About “Hidden Lake Cascades”
The “Hidden Lake Cascades” were the informal name pertaining to a set of notable waterfalls that we encountered while hiking the Hidden Lake Trail from the Logan Pass Visitor Center to the Hidden Lake Overlook. Admittedly, while these waterfalls didn’t knock our socks off and they were merely incidental attractions on the way to Hidden Lake, they were significant enough to give me the excuse I needed to sing the praises of one of the most popular day hikes in Glacier National Park. For in this hike, not only were we treated ultimately treated to views of Hidden Lake (which we thought it was Glacier National Park’s answer to Moraine Lake in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies), but we also saw massive fields of blooming wildflowers, mindblowing vistas taking in shapely mountains (like Mt Oberlin, Clements Mountain, Reynolds Mountain, and even distant glimpses of the Garden Wall), reflective alpine tarns, and the occasional sighting of mountain goats and other wildlife. Indeed, this place was popular for a reason, and after finally getting a chance to do this for ourselves, we can see why.
The hike was said to be 3 miles round trip (1.5 miles each way from Logan Pass to the Hidden Lake Overlook). I swore it felt longer than that, but that might be due to the thin air at 7,152ft at the trailhead and the climbing nature of the trail (it gained 540ft over much of this hike). Since we did this as a family (which included our 6-year-old daughter, it took us on the order of 2.5 hours total, but that also included a half-hour lunch break as well as plenty of photo stops along the way and at the Hidden Lake Overlook itself.
Our hike began from the very crowded Logan Pass Visitor Center. The well-signed Hidden Lake Nature Trail began right behind the visitor center and pretty much started right off as a paved trail before becoming a boardwalk traversing wide vistas and large beds of wildflowers as the trail climbed visibly higher. The boardwalks appeared to be there to protect the sensitive vegetation below. I swore that on my first visit here in 2010, I saw a lot more “social trails” leaving the boardwalk and heading towards what would turn out to be the Oberlin Bend, but maybe the park service has since worked to correct that. In any case, the uphill hiking (despite being on boardwalk) was surprisingly taxing due to the thinner air, especially if not acclimated, which was the case with Julie and Tahia as this was their first hike in the park when we made our visit in August 2017.
The higher up we went on the boardwalk, the more expansive the vistas became and the more wildflowers we were seeing along the way. The boardwalk would continue to persist for the first 1/2- to 3/4-mile or so. About where the boardwalk ended and the conventional dirt trail began, that was where we started to see cascades tumbling at the foot of Clements Mountain. The trail would continue its climb as it provided different angles of the “Hidden Lake Cascades” eventually crossing some of their unnamed streams (one was over a bridge).
Eventually towards the apex of the climb, the trail finally flattened out as it veered to the right. In this stretch, we started to notice some interesting purple-colored rock laters near the foot of Clements Mountain. We also saw a group of mountain goats blending in with the snow that still remained as of early August 2017 and a reflective alpine tarn looking in the direction of Reynolds Mountain. At least one of the goats appeared to have some kind of collar with a transmitter, which we’re guessing was to track their movement. For the last 1/4- to 1/2-mile of the somewhat level trail, we eventually reached the busy wooden boardwalk and lookout for the Hidden Lake Overlook. At this signed viewpoint, we were able to see the elongated Hidden Lake towered over by Bearhat Mountain (the closest one to the overlook) as well as Reynolds Mountain and Gunsight Mountain in the distance.
The hike continued beyond the overlook for another 1.5 miles descending to the shores of Hidden Lake, but after taking nearly 90 minutes to get here, we were content to spend some time having a picnic lunch (Tahia embraced her role of chasing the aggressive squirrels and marmots away from our food) before turning back. When we had our fill (and more and more people showed up), we pretty much hiked all downhill back to the Logan Pass Visitor Center (which took less than half as long as it took us on the way up). All throughout the hike, we were treated to more gorgeous views of the Logan Pass area while also going back amongst the vast mats of wildflowers in bloom.
The Hidden Lake Nature Trail begins right behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center, which itself is pretty much close to the middle of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Distance-wise, Logan Pass is about 32 miles east of West Glacier (where the park’s west entrance is located) and it is about 18 miles west of St Mary (where the park’s east entrance is located).
Since parking can be hopeless at Logan Pass, it’s also possible to catch park shuttles as far west as the Apgar Village (on the line linking Apgar Village to Logan Pass or the “West Shuttle”) and as far east as the St Mary Visitor Center (on the line linking St Mary Visitor Center to Logan Pass or the “East Shuttle”). That said, in our experience, the interarrival times of the shuttles at each stop are on the order of 30-45 minutes, but the wait could be longer because shuttles have limited space and they frequently fill up by the time they arrive at your stop (they’re not set up for having standing room). Obviously, the highest percentage spots of not getting shut out are at the ends at Apgar Village, Logan Pass (make sure you caught the correct shuttle though), and St Mary Visitor Center. However, often times there are places you want to hop on or off in between these stops, and that’s where things can get a bit testy. Given the park’s lack of funds (as of peak season in 2017) to run more frequent shuttles, staff more drivers, or at least reconfigure each shuttle to accommodate standing riders, I’m afraid even this option can be just as stressful as trying to find parking or dealing with traffic.
Finally for some geographical context, West Glacier is 26 miles (over 30 minutes drive) east of Whitefish, 33 miles (45 minutes drive) northeast of Kalispell and 136 miles (2.5 hours drive) north of Missoula.
Meanwhile, St Mary was about 8.5 miles (10 minutes drive) south of Babb, 30 miles (under an hour drive) north of East Glacier Park Village, 29 miles (over 30 minutes drive) northwest of Browning (administrative center of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation), and 202 miles (3.5 hours drive) north of Helena.
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