Glacier North Circle

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One of the best hikes in the world is the

Glacier North Circle

Related hikes here:

  • Highline Trail / Ptarmigan Tunnel loop
  • Many Glacier – Waterton via Highline

We have seen more grizzly bears here than in any other park in the USA. You must be bear aware to hike Glacier.

The red dot is GLACIER National Park.

AT A GLANCE

  • 7 days, 6 nights recommended
  • 65miles (104km) plus side trips
  • best months July-Sept
  • well-signed
  • medium difficulty hiking
  • recommended for experienced multi-day hikers

Why We Like This Hike

This is certainly the best multi-day hike in arguably the best hiking park in the continental United States. Certainly Waterton & Glacier have the best wildflowers we’ve seen anywhere.

Bear Grass by paribus

Bear Grass by paribus

Highlights include:

  • Highline Trail
  • Ptarmigan Tunnel (120ft long)
  • Swiftcurrent Mountain Lookout
  • Iceberg Lake
  • wildflowers late June to early August
  • great day hikes elsewhere in the Park
  • likely to see elk, mule deer, moose, mountain goats & bighorn sheep. For wild life, this Park is second only to Yellowstone, in our opinion 
by Roger Lynn

by Roger Lynn

  • almost certain to see black or grizzly bears through the telescope at Swiftcurrent motel
  • great fishing, no licence required in the Park
  • convenient hiker’s shuttle bus
  • it’s an international hike if you cross in to Waterton for the excellent hiking there
  • you will see few of the other 2 million tourists visiting Glacier each year once you are on the trail
  • we love the nearby Going-to-the-Sun highway 55mi (88km)
by Recovering Vagabond

by Recovering Vagabond

Considerations

  • Wilderness Permit should be booked long in advance
  • Summer highs average about 70°F (21C), lows below freezing.
  • remote & wild sections
  • potentially dangerous crossing at Belly River
  • biting insects (including ticks in the early season)
  • bring binoculars or a high powered zoom lens for observing bears on distant mountain sides
  • ONLY U.S. and Canadian citizens can cross the border at Goat Haunt. If you are carrying any other Passport, you’ll need to hike on one side of the border or the other.

The biggest hassle with this hike is getting a Wilderness Permit for the campgrounds you want on the days you want. You can reserve starting April 1st.

The critical webpage for making an application for a Wilderness Permit is:

Glacier National Park – Backcountry Camping

Routes

Lonely Planet Hiking in the Rocky Mountains lays out this hike beautifully. We followed it closely in 2005. No problems.

  • Many Glacier and Goat Haunt (Waterton) are our preferred starting points
  • alternate trailheads are Logan Pass and Belly River
  • Granite Park Chalet en route, is a good option if you want a night or two under a roof
  • less attractive is the Swift Current Motor Inn, but it is also en route. We camped there rather than take a room.

Best shorter alternative hike is Many Glacier – Waterton via Highline, 4 days, 3 nights minimum, 41.7mi (67km)

Check i-NEEDtoKnow.com Glacier for more details on these routes.

yellow marks the Highline Trail / Ptarmigan Tunnel, North Circle red arrows point to our recommended campgrounds

yellow marks the Highline Trail / Ptarmigan Tunnel, North Circle
red arrows point to our recommended campgrounds

Trekking Guides

They have many options in the National Park.

Logistics

If you sign on with a guided trip logistics will be organized for you. This section is for independent hikers.

  • Many Glacier is best accessed from Kalispell or Great Falls, Montana
  • Waterton is most convenient from Lethbridge or Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  • the closest airport is Glacier Park International Airport  near Kalispell
  • Amtrak’s Empire Builder train stops every day at Glacier
  • if you do not have your own vehicle, public transportation is more convenient to Many Glacier than it is to Waterton
  • in fact, all of Glacier National Park is connected by the Glacier hiker’s shuttle bus 
  • you pay separate fees to enter both Glacier National Park and Waterton National Park. (If you hike across the border you will not be charged.)
  • crossing the border, most hikers take one of several daily boats across Waterton lake on Inter-Nation Shoreline Cruises 
  • this is a long hike, but you can resupply in either Waterton or Many Glacier
  • if coming from Canada, buy fuel & rent gear, if needed, at Mountain Equipment Co-op in Calgary. MEC is our favourite company in the world.

Local Information

Best Hike editor Rick McCharles

Best Hike editor Rick McCharles

 

Best Trekking Guidebooks

Be SURE to get the most recent edition of guidebooks.

Best Travel Guidebooks

Compare the rest against Lonely Planet and Moon. Be sure to get the most recent edition.

You can probably use any guidebook to travel Glacier. The tourist infrastructure is excellent.

Other Recommended Books

Gadd is our bible in the Rockies: flowers, plants, animals, birds, fish, geology, history and much more.

Best Maps

You’re not like to get lost. It’s wide open up there. Any guidebook will be sufficient for navigation.

Highline Trail by karma17

Highline Trail by karma17

Best Web Pages

After this page, the best link by far is one of our OLD sites (now outdated) i-NEEDtoKnow.com Glacier 

Other useful sites:

Visitors to Goat Haunt will need to bring ID if they wish to hike further south into Glacier National Park. At this time, only citizens of the United States and Canada are permitted access to the U.S. through this limited port of entry. Citizens of other countries may feel free to leave the boat and take the short 1/4 mile hike from the boat dock to the ranger station, but may not travel further south. There are no other facilities or services available inside the park in this area. All services are available in Waterton Townsite. Come prepared!

Glacier

Best Trip Reports

Movies

First watch the official Glacier National Park – Summer Backcountry Camping Video on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch an Iceberg Lake Hike on YouTube.

Here’s an intro VIDEO to Glacier from the same people.

DVDrew and friends hiked the North Circle in 2008. Click PLAY or watch a clip from Ptarmigan Tunnel on YouTube.

___

More specifically, here are montage videos of the North Circle starting in Waterton, Canada, as we recommend. They got some snow, as did we. 🙂

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

Questions? Suggestions? Leave a REPLY on this page. Our editors will reply.

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