I found your blog through your “5 Perfect (Big) Days in Glacier National Park” post–fantastic-sounding hikes. If you have some time, I was looking for advice for an upcoming trip. I am traveling to Great Falls, Montana, soon for work, and I’ll have one day to explore Glacier National Park. Of course one day is not enough, but these are my circumstances. Anyway, my main question: What would you recommend for an eager hiker with one day to spend in paradise? Are there trails with a high wow-factor you can recommend that are likely to be open, even if the high country is snowed in?
I loved the sound of the Highline Trail to Ahern Pass hike you described, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road is supposed to be open to Logan Pass till mid-October, barring major snowfall, but I was wondering if I’m coming too late in the season to explore the alpine terrain without serious winter gear and high risks. I know everything will depend on changeable conditions typical of the Rockies in the shoulder seasons, but the park is much farther north than my usual terrain. I have microspikes and trekking poles, and I can attempt to fit my snowshoes in my suitcase, but space may become an issue, so I’m not optimistic I’ll be able to bring those.
Some background: I’m an avid hiker, backpacker, trail runner, and marathoner. I love big views, mountain lakes, high peaks, and alpine meadows. I can handle some mileage and have traveled and hiked alone, though not much in winter conditions. I’m sure I can also ask the guides at the park for up-to-date conditions when I get there, but you write about the park with a lot of love, so I wanted to pick your brain if you can spare the time. Thank you in advance!
Colorado Springs, CO
Thanks for following The Big Outside. Your hike options for your one-day visit to Glacier National Park in mid-October really do depend on the randomness of the weather on the day you arrive and the two or three days prior. It could be beautiful or there could be a big dump of fresh snow in the high country, but that shouldn’t prevent you from hiking trails at lower elevations.
Here’s what I’d do with one day in Glacier:
If the Going-to-the-Sun Road is open, dayhike north out-and-back on the Highline Trail (lead photo, above, and photo below) to Granite Park, including the side trip to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook (which is also my top suggestion in this post answering another reader’s question, and which you read more details about in this story). It sounds like you’re capable of hiking the 15 miles from Logan Pass to Many Glacier, an amazing hike, but you’d have to figure out how to get back to the Sun Road because the commercial shuttle service from Many Glacier to the Sun Road stops operating in mid-September for the season. From Logan Pass, I also recommend the easy, 2.7-mile, out-and-back hike to Hidden Lake Overlook.
Another great one, if you’re up for a really big day—and keep in mind that days are short and you don’t want to be hiking before dawn or after dusk in grizzly country—is the 20-mile traverse of the Gunsight Pass Trail, which starts and ends on the Sun Road. Unfortunately, the park’s free shuttle bus also only operates until mid-September, so the logistics for that hike are more complicated for you in October.
If the Sun Road is closed and there’s snow in the high country, hike the trail along the west shore of Lake McDonald or up onto Howe Ridge above the lake if there’s not too much snow up there. (It’s much lower than Logan Pass.)
The microspikes may be helpful if there’s just a little snow and ice that you can hike over. If the snow is deep, this early in the “winter” season it won’t likely be consolidated enough to hike on top of—if there’s a foot or two of new snow, you won’t be hiking in it. So I wouldn’t bother with snowshoes, given the inconvenience of packing them for just one day. I would prepare for temps possibly below freezing (for at least part of the day), wind, and maybe wet weather. Definitely bring warm clothing, including hat, gloves, a down jacket, and a sleeping bag and space blanket in case of an emergency aren’t a bad idea if you’re hiking alone. You can buy bear spray locally.
Hope that’s helpful, have a great time.
Thank you, Michael! This is wonderful advice. Without support, logistics are complicated for shuttle trips, but you’ve given me some great out-and-back options for a variety of conditions. Thanks again!
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