For visitors looking to enjoy the peace and tranquility of strolling through a centuries old forest, hiking the Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park is a great introduction to one of my favorite US National Parks.
I've now had the opportunity to visit Glacier National Park on two separate occasions, and it has easily become one of my favorite places I've ever traveled to!
During our first visit to Glacier, Trail of the Cedars was the first hiking trail we stepped foot on.
After a long travel day to Montana we arrived late in the afternoon. While it was too late to attempt any of the longer day hikes we had on our agenda, we were so eager to get a taste of what the park had to offer that we squeezed this into our first evening in the park.
This short nature walk makes for a great introduction to the park and it's perfectly suitable for guests of all ages and mobility levels.
As you wander through the lush green vegetation you'll have your first opportunity to see some of the turquoise waters that the park is known for as you cross a foot bridge over Avalanche Creek.
Whether you've come to Glacier National Park to have a relaxing vacation observing its natural beauty or to endure some of its more rigorous mountain hikes, a trip along Trail of the Cedars is something all visitors can enjoy.
In this post I'm going to discuss everything you should know about the Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail!
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Where is Trail of the Cedars located?
The easiest way to access the Trail of the Cedars is by entering Glacier National Park through the western entrance. Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana near the border with Canada.
Once you've reached the western entrance you'll need to drive approximately 30 minutes into the park to reach the trailhead starting point. Since cellular service can be spotty once you enter Glacier National Park I'd recommend entering the trailhead or the nearby Avalanche Creek Picnic Area into your GPS before leaving your hotel.
The drive is very scenic and will track Lake McDonald for most of the way. Five minutes or so after passing the northeast corner of the lake you should stumble upon parking for the trailhead.
Be mindful that you will require a Going to the Sun Road timed entry reservation to access this section of the park. If you're unfamiliar with that process I'd suggest checking out my post that covers how the National Park Timed Entry System works.
Since this trail is located in the lower elevations of the park it's usually accessible earlier in the season than trails situated near Logan's Pass or elsewhere in the park.
As you approach the trailhead you should see signs for Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake letting you know you're in the right place. The trailhead entrance is located directly along the road and you should be able to see it from your car.
Parking can be scarce here since these are two of the parks more popular hikes.
However, given their shorter duration, parking spaces tend to turn over with frequency. Despite this don't be surprised if you have to circle the area once or twice to snag a spot.
What to expect when visiting the Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail
Keep in mind that the Trail of the Cedars is more of a nature walk than a hike. Visitors will have the opportunity to stroll amongst centuries old giant red cedars and hemlocks that call this area of the park home.
The path here is well defined and it's important to follow leave no trace principles while sticking to the trail to ensure this area remains in pristine condition for future guests.
A unique feature of this 1.0 miles (1.6 km) loop is that it is wheelchair accessible. The dirt portions are in pristine condition while most of the nature trail features wooden boardwalks.
These features make it the perfect place to explore for small children or visitors who don't plan to do a lot of hiking in the park.
This trail is a staple within Glacier National Park in part because it is so easily accessible to all visitors.
Even those focusing on the longer hikes in the park will see this circuit to completion as the popular Avalanche Lake Trail spurs off from the far end of the loop.
I'd recommend that most visitors knock out this hike when doing the longer hike to Avalanche Lake, since you'll have to complete the loop anyways.
Since this hike is so short it pairs really well with another longer hike in the park. Consider doing it as a warm up on your way out to Logan's Pass in the morning, or to wrap up and relax in the afternoon after spending the day exploring elsewhere in Glacier National Park.
One pro tip for this trail is that even if you aren't planning to continue on to Avalanche Lake, it's worth heading about a quarter mile (about 0.5 km) up the hill where the trail splits off. Just up the hill you'll be able to enjoy direct access to the rushing waters of Avalanche Creek.
You can even kick your shoes off and dip your feet in the water if you'd like!
For visitors looking for a longer experience in this area, I'd recommend checking out my guide to hiking Avalanche Lake which is one of my favorite hikes in the park. Another easier trail located nearby is the hike to Hidden Lake which can be accessed from Logan's Pass.
If you're visiting other areas of the park during your stay such as the Many Glacier area, you should consider hiking to Grinnell Lake which is a slightly longer but very manageable hike on the eastern side of Glacier.
What is the best time of year to visit Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail
Peak hiking season in Glacier National Park generally runs from late July to early September. During this period the snow has melted from higher altitude hikes, Going to the Sun Road is fully open and the days are generally sunny and warm.
However, Trail of the Cedars sits at a lower elevation in the park which means it doesn't require Going to the Sun Road to be completely opened to reach this trailhead.
Considering this, Trail of the Cedars can be accessed much earlier in the summer season and generally during the spring or fall as well.
Even though you can access this trail earlier in the season, be sure to consider the totality of what you hope to see in Glacier National Park when planning your trip. Going to the Sun Road provides access to Logan's Pass, which is the most popular area in the park.
While you can access Trail of the Cedars early in the season, you might not be able to see the higher elevation areas of the park yet!
How long is Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail?
The Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail is approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) in length. The trailhead originates directly from Going to the Sun Road. If you're unable to secure parking near the trailhead entrance this could add a small amount of distance to your total distance hiked.
The trail is very flat and features wooden boardwalks that are wheelchair accessible for most of the nature walk.
If you're interested in a slightly longer hike, you'll notice a sign marking the start of the Avalanche Trail hike about halfway around the loop. For visitors who choose to add this portion on, it will add another 4-5 miles (about 7 km) of length.
Is there wildlife along the Trail of the Cedars?
When exploring Glacier National Park there's always a chance you'll encounter wildlife.
Over the span of two visits to the park I've seen bighorn sheep, mountain goats, three bears, marmots, deer and multiple moose!
Considering this area is very busy with visitors, it's a little less likely you'll encounter wildlife than other areas of the park but you should still be on the lookout.
Also, don't forget that you should always be hiking with easily accessible bear spray when visiting Glacier National Park.
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.
Will I have cell phone service at Trail of the Cedars?
Cellular service throughout Glacier National Park is hard to come by. By the time you enter the park and work in towards Trail of the Cedars you will have likely lost phone service.
If you need any offline maps, directions or navigation it's best to queue those up before entering the park.
While this hike is fairly straightforward, if you plan to do any longer hikes in the park I'd recommend purchasing AllTrails Pro which allows you to download offline maps.
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 for the Trail of the Cedars?
You'll need a reservation to access Going to the Sun Road during peak season in order to reach the Trail of the Cedars.
The entry reservation system works a little bit different for each National Park. You'll want to check directly with the National Park Service to ensure your reservation aligns with their current procedures.
If you haven't used this feature before I'd recommend reading my guide on the time entry reservation system beforehand.
If you're looking to do any camping be mindful that the campsites in this area also require reservations, generally well in advance.
Pets aren’t allowed at Trail of the Cedars
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 along the Trail of the Cedars.
Your furry friend will mostly be confined to your vehicle, parking lots or other developed areas of the park.
Are there bathrooms at Trail of the Cedars?
There are restroom facilities located near the trailhead, directly along Going to the Sun Road. You won't find any others along the nature loop.
If you choose to hike on to Avalanche Lake, you'll find a pit toilet just before reaching the lake.
When is the best time of day to visit Trail of the Cedars?
For most of the trailheads in Glacier National Park I recommend arriving first thing in the morning in order to secure one of the limited parking spots.
That isn't bad advice for this trail, but considering it's short duration the parking spaces here tend to turn over quite regularly.
Don't feel pressure to arrive super early for this one, although if you do arrive in the late morning or early afternoon you still might have to circle the area once or twice to fight for a spot.
The trail is completely shaded which means you don't really have to worry about sun exposure if you decide to come during midday!
Looking for suggestions on what to pack for hiking?
Chances are if you're visiting Glacier National Park you'll be doing some 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 full day treks and will probably be overkill for something like Trail of the Cedars. However, if you're planning to hike the Highline Trail, trek to the Mount Brown Lookout, visit Iceberg Lake or try any other longer hikes during your visit then it's a great place to start planning!
I hope you found this guide to hiking the Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail in Glacier National Park helpful!