Hiking Glacier National Park, BC

Glacier National Park is located in British Columbia, Canada, not to be confused with the park of the same name located in Montana, USA. Home to high peaks, active glaciers and a tonne of trails to chose from this park is a must for hiking enthusiasts! We were there late in the hiking season so some of the trails were closed but we still found a few options to satisfy our love for a challenge. There are hikes ranging from short and easy to difficult multi day hikes. We didn’t plan for multi day hikes but I would love to get back here and give some of them a go!

The distances of the hikes I’ve listed are as per the Parks Canada website but if you would rather believe what my fitbit said, both of these hikes were over 20kms long! Regardless these hikes were both very difficult and should only be attempted by well prepared, fit and experienced hikers.

Abbott Ridge (13.6 km return + 1029m elevation gain. Max height 2274m – difficult)

We picked this hike for its promise of spectacular mountain and glacier views and we were not dissappointed! Starting from the Illecillewaet campground this hike is incredible and the beautiful surroundings almost make you forget the 1000m elevation gain required to get to the top of this trail. It starts with a steep ascent through forest to Marion Lake, the perfect place to stop and take a little break and rest our tired aching legs. We couldn’t rest too long though, we were still just less than halfway to the top. From here the trail continues steeply through the forest, eventually the trees start to thin and we were greeted with 360 degree mountain views. There were snow capped peaks everywhere we looked and a fantastic view of the Illecillewaet Glacier.

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When you reach Marion Lake you can continue on the trail to the ridge or you can turn right and take a short detour to a lookout. Always take the detour! This is what lies at the end.
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The autumn colours were just starting to bloom!

By this point Ryan and I had decided we had to be getting near the finish of the hike, we could see a cabin a bit further ahead and figured that would be where the trail ended. We were oh so very wrong! From the cabin it took us probably another hour of foot crushing hiking to reach the top of Abbot Ridge and the end of the trail. With an abundance of snow on the ridge and a chilly breeze we couldn’t spend a whole lot of time at the top but we spent just enough time to fully take in just how insanely incredibly wonderful it was standing atop this ridge surrounded by mountains, mountains, more mountains and a glacier! Sorry about the over the top enthusiasm but this sort of thing gets me really excited, writing about it has got me itching to climb another mountain or 10 ASAP!!!

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The glacier is visible in the mountains to right of this photo. It used to stretch right down into the valley but sadly over time due to climate change it has receded into what it is today. A mere shadow of its former glory but still a spectacular sight to see!
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Quick pit stop before we started the final leg to the ridge line
The view from Abbott Ridge
The view from Abbott Ridge. There really is nothing more satisfying than making it to the top and being rewarded with views like this!

The descent was long, steep and painful on my knees! There’s a point in the trail where you can pick where it splits in 2, they both end up in the same spot so we took the other trail on our way back for something a bit different. We stopped Marion Lake again for a quick bit to eat and then spent the rest of the descent searching for bears and chatting with squirrels. Our warm log cabin and comfy bed were a welcome sight after this hike!

Squirrel friend
Squirrel friend

Asulkan Valley (13.8 km return + 869m elevation gain. Max height 2114m – Ranked as moderate but I rank it as the hardest hike I did on this road trip!)

This hike starts, as you would expect, in the Asulkan Valley. From the Illecillewaet campground it winds and weaves through the forest following a stream most of the way, you’ll feel small surrounded by towering peaks and impressive waterfalls. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly easy hike that it starts off as, after 4 km the trail starts to climb rapidly up a very steep incline, with a lot of steps and a few river crossings the trail leads you up a nerve wrackingly thin ridge before a final climb to the Asulkan Cabin and the end of the trail.

Magical mountain views
Magical mountain views

On the day that we did this hike the weather was not good and visibility was very low, I lost Ryan in the fog when he was only 5 metres in front of me! Scaling the ridge that I spoke of with almost no visibility was absolutely terrifying, although I couldn’t see it through the fog I was very aware of the steep drops on either side of me, the fog made the trail damp and quite slippery in sections. I’ll be honest I found myself crawling in some sections and I even considered turning back. Not long after having these thoughts we passed a ground of school kids (high school) who had started early and were on their descent and they assured us there wasn’t that much longer to the top so we pushed on and were eventually greeted by the welcome sight of the Asulkan Cabin.

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Is that you Ryan?? Losing him in the fog!

foggy trail

In reaching the end of the trail we found ourselves above the tongue of the Glacier that we were admiring from a distance only a day earlier! It felt good to have made it, the visibility was still poor and it was freezing cold so we decided to have lunch in the cabin in the hope we’d warm up and the fog might clear. We met another school group in the cabin and found out that each year just before graduating the senior class comes and spends a week in the campground hiking different trails daily (I wish I’d gone to that school)!

The Asulkan Cabin
The Asulkan Cabin – our saviour from the cold!!!

 

After lunch we went outside and were greeted with moments of the clouds clearing and spectacular views but it was still pretty foggy and COLD so we started our descent. The fog started cleared on our way down and we were able to fully understanding of just how high and steep the ridge was, it was intense and going down wasn’t any easier than going up! Eventually we were greeted with some blue sky and sunshine and that definitely helped us make it through the long walk back to the campground. I still had my eyes peeled for bears around every corner, in the summer months you can only hike in groups of 4 or more for bear safety. We didn’t know about this so we were lucky that peak bear season had finished just before we came or our hiking plans would have been all but ruined!

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Moments of clarity
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It’s hard to portray it in a picture but this is part of the ridge we climbed shrouded in fog!

 

After 2 days hiking our time exploring Glacier National Park came to an end. It was everything I’d dreamed of and more! The hikes were tough but rewarding and the scenery unbelievable, if this bad boy isn’t on you hiking bucket list you need to add it right now!!!

Stay tuned for my next installment: Hiking Yoho National Park

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