Apgar Lookout – Spring Hiking in Glacier National Park

By: Ashley Vitiello | Last Updated on May 22, 2024

We recently went on a spring adventure in Glacier National Park and this trail quickly became one of our favorites that we’ve done in a long time!

Apgar Lookout is a retired fire lookout (more on that history later) on the west side of Glacier National Park.

The trail up to this vista is long and uphill. But this one-of-a-kind view is 100% worth the effort.

And it’s a view that most visitors won’t ever experience – Lake McDonald from over 2,000 feet above. Plus a stunning view of the heart of Glacier National Park.

Specs:

  • All Trails Distance: 7.1 miles roundtrip
  • Strava Measured Distance: 7.46
  • Elevation Gain: 1,900 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Bathroom at Trailhead: No
  • Cell Service: Yes (AT&T)
  • 4×4 Required: No

Pro Tips

Here are some important tips that will make your hike more enjoyable:

  • Start Early: This part of Glacier National Park can get quite busy. The parking area is small and the road is only wide enough for one vehicle. So make it easier on yourself by getting there early to avoid the crowd.
  • Avoid Hot Days: Speaking of starting early, the new-growth pine trees are short and provide zero shade for the majority of the trail. Even though it was only 70 degrees on this spring day, we were very hot and sweaty. Don’t hike in the middle of the day and avoid warmer days.
  • Bring Lots of Water and Wear Sunscreen: You’re pretty much guaranteed to get direct sun due to the exposure on this trail. That’s why it’s important to stay hydrated and wear sun protection. This trail would be perfect for a sun hoodie.

Getting There

The Apgar Lookout trailhead is located within the West Entrance of Glacier National Park. That means you’ll need an entrance pass to the park (America The Beautiful Pass, Glacier NP Annual Pass, Day Pass, etc.) to access the trail.

However, you don’t need any vehicle reservations for Going to the Sun Road (GTTSR) since the trailhead is before the Apgar checkpoint.

That makes this trail a GREAT option for days you can’t or don’t want to get a pass for GTTSR.

The Trail

Here’s a play-by-play of the Apgar Lookout Trail so you know what to expect on your adventure.

The First 1.4 Miles

The trail starts in a new-growth evergreen forest. The trees are short but vibrantly green.

We only gained about 350 feet in elevation in the first mile as we followed the valley deeper into the mountains.

We used this section to make up some time knowing we would be slower the rest of the hike.

BUT DON’T FORGET TO LOOK BEHIND YOU.

You’ll start to see some mountain views behind you as you climb. And you’ll miss them if you only look forward.

We hit the first switchback around 1.4 miles in. We had gained only about 470 feet of the 1,900-foot climb at this point.

Long Switchbacks

The climb really starts after the first switchback.

And the switchbacks are long. Longer than we usually experience while hiking.

The first two are 0.7 miles EACH. But this keeps the elevation gain manageable.

In these 1.4 miles, we gained about 960 feet in a steady uphill climb.

The views just keep getting better and better as we climbed.

The Home Stretch

There are only 0.7 miles left after the first two switchbacks. And this is the last 400+ feet in elevation gain.

All this time, the views have extended towards the south/west facing away from the interior of Glacier National Park.

But as we neared the end, the trail began to wrap around Apgar Mountain.

First, we saw an incredible view of the West Glacier area. The river winds through the valley and the mountains rise above as we looked southeast.

Now the trail continues around the corner and we started to face directly west towards the heart of Glacier National Park.

The Lookout

The trail evened out as we turned the corner and the view was INCREDIBLE!

It’s quite the sight to look into the heart of Glacier National Park.

We could see the massive Lake McDonald below and endless mountains in all directions.

The peaks were perfectly snow-capped and the trees were beautifully green.

After spending quite some time at the lookout enjoying lunch and the views, we headed back down the trail.

Pro tip: Make sure you walk down the hill a bit (towards the north) to get a clearer view of Lake McDonald.

Apgar Fire Tower History

According to the National Register of Historic Places, Apgar Fire Lookout was designed by the United Forest Service and was constructed in 1930.

However, it’s the second fire tower to stand tall on Apgar Mountain. 

Ironically, the original was completed in 1929 and burned down two weeks later in a wildfire. 

So an identical one was built the following spring.

Apgar Lookout was part of a planned network of similar buildings that curtailed disastrous fires within the park until the early 1940’s.

After that, air observation allowed for more comprehensive coverage of the park, and the lookout sits unused.

Its historical significance landed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

Pictures of Apgar Lookout Hike

Here are some more pictures from our spring day hiking up to Apgar Lookout.

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About The Author

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to's based on all the stuff she's learned on her journey. If she isn't writing an article, she's probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

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We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!

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