Although hiking this entire trail out-and-back is probably out of the question for most kids, a short trek up the initial switchbacks is not. You'll still get incredible views on a challenging trail.
The Exit Glacier Area is open year round. Around mid-November, when the snow season really begins, the road to Exit Glacier is closed to vehicles but accessible to a range of winter recreation including dogsleds, snowmobiles, XC skiers and fat bikes. The road usually stays closed until early May, so be sure to check the current conditions if you are visiting during the off season.
The 8.2-mile out-and-back hike along Harding Icefield is a spectacular outing. The trail itself is only 3.8 miles out, but you'll need to access it via the Exit Glacier Paved Path, which adds to the overall distance. Hikers can expect sweeping views of the Exit Glacier area as they ascend high above the trailhead.
Want some knowledgeable company? There are ranger-guided hikes on the Harding Icefield Trail every Saturday in July and August. You're not required to make a reservation and the outings leave from the Nature Center at 9 am.
Need to Know
Review the trail conditions before beginning your hike - the higher portions of the trail are regularly snow-covered through early July and there can be avalanche hazards. Be prepared for high winds, storms, sudden temperature changes, and intense sunlight. Pack plenty of layers, rain gear, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Bring enough water for your outing, or pack a filter.
There are no garbage receptacles or restroom facilities on the trail. Pack out all waste.
Camping is allowed along the Harding Icefield Trail, but you must travel at least 1/8 mile from the trail on bare rock or snow before setting up your camp. Camping is not permitted in the emergency hut at the end of the trail.
Follow the Exit Glacier Paved Path for roughly 1/3 of a mile and look for the Harding Icefield Trailhead on the right.
Starting on the valley floor, the trail meanders through alder and cottonwood forest as well as heather-filled meadows. The trail rises through the forest and ultimately ends up well above tree line to an awe-inspiring vantage point of the icefield. The peak of the trail is a peephole to ice ages past. A horizon of snow and ice stretches as far as the eye can see, broken only by an occasional lonely peak, known as a nunatak.
The trail is quite strenuous. You'll gain roughly 1,000 vertical feet over every mile. Budget somewhere around 6-8 hours for the whole outing. While the view from the top is definitely worth the extra work, you don't need to hike all the way there to experience the aspects of this trail that make it so special. A short hike up the trail provides dramatic views of the valley and Exit Glacier's end.
Flora & Fauna
Please stay on the trail. Alpine plant life is very fragile. Cutting switchbacks causes tremendous erosion. Volunteers donate their time to help maintain this trail - please respect their efforts by staying on the trail.
This is bear country! The plants along the trail are dense and include salmonberry bushes, a popular food with black bears. Black bears are seen almost every day on this trail. Take care and be conscious of your environment at all times. Making noise as you hike can help you avoid startling a bear. Be particularly alert if you encounter a mother bear with cubs. You're likely to see the cubs first, but you can be sure the mother will be close by. Never put yourself between a mother and her cubs. More info on bears can be found here.