Glacier National Park is 1,583 square miles of nonstop, jaw-dropping beauty that straddles the U.S. border with Canada in Montana.
“The mountains and wildlife are what first drew me to the park,” says Becca Alfafara, a park ranger at Glacier National Park in her 30s who has been sharing the pristine wilderness on her Instagram account for the past several years. And now? “I love that my office is my backyard and that my backyard is one of the most beautiful places on earth,” she says, “and it’s really fun to help people learn about the park.”
Here Alfafara gives us her top 11 tips for how to get the most out of this vast tract of land, along with some of her most-liked shots.
I feel more at home by Lake McDonald than anywhere else in the park. When living on the west side of Glacier, this is the place I go the most for sunrises and sunsets.
Do it: From the West Glacier entrance, take the road about two miles to Apgar Village for lake access.
Lounge at a Lake
Hidden Lake Trail
This trail is memorable from start to finish. You can check out breathtaking scenery and, more often that not, view some really cool wildlife, including bighorn sheep, marmots, and, of course, mountain goats (please remember to keep your distance).
Do it: Arrive early to find parking. The trail begins at Logan Pass, behind the visitor center, on a boardwalk reaching an overlook (1.5 miles from trailhead), where you can get views of Hidden Lake. I recommend going beyond this point and down to the lake (three miles from the trailhead) for fewer crowds and lake access.
Day Hike for Diehards
Glacier Overlook Trail
Although many people hike the Highline Trail—an 11.4-mile one-way day hike—the vast majority skip this short but very steep spur trail. The climb is well worth the view and a great place to eat lunch. In my opinion, it’s the best part of the Highline.
Do it: Hike the Highline Trail from Logan Pass for about seven miles until you see a sign for the Glacier Overlook Trail. The trail is only about three-quarters of a mile but gains nearly 900 feet.
Bring Your Good Camera
The glacial-fed Cracker Lake has the most unbelievable turquoise coloration. The 12-mile round-trip hike is well worth it for the awesome lake views along the way.
Do it: The trailhead for Cracker Lake is in the Many Glacier area, located in the northeast section of the park. You’ll enter the trail from the Many Glacier Hotel parking lot. Warning: The first 1.5 miles see a lot of stock use, so be prepared for muddy conditions and to yield to horses.
Grinnell Glacier Trail
Although most people hike this trail for the “easiest” trip to see a glacier up close, I might say my favorite views occur before you get to the glacier at the end (5.5 miles from the trailhead), when you can see the teal Grinnell Lake from above.
Do it: Grinnell Glacier Trail starts at the picnic area in Many Glacier, located in the northeast area of the park.
Sounds of Silence
The Belly River area is in a very remote section of the park, which is very appealing to me. Not only is this valley less traveled, but it also has some of the most beautiful scenery in the park.
Do it: Park at Chief Mountain Customs in the northeast corner of the park. Begin on the Belly River Trail.
Rock-Climb the Chief
Chief Mountain is such a unique peak. When I’m living on the east side of the park, I love to watch the sunrise as it lights up the sedimentary rock. Rock climbers also love this place, and it is unlike most other climbing areas.
Do it: Chief Mountain is located on the border between Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in the northeast corner of the park. To view the mountain, you can take the Chief Mountain International Highway just north of the town of Babb.
Rock climbers: Because the rock is so thin, it’s hard to get a solid anchor. A unique route-difficulty rating system has been devised specifically for climbs here, from 1 (an easy hike) to 6 (you need experience in sedimentary rock climbing).
Because You’re in Love
Scenic Point Trail
I love this trail because it’s not as heavily trafficked as the name implies, and it has incredible scenery. It’s a must for wildflower viewing from July to August, but this is so variable due to weather conditions. For instance, last year the trail was covered in snow, but this year it’s clear.
Do it: The trailhead is in the Two Medicine Valley, located in the southeast section of the park. Follow the road to the Scenic Point Trailhead parking area.
Prepare to Get Wet
My favorite place to go canoeing in Glacier is Bowman Lake. Although it has gotten a little more use in recent years, it is much less crowded than some of the other lakes because it’s a bit of a commitment to get to.
Do it: To get to Bowman Lake and the North Fork area of the park, take the Camas Road from the west entrance to the Outside North Fork Road (mostly unpaved surfaces) to the park entrance in the northwest corner. Follow the signs to Bowman Lake on an unimproved road; 4x4 or high-clearance vehicles aren’t necessary but are recommended.
I am a huge wildlife junkie at heart, and Glacier is an amazing place to see all sorts of critters big and small. Some of my favorite places to see wildlife include Logan Pass (bighorn sheep, mountain goats, marmots), St. Mary (elk, moose, eagles, beaver), and Many Glacier (moose, bears, bighorn sheep). It’s hard to predict where animals will be, but these tend to be some of the best spots, in my opinion.
Do it: A lot has to do with luck, but your best chances for wildlife sightings are mornings and evenings.
What About Winter?
Late September to Late April (Hours: Weather Permitting)
The vast majority of the more than 2 million park visitors come in the summer months. But I think Glacier is even more spectacular in the winter, when many fewer people make the trip.
Do it: The Going-to-the-Sun Road is open for 10 miles or so from the west entrance. Beyond that, it’s open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. No permits required.