Glacier Crest Trail – Glacier National Park, BC

Views from the Glacier Crest trail of the Illecillewaet River

The Glacier Crest trail in Glacier National Park, British Columbia rewards with panoramic views of Mount Sir Donald and the Illecillewaet Glacier to the east.

To the west enjoy views of the Asulkan Glacier along with an unparalleled mountain landscape that includes Abbott Ridge, Perley Rock, the Rogers Pass summit, and Eagle Peak to name but a few mountain peaks.

It is well worth the 958-metre climb to experience the beauty of this hike. The hike really offers a bit of everything from easy walking through ancient temperate rainforest to a stiff climb up scree and rock. Once you break through the trees, the views will propel you forward. 

Glacier Crest trail summary

Distance: 11.4 km return hike

Elevation gain: 958 metres or 3,143 feet.

Time needed: Allow 6 – 7 hours

Best time to hike: July through till mid-September when the snow starts to fly.

Get on the right time zone: Glacier National Park is on Pacific time, one hour behind Mountain time. Watches and electronic devices may not sync properly.

Permits: You will need a national park pass to do the hike.

Trail conditions: Always check trail reports before you go. In summer 2022 the snow was still present in mid-July at higher elevation, whereas in July 2021 it was long gone, so expect year to year variability. The same goes for the fall. Avalanche danger can be an issue even in summer if the snowpack hasn’t melted.

Be prepared: This is bear country so carry bear spray that is easily accessible and the hiking essentials. The weather can be very different up high.

Pass the ruins of the Glacier House at the start of the hike
Pass the ruins of the Glacier House at the start of the hike

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Finding the trailhead for the Glacier Crest trail

The trailhead is located at the end of the road near the Illecillewaet Campground, approximately a kilometre in from the Trans-Canada Highway.

The Illecillewaet Campground is well-signed in either direction on the Trans-Canada but its a bit tricky to access the first time when you’re driving west.

The Illecillewaet Campground and trailhead is 3 km west of the Rogers Pass summit. If you’re driving east, you’ll simply turn right onto the road that takes you to the campground.

***But if you’re driving west, you actually drive past the campground about a kilometre to reach a U-turn-Lane. Be sure that you’re in the far-left lane in advance. There’s a warning sign that a U-turn-Lane is coming up. Turn left into the U-turn lane and then drive east on the Trans-Canada, getting off when you see the signs to the campground. ***

Glacier Crest trail route description

The hike shares the same initial trailhead as Abbott Ridge, but just past the ruins of Glacier House, about 10 minutes in from the parking lot, head left and not right on a well-signed trail. In fact, signage for all the trails starting from the Illecillewaet Campground are excellent.

The initial 1.4 km of hiking through the ancient forest is flat and easy. On this section of trail, we saw bear scat, but it was several days old.

Shortly after crossing the bridge over Asulkan Creek, the Glacier Crest Trail heads left at a signed intersection. The Asulkan Valley Trail goes right.

Climb through the forest with the odd peek-a-boo view. When you leave the trees behind, follow a well trodden trail on a mix of dirt and rock slabs to reach a steep climb up a hillside. This is the hardest part of the hike but its short. Coming down is trickier, just because its slippery on twist-your-ankle type ball-bearing sized rocks.

At the top of the hill, the views really unfold. In fact it feels like you can reach out and touch the Illecillewaet Glacier.

From here you have one final ridge to climb. In about 10 minutes you’ll be at the summit cairn. It’s a great place on a calm day to stop for lunch and simply enjoy the sublime beauty of your surroundings. 

We saw a fraction of the people on this trail compared to the more popular Abbott Ridge trail. If you could only do one hike in the park, I’d sure have a difficult time picking between the two!

Trailhead signage is excellent in Glacier National Park
Trailhead signage is excellent in Glacier National Park
In short order you pass this massive boulder
In short order you pass this massive boulder
The Glacier Crest hike starts off in beautiful forest
The Glacier Crest hike starts off in beautiful forest
Asulkan Creek
Asulkan Creek is reached at 1.2 km
Cross Asulkan Creek via this bridge
Cross Asulkan Creek via this bridge
Hike through pretty forest - steeply at times
Hike through pretty forest – steeply at times
An exceptionally pretty section filled with ferns
An exceptionally pretty section filled with ferns
Once you pass treeline views are sublime from the Glacier Crest Trail
Once you pass treeline views are sublime
It's easy to keep hiking higher with views like this
It’s easy to keep hiking higher with views like this
One of the rocky sections you cross on the trail
One of the rocky sections you cross on the trail
John admiring the view of the Asulkan Glacier from the Glacier Crest Trail
John admiring the view of the Asulkan Glacier
Our lunch time view of the Illecillewaet Glacier from the Glacier Crest Trail
Our lunch time view of the Illecillewaet Glacier
Close-up of the Illecillewaet Glacier from the Glacier Crest Trail
Close-up of the Illecillewaet Glacier from the Glacier Crest Trail
A curious ground squirrel joins us at lunch time looking for handouts
A curious golden-mantled ground squirrel joins us at lunch time looking for handouts
Heading up the final ridge
Heading up the final ridge
View from the summit cairn on the Glacier Crest Trail
View from the summit cairn on the Glacier Crest Trail
There is some more exploring possible on the backside of the ridge
There is some more exploring possible on the backside of the ridge but John didn’t go far
John descending from the cairn
John descending from the cairn
The toughest part of the trail because of slippery ballbearing type rocks underfoot
The toughest part of the Glacier Crest trail because of slippery ball-bearing type rocks underfoot

Map of the Glacier Crest trail

You’ll find the Glacier Crest trail to the west of the Illecillewaet Glacier and south of the Great Glacier Trail.

Map of the trail
Map of the Glacier Crest Trail in relation to other nearby trails

Some things to know and take on your hike

I’d recommend that you take either a water filter or purification tablets, especially if its a hot day.

Consider carrying an InReach Mini in case of an emergency.

Where to stay near the Glacier Crest trail

If you’re looking for comfort, either stay at Heather Mountain Lodge just outside the eastern gates of Glacier National Park or in Revelstoke.

Suggestions in Revelstoke include Eleven Revelstoke Lodge, Sutton Place Hotel at Revelstoke Mountain Resort or Basecamp Resorts Revelstoke.

You can stay at the Illecillewaet Campground, which is also the trailhead for many hikes in Glacier National Park. It is located 3 km west of the summit of Rogers Pass. It’s available on a first come-first served basis. Check back with Glacier National Park for what campgrounds will be open in 2024.

There is also the option to book a bed in the A.O. Wheeler Hut, run by the Alpine Club of Canada. In summer there are 30 beds. 

Campsite at the Illecillewaet Campground
Campsite at the Illecillewaet Campground
The view from our cabin
The view from our cabin at Heather Mountain Lodge

Further reading on things to do in BC

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The 11.4 km return hike on the Glacier Crest Trail takes you into a world of glaciers in BC's Glacier National Park

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