This year the snow line has remained lower than anticipated in Glacier National Park. This can be common from our heavy winters in B.C., and so as a result, I continuously check my favourite trail apps for reviews and trail condition reports before I head out. I highly recommend AllTrails for recent trail reviews, FatMap for accurate trail map downloads, and Strava for tracking while you hike. If you are hiking in one of Canada’s National Parks, the Parks Canada website is the first resource to check for trail conditions, closures, and updates.

The Great Glacier Trail is a perfect early season or family day hike that takes about 2.5 hours to complete. At the beginning of the trail, we were met by a Park’s Canada employee who had an informative whiteboard that was dated with all of the recent wildlife sightings. In the days leading up to our hike, there had only been a mama black bear and two cubs, but a grizzly had been sighted at a nearby campground just hours before we arrived. Thankfully we were heading out on a well-populated trail with many hikers. Regardless, we continued to make loud noises and continue our conversation throughout the hike. Making noise with your voice, clapping, or yelling, “Hey, bear!”, is a great way to inform wildlife of your presence and reduce your chance of an encounter.

I found the beginning of the trail to have a mellow approach for the first 2 km. During these 2 kms, you will pass old remains of the Glacier House (where the toe of the glacier once was) and a beautiful, winding, blue river. Continue up the trail for another 2 kms and expect the 320m of elevation gain to kick in before you reach the lookout! This is a steeper section, but it is manageable and worth the marvellous views! You will be delighted with sights across the valley and you will even be able to see highway #1 far below you!

We agreed to have our lunch break here at the lookout before deciding that we wanted to hike up a bit higher to see what other views would be achievable from this hike.

If you have the energy...I recommend you keep hiking up! The Great Glacier trail officially ends at the lookout but you can continue to scramble up jagged rocks to get an incredible visual of the Illecillewaet Glacier (previously known as the “Great Glacier”). You can see where others have walked to do the same, but keep in mind this may require you to do some route finding and to be mindful of your footing.

On a clear day, you will be able to see the towering peak of Mount Sir Donald and the Vaux Glacier to the east.


Trails like this one that lead to the toe of a glacier are an especially spectacular sight as you can visually see how fast they are receding year after year. Standing below the Illecillewaet Glacier I was met with strong winds which can be expected near a glacier - bring a jacket! I was grateful to have my Prodroz jacket on hand!

After we soaked in the views for as long as we could, we began our way back down the trail. We ended up logging 11.5kms and 770m of elevation gain over 3 hours.

What are some of my hiking must-haves? I always carry a pre-downloaded trail map, 2 litres of water with electrolytes, plenty of nutritional snacks, bear spray, a first aid kit and my trusty inReach device. Quite often there isn’t cell reception on these hikes so it is important to be prepared and able to take care of yourself and others in case of an emergency!

Be safe & happy adventuring!

- Dominique Ritchie