The Best Backpacking Trip in Glacier National Park
By Michael Lanza
The three bighorn sheep lifted their heavily horned heads to gaze at us, but never budged from their beds of grass amid boulders on a mountainside above the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. The mountain goats we saw on various occasions during that seven-day backpacking trip gave us little more attention than that. And fortunately, the grizzly bear sow with two cubs in tow that passed within about 30 feet of us—an encounter of less than 10 seconds that is etched into my memory forever—gave us no more than a passing glance.
Besides an array of large, charismatic wildlife on that 90-mile hike through Glacier, two friends and I also saw an ocean of mountains spreading out before us, long escarpments of Glacier’s signature soaring cliffs, and some of the prettiest of the park’s 760 lakes. We even enjoyed an unexpectedly high degree of solitude for long stretches of a multi-day hike that hit many of the park’s highlights.
Those are a few of the very good reasons that long multi-day hike through Glacier is one of “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips.”
I had planned that 90-mile trek through Glacier to give us a grand tour, including must-see spots like the Highline Trail and the Ptarmigan Tunnel, the Many Glacier area, the Garden Wall, Gunsight Pass and some of the more remote lakes. But it also took advantage of the park’s free shuttle bus system, minimizing trip logistics.
The hike began with a 65-mile, five-day trip known as Glacier’s Northern Loop, actually a horseshoe-shaped circuit from Siyeh Bend on the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Many Glacier, Ptarmigan Tunnel, Stoney Indian Pass, the Highline Trail, and finishing at Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. That was followed immediately by a 25-mile overnight on the Gunsight Pass Trail, including a side trip to Sperry Glacier.
Click here now to get my expert e-guide to backpacking Glacier’s 65-mile Northern Loop.
The gallery of photos below speaks volumes about this trip’s scenery and wildness.
One of America’s flagship national parks, Glacier is a must-do destination for backpackers because of mountain scenery unlike anywhere else, remoteness, and a rare variety of wildlife. And the time to apply for a backcountry permit for a trip this summer is now.
Start planning now if you want to camp anywhere in Glacier’s backcountry this summer: Backcountry campsites can be reserved in advance starting March 15 for groups of one to eight people, and many available sites get booked quickly for dates during the peak summer season. (The park begins accepting permit reservations for groups of nine to 12 on March 1.)
Get the right backpack for a trip like Glacier. See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs”
and the best thru-hiking packs.
About half of backcountry campsites in Glacier are set aside to be issued on a first-come basis no more than a day before a trip’s start date—but that’s no guarantee that half of all sites will be available at any given time, because backpackers on a multi-day hike may claim some of those walk-in sites ahead of you.
Read my story “Descending the Food Chain: Backpacking Glacier National Park’s Northern Loop,” about that 90-mile hike, including more photos and tips for planning it, and my story about a shorter and easier, family backpacking trip on the Gunsight Pass Trail, as well as my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”
Want to take the best long backpacking trip in Glacier? Check out my expert e-guide “Backpacking Glacier National Park’s Northern Loop,” which tells you everything you need to know to plan and successfully pull off that 65-mile hike of a lifetime. And see a menu of all of my e-guides.
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