3 Breathtaking kid-friendly trails in Montana
Whether you’re new to hiking with your baby or toddler, or you’re looking for a new trail to explore, the Hike it Baby community is a valuable resource for finding family-friend hiking trails around the country. In this article, we share three breathtaking hikes in Montana to explore with babies and young children while considering the unique ways young children hike, wander, dawdle and explore.
McDonald Creek, Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park’s landscape feels sacred thanks to mountains jutting up toward the sky and big animals roaming freely in spite of the area’s popularity on the national park circuit. No matter where you go in Glacier, you can’t go wrong for capturing beautiful scenic mountain moments wherever you look. If you pick your trails wisely, you’ll still experience all the vastness Glacier has to offer without feeling limited with little walkers.
McDonald Creek is an easy trail with many spots along the way to stop and nurse, change a diaper or for adventurous toddlers and kids to climb rocks and trees. There are several waterfalls along the way, and the trail overlooks the creek as it winds through the mountains. The bridge is a gathering spot, as there are several big rocks to hang out on and have a picnic. The less crowded spots are just past the bridge as the trail continues up along the creek. A bit farther and you can even access a small beach-like area that is nice and secluded and is a perfect place for lunch, swimming and skipping rocks. Most of the trail is level along the creek with lots of fun things to look at and explore.
I loved McDonald Creek best because there were so many waterfalls and the trail winds along the creek at the upper end of Lake McDonald. All of the running water helped get baby to sleep. We also found a great rock to change him at the viewpoint. We hiked that one twice and walked along the lake, too. Great views of the surrounding mountains. It was beautiful! – Angela Malson
To avoid the crowds, go past the bridge where the trail gets narrower. It goes through a beautiful forest and has more secluded spots to access the creek.
This trail also intersects a horse trail, and kids will enjoy seeing horses on trail. Keep your eyes open for fish in the creek and chipmunks along the trail. Other wildlife you can expect to see regularly are deer, hawks, and signs of beavers and bears.
Parking is at the trailhead, down by the north part of the lake. There is also parking by the bridge in the middle of the trail, but that may get full as the bridge is also a viewpoint for people who don’t hike the trail.
St. Mary Falls, Glacier National Park
If you follow Going To The Sun Road and head east to the other side of Glacier from McDonald Creek, you’ll reach the trailhead to St. Mary Falls. But if you’re coming into the park from the St. Mary Entrance Station, the trailhead is 10.5 miles westbound from the entrance.
St. Mary Falls is one of Glacier’s most spectacular waterfalls. St. Mary Falls has three tiers of rushing glacial waters, with the bottom tier being the smallest. The trail is only 1.7 miles roundtrip, but offers amazing views of surrounding mountain peaks. It winds through a dense conifer forest, fields of wildflowers in summer and a burn area from the 2015 fire. Along the way you can also see Baring Falls at just 0.7 mile from the trailhead. Once you reach St. Mary Falls, there’s a foot bridge over the waters you can cross to get a full view of the falls.
Due to its popularity, the parking lots fill up quickly, so plan to arrive early, come later in the afternoon or take the shuttle from Sun Point or Rising Sun.
If you have time, continue on the trail for another mile to see the impressive Virginia Falls.
Come prepared with sun protection as the trail brings you through scorched areas with little shade.
Pine Creek Falls, Gallatin National Forest (Park County, MT)
Pine Creek Falls offers beautiful views of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness with views of Black Mountain, which is the second highest mountain in Montana at 10,941 feet. The 2.5-mile out-and-back trail leads to a waterfall and narrow footbridge where you can cross the creek below the falls. If you have time, stop and let the kiddos play in the pool of water and small rocks that have been swept down by the fall. But be careful of little ones drinking water on this trail as giardia, the microscopic parasite that causes diarrhea, is ever present in this area.
Expect a little bit of climbing, but nothing a toddler can’t do – but bring the carrier in case. The trail is dog-friendly and fairly well trafficked most of the day. However, if you plan to hike alone first thing in the morning in the summer, consider bringing bear spray (but to be safe, always have bear spray on you). There are bears and other large animals in the area, so making noise can help remind animals of your presence and encourage them to move on before you arrive on the trail. The trail extends a lot farther to a popular but very hard hike called Pine Creek Lake if you want to go beyond the 2.5 miles.
This is a favorite hike for our family, both just as a day trip and also when we camp at Pine Creek Falls Campground. While it does get crowded in the middle of the summer, it’s nice in the spring and fall too. The trail is a bit rocky and has some elevation gain, but in general, it is really kid-friendly. It’s shaded well in the summer and the views of the falls are pretty at the end. – Amelia Mayer
Remember this trail is near Yellowstone National Park, so expect to see a lot of people on the trail in the warmer months. If you’re looking for more solitude, consider visiting in winter when you can hike and snowshoe. You can also hike out on various side trails from this main trail to get a little more mileage in.
Want to make it an overnighter? Check out the 25 single camping sites at Pine Creek Campground. They are first come, first served. The campground has water and is handicapped-accessible.
The road to the trailhead is located a short drive through the camping area. There are several parking areas (which become full on a busy summer day) and the trailhead is clearly marked.
What are your favorite hikes in Montana for families with babies, toddlers and young children? Leave a comment below!
More Resources for Families with Young Children
Montana offers an abundance of trails for families with young children. For more family hike ideas, see:
Hike it Baby calendar (or connect with local branches)
Hike it Baby Family Trail Guide
Montana state parks
National Park Service
Hike it Baby: 100 Awesome Outdoor Adventures with Babies and Toddlers – by Hike it Baby Founder Shanti Hodges
10 Unforgettable things to do in Glacier National Park with kids
3 Memorable hikes in Colorado for families with young children
3 Amazing hikes for families with young children in Wyoming
10 Fun things to do with kids in Yellowstone
Trails contributed by Angela Malson, Amelia Mayer and Shanti Hodges. Photos courtesy of Angela Malson, Amelia Mayer and Steven Smith.