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Glacier National Park is one of the very finest National Parks in the USA, and is my all time favorite with kids. It’s got so many amazing things to see and there are lots of great hikes that you can do with kids to get off the beaten path a bit.
Best hikes with kids in Glacier National Park
Now before we dive into the best places to hike with kids in Glacier, there are a few things you need to know. (If you’re already an expert on hiking safety, just scroll down to the best hikes in glacier with kids!) First off, Glacier National Park is WILD – really wild! This isn’t Yosemite where the bears are going to try and break into your car to steal your candy wrapper. This is a place where wildlife outnumber people and where it’s so remote and the weather is so harsh that most of the park is only open a few months of the year (and those months are absolutely AMAZING!)
Hiking Safety in Glacier National Park
When you’re hiking in Glacier National Park, you need to take some safety precautions that you wouldn’t normally need to take in other places. The biggest thing that you need to consider is bear safety.
Bear Safety in Glacier National Park
Yes, bears are fairly common sightings in Glacier, so you always need to be prepared. First of all, make sure that you carry Bear Spray with you whenever you are hiking. Bear spray is essentially super strong pepper spray that you can spray in a bears face if they are attacking you. When we hike, we try to have one adult near the front and one at the rear, both carrying bear spray in an outside pocket of our backpacks so we can grab them out QUICKLY (usually in our water bottle pocket). If I’m out hiking alone with the kids, I have one of the older kids carry the spray. Most bear sprays will shoot about 30 feet, so keep that in mind and don’t spray it too early. We carry this Bear Spray , and are grateful that we’ve never had to use it! For more tips on how to properly and effectively use bear spray, go here.
Bears rarely attack unprovoked, but will attack if startled. One of the best lines of defense is to be loud on the trail. No, I’m not talking screaming and shouting (or banging pots together like in The Parent Trap), but talking consistently really is pretty important.
There have been several times that we’ve met hikers on the trail that have warned us about bears ahead, but honestly, we’ve never seen one while out hiking. Yes, that’s one of the few times that I’m grateful to have lots of really LOUD KIDS.
If you want to take an extra precaution, you can attach a bear bell to everyone’s backpack or belt. These are just an extra way to make sure that a bear can hear you coming from far away, and since these ones are only about $5, it’s a great precautionary purchase to make.
Wildlife Safety in Glacier National Park
In addition to being cautious about bear encounters in Glacier National Park, there are other animals that you need to be careful to avoid. Moose can be very dangerous, as can just about any animal with a baby. The best rule of thumb is to give them their space and do not approach them. If you make plenty of noise, they will usually hear you coming and will walk away before you get to them.
Weather Safety in Glacier National Park
Since Glacier National Park is right along the Canadian border, you can get some pretty intense weather extremes. We’ve been to Glacier when it was snowing while we were trying to hike, and been there on other days where it was so hot that we were jumping in every body of water that we could find. Be prepared for unexpected weather changes. In our packs, we always take an extra wool base layer top and a packable rain jacket. These are our favorite baselayers for kids and we like these wool baselayers for adults and here are our favorite rain jackets for both kids and adults.
Hiking Gear in Glacier National Park
In addition to having good rain gear and baselayers, like we just mentioned, good hiking shoes or boots are a must have. Kid specific hiking shoes can sometimes be hard to find (most stores will just have 2 or 3 styles). We wrote an article all about the best hiking shoes for kids so you can find the very best option for the types of hiking you’re doing. Read it here.
5 Best Hikes with Kids in Glacier National Park
Most of these hikes that we’re sharing are fairly moderate without a lot of elevation gain. If you’re looking for something more intense, check out our article on 16 Epic Adventures in Glacier National Park.
Note: This map is not fully accurate, but is intended to be used as a reference for general distances and locations. Before starting any hike, talk to a ranger and consult an official trail map.
#1. Avalanche Lake Hike in Glacier National Park
Total Distance: 4.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 730 feet
Main Attractions: Lake, waterfalls, rivers, and cedar trees
Parking: Trail of the Cedars Trailhead
Best hike with kids in West Glacier
Avalanche Lake is our families favorite hike in Glacier National Park. The trail takes you through lots of different looking terrain which keeps it all very interesting. Starting out, your hike will take you along the Trail of the Cedars. This part of the trail is a nicely groomed trail and boardwalk that is even suitable for wheelchairs and jogging strollers. All along the way, you’ll be surrounded by 100+ feet cedar trees and it’s seriously amazing.
Shortly after passing a bridge crossing Avalanche Creek (stop and take a picture here), the trail will take you up the hill and to the south towards Avalanche Lake. The first part of the hike closely parallels Avalanche Creek with so many beautiful spots to stop and soak in how beautiful all the gushing water is. Once you get started on the trail, you’ll notice that it’s pretty busy the entire way and is probably one of the most popular hikes in the park, but with good reason. As you wind up through the forest trail, you’ll have a great chance of seeing deer (especially if you hike in the late afternoon), though other animals are more scarce.
After a little over 2 miles of hiking, you’ll see Avalanche Creek again, which is a sign that you’re almost there. Just past that, there will be a sign for pit toilets up on the right of the trail. Once you reach the lake, you’re going to be blown away. Right before you is a perfect glacial amphitheater with Avalanche Lake sitting right at the bottom.
Avalanche Lake is actually more like a giant pond, since it’s so shallow, which makes it perfect for kids to splash around in. Once you reach the top, roll your pants up, take your shoes off and go soak your toes in the water. It’s seriously SO COLD, but it feels great after the hike uphill to get to the lake. Spend some time skipping rocks and exploring around the lake before you head back down.
When you’re up at the lake, take note that the wildlife there are VERY FRIENDLY and love to be fed. Please don’t feed them. You’ll quickly notice that they will grab for any good that’s left out and even steal your wrappers. It’s mostly chipmunks and birds, so be on the lookout and be ready to shoo them away if they get close.
Note: because of how popular this hike is, not only does the trail get really crowded, but so does the parking. I recommend hiking this trail first thing in the morning, or later in the afternoon.
#2 Hidden Lake Overlook Hike in Glacier National Park
Total Distance: 2.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 550 feet
Main Attractions: High alpine views, lake views, mountain goats
Parking: Logan Pass
Best Hike with kids at Logan Pass
The Hidden Lake Overlook trail starts at the Logan Pass visitors center and heads west up the mountain. Parking at Logan Pass usually fills up VERY EARLY in the day, so if you want to drive your own car instead of taking the shuttle, plan on being to the top by 8am. The Going To The Sun Road is only open a few months of the year because of snow, so if it’s open, make sure to head up this way and take advantage of this beautiful hike. The hike is almost a mile and a half up to the overlook and will treat you to some pretty stunning views of East Glacier. The trail is above timber line so your views will be totally unobstructed (but also note that you’ll also have a lot of high altitude sun exposure, so remember a hat and sunscreen).
Since the trail is at such a high altitude, you’ll likely encounter some snow on a few spots of the trail, and mud/small streams on others. Our kids were all thrilled to hike across the snow and did fine in their tennis shoes and trail runners. On the way up, we quickly whisked them across the snowfields so they wouldn’t get cold but on the way down, we stopped for a snowball fight and some sliding around on the snow (since we weren’t as worried about them getting wet since we would be down soon).
The weather at Logan Pass can change VERY QUICKLY so come prepared with water and several different layers. When we were there last year, the weather went from sunny and calm to windy and snowing (yes, snowing!) in less than 30 minutes. Be prepared with an insulating layer like a fleece jacket, and a rain jacket at a minimum.
As you get close to the top of the Hidden Lake Overlook, is our favorite part of the trail – MOUNTAIN GOATS! There’s a herd of mountain goats that typically stays near this area, so you’ll likely spot a few. We’ve seen several babies up here with their mothers which is always an extra special treat. Just make sure to give them all their space and don’t ever touch, feed, or approach the wildlife.
If you get up to the top of the Hidden Lake Overlook, you’ll have great views of the lake below. If you’re feeling like you’ve got lots of extra energy, head down to the bottom of Hidden Lake. The trail is about 1.5 miles more to get down to the lake and has a 770 foot elevation gain (remember, you have to come back UP after you go down!). It’s a beautiful hike though with fantastic scenery!
#3 St Mary Falls and Virginia Falls Hike in Glacier National Park
Total Distance: 3.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 525 feet
Main Attractions: Waterfalls, Wildflowers
Parking: St Mary’s Falls Trailhead
Best hike with kids in East Glacier and St Mary
If you’re looking for a simple waterfall hike with a big WOW factor, this is the hike for you. Located a few miles east of Logan Pass, this hike has limited parking at the St Mary’s Falls Trailhead and there is also a shuttle stop for this hike a little west of the parking lot. A few years ago, a large portion of this hike was burned in a wildfire. While that seems unfortunate since there are not many trees, this hike more than makes up for that in wildflowers.
After almost ¾ mile of hiking, you’ll reach St Mary Falls. There is a bridge that crosses the St Mary River and you can get some great photos from both the bridge and from the rocks on the south side of the river. If the water is running high, you’ll get to cool off as the mist from the falls showers down on you. St Mary Falls isn’t huge at around 35 feet, but the two tiers of waterfalls make it feel extra majestic.
St Mary Falls is about the halfway mark to get to Virginia Falls. About .5 miles later, you’ll reach another cascading waterfall, which is unnamed. Soon after that, you’ll see another cascading fall as well. Many people turn around at one of these, thinking that they have reached Virginia Falls. Keep going!
After 1.7 miles, you’ll arrive at the VIrginia Falls Viewpoint. While there are great views from here, you really should turn to the right and head straight to the base of the falls. Hopefully the weather is nice, because this 50 foot falls will instantly cool you off and the mist feels wonderful on a hot day. Stopping at the falls for a snack or picnic break is a nice option as well!
#4 Grinnell Lake Hike in Glacier National Park
Total Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 220 feet
Main Attractions: Glacial Lake, Wildflowers
Parking: Many Glacier Boat dock
Best hike with kids in Many Glacier
Grinnell Lake is the longest hike that I am recommending for kids here in Glacier, but this hike packs some serious WOW!! There are two ways to do this hike. The shorter and easier option is to take a boat ride across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. This will shave almost 5 miles off of your trip. However, if you want an amazing mountain hike, you really should hike the whole loop.
The way that we did the hike was to hike along the west shore of Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes and then head up to Grinnell Lake. On the way back, we hiked down from Grinnell and back along the east shores of Josephine and Swiftcurrent, which made it a great loop hike.
The elevation gain is pretty mild, but along this trail are some of the best wildflowers that I’ve ever seen. PERIOD. And they weren’t just beautiful, they were HUGE. I’m talking they were so big that my kids could barely see over them. Seriously, if you love amazing mountain and lake views AND wildflowers, you should hike the trail rather than take the boat. The views along the west side of Lake Josephine are truly amazing.
After you pass Lake Josephine, you’ll cross a couple of creeks, which our kids loved and they were great places to take breaks along the way. Surprisingly, we even passed some pit toilets along the trail, so that was a welcomed backcountry surprise.
Once you get to Grinnell Lake, you’ll know it. It has beautiful turquoise water from all of the glacial minerals. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can take the hike up to Grinnell Glacier above, which feeds the lake. Personally, we didn’t do it because it would have added about 4 miles to our hike and our kids weren’t up for that.
At the end of the hike, head to the Many Glacier general store for some Huckleberry Ice Cream. I loved the hike, but for my kids the ice cream was the highlight of the day!
#5 Aster Falls Hike in Glacier National Park
Total Distance: 2.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 320 feet
Main Attractions: Waterfalls, beaver ponds
Parking: South Shore Trailhead
Best hike with kids in Two Medicine
This is an easy hike with kids that doesn’t require much climbing or elevation gain at all. It’s especially great for younger kids who need lots of breaks and a frequent change of scenery because there is just so much to see along the trail.
After .25 miles, take a short detour to Pardise Point, a great beach on the shores of Two Medicine Lake. This is a great place to stop and throw rocks. As soon as we got here, all my kids instantly took their shoes off and started to wade into the lake. (In retrospect, I’d stop here on the way back as well and tell the kids that our first stop is for throwing rocks and that if they hike well, we could come back on our way back down and wade for a little bit.) This area is really marshy and is prime moose habitat, but also very full of mosquitoes. I highly recommend this all natural bug spray for areas like this (and it’s DEET free which is so important with kids!).
Another .25 miles down the trail and you’ll start seeing a series of beaver ponds. While we didn’t actually see any beavers, it’s pretty evident that they are pretty active (remember when I mentioned how LOUD my kids were above? Obviously they scared off the beavers too!). Again, this is a great habitat for both moose and mosquito (trust me – you need this bug spray!)
Around 1 mile, you’ll cross over a creek and then follow the Aster Park Trail over to the falls.
At the end of your hike, just like the general store in Many Glacier, stop my the general store at Two Medicine. I’m quite certain that the promise of Huckleberry Ice Cream at the end will make all of your hiking go much smoother.
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