Wondering about hiking just outside Glacier National Park? Glacier has been our one true love since we became its backpacking and hiking concession partner in 1983. But sometimes, we like to go adventuring in other places. Check out some of our favorite spots here!
Flathead National Forest: 6 Reasons You Should Go
Glacier has our hearts, but hiking outside of the park can be the answer to a lot of your problems. We recommend the neighboring Flathead National Forest for the following reasons:
Want solitude? Much of Glacier isn’t your best choice in July or August. Parts of the Forest may be empty, though.
Like hiking with your dog? Glacier does not permit dogs on roads past vehicle closures and dogs are not permitted on trails, at all, without a permit issued by Glacier National Park staff. Dogs in the Forest are a common sight. That being said, your dog should respond to voice commands and you should know how to behave around stock that you may encounter on the trail. Be sure to step down off the trail, below horses, mules, and llamas, and to comply with any requests a wrangler may make.
#3 No Red Tape
Frustrated by the backcountry permit system? No permits are required to backpack in the Flathead National Forest, and no entrance fees are collected, either.
Glacier is beautiful, but it doesn’t have the only glaciated features, high alpine lakes, and gorgeous river bottoms around. The Flathead National Forest is absolutely stunning!
Animals don’t know the difference between Canada, the United States, Glacier National Park, the Flathead National Forest, and beyond. But they do tend to seek out areas where they are not pressured by humans. The Flathead National Forest is definitely such a place.
The Flathead National Forest is the largest area around for hiking, and offers nearly endless choices, depending on your skill levels and desires. This Forest is comprised of many different districts, some of which are actually adjacent to Glacier National Park, and others which are accessed by driving considerable distances. Speaking of roads, many of these trails are accessed by dirt roads so a four wheel drive vehicle is nice, though not required. Hunting is popular in the fall and we advise wearing orange during that time.
Next, we list a few of our favorite hikes in various areas of the Flathead National Forest.
The Great Bear Wilderness, Hungry Horse District
The Great Bear Wilderness is over 286,000 acres and is between Glacier Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It is one of three wilderness areas south of Glacier. Together, these wilderness areas total over 1.5 million acres. Yep, that’s right, that’s bigger than Glacier! This area is particularly pretty in the fall when all the larch and cottonwood are golden yellow.
Other great hikes in this area include:
Stanton Lake (short!)
Click the following for more information and stories about the Great Bear Wilderness or for basic trail information.
Along the Hungry Horse Reservoir, Hungry Horse District
Many of the hiking trails in this area have wonderful views into the lesser traveled wilderness area, as well as views of the Hungry Horse Reservoir. Although not a natural lake, the Reservoir is beautiful and offers amazing recreational opportunities for locals and travelers alike. There are trails on both sides of Hungry Horse Reservoir that are fairly easy to access. Because of the wilderness area, trails on the east side of the reservoir tend to have more hikers and the trails along the west side (non-wilderness) are more popular for the multi-use visitor (horseback, biking, motorized use, etc.).
Other great hikes in this area include:
Lion Lake Trail (great short hike for young kids)
The Jewel Basin, Hungry Horse District
The Jewel Basin is designated for hiking only, and is a very popular with locals. Its trails are accessed east of Kalispell (northeast of Bigfork) at the northern end of the Swan Mountain Range. The Basin is 15,349 acres and has 27 lakes and about 35 miles of trails. This area can be harder to reach in the spring due to snow (making it popular with backcountry skiers), but is a great spot to hike throughout the summer and into the fall. Dogs are allowed but must be on leashes.
Check out visitmt.com for more information about the Jewel Basin.
Great hikes in the Jewel Basin include:
Glacier View Ranger District
This is a great area to hike in because of it’s proximity to Glacier National Park. It stretches the length of the Park on the west and is most easily accessed from the dirt road through the North Fork Valley. The rustic town of Polebridge is a favorite stop for many visitors. It’s like going back in time: no cell service, running water or electricity, except from the sun. Because of its location, many of the hikes have amazing views of the entire westside of the Park from the Canadian border all the way down to the Great Bear Wilderness. Finally, for those staying after the sunset, stargazing here is wonderful due to the lack of lights.
Great hikes in this area include:
Nasukoin Mountain Trail (highest peak in the Glacier View district!)
You Won’t Know If You Don’t Go: Hiking Just Outside Glacier National Park
This post was originally written in April 2014. It was updated on August 14, 2018.