The glaciers and rivers that, over millions of years, carved up the mountains and valleys of Montana’s Glacier National Park left behind one of the most breathtaking landscapes anywhere. That beauty is immediately apparent from its main thoroughfare, Going-to-the-Sun Road, so it’s no wonder that most of the park’s three million annual visitors don’t stray far from it. However, if you’re willing to head a little deeper, you can enjoy trails, scenic viewpoints, and even entire lakes without all the hustle and bustle. Check out these five lesser-known spots, some of the best places in Glacier National Park.
1. St. Mary Lake from Rising Sun
St. Mary Lake, in the park’s east end, is a popular drive-by sight for visitors. Very few, however, actually take the time to pull over and experience it, and fewer still get offshore. Glacier Park Boats operates boat tours from the Rising Sun dock that take cruisers by Wild Goose Island, include a viewing of Sexton Glacier, and access many lesser-traveled hiking trails and scenic viewpoints surrounding the lake. The boat trip itself takes an hour and a half, and if you choose to add a guided hike to your excursion, allow 3.5 hours roundtrip. Tickets start at $33.25 for adults and $16.75 for kids.
2. Kintla and Bowman lakes
Glacier National Park’s North Fork is accessed via dirt roads and offers no guided tours. Visiting Kintla and Bowman lakes in this region of the park’s northwest corner is one of the best places in Glacier National Park to find near-solitude during the busy summer months, largely because RVs and buses can’t make the trip. Your reward for braving the rugged, often washboard-laden roads are two pristine, clearwater lakes reflecting the carved peaks behind them. Fifteen trailheads are accessible nearby, with several short day hikes leading to elevated viewpoints from which to look out across the North Fork and the lakes below. Should you wish to spend the night, make a reservation at the Bowman Lake campground or, if it’s full, one of the three other campgrounds nearby.
Swiftcurrent is Glacier National Park’s version of a town. (The closest actual town is Babb on Highway 89). Located in the northeast of the park, Swiftcurrent is where you’ll find multiple great options for day hikes, lakeside picnics at Swiftcurrent and Fishercap lakes, and the historic Many Glaciers Lodge. No matter your day’s activities nearby — which can include hiking, fishing, or horseback riding — stop into the lodge for a meal and a drink.
Camping is available here via the Many Glacier Campground, or you can book a cabin at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. Wherever you stay, you’ll have easy access to the Swiftcurrent and Iceberg Ptarmigan trailheads first thing in the morning, so you can get out on the trail and enjoy the views of Iceberg Peak, Mount Wilbur, and Mount Henkel before anyone else.
4. Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
It’s not common to visit a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site on the same day. Rarer still are two national parks, one UNESCO site, and another a border hop. The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park ticks all three boxes. Serving as the transfer point between Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, and Glacier National Park, this spot marks the international boundary between the US and Canada and offers expansive views of both parks. In late spring and early summer, seasonal wildflowers add to the grandeur.
This monument opened in 1932 in hopes of creating a “borderless” national park. Be aware that the two parks have separate entrance fees, so your pass to Glacier doesn’t cover a day’s enjoyment on the Canadian side — but you can take care of this on site at the Chief Mountain Border Crossing. There’s surely no cooler way to cross the border.
5. Huckleberry Lookout
Our list of best places in Glacier National Park that are off the beaten path had to include one good challenge. The Huckleberry Lookout Trail is tough — six miles with 2,700 feet of elevation gain. If you’re up for it and can dedicate at least a half-day to completing the hike, the view from the wooden lookout at the top is among the park’s most memorable. Evergreen forests reach far into the distance, reaching far-off, snow-capped mountain peaks. As an extra treat, edible huckleberries line the trail in late summer, a refreshing snack as fatigue sets in on the return trip.
The trailhead is located along Camas Road eight miles from the park’s west entrance. You’ll need a good pair of hiking boots, plenty of water, and a portable meal and snacks for each person in your party in order to complete this hike successfully. Also, bring a windbreaker or rain jacket as conditions can change quickly in the high country, even if it’s warm and sunny at the trailhead. Note that in the hottest days of July and August, afternoon thunderstorms are a distinct possibility, so start your hike bright and early.