,25), or an individual pass (CAD 72,25). The pass needs to be displayed in front of the windshield at all times. In addition to saving money, you will save time at the park entrances by using the fast line.
- most of the parking at the trailhead is small (even the one in Illecilewaet). Thus, I can recommend you enough to start the hike early as possible. As per my experience, the parking lots get full starting from 10:00 am.
- wildlife is everywhere in Canada. While encountering a wild animal, always keep a safe distance. Remember you are in their home, you are only a visitor.
- remember you are hiking in a bear country. So always make noise while hiking and have your bear spray with you at all times. You can find bear spray at the MEC store (around CAD 50). If you don’t want to buy bear spray, you can rent one in some tourist places like Banff or Lake Louise Visitor Center.
- If you visit Glacier National Park from Golden, keep in mind that there is a time difference between Golden and Glacier National Park. The park is one hour ahead.
- Mosquitos are terrible during the summer months. Wear long sleeves and pants and put on mosquito spray.
What to do in Glacier National Park?
Now that you know everything about Glacier National Park in Canada, it’s time to share with you my top 3 hiking trails. Without surprise, Glacier National Park is one of my favorite parks of all. Because of the difficulty of the hikes and its locations (more than 4 hours away from the Calgary airport), Glacier National Park is much less touristy than all the other parks in the Canadian Rockies mountains. So, let’s take advantage of it and enjoy these beautiful and challenging hikes!
Please always check the trail conditions here before hiking.
Great Glacier Trail
The great Glacier trail is a beautiful 8 km hike (roundtrip) that starts in an intense forest. As a bonus, you will hear the muffled sound of the river throughout the entire hike. After many switchbacks, you will arrive in the valley where you can see impressive waterfalls and glaciers. Although this hike is short (4 km one way), it offers a breathtaking view of the valley and its surroundings.
“The trail officially ends when you reach the large red rocks along the river but you can continue a bit further if you want to (the employee at the Visitor Center suggested this to us). Just be careful after a rainy day as the rocks can be very slippery.“
8 km (return) - 400 m elevation gain
Abbort Ridge Trail
Abbott ridge trail is the ideal hike if you want to challenge yourself and get an incredible view at the end of your workout. Indeed, the trail is consistently uphill to the top. You will start your adventure in the middle of a lush forest with many switchbacks (which honestly can sometimes seem endless! But it will end eventually I promise). On your way up, you will also have the opportunity to see a small mountain lake called Marion Lake. From this point on, the path becomes much more rocky and difficult. You will continue your ascent until you reach Abbott Ridge. And what a show! Don’t forget to look back because the view is amazing with notably a magnificent glacier (well ok this park is full of glaciers, at least we know where its name comes from, right?)
As per my experience, the downhill has been brutal on my knees. So I can recommend enough to take hiking poles for this one (even though you don’t have any knee problems)!
“If you don’t want to hike the ridge (or just don’t have the energy to do so), no worries since the view is pretty much the same from the ridge itself and the summit. In this case, the trail will be around 13 km for about 1000 m elevation gain.”
16 km - 1400 m elevation gain
Asulkan Valley trail
“There is a hut at the end of the trail that allows you to eat in the warmth if needed or to spend the night if you wish. For this, don’t forget to book in advance!”
14 km (return) - 970 m elevation gain
To summary, Glacier National Park is the ideal place to challenge yourself with stunning hiking trails and fantastic Canadian landscapes. Even though this National Park is not suitable for everyone as it requires some hiking skills, I highly suggest you drive through the park anyway to observe those impressive mountain cliffs and glaciers.
Anyway, I sincerely hope I’ve inspired you to put Glacier National Park on your list for your next visit to Canada. Don’t forget to check out all my others posts related to Canada here. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at any time.
Sending you lots of love,