Swiftcurrent Lookout in Glacier National Park has been on my ‘to-do’ list for years. I’d heard that the views were unbelievable, and they definitely didn’t disappoint.
If you hike the lookout from the Many Glacier side, it’s about 16 miles roundtrip with 2,300′ elevation gain, and it’s considered to be a strenuous hike. I personally wouldn’t usually consider 2,300′ elevation gain to be strenuous, but this hike really tapped us out by the end of the day. Of course we started this particular day out with a bit of a bang, so maybe that’s why!
Our original plan was to scramble into Shangri La, and hike out via Iceberg Lake. However things didn’t quite work out that way, we had made it most of the way up the ridge leading to Shangri La, and just had one area left to scramble through, when we came face to face with a grizzly bear. Now… lets just think about this for a moment, here we are basically crashing through the woods making lots of noise just like you’re supposed to, yet this bear didn’t get out of the way at all, in fact he seemed a bit curious which was enough to get us in motion right back down the ridge.
And… here’s where the not so brilliant plan comes in, we decided to bushwhack down to the Swiftcurrent Lookout trail where we had begun before the scrambling started. This is usually not a good plan (never deviate from your original route), but in this case it seemed solid at first until we entered the dense undergrowth… and yeah it was pretty rough going after that. On the other hand we did avoid the grizzly bear that was making it’s way down the ridge we came up, so at least he wasn’t following us out of there! It was definitely hard to turn around when we were so close to our destination, but there really wasn’t any possible way around the bear because the ridge we were on had cliffs all around it!
Once we emerged back onto semi-civilized ground, we came to the shores of Red Rock Lake which is beautiful enough to be a destination of it’s own!
Next up was Bullhead Lake with Swiftcurrent Glacier in the far off distance.
As the trail begins to climb, you’ll see the whole chain of lakes down the valley where you came from. Once you reach some higher elevations, the trail begins to narrow and the drop off is significant. If you have a fear of heights or vertigo this might not be the trail for you, as a step off the trail would be fatal for several long stretches.
Our views became really restricted as the fire smoke blew in from the local wildfires, so I’m missing photos for some of the amazing views you’ll see along the way. This hike was amazing enough that we’re already planning a second trip to get all the views we missed!
This is a view along the final push to the lookout with Swiftcurrent Glacier in the foreground, and Gem Glacier hanging in there barely visible behind it. In the farthest back mountain range you’ll see Jackson and Blackfoot Glaciers.
When you finally reach the lookout, you’ll want to give yourself some time to take in the 360º views while resting your weary legs and maybe having some lunch!
From the lookout, you’ll also have a view of Old Sun Glacier and Ahern Glacier for a total of at least 6 glacier sightings in 1 day, (that’s as many as I counted anyways)!
I just want to mention that you can hike to this lookout from 3 different starting points. The most common route is to begin on the Loop Trail for Granite Chalet, after you reach the chalet it’s an additional few miles and a bit of steep elevation to reach the lookout. You can also reach this lookout by starting at Logan’s Pass and hiking the Highline Trail into Granite Chalet, ascend to the lookout, and then hike out by the Loop Trail for a very long day!
The 3rd and final way starts from the Many Glacier region of Glacier. We decided to do this route because we had heard the views were phenomenal along the way, and we had already hiked the other 2 trails numerous times.
If you want to turn this into a backpacking adventure, you can start at the Loop Trail, spend the night at Granite Chalet (reservations required for the chalet and for a tent spot). From the chalet you hike the lookout and out into the Many Glacier side. I’ve always wanted to do this, but it requires 2 cars, and a little more time than just a day hike.
On our way in, we noticed a couple of nice swimming spots in the Red Rock Falls area, and we definitely knew we were going to be spending some time there on the way back! After such a crazy day with the aborted mission to Shangri La and the additional 16 miles of Swiftcurrent Lookout, the cool mountain water has never felt better.
And… how can you beat a swim with such idyllic surroundings? It was one of those moments when you can hardly believe this is your real life, and it’s really just that good! Not to get too soppy or anything, but that’s exactly why I love getting out for mountain adventures on the weekends because it always puts life’s stresses into perspective, and reminds me just how good I have it.