annie at glacier lake with the wind in her face

Glacier Lake and Heart Lake

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Having spent the evening in Polson and realizing I had to drive all the way back to Bigfork and then drive back down east of Polson near Condon on a different road, I almost skipped the hike to Glacier Lake and Heart Lake.  That would have been a HUGE mistake!

Getting to Glacier and Heart Lake

The Jewel Basin Hiking Area is an absolute gem, and Glacier Lake and Heart Lake did not disappoint.  The drive to the trailhead is 12 miles down a dirt road.  At the beginning, the road is well graded, but as it climbs, the road narrows and gets rougher.  That said, it is in good condition.

The google directions from AllTrails are poor.  Upon reaching the fork where it wants you to go right onto a blocked off road that is now used as a dispersed campsite, go left.  It is the road most traveled, and it will take you a few more miles to the dirt parking area with a pit toilet.

The Hike to Glacier and Heart Lakes – 8.2 Miles, Moderate

At the trailhead, a sign honors Mike Laabs, who died from a fall while climb McDonald Peak.  His friends and family maintain the trail which eventually branches off in three directions to multiple lakes.

The 8.2-mile roundtrip hike follows the creek along a steady grade through the culled forest.  While the forest wasn’t very shady, the lush ground cover was loaded with huckleberry bushes!!

In Memory sign on glacier lake trail


I’ve been in Montana and Idaho for almost two months now, and I finally got to pick some wild huckleberries!  Huckleberries cannot be domesticated, so I was thrilled to finally find a trail lined with countless, waist high bushes.

For once in my life, I wanted run into another person on the hike, preferably a native, so I could confirm my find as I hadn’t ever seen a huckleberry bush.  Not only did I not run into anyone all the way to the lakes, but also, I couldn’t consult the inaturalist app as I didn’t have internet. 

As a result, I plucked a few, stuck them in my waist belt, and exercised my patience in tasting them until I could confirm what I thought.  They were a tasty treat!!


Glacier Lake

The trail features multiple bodies of water. The first lake on the path is Glacier Lake.  Actually, it is about a quarter mile down an offshoot from the main trail, and very much worth the detour.

For the minimal effort, only 3.1 miles roundtrip should you not wish to go further, you can’t get a better reward.  The grade is easy.  Huckleberries are everywhere.  And the cobalt blue lake tucked beneath the grey peaks is giant and gorgeous. 

So beautiful that camping is not allowed at the lake.  If it were, everyone would be here. I really enjoyed sitting beneath the trees and watching the white caps roll across the pitch on this windy day.

glacier lake

Crescent Lakes

From Glacier Lake, retrace your steps to the trail junction.  The main path ascends to the right and follows a few switchbacks up the mountain.  From the switchbacks, you can take in another nice view of Glacier Lake.

Carrying on through thick shrubbery, soon you will reach a plateau with a few small ponds and one larger lake.  These are known as Crescent Lakes. If you were to visit Glacier Lake and Crescent Lakes only, the round trip would be 7.6 miles. This area was a bit buggy, so I didn’t stay long, but instead climbed the last ¼ mile to Heart Lake.

Heart Lake

The main trail ends at a log jam at the bottom of Heart Lake.  I walked across it and found a small boulderfor my snack place with Annie.  If you sit still long enough and stare into the water, you will almost always find some sort of critter.

Today, there were tons of caddisfly larvae crawling around the rocks in the shallow end.  The first time I ever saw one was at Watanga Lake near Grand Lake, Colorado.  I didn’t know what it was, but a Facebook post led the way to identifying it.  I have smart friends!  And that is also how I learned about inaturalist.  What a great app for plants and flowers!!

Anyway, after watching them for a while, I walked back over the logs and followed a lake shore trail.  With the rocks protruding through the aqua waters, the path got prettier and prettier going to the left. 

So, if you don’t care about seeing Caddisfly larvae, go left at the log jam and enjoy your snack further down the shore.  The lake never took on a heart shape to me, so I don’t know how it got its name.  Perhaps it looks different from above like Heart Lake in Colorado.

On the way back, I ran into a lot more people. It still blows my mind that hikers in Montana start so late in comparison to Colorado.  I also have never seen so many camo dressed hikers or so many horses at the trails.  It’s definitely a little different, and I wasn’t too enthusiastic about someone shooting a gun near Glacier Lake on my way down.

I don’t have a problem with guns, but I do have problem with careless people shooting guns. Target practice near a hiking trail isn’t the safest.  I once had a scary experience on the Colorado Trail Segment 5.  Some people were shooting at the mountainside below us, and bullets were ricocheting up over the hill.  I don’t know how close a bullet is when you hear it whiz by your head, but that was too close for me. 

All the hikers were ducking behind rocks, blowing whistles and screaming at the shooters to stop, but clearly they were wearing ear protection.  One brave sole finally stood up over the ledge and yelled!  They finally stopped, moved, and started shooting again nearby.

Anyway, overall the hike to Heart Lake is both popular and beautiful.  I felt a little bad for the paddlers that were lugging their inflatable gear up to Glacier Lake though.  It seemed too windy for that to be fun!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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