Grizzlies, Glaciers, and Climate Change: Dayhiking in Glacier National Park, Montana

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14241A, Lodge


  • Hike mountain trails to high elevations for astonishing panoramic views
  • Learn about our surroundings and climate change during on-trail environmental talks
  • Enjoy evening programs provided by Glacier Institute professionals


  • Round-trip transportation from Glacier Park International Airport and trailheads
  • Lodging in rustic cabins with a modern bathhouse facility
  • Continental breakfasts, on-trail lunches, and catered dinners


DatesJul 26–Aug 2, 2014
StaffSandra Kiplinger

Trip Overview

The Trip

In 1901, John Muir, co-founder of the Sierra Club, described Glacier National Park as "... the best care-killing scenery on the continent -- beautiful lakes derived straight from glaciers, lofty mountains steeped in lovely nemophila-blue skies and clad with forests and glaciers, mossy, ferny waterfalls in their hollows, nameless and numberless, and meadowy gardens abounding in the best of everything ..."

Born of sediment deposited into an ancient sea, movement deep within the earth, and glacial carving, Glacier National Park encompasses 1.2 million acres. The park is home to several species of wildlife and fauna and offers 700 miles of hiking trails. In the mid-1800s, 150 glaciers existed in the park. Today, due to changing climate and precipitation, only 24 remain.

The trails selected for our journey offer an introduction to various park ecosystems, the potential for spotting wildlife and an abundant variety of plant life, and an up-close view of a glacier. We’ll travel along moderate to moderate/strenuous, well-maintained trails up to 8,100 feet elevation. As we go, we’ll be accompanied by knowledgeable Glacier Institute professionals who will educate us about our surroundings. After a day of spectacular scenery, combined with learning, we'll return to Field Camp to enjoy a hot shower and a catered dinner. Afterward, we'll broaden our knowledge through evening programs or a campfire chat.


Day 1: Those who fly into Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Montana, will be picked up by Institute staff between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. and transported to Field Camp. Those driving should plan to arrive at the Glacier Institute Field Camp between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. After checking in, we'll gather as a group for introductions and a review of our week together. Then we’ll tour our Field Camp facilities. After happy hour and our first dinner, we'll enjoy camaraderie and, weather permitting, a colorful sunset.

Day 2: Our first hike will be the popular Highline Trail to Haystack Butte and Hidden Lake Overlook (total distance 9 to 10 miles round-trip, with a 500-foot elevation gain). We'll travel the historic Going-to-the-Sun Road to our starting point at Logan Pass. Mountain goats, attracted by the alpine vegetation, frequent the area, as well as marmots and thieving Columbian Ground Squirrels (keep an eye on your lunch!). The Highline Trail offers breathtaking excitement as we pass the Garden Wall and stop to look at the panoramic view and distant cascading waterfalls. En route to Hidden Lake Overlook, we'll walk along a boardwalk and look for geological evidence of the ancient Baltic Sea. At the end of each day, we’ll meet for happy hour to discuss our experiences, then enjoy a hearty meal. Some dinners will be followed by an evening program; others will allow an opportunity to relax and enjoy the sounds and sights of our surroundings.

Day 3: Two hike options are offered: Granite Park Chalet (via The Loop) to Swift Current Pass or Scenic Point.

Granite Park Chalet, a National Historical Landmark, was built in 1914 and 1915 by the Great Northern Railroad.  Beginning at The Loop, a sharp turn in the Going-to-the-Sun Road, we’ll start our ascent up a series of switchback trails through an area that was destroyed by fire in 2003. This rejuvenating area is abundant with wildflowers and other plant life. Through a contrast of burned, ghostly trees is a view of Heaven’s Peak, a mountain that dominates the skyline on a portion of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. As we near the top of the trail, we’ll pass through sections of green pine areas, to the eventual chalet-turned-hiker-hostel. After a rest and look around, we’ll walk a short distance to an even more spectacular view.  (10.2 miles, with a 2,450 foot elevation gain).

The second option, Scenic Point, is a total distance of 8 miles with a 2,300-foot elevation gain.  We’ll begin our adventure on the Mt. Henry Trail, blazed by the Great Northern Railroad in 1913 for transportation between two of their properties.  After a warm up through a wooded area and a side trip to Appistoki Falls, we’ll ascend past the tree line to an open area where the impact of an accidentally introduced disease is evident on a tree population. As we continue our journey up, we’ll have views of Two Medicine Lake.  At Scenic Point, your effort will be rewarded and you’ll want to have your camera ready as you look out and beyond.

Day 4: This day we’ll experience what may participants recall as the highlight of their trip at Glacier National Park: an up-close look at a well-documented glacier that is quickly disappearing. The trail to Grinnell Glacier is 11.2 miles round-trip, with a 1,500-foot elevation gain. The first few trail miles roll gently through a forest and past two mountain lakes. As we begin our ascent, stair-stepping under a waterfall, we'll pass colorful rock strata with a view of a turquoise lake below. The higher we climb, the more spectacular our view will become. You’ll want to take time to look for Bighorn Sheep climbing on rocks or laying in a meadow.  Our last push will be over a rocky moraine to Upper Lake Grinnell, a milky blue lake formed by the melting glacier. Up until now, we have been learning about climate change and its impact upon glaciers through our on-trail education. Now is our opportunity to see a glacier, stromatolites, and more as we explore this area.

Day 5: This is our lazy day. The itinerary is flexible, based on the group’s interests. One option is rafting on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River with a guide and river ecologist. There is an additional cost for this and it requires a minimum number of participants.  While rafting, we’ll learn how rivers function, find out about the wildlife that depends upon the river, and much more. For those who don’t want a splashy adventure, another option includes a series of short hikes beginning along McDonald Creek to look for Harlequin females and their ducklings frolicking in the water.  Past the bend, we might sight a resident of the moose pond. A drive up the road will bring us to an easy hike on the Trail of the Cedars and to Avalanche Lake (approximate distance 5 miles, with a 500-foot elevation gain). We will leave some time in the afternoon to check out the souvenir and ice cream shops in Apgar Village, located at the southern end of Lake McDonald, close to our Field Camp.

Day 6: Two Medicine Valley, located in the southeast corner of the Park, is today's destination. Considered by the tribes of the Blackfeet Nation to be a place of religious significance, this broad U-shaped valley was scoured by a long-ago glacier. Some of its rugged peaks are the most photographed in the park. The first trail option, Cobalt Lake, is 11.4 miles round-trip, with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet. The trail follows the south shore of Two Medicine Lake, eventually passing beaver ponds, crossing a suspended bridge, and ascending a series of switchbacks to the blue-green Cobalt Lake. The second option, Upper Two Medicine Lake, is 9.6 miles round-trip, with a 300-foot elevation gain. The trail follows the north shore of Two Medicine Lake. After taking a spur trail to the cascading Twin Falls, we'll continue our hike until we reach our blue jewel, Upper Two Medicine Lake, at the foot of the Continental Divide.

Day 7: For our final day out, both trail options afford wildflower and photographic views. The trails to Piegan Pass (9 miles, with a 1,700-foot elevation gain) and Siyeh to Sunrift Gorge (10.3 miles with a 2,200-foot elevation gain and 3,400-foot elevation loss) begin at Siyeh Bend, past Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The trail briefly follows Siyeh Creek and then enters a forest of subalpine fir and spruce. After a steady climb, the trail enters Preston Park, with views of Reynolds Mountain and Piegan Glacier. For those adventurers traveling to Siyeh Pass, the right fork will cross an alpine meadow carpeted with wildflowers, going up, up, and up to a false pass. From there, it's up again to rewarding views into St. Mary Valley, before descending and passing Sexton Glacier. The left fork leads to Piegan Pass. We'll start our ascent gradually, looking for miniature flowers on our route. We'll then traverse a barren, rocky slope to the pass, where we'll pause for a view of Many Glacier Valley.

Day 8: The trip will end after breakfast. For those flying out of Glacier Park International Airport, Institute staff will provide transportation to the airport. Please don't schedule your flights before noon.



Getting There

The Glacier Institute Field Camp is located just inside the West Entrance to Glacier National Park. The nearest airport is in Kalispell, Montana, about 40 minutes from the Field Camp. If you fly into Kalispell you will be picked up at the airport by Glacier Institute staff between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m.

If you find airline reservations into Kalispell difficult to make, an alternative is to fly into Missoula, which is about three hours from the park. If you fly into Missoula you will need to rent a car for the drive up to the park. If several people choose this option, we can help facilitate car-sharing. Note that airfare and car rental are not included in the trip price.

On past trips, some participants have traveled to the Park by Amtrak. The Empire Builder line, which leaves from Chicago, makes a stop at West Glacier.

The trip will be van supported. As part of the trip fee, all ground transportation is provided from our Field Camp to the trailheads.

Accommodations and Food

The Glacier Institute Field Camp ( is located on a bluff overlooking the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. It includes five sleeping cabins, a common bathhouse, community kitchen, a classroom, and a library. Although each sleeping cabin has four or five twin beds with a bottom sheet, blanket, and pillow, you will still need to bring a sleeping bag or other personal bedding. The cabins have electricity and a portable electric heater, but no running water, TV, or telephone. The common bathhouse has several rooms with a flush toilet, shower, and sink. Glacier Institute staff will provide all meals, which we'll eat either under a canopy outdoors or possibly in a recently constructed hall. After a continental breakfast, food will be available so that you can prepare your own on-trail lunch/snacks. Happy hour snacks are provided each evening prior to a self-serve, catered dinner. On day one, we'll provide beer and wine. After that, you're on your own. Vegetarians, but not vegans, can be accommodated. Other dietary restrictions will be considered.

Trip Difficulty

Our moderate to moderate/strenuous hikes range from eight to 12 miles, with elevation gains of 500 to 2,700 feet. We will be hiking at elevations of 6,600 to 8,100 feet on well-maintained trails. To make for an enjoyable week, you should be physically fit and able to comfortably hike at a moderate pace of 2 to 2.5 mph for six to eight hours. Accompanied by Glacier Institute professionals, we will be stopping frequently to look at and learn about our surroundings. Because we are hiking through bear territory, we will remain together as a group at all times.



  • Lomax, Becky, Glacier National Park (Moon Handbooks). Avalon Travel Publishing, 2009.
  • Molvar, Eric, Hiking Glacier and Waterton Lakes Nation Park (A Falcon Guide). Falcon Publishing, 1999.

Wildflowers and wildlife:

  • Kimball, Shannon Fitzpatrick and Peter Lesica, Wildflowers of Glacier National Park and Surrounding Areas. Montana: Trillium Press, 2005.
  • Wilkinson, Todd, Glacier Park Wildlife: A Watcher's Guide to Glacier Park and Waterton Lakes. WI: Northword Press, 1993.

Glacier National Park and glaciers:

  • Rockwell, David, Glacier: A Natural History Guide. Globe Pequot Press, 2007.
  • U.S. National Park Service: Glacier National Park Montana:


What impact will the receding and disappearing glaciers have on the "Crown Jewel of the Continent," aka Glacier National Park? As a prelude to our on-trail education and evening programs, suggested on-line articles include "Retreat of Glaciers in Glacier National Park" and "Two more glaciers gone from Glacier National Park."

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Sandy Kiplinger's most cherished childhood memories are of hiking, camping, and kayaking with her family. She continued her ingrained passion of exploring the great outdoors, adding backpacking, orienteering, and caving to her repertoire. Sandy is trained in Wilderness First Aid and CPR. She has led a variety of activities for her local Sierra Club group and is looking forward to her fifth national trip to Glacier National Park.

Assistant Leader:

Vivian Wolfe has been a volunteer with Sierra Club since 2011 and has participated on Sierra Club hikes since the 1990s. She is an avid hiker who has traveled and hiked on five continents. She is trained in Wilderness First Aid and CPR. She lives on a sustainable ranch with solar and wind energy, a rainwater collection system, a wildlife management plan, an orchard, garden and extensive hiking trails. Her career included positions in software and organizational development in the UK and US. She enjoys traveling with others, hiking, spending time with her grandchildren, and volunteering with Sierra Club.

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