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.
Update – It’s getting increasingly difficult to get permits.
The red dot is GLACIER National Park.
AT A GLANCE
- 7 days, 6 nights recommended
- 65miles (104km) plus side trips
- best months July-Sept
- 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.
- 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
- 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)
- 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:
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.
They have many options in the National Park.
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.
Best Trekking Guidebooks
Be SURE to get the most recent edition of guidebooks.
- Hiking Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks, 4th: A Guide to the Parks’ Greatest Hiking Adventures
Best Travel Guidebooks
Compare the rest against Lonely Planet and Moon. Be sure to get the most recent edition.
- Moon Glacier National Park (2013)
- Lonely Planet Banff, Jasper and Glacier National Parks (2012)
- The Best of Glacier National Park (2013)
- Moon Montana & Wyoming: Including Yellowstone & Glacier National Parks (2011)
You can probably use any guidebook to travel Glacier. The tourist infrastructure is excellent.
Other Recommended Books
Gadd is our bible of the Rockies: flowers, plants, animals, birds, fish, geology, history and much more.
- Handbook of the Canadian Rockies – Ben Gadd
- Fishing Glacier National Park
- The Backpacker’s Handbook – Chris Townsend, 2004
- Northern Rocky Mountain Wildflowers – Phillips
- Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance – Herrero
- Mammals of the Rocky Mountains – Pattie, Fisher & Hartson
- Plants of the Rocky Mountains – Kershaw, Pojar & MacKinnon
- The Photographer’s Guide to Glacier National Park: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them
- How To Photograph The Canadian Rockies and Dances with Light – Darwin Wiggett.
- Insiders’ Guide to Glacier National Park – Susan Olin
- Exploring Glacier National Park – David Rockwell
- Waterton and Glacier in a Snap! – Fast Facts and Titillating Trivia Djuff & Morrison, 2005
- Along the Trail – A Photographic Essay of Glacier National Park and the Northern Rocky Mountains – Danny On, 1980
- Where the Mountains Meet the Prairies – Graham Macdonald, 2000
- The Backpacker’s Handbook – Chris Townsend, 2004
- Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks 2009 (National Geographic: Trails Illustrated Map #215)
You’re not like to get lost. It’s wide open up there. Any guidebook will be sufficient for navigation.
Best Web Pages
- Entry and Exit Information for Goat Haunt – Canada – US border crossing requirements. Call 800 320-0063 in the States. Call 206 553-4676 in Canada
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!
- Highline Trail – BigSkyfFshing.com
- Swiftcurrent Pass – BigSkyfFshing.com
- Iceberg Lake – BigSkyfFshing.com
- Glacier National Park – Wikipedia
- epionions.com tips for hikers
- Glacier National Park – glacier.national-park.com
Best Trip Reports
- Austin Lillywhite – Glacier National Park, North Circle Route (2016)
- The Big Outside – BACKPACKING GLACIER NATIONAL PARK’S NORTHERN LOOP
- McCharles 2005 North Circuit
- Backpacker – NATIONAL PARKS: BEST OVERALL – Glacier
- Doug Walsh 20 miles Granite to Kootenai Lake – article
- Geoff’s 2004 high resolution pics
- animal & plant photos
- Finely Holiday Stock photos of Glacier
First watch the official Glacier National Park – Summer Backcountry Camping Video on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch an Iceberg Lake Hike on YouTube.
DVDrew and friends hiked the North Circle in 2008.
Click PLAY or watch a clip from Ptarmigan Tunnel on YouTube.
More specific to hiking, 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.
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