If I had to choose one favorite trail experience 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!”
You’ll find more articles about our Glacier National Park hiking experiences on the Glacier National Park Hiking page.
Hiking to Bullhead Lake
Located in the Many Glacier area of the park, the 8-mile-round-trip hike to Bullhead Lake 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. The trail starts out in a heavily forested section.
Our 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.
About .8 miles from the start of the trail, take the short spur to Fishercap Lake, which is known for good moose sightings.
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.
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 is the best way 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.
At Bullhead Lake, our turnaround point, 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.
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 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.
Planning a hiking trip? Be sure to check out our Hiking Travel Resources.
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Disclosure: Road Scholar provided this travel experience. As usual, the opinions are my own.