If I had to choose one favorite trail in Glacier National Park, hiking to Bullhead Lake would be it. In this boomer traveler’s opinion, you’ll find all the elements for a good hike—alpine scenery, excellent wildlife watching and little elevation gain.
When Alan and I experienced hiking to Bullhead Lake with a Road Scholar Glacier National Park program, I could have hiked forever; but I’m sure my companions would have finally yelled, “Stop!”
Where is the trailhead to Bullhead Lake?
Located in the Many Glacier area of the park, the 8-mile-round-trip hike to Bullhead Lake (part of the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail) begins near the parking lot at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn (your last chance for a civilized pit stop). Many Glacier Hotel (read my Many Glacier Hotel review here) is also nearby.
Our Bullhead Lake Trail experience
Learning opportunities are some of the benefits of hiking with a group such as Road Scholar. Knowledgeable guides accompany the hike offering details on nature, geology, and history.
As we started hiking to Bullhead Lake, Road Scholar guide, Steph Paidas, pointed to a bizarrely shaped tree that looked as if a sculptor had been at work in the forest. She told us that unusually harsh winters stunt or stop a tree’s growth. If it lives, a new tree branch may take over, sending the growth in a completely new direction.
Boomer Travel Tip
I highly recommend this waterproof hiking guide: Day Hikes of Glacier National Park Map Guide.
Taking the short detour to Fishercap Lake
The trail starts out in a heavily forested section. About .8 miles from the start of the trail, it is worth taking the short spur to Fishercap Lake, which is known for good moose sightings.
Stopping at Red Rock Lake
The serious photography opportunities began when we reached Red Rock Lake where, on a sunny day, the waters reflect the granite peaks of Mt. Wilbur, Mt. Grinnell and Grinnell Point. Yes, that’s the Continental Divide on the crest.
Photographing Red Rock Falls
Back on the trail, our group continued to Red Rock Falls, a popular spot for families, photographers, picnickers or those looking for a leisurely day sitting by a waterfall. We saved the photography and exploration for the return portion of the trip.
Stopping for short, educational talks is a benefit of hiking with a Road Scholar guide. As we made our way above the falls, Stephanie delivered a mini lesson on the geology of Glacier National Park pointing out rocks that were a billion years old.
Thanks to geological forces like the Lewis Thrust Fault and glaciation, we could literally touch the ancient past on a hike. Amazing!
The trail alternated between alpine meadows and dense growth thick with huckleberries and thistle berries. Grizzly scat, purple with undigested berries, proved that bears had recently been traveling on the trail.
So, we upped the level of conversation and occasionally called out, “Bear, hey bear.” Forget the bear bells, human conversation and bear spray are the best ways to avoid an unexpected meet-up with the brown furry giants.
Most hikers will not need hiking poles for this flat hike. However, the poles do relieve stress on your joints. I’m glad that I brought mine.
Boomer Travel Tip
Take a look at our day hiking essentials before heading down the trail.
Bullhead Lake is the turnaround point
After crossing over a swinging bridge, our group reached our turnaround point…Bullhead Lake. We picnicked on the large rocks scattered about the hillside that gently slopes toward the lake. Granite peaks surrounded us on three sides.
Distant waterfalls plunged three thousand feet down rocky, gray mountainsides and the sun lit up the white surface of Swiftcurrent glacier, one of the last glaciers remaining in Glacier National Park. The scene was nothing short of spectacular.
All too soon, it was time to turn around for the return trip to Many Glacier. Hardy hikers may prefer to continue up the trail to Swiftcurrent Pass, but check conditions first.
Boomer Travel Tip
Rangers close Glacier National Park trails when grizzly bears frequent the area. Always check for trail closings and warnings on the park website the evening before or morning of your hike, just to confirm the trail that you want to hike is open.
What about animal sightings on the hike to Bullhead Lake?
When Stephanie hiked up a hillside meadow to scout out a safe place for the ladies to take a bush break, she discovered a mother moose and her child. Being careful not to block the moose’s path, we quietly crept up the hill for a few minutes of moose watching.
Don’t block the path of a moose. The animals may look like lumbering giants but they are capable of fast moves in your direction.
Toward the end of the hike, when we were almost back to Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, a commotion in the woods alerted us to a mother black bear (although she was colored brown) and her three cubs. The Road Scholar hikers oohed, ahed and snapped photos (from an appropriate distance) as mamma ate berries while the three cubs chased behind her.
Give bears a wide berth. You’re in their territory. Watch quietly and DON’T approach them.
Disclosure: Road Scholar provided this travel experience. As usual, the opinions are my own.