Nature trails and activities at Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks

By Jelane A. Kennedy

Dramatic moments seen from KOA in St. Mary's, Montana

Dramatic moments seen from KOA in St. Mary’s, Montana. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

There are lots and lots of hikes in Glacier National Park. From easy, day hikes to back country adventures. We decided when we arrived that we would take advantage of the easy day hikes, as Lucy our golden retriever had taught us, it’s not how hard, how high or long you hike, it is about getting out there and being in and with nature. Enjoying the beauty all around us, and being together sharing the experience was our aim.

Being in high altitude atmosphere it was important to take care of our bodies, hydrating and being respectful of our selves and our energy was part of the plan. After our first day taking the bus over the Going to the Sun Road and getting acquainted with the area we decide to add to our resources that we had picked up from the park rangers (maps and newspaper) and to pick up the Falcon Guide on “Best Easy Day Hikes Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks”. For the rest of our time we would use the guide to help plot our hiking.

As luck would have it the Saint Mary’s Visitor Center near us had just had a huge up date on their educational displays. They had added an amazing interactive display discussing the relationship of the park with the area Tribes and the significance of the park to the local Tribes. What an incredible resource and a must see experience. We learned so much! The interviews were very poignant. We were so glad that Saint Mary’s Visitor Center ended up being our base camp for the park. Many folks use West Glacier and may miss out on Saint Mary’s.

Eileen hanging out inside a tree while on the Trail of Cedars

Eileen hanging out inside a tree while on the Trail of Cedars. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Our first hike was Trail of the Cedars; it was a loop hike that was 0.7 miles long. The trail was wheelchair accessible. This was a hike we took the day we rode the buses over the Going to the Sun Road. It was also one of the last hikes we did on our last day. It was a short lovely nature walk through what we called the ancients. We loved walking among these old Red Cedar and Black Cottonwood trees.

“What do you think they would say to us if they could speak our language?” asked Eileen

We could not get over how large the trees were and how stately they felt. Walking mostly in silence seemed respectful as though we were walking through a church.

The view from Sun Point of St. Mary's Lake

The view from Sun Point of St. Mary’s Lake. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Another trail we hiked more than once was the Sun Point Nature Trail; with a magnificent view of St. Mary’s lake and the sundial like marker that helped to identify the mountains around the lake. The trail was a 1.3 mile round-trip. Standing out on the rocks and watching the sun play over the mountains and lake was a treat! We also saw Baring Falls as part of this hike, it was great and Eileen found a little side trail that took us down to the rocky lake beach, where we sat in silence just listening on one occasion.

One other small hike included Swiftcurrent Nature Trail in the Many Glaciers section of the park. It was a simple trail around the lake, quiet and relatively flat, 2.5 miles. My guess would be that many serious hikers would skip this trail but the views of the mountains and the play of the reflections on the lake especially on low wind day was just amazing. We ended up over at the Many Glaciers area multiple times, twice for hikes and another for a day of rest. On the day of rest we sat out on the huge porch overlooking the lake and read, wrote and I took pictures. The morning we were there for our rest day, the water was still and the reflections of the mountains onto the lake were amazing. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. That was also the day we did the guided ranger tour of the Lodge. I could write a whole other blog post about the lodges we visited at Glacier and Waterton Lakes, but that will have to be another time.

Eileen at the shore of Avalanche Lake. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Eileen at the shore of Avalanche Lake. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Probably the only two trails that were our least favorite were Avalanche Lake and Cameron Lake in Waterton. The guidebook warns that the Avalanche Lake trail was a favorite and so it could be busy. And it was a bit busy that day with a school group. But maybe it was the overcast weather or the loudness of the group, but this hike really excited neither of us. The book talked about the “specular destination” but I think we had been so wowed by Lake MacDonald, St. Mary’s Lake, and Swiftcurrent Lake, it was a disappointment. The best part of the hike was the gorge and the falls we saw. The hike was relatively flat for the 4.6 miles and the school group had a student in a wheelchair with them. The best part of this hike was revisiting parts of the Trail of Cedars for us.

Near the end of our time at St. Mary’s and before we went over to West Glacier we decided we need to visit Waterton in Canada. Glacier and Waterton were a joint park, the first international peace park, so we thought we should take our passports in hand and take a visit. We decided for a hike to head out to Cameron Lake, the hike was 2.2 miles round-trip. It had been suggested to us by one of the owners of the KOA where we were camping. I think the big thing we felt overall was that all seemed too commercial for us in town and at the lake with all the boaters and the facilities that were lacking. We were underwhelmed after being at Glacier. The best part of the trip to Waterton was the view from the Prince of Wales hotel that was amazing. Too bad there was not any patio furniture out so people could just sit and watch the lake. Eileen found a concrete block to sit on as she gazed at the Lake that day. I got a couple of good pictures of her there.

While in town we stumbled across a peace pavilion that had been sponsored by Rotary International and we enjoyed walking through it. Overall we were glad we went but probably on a return trip to Glacier we would by-pass going. But it was worth the effort.

In my next post I will talk about the longer hikes we took at Glacier and end the visit to this park.


Boats on the dock at Many Glaciers. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Boats on the dock at Many Glaciers. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

© Jelane A. Kennedy & Eileen McFerran

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3 Responses to Nature trails and activities at Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks

  1. Leslie says:

    We loved Glacier National Park. We stayed in the park at St.Mary’s Campground. We liked Logan
    Pass .They had snow on the ground when we were there. That is a busy spot. I liked Avalanche Lake. So much beauty everywhere you turn in the park. Enjoyed your blog.

  2. MaryLou Ramsey says:

    Wonderful pics and accompanying narrative. Thanks for sharing and hope we connect in person soon.

  3. Keng says:

    Beautiful pictures. Glacier NP is one of my all-time favorite. 😃

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