Family hikes in Glacier National Park
By DAVE REESE/MONTANA LIVING
The young girl stopped on the Huckleberry Nature Trail to examine two insects on a broad, white flower.
“Look, daddy, they’re mating!” she exclaimed.
Glacier National Park offers an outdoor classroom for children and families to experience together. It’s especially true on the Huckleberry Nature Trail, a short hike where children can learn about the effects of wildfire. It’s one of many easy hikes that are perfect for children.
Here are a few easy day hikes that are perfect for families.
Avalanche Lake — This is the classic kids’ hike in Glacier. This short hike starts on a boardwalk that leads through a misty cedar forest toward views of waterfalls. The hike on the boardwalk is less than one mile, but to hike all the way to the lake is about four miles roundtrip.
“The trail is wide and it’s just good ground for kids,” says Denny Gignoux, co-owner of Glacier Wilderness Guides and Montana Raft Co. The views at Avalanche Lake are “spectacular,” Gignoux said, with good places for picnicing and ample opportunities to fish for trout.
Logan Pass to Hidden Lake — Here’s another hike in Glacier that’s great for kids.
The total length from Logan Pass to Hidden Lake overlook is about three miles, with a boardwalk for about the first half mile. Since you are hiking along the Continental Divide, there are beautiful views all around, with lots of wildlife to be seen.
Once at the overlook you are greeted with views of Hidden Lake, which is another mile down into the cirque.
The Danny On Trail at Whitefish Mountain Resort offers great hiking for families and children.
St. Mary Falls — If you are driving Going-to-the-Sun Road and want to take a break with the kids, pull over at the St. Mary Falls trailhead near Rising Sun. This short, 2.4-mile hike starts off of Going-to-the-Sun road, at the St. Mary/Virginia Falls trailhead on the east side of the divide.
This hike offers views of a spectacular crashing waterfall, and views of St. Mary Lake. The hike is a gradual downhill to the falls from the start, and if you want to add distance to the hike, continue on to Virginia Falls, which is another half mile.
Huckleberry Nature Trail — Viewing the effects of wildfire on forests is easy with a jaunt on the Huckleberry Nature Trail.
This trail, near the Camas entrance on the west side of Glacier National Park, is less than a mile roundtrip, and it includes interpretive displays of the effects of fire.
The hike is gently rolling on a bench near the North Fork of the Flathead River. The displays show how the forest has regenerated in the wake of wildfire. This is also a place where you can avoid large crowds.
Highline Trail — Starting at Logan Pass, here’s a hike where you won’t have to gain much elevation to get spectacular views.
Hiking the Highline Trail from Logan Pass to Haystack Butte offers you and your children fairly level terrain, with only about 500 feet of elevation gained and lost throughout the hike.
Since you are just above treeline, you get sweeping views of the valleys spread out below you. A bit of caution is advised, however. “You’re exposed in some areas, so it’s not good for people with a serious fear of heights,” Gignoux said. It is, however, a good hike to see bighorn sheep, mountain goats and perhaps a grizzly bear, Gignoux said.
For older kids, continuing on into Granite Park Chalet adds another element of adventure. You can stay at the chalet or hike down to the Loop.
“The fire went through part of there, so it’s kind of neat to see what happens in a burned area a year after a fire,” says Christiana Schweitzer, also of Glacier Wilderness Guides, which operates the chalet. “It’s really pretty, and you get some great views. It’s kind of a luxurious way to go backpacking.”
Iceberg Lake — This is a hike for older children who can put a few miles under their boots. Starting in Many Glacier, this 9.1-mile hike offers spectacular views of Iceberg Lake, with its brilliant blue color and actual icebergs floating in it.
Aster Falls — If you are looking for a more off-trail experience, take the 1.2-mile hike to Aster Falls and the Aster Park overlook from Two Medicine.
The terrain rolls in and out of meadows, and is fairly flat to Aster Falls. It’s another mile and a half to Aster Park.
Hiking with Children
“Michael, get back in the car and buckle up your seat belt. Now!”
The Wisconsin family had just finished its hike on the Huckleberry Nature Trail Sunday when a rainstorm blew in, and the family was in a hurry to get in the car.
Like this father experienced, hiking with children can be an exercise in patience. If you are a veteran hiker who has entered parenthood, you can throw out your old ideas of peak-bagging and 20-mile days with nothing to sustain you but freeze-dried food. If you have children along, you learn to take things slowly, to enjoy the sights and sounds of the forest instead of rushing past them to get to Point B.
Gignoux offers this advice for taking children on hikes.
Stay nourished — Be sure to bring plenty of snacks and fluids, but nothing with caffeine or sugar.
Stay warm — Weather can change in an instant; be sure to bring extra layers of clothing.
Stay heard — “You should always be prepared for grizzlies,” Gignoux said. You can help avoid an encounter with potentially dangerous wildlife by making noise while you’re hiking. Be sure to make extra loud noise by talking or singing in areas where a bear can’t hear you, like around creeks or waterfalls.
On the Web
Glacier National Park: www.nps.gov/glac/.
Glacier Wilderness Guides: www.glacierguides.com