Ask Me: How Hard Are the Trails in Glacier National Park?
I am heading to Glacier National Park for the first time this August, planning dayhikes based out of the Many Glacier campsite. I’m confident in my abilities to easily handle all of these hikes but one: Logan Pass to Many Glacier in a day. There are two reasons for my doubt. The first is that I am from Columbus, Ohio. We are at an average elevation of about 270 meters. Obviously, the thinner air at elevation in Glacier is going to take its toll; that will be the highest I have ever been. The second reason is that I’ve only done one comparable hike (I think it compares), which was to the summit of Mount LeConte via the Alum Cave Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. That was about 11 miles round trip, and about 2,800 feet gained on the way up. It was a challenge, sure, but less than I expected and I actually had quite a lot in reserve by the time we returned to the trailhead.
I am a somewhat experienced backpacker with a pretty good set of skills, but my experience is largely in the several different, relatively tame, ranger districts of Wayne National Forest spread throughout southeastern quadrant of Ohio; drunk hillbillies are a far greater threat there than precarious precipices and incensed ursines.
Based on that information alone, do you think I am I being reasonable in my goal of accomplishing this dayhike without too much of a problem?
Thanks for writing and following The Big Outside. Congrats on planning your first visit to Glacier National Park, certainly one of our finest parks. As you may have read in this story of mine, the distance from Logan Pass to Many Glacier is just over 14 miles, with only about 1,000 feet of uphill and about 2,000 feet of downhill. I’ve hiked it in both directions in a day and backpacked the entire Highline Trail (lead photo at top of story) as part of a longer trip in the park.
Based on your experience, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble with the hike. The elevation will basically range between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, at which most people feel some shortness of breath, but not sick or unable to continue hiking. You’ll also find the trails in Glacier more gently graded than many Appalachian Mountains trails (I’ve hiked a lot in New England’s mountains and some in the Adirondack Mountains and in Great Smoky Mountains National Park); if you hike Appalachian trails without getting whipped badly, you’ll be fine in Glacier.
The bigger concerns in Glacier are grizzlies and weather. The Highline Trail is entirely above treeline, so get an early start in case there are afternoon thunderstorms. But don’t start hiking before daylight, because you’d probably rather not encounter any bears in the dark. Early morning is a great time for wildlife viewing, though, and I’ve seen bighorn sheep along the Highline Trail in early morning, before the usual hordes of other hikers had started down that trail (prompting wildlife to retreat to quieter corners). I carry pepper spray on my pack belt when hiking in Glacier (make sure you know how to deploy it in an emergency), but I also think a loud air horn is a great bear deterrent. I have a Sound 911 Personal Safety Horn that I recommend: It’s really loud, weighs a few ounces, and requires just depressing a button. Plus, you can use the horn when a bear is still at some distance but appears to be approaching you, whereas pepper spray isn’t effective unless deployed at fairly close range.
By the way, the entire hike from Logan Pass to Many Glacier is mind-blowing spectacular. If you have the gas when you get to the Grinnell Giacier Overlook trail (a side trip of 1.2 miles and 1,000 vertical feet round-trip off the Highline Trail), definitely go up and take in that view. It’s worth being really tired later. Plus, once you’re over Swiftcurrent Pass, you have an easy downhill and flat walk to Many Glacier. And I won’t give anything away, but when you descend off Swiftcurrent Pass toward Many Glacier, your jaw will be hanging.
Good luck and have fun.
Thanks for your response. I really enjoy the Big Outside; I also enjoy your work in Backpacker Magazine. It helps to keep me motivated to get out there!
My group will be dayhiking from Logan Pass to the Granite Park Chalet. From there, we will split up, some heading to The Loop and those who have the gas heading east to our site at Many Glacier.
All great advice. Thanks so much for your time, and keep up the great work!
As an aside, I found your article “12 Simple Tips For Taking Better Outdoor Photos” to be immensely helpful.
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