An afternoon spent hiking The Hidden Lake Trail in Glacier National Park should be on every visitors itinerary. Hidden Lake's most recognizable feature is the snow painted Bearhat Mountain which towers over the lake's icy waters.
For me, Hidden Lake will always be near and dear to my heart. During my first trip out to Glacier National Park during the summer of 2020 it was the highlight of our visit.
Before I had really picked up travel blogging we visited Glacier National Park since it served as one of the few viable travel options during peak COVID. Being outside and hiking was one of the only acceptable forms of entertainment at the time and so that situation ultimately led us to the beautiful mountains of Northern Montana.
If you're lucky enough to visit Hidden Lake while snow still dusts the mountains it is arguably one of the most picturesque areas in the entire park.
Just make sure you time your visit to coincide with the opening of Going to the Sun Road. When we visited, the road had only fully opened on our last day in Montana which means we nearly missed out on an opportunity to hike to the overlook.
In this post I'm going to cover what to expect during the hike out to Hidden Lake, when you can reliably expect Going to the Sun Road to be open and much, much more!
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Where is the Hidden Lake Trail located?
Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana near the border with Canada. The Hidden Lake trail is accessed from Logan's Pass which is situated near the heart of the park.
If you're staying in the town of Whitefish which sits to the west, it can take over 90 minutes to reach Logan's Pass while it takes about 1 hour to get there from Many Glacier which sits to the east.
The Hidden Lake Overlook Trailhead is easily accessed from the Logan's Pass Parking lot. Once you've parked head up towards the visitor center. You'll see a boardwalk path on the other side which represents the start of this trail.
What to expect when hiking to the Hidden Lake Overlook
The trail leading you up to Hidden Lake starts behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center. The hike to the Overlook is relatively easy and suitable for most visitors.
There aren't any difficult or dangerous sections. The elevation gain is manageable at roughly 500 ft (about 150 meters) and a length of 2.7 miles (4.3 km). Keep in mind that if you want to hike down to the lakeshore from the overlook it will roughly double your hiking distance, double your hiking time and triple the elevation gain.
This area is typically very busy throughout the day as you have a mix of hikers going all the way out to the lake, families using the facilities at Logan's Pass, people checking in with rangers at the visitor center and guests who are just hanging around taking in the views surrounding the parking lot.
Logan's Pass also serves as the jumping off point for the super popular Highline Trail. Parking spaces will be at a premium here so arriving early is a good idea!
Once you've secured parking, head to the opposite side of the visitor center for the boardwalk section for the trailhead originates from.
Despite how congested this area was with visitors we saw a pack of bighorn sheep resting not too far off in the distance near the trailhead.
Shortly after spotting the bighorn sheep was also saw a marmot catching some sun on a rock a few feet from the trail! This is traditionally one of the best places in Glacier National Park to see wildlife.
Depending on when you're visiting Glacier National Park there's a chance you're going to run into quite a bit of snow along the way.
When we visited the park on my first trip to Glacier it was mid-July. We made the trip up to Logan's Pass on the FIRST day that Going to the Sun Road opened for the season. To emphasize, the road didn't open until mid-July that year.
It's not uncommon for Going to the Sun Road or popular trails at higher elevations within the park to remain closed until late July due to snow.
There would be nothing worse than traveling all the way out here for a big trip only to find you're unable to do any of the activities you were planning.
Even though Going to the Sun Road was open, we still had to contend with quite a bit of snow along the trail on our way out to Hidden Lake Overlook.
If you're visiting early in the season be sure to pack hiking boots with good grip and preferably trekking poles to help keep yourself upright. If you own micro spikes, it wouldn't be a bad idea to pack them just in case, even for a summer visit to the park.
While the path up to the overlook has a slight grade (which isn't ideal on slick packed snow) the area is fairly wide open. There aren't any dangerous drops in the area which would make the slick terrain more of an issue.
As we worked up to the overlook the snowfield was littered with unprepared visitors slipping and sliding all around us. It was a bit of a pain, but kind of entertaining at the same time. Despite arriving early in the morning the trail was quickly becoming crowded.
The snow contrasted beautifully against the clear blue sky that particular day and you'll enjoy views of Mount Oberlin, Clements Mountain and eventually the iconic Bearhat Mountain as you hike.
There were even some streams along the way that were particularly active this time of the year due to all of the snowmelt.
After a short hike you'll eventually come to the overlook area. There are multiple tiers and various lookout locations here which allows visitors to spread out and take turns enjoying the stunning views of Hidden Lake which resides below.
Here you'll also find some signage that will provide information on all of the surrounding mountain peaks and natural landmarks. There are some spots in this area that make for great places to stop and enjoy a peaceful packed lunch.
By this time we had already seen bighorn sheep and marmots. But Logan's Pass still had more to offer. While hanging out at the overlook we also saw a wolf (or maybe it was a coyote..) off in the distance.
Although we had hoped to continue on and hike down to Hidden Lake itself, we were a bit short on time and had heard there was bear activity down near the lake earlier that morning. All things considered we opted to head back for Logan's Pass once we were done enjoying the scenery at the overlook.
I still dream of taking in Hidden Lake up close and personal since I've only been able to view it from the overlook. Next time I'm in Glacier rest assured this will be on my hiking hit list!
The hike back down to Logan's Pass should be slightly quicker than your trek up since you'll now be hiking down the slight grade. The snow remained a bit of a challenge in certain places but if you're prepared or pace yourself it shouldn't be too much of an issue.
What is the best time of year to visit Hidden Lake?
Peak hiking season in Glacier National Park is fairly short. To access the trailhead you'll need to reach Logan's Pass via Going to the Sun Road.
Going to the Sun Road usually opens each year by mid-July but the exact timing can vary as it is subject to weather conditions. If conditions are favorable, it can open earlier than this.
While there can still be some snow on the trail in mid-July it won't necessarily preclude you from hiking out to the lake. It's advisable to check current trail conditions at NPS.gov before hiking in Glacier National Park.
To give yourself the best chance of clear trail conditions I'd recommend timing your visit to Glacier National Park for late July or August.
If you find yourself on the Western side of Glacier before the road has fully opened, I'd recommend trying the Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk which eventually leads you out to Avalanche Lake. This is one of my favorite hikes in the park and isn't too lengthy or difficult.
September is usually another good month for hiking in the park as the crowds begin to thin out. However, the weather also starts to turn this time of year and it's not uncommon for wildfire activity here or in other parts of the United States to create hazy conditions during late August or early September.
How long is the hike to Hidden Lake?
It's important to emphasize that there are two different ways to experience Hidden Lake. The shorter and more accessible option is to hike to the overlook.
The hike to the overlook is only 2.7 miles (4.3 km) roundtrip and should take most visitors about 90 minutes worth of hiking time. Be sure to budget additional time for enjoying a packed lunch at the overlook. There's a slight incline for most of the trek out to the lake, but total elevation gain is just over 500 ft (about 150 meters) which isn't very much.
If you fail to heed my advice about arriving first thing in the morning, you could be stuck waiting around for a parking spot or beginning your hike from down the road.
The second way to enjoy this area is by hiking down to the shores of Hidden Lake itself. This option is a bit more involved with a hiking distance of 5.3 miles (8.5 km) and a meaningful increase to elevation gain.
The trail from the overlook leading down to the lake has a steady incline and will add approximately 1,000 feet (305 meters) of gain to your afternoon. From a timing perspective I'd budget another 90 minutes to two hours of hiking to roundtrip this section.
If you do decide to venture down to the lake, you'll want to be more mindful of packing plenty of water and taking precautions against sun exposure.
Will I see wildlife at Hidden Lake?
The Logan's Pass area of Glacier National Park is one of the best areas in the park for wildlife encounters. This is especially true of Hidden Lake and the trail leading out to it.
Before leaving the parking lot we saw a beautiful bighorn sheep strut by just feet away from our vehicle. Shortly after passing the visitors center we saw a marmot hanging out on a rock near the trail and a half dozen or so bighorn sheep sleeping off in a field.
While we were hanging out at the overlook we even spotted a lone wolf (or maybe it was a coyote, not sure!) lurking off in the distance making its way down to the lake itself.
Even though we didn't encounter a bear on this particular afternoon, we had heard from other hikers that one was spotted earlier in the morning down near the lake.
The National Park Service has a guide on bear safety which I would recommend reading before venturing out into Glacier National Park's vast wilderness.
If you're flying into the region from out of town the most cost effective way to acquire bear spray is by renting it from the airport. There's a shop near the baggage claim area that will rent you some, you can't miss it.
Make sure your bear spray is attached somewhere on you that allows for quick access. If you need to use it, you probably won't have very long to get it out!
Another great area to see wildlife during your visit is the Many Glacier area of the park which resides on the eastern border. You'll need a separate reservation to access this portion of the park but it's home to the Iceberg Lake hike and the Grinnell Lake hike.
These are two must do activities if you have time to explore Many Glacier!
Will I have cell phone service at Logan's Pass
Cellular service throughout Glacier National Park is hard to come by. Hidden Lake and the area near Logan's Pass are no exception to this rule.
Even though this trail is straight forward (you literally can't get lost on it) if you're an avid hiker I'd recommend purchasing AllTrails Pro which allows you to download offline maps. This is super useful for some of the longer treks in the park.
Not only does it ensure you stay on the right trail, but it's a great way to track and time your hiking activity!
Do I need a reservation to visit Hidden Lake?
While you don't need a reservation for hiking Hidden Lake itself, you'll need a reservation to access Going to the Sun Road during peak season.
The timed entry reservation system works a little bit different for each US National Park. You'll want to check directly with the National Park Service to ensure you're in compliance with their current process.
If you haven't used this feature before I'd recommend reading my guide on the time entry reservation system when you're finished here.
While you don't need a reservation to hike this trail, many of the campgrounds throughout Glacier require a permit and advanced registration.
If for someone reason you were unable to secure a timed entry reservation for Going to the Sun Road, my timed entry reservation guide will highlight a few tricks to get into parks without one. Be sure to check that out!
Pets aren’t allowed at Hidden Lake
While pets are technically permitted inside Glacier National Park, they're not allowed on any of the trails or backcountry. This means pets aren't welcome to hike with you out to Hidden Lake.
Pets will generally be limited to your vehicle, parking lots or other developed areas of the park.
Are there bathrooms at Hidden Lake?
The hike out to Hidden Lake isn't very long and the trail originates from Logan's Pass. Before you set out for the overlook (or down to the lake) be sure to utilize the bathroom facilities at Logan's Pass.
You won't encounter another set until you make it back to your vehicle at the parking lot!
What should I pack when hiking to Hidden Lake?
If you're only hiking to the overlook then this hike is fairly short and doesn't require a ton of preparation when trail conditions are clear.
Sturdy hiking boots are always recommended along with plenty of water and sunscreen. The views of Hidden Lake from the overlook make for a great place to stop for lunch so I'd suggestion packing something to enjoy once you reach the viewpoint.
If you're visiting early in the season there's a good chance that part of the trail will still be covered with snow. The slight incline can make navigating this portion deceivingly difficult, but trekking poles or micro spikes would come in handy in this situation.
Bear activity is less common between the Logan's Pass visitor center and the overlook since this area is heavily trafficked, but I've heard of bear activity down by the lake itself. You should always be hiking with bear spray in Glacier National Park and that's especially true here if you plan on hiking down to the lake.
If you're a novice hiker and just getting into longer day hikes I'd recommend reading my post on day hike essentials. It's a bit overkill for a short hike like Hidden Lake, but it's comprehensive and it will ensure you don't leave behind any basic essentials.
When is the best time of day to visit Hidden Lake?
Like many other popular hikes in Glacier National Park I'd recommend visiting Hidden Lake first thing in the morning.
For starters, the parking lot at Logan's Pass tends to fill up extremely early in the morning. During the busy season it's not uncommon for this parking lot to fill up by 7:00am.
Hidden Lake isn't the only hike originating here, as it also serves as the parking lot for the extremely popular (and very long) Highline Trail hike.
Visitors who fail to secure a parking spot here will be forced to wait around until one frees up (and there will be many others doing this) or you'll have to park down the road which can add quite a bit of extra distance to your hike.
Another reason to arrive early is because this trail can become absolutely swamped with hikers. Not only is it extremely popular, but it's also very accessible which means visitors of all ability levels will be making the trek out to Hidden Lake.
If you're like me then part of why you enjoy hiking is to experience Mother Nature and some peaceful time outdoors. You can avoid the worst of the crowds by arriving first thing in the morning.
Looking for suggestions on what to pack for hiking?
Chances are if you're visiting Glacier National Park you'll be doing a lot of hiking. If you're doing some hiking you'll want to have the right gear handy in order to have the best experience possible.
For your convenience I've put together an extremely thorough hiking checklist to make sure you don't overlook anything.
That guide is geared towards longer day hikes, like the Highline Trail or Mount Brown Lookout hike. The complete list would be overkill for a hike out to Hidden Lake, but you should find its thoroughness helpful in your planning process!
Check out my Timed Entry Reservation Guide
There's one mistake you cannot afford to make when visiting US National Parks. Showing up without a timed entry reservation is a surefire way to blow up what should be an otherwise fun filled day exploring some of Americas most beautiful landscapes.
Fortunately - I've put together a guide walking you through that process. I also provide useful tips on how to get the best time slots and what to do if you find yourself without a reservation.
You can access my Timed Entry Reservation Guide here.
I hope you found this guide to hiking to the Hidden Lake Overlook in Glacier National Park helpful!