Glacier National Park is a 1,583-acre wilderness in Montana's Rocky Mountains. (This is the U.S., of course. I also recently visited Canada's Glacier National Park.) The park has more than 700 miles of trails and goes all the way to the Canadian border, where it becomes Waterton Lakes National Park. When the two parks combined, they became the world's first International Peace Park and a World Heritage Site.
What wildlife can you see in Glacier National Park?
Glacier is home to 71 different species, and we saw bighorn sheep, mule deer, and mountain goats all on one hike. We also saw a bald eagle and an osprey while whitewater rafting on the Flathead River at the southern boundary of the park.
The Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is a Wildlife Wonderland
If you want to see wildlife in Glacier National Park, you should make your way to the Hidden Lake Trail. This trail starts at Logan Pass, which is the highest part of Glacier that you can reach by car. The hike is 1.5 miles one way and mostly uphill though there is a wooden boardwalk for most of the trail.
We were so excited to come upon our first mountain goat when hikers on their way out stopped to tell us there were plenty more further up the trail. The Hidden Lake Overlook is beautiful, and the site was home to a number of bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
The trail does continue another 2 miles down to Hidden Lake, but unfortunately, this extension was closed due to bear activity. I don't know if I would have made it anyway - the hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook was fairly strenuous, especially being at a higher elevation than I was used to. Logan Pass is at an elevation of 6,647 feet, and the elevation at the end of the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is 7,152 feet. It was definitely worth the effort, though. I love photographing wildlife, and it was cool how close they were.
One more photo, and look closely because there are actually TWO mountain goats in this picture:
Did you find it? The second one is on the cliff! Center of the photo, very top, zoom in.
Are there still glaciers in Glacier National Park?
Another cool part of the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is the glaciers and waterfalls. The hike offers outstanding views of the surrounding mountains, and you can see small glaciers hiding in the mountain crevices along the way. There are a few places you can take small side trails and get to the ridge of the mountain to see the glaciers on the other side.
A very sad fact about Glacier National Park is that the glaciers are much smaller than they were fifty years ago. The average loss is 40%, and some glaciers are up to 80% depleted. Conservative estimates expect Glacier National Park to need a new name by the end of the 21st century. You can envision that these glaciers we saw must have been much, much higher when the park was first established. Now, they are nearly bottomed out.
When should you visit Glacier National Park?
I loved the colorful wildflowers we saw along the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail. The late spring and summer are the best times to hike in Glacier. The valleys are filled with flowers in bloom, the animals are hanging out, and of course, the weather permits long hikes. In the winter months, the roads and/or hikes might be snowed in.
The view of Hidden Lake at the Overlook was nice, and I suppose I need to add a photo of it. However, you can see the weather wasn't ideal for photos, and really, the wildlife encounters were the crown jewel of this hike.
How to Get to Logan Pass and the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail
Driving in Glacier National Park is an experience, and getting to Logan Pass was a bear. The drive to Logan Pass from the West Entrance of Glacier National Park takes about an hour, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a bit of a treacherous drive. All in all, I highly recommend the free shuttle that picks up at Apgar Visitors Center. Save your car the trouble, and avoid the struggle of finding parking at the more popular spots.
For one thing, a decent length of the road was under construction, all the pavement had been ripped up, and the road was so littered with potholes I was sure my truck's suspension would fall apart. Worse still, once you get into the mountains, the road is smooshed between the edge of the cliff on one side and a sheer rock face on the other. It's barely two lanes, and it's not recommended for long vehicles. I took the camper off, as the clearance is only ten feet, but after the first day, we took the shuttle anyway. Drivers on the cliff side were nervous about staying in their lane, and another large truck hit my mirror with their mirror.
Between my mirror, the horribly bumpy part of the drive, and how magnificently dirty my truck got, I was not pleased with my experience of Glacier's infrastructure. Save yourselves and take the shuttle. (I did fully get car sick on the shuttle the next day, so it was a real lose-lose for me. But I'm still glad I saw the park.)