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Glacier National Park
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Joey Dawson
(inabag) - F

Locale: Northern VA
Glacier National Park on 01/21/2011 10:29:26 MST Print View

My hiking buddy and I are looking to make a trip to Montana in early September. He has family that lives in Whitefish, so we will have free shuttle/lodging when not backpacking.

I have been doing a lot of research on the park, the different trails, campgrounds, etc. I really want to soak up as much of this park as possible in the time we have. Nothing is set in stone yet, but at this point it looks like we will have roughly 4-5 days. I am hoping for 5 nights. I would like to push 20 miles each day, we do that here on the east coast all the time. Am I underestimating how much harder the terrain in GNP might be?

So I am looking for some ideas for itinerary. Ideal would be to start on the west side of the park, can end anywhere, ideally in west or east glacier though. So 100 mile stretch point to point that drops us at awesome views and campsites - any advise?

Thanks! I have recently come over here after over a year of reading Whiteblaze daily, and I have really enjoyed and appreciated this community.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Glacier National Park on 01/21/2011 10:41:05 MST Print View


Excellent choice in hiking destination. Glacier is the most beautiful spot in the world, but I'm probably a bit biased.

Twenty miles a day is possible in GNP and would probably require you to do around 2500 vert. The problem with that distance however lies in campsite spacing. You will need to research the distances between campsites and plan that into your itinerary.

The very same questions you posted in this thread have come up a number of times here on BPL and I receive this question in my email inbox about once a year so I've come up with a canned response that I will post below. It may or may not answer your needs specifically but it's the advice I choose to give. Note the days/mileages will obviously change if you up your mileage to 20 mi/day. You will walk up to across and over the most beautiful country if you do big miles like that so you may wish to minimize your mileage between camps and then expend your energy climbing peaks while at camp as opposed to doing big miles on trail. I HIGHLY recommend this option.

--- --- --
Trip One - "The Northern Traverse" - 7 days, 6 nights
This trip consists of 7 - 10 +/- mile days and will allow participants
to experience the entire Northern span of the park. It brings you up
and over both the grueling Stoney Indian Pass as well as the mellower
Brown Pass (the continental divide). As a means of reference as to
the difficulty of this route, I did this route in three days and two
nights last summer, averaging 20+ miles per day. It recommended as a
5+ day hike, so to do it in 7 would allow time to appreciate the
scenery and relax in camp.

Day 1. Hike from Chief Mtn. Ranger Station (Northeastern corner of
the park) to either Cosley or Glenn's Lake campsite

Day 2. Hike to the gorgeous Stoney Indian Pass campsite

Day 3. Hike to the Goat Haunt area (can't remember the names of camps here).

Day 4. Hike to the Lake Francis campground which is in my opinion the
first or second best campsite in the park.

Day 5. From Lake Francis, climb the mellow Brown's Pass switchbacks,
and head to either Hole-in-the-Wall or Boulder Pass campsites.
Boulder Pass is the other "best" campsite in Glacier. Even the toilet
(an open air "low-rider") provides a spectacular view of the Whitefish
Mtn. Range.

Day 6. Drop down the pounding switchbacks to either the camps at
Upper or Lower Kintla Lake.

Day 7. Finish the trip by hiking out to the Kintla Car camping area.

--- --- ---
Trip Two - "Coal/Nyack Loop" - 6 days, 5 nights

This is considered the ruggedest route in Glacier in that it
encompasses many (low water depth) stream-crossings and is in the
remotest section and least visited part of the park. The trip begins
and ends with a ford of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and
begins and ends with forested walking. The middle days of the trip
are filled with expansive views of high peaks and passes as seen
through the remains of the all-encompassing fires of 2003. The trip
stays to the valley floor except for one almost imperceptible crossing
of Suprise Pass.

Day 1 - Begin at the Coal Creek Trailhead (get precise directions from
a ranger or use the Shuttle Service), ford the Middle Fork and hike
approx. 6 miles the Lower Coal campsite.

Day 2 - Hike another 7 to 10 miles through trees and one or two fords
to Upper Coal creek campsite.

Day 3 - From Upper Coal you'll head into the burn of 2003 which allows
amazing views of the surrounding peaks and in particular, Mt. St. Nick
(a Matterhorn-ish looking peak) until you come to the Martha's Basin
area. The campground is at Beaver Woman Lake and this hike is approx.
10 miles.

Day 4 - Cross the easy Suprise Pass and continue hiking through the
burn until you arrive at the Upper Nyack campsite.

Day 5 - Hike to the Lower Nyack campsite.

Day 6 - Return to the trees and hike out, fording the Middle Fork
again and once again entering civilization.

--- --- ---
Trip Three - "Dawson/Pitamakin Pass Loop" -
This is a very short trip that many people do as a long day-hike. It
starts and ends from the Two Medicine area of the park and one can
actually catch a scenic boat ride rather than hike the first half of
the first day.

Day 1 - Hike/ride the boat along Two Medicine lake and then ascend to
the No Name Lake camsite.

Day 2 - Climb Dawson pass and proceed along a ridge and sidehill to
Pitamakin Pass and then descend to the Old Man Lake campsite.

Day 3 - Hike back out to the Two Medicine Area

--- --- ---

These are rough descriptions of three routes. I highly suggest
cross-referencing the routes I described with both a park map as well
as a guidebook (if you have one). I only had my memory and a topo map
to create those scenarios so I don't remember that many mileage
figures. I haven't hiked the Dawson/Pitamakin Loop in its entirety
but I've done the other two routes (the Coal/Nyack loop I've done
three times). Like I mentioned before, feel free to nit pick with
questions, as you may be able to tell from the lenght of this message,
that I don't mind helping out.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Glacier National Park on 01/21/2011 10:42:43 MST Print View

*Note* if Dave Chenault doesn't respond to this thread, ping him as he lives up there now and is quickly becoming a go-to resource for the area.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Glacier National Park on 01/21/2011 10:51:53 MST Print View

I have only been there once, so my Glacier experience is limited, FWIW. I think you could do 20 miles a day if you tried. The trails are very well maintained which makes keeping a pace easier.

I certainly understand your desire to see as much as possible, but don't underestimate the power of taking some time to soak up the experience. Some people like hitting high milage days. I'm in the 8-10 miles per day maximum camp. I enjoy being able to lounge for a bit in the morning with my coffee, or taking an afternoon swim, or leisurely side trips. But, that's my style. YMMV.

Hole-in-the-Wall and Boulder Pass are simply incredible. Try to include those in your trip if you can. We were lucky and had great weather for the nights we spent at each of those sites, but the continental divide is right there. You can get some weird weather patterns.

And wherever you go, watch your gear. Many animals will jump at the opportunity to chew on some sweaty gear. A deer stole one of our Platypus's and chewed a small hole in it. We think it actually swallowed the bite valve!

Take a puffy along.

Glacier is awesome--I proposed to my girlfriend on top of Boulder Peak. You'll love any trip you take there. Have fun planning!

Sam, I expected to see you pop up on this thread :)

Edited by T.L. on 01/21/2011 10:53:31 MST.

Joey Dawson
(inabag) - F

Locale: Northern VA
Thanks for the replys so far... on 01/21/2011 11:33:02 MST Print View

I am using the map in the following doc to plan this out mileage wise. I don't know how close some of the campgrounds are to the actual trail, I am doing my best to assume location based on placement on the map and mileage indicators.

So here is a 1st draft idea that would have us dropped off in the NW of the park, and picked up at West Glacier. 93 miles in all, over 6 days/5 nights.

Any suggestions, critiques, etc?


Day 1: Start at Kintia Lake Trailhead (NW)
Mileage: 17.2
Camp HOL / Hole in the Wall

Day 2:
Mileage: 16.7
Camp at STO / Stoney Indian Lake

Day 3:
Mileage: 14.5
Camp at ELF / Elizabeth Lake FT

Day 4:
Mileage: 17.7
Camp at GRN / Granite Park

Day 5:
Hike to Logan Pass
Catch shuttle to REY / Reynolds Creek area
Mileage: 17.5
Camp at ELL / Lake Ellen Wilson

Day 6:
Hike to Lake McDonald
Catch shuttle to West Glacier/Apgar to end trip
Mileage: 9.4

Total Trip Mileage: 93 miles

Edited by inabag on 01/21/2011 11:35:58 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
GNP trips on 01/21/2011 13:39:33 MST Print View

Reporting for duty Sam!

First, early September should be a great time of year to hike in Glacier. Might be snow, might be rain, no bugs, beautiful.

Second, it is very possible to do 20+ miles a day. The trails in Glacier are very firm and fast, and the routes they tackle over passes tend to be of surprisingly moderate grade. I find 30+ mile days to be totally doable in Glacier.

Sam's northern traverse would be a fun trip. Lots of work for your shuttle crew. The option you layed out Joey would also be excellent. Hole in the Wall, Stony, Lake Elizabeth, and Lake Ellen Wilson are all superlative campsites.

A third option would be to take Amtrak from Whitefish to East Glacier, hike the CDT all the way north to Many Glacier, than head over Swiftcurrent and get picked up at the loop.

Of those three options, I'd pick the one you developed! Gunsight Pass, Stony Indian Pass, Ptarmigan Tunnel, and Browns Pass are all phenomenal and represent the best of Glacier.

Joey Dawson
(inabag) - F

Locale: Northern VA
Thanks! on 01/21/2011 14:23:39 MST Print View

Thanks for the positive reply and I appreciate any ideas or thoughts moving forward.

I will tweak the itinerary once I know our actual travel dates. I want to apply for the campsite permits in the next few months. It is 8 months away, but I am stoked and want to plan and prepare as well as possible.

A few 2-3 days trips in the Shenandoah and WV will have to do until we make this epic journey. I can't wait!

Steve Scarborough
(zehnmm) - F

Locale: southern New Mexico
You Have a Great Adventure Ahead of You! on 01/21/2011 16:47:50 MST Print View

Hello Joey.

I am now nearing age 64 and have had the good fortune to have hiked in Glacier NP for 6 years. Have not done the route you propose, just a few pieces of it.

First, I heartily endorse the comments made by Sam Haraldson. Second, while I am in good shape for my age, my desire now is to limit my trips with a pack to 8 - 10 miles. I know that I could do 17 to 20 miles a day; it is just that I choose not to as of now.

Having said that, if you keep to your route, on the first part, remember that you have got a good 17+ mile hike to get from the Kintla Lake campground trailhead to the Hole-in-the-Wall camp. (You might double check your mileage on that because I think it is closer to 20 miles....) Be sure to leave early enough for that great hike! Also, note that Upper Kintla Lake is listed on my topo as 4,371 ft. of elevation; Boulder Pass is in the 7,000 area. That means you have got around 2,600 ft. of elevation gain. In other words, your hiking miles per hour is probably going to drop compared to the trail around Kintla Lake.

For the Granite Park hike to Logan Pass, it is about 8 wonderful miles. With packs, it took us about 6 hours to hike from Logan Pass to the Granite park chalet, but we stopped to take pics, enjoy the views, eat lunch, chat with other hikers, etc. We saw our first wolverine near Haystack Butte! After your shuttle, you have a long, but good 10 mile hike from REY to ELL. Similar to my comments about the Kintla-HOL hike, allow yourself plenty of time.

Lastly, early September is my favorite time to be in the park. Less people; fewer bugs; etc. But, in your planning, know that it can snow at any time there. Particularly in September. When we have hiked there at that time, we dress and carry gear in case the temps drop to 15 - 20 degrees F. Moreover, when there is a good bit of snow on the ground, our hiking speed dropped considerably.

Hope these notes from an old geezer help. More importantly I hope that your trip is one of those once-in-a-lifetime treks! To me Glacier is a magical, wonderful place. I think it is the crown jewel of the entire US.



David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
some info and psyche on 01/21/2011 20:17:36 MST Print View

Two Medicine to McDonald, on the CDT and over Gunsight Pass, this November:
30 mile days, lots of snow.

Highline-Stoney Indian-Ptarmigan-Piegan loop, starting and ending at Logan Pass. July 2009:

Hiking and packrafting trip from the Loop over 50 Mountain and Browns Pass, July 2010:

Joey Dawson
(inabag) - F

Locale: Northern VA
!! on 01/22/2011 06:59:57 MST Print View

Great videos, and amazing blog post.

I can't tell you all how insanely excited I am about this trip.

Steve Scarborough
(zehnmm) - F

Locale: southern New Mexico
Thanks for sharing, Dave! on 01/22/2011 08:14:03 MST Print View

Dave: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and the videos!

Just magnificent.


Scott Jarnagin
(TheBombadils) - F
car shuttles? on 05/03/2011 12:16:36 MDT Print View

My wife and I are also planning a backpacking trip up here this summer. We are considering doing the "Northern Circle" in 4 or 5 days and then a couple day hikes or over nighters to fill out the week, but I'm curious as to how you're managing to get a ride up to the Kintla lake. We're probably not going to get to Hole in the Wall or Boulder Pass on the route we're planning, but we've heard that area is awesome. Are there paid shuttle services that will take you that far up? I've seen the red buses and the paid shuttles that get you between the main areas, but nothing really on the west side that would allow dropping the car (we'll only have one) at Many Glacier and being able to start out on the west side.

If we only have one car would it make more sense to try and drive around the park and do smaller loops or out and backs as opposed to trying to schedule a drop-off like this? The northern circle seems great since we'll get back where we started, but I was really hoping to get out and camp in a couple more areas as opposed to spending the whole time in this one area. It's that struggle of trying to see as much as possible without rushing it too much.

Also, I've seen some people say that depending on the season it may be better to wait until we get there and get a walk-in permit for camping so we can plan around the weather a bit more if needed. Any merit to this? We're planning to do a Glacier/Banff combo the last week of August through the first week of September (17 days or so total), but our dates are flexible at this point.

Thanks for the help.

Joey Dawson
(inabag) - F

Locale: Northern VA
RE: car shuttles? on 05/03/2011 12:19:46 MDT Print View

My hiking buddy has family that lives in Whitefish. So we will be getting a ride up to Kintla Lake. We will be riding the train back from the park to Whitefish. So I have no idea about shuttles! Sorry :(

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: northern loop on 05/03/2011 12:48:34 MDT Print View

Scott, I think some of the outfitters/raft companies do shuttles up to Bowman and Kintla. Probably pretty pricey.

If you've got a permit for the northern circle, I'd stick with that. You'll have no regrets and be able to see the core of the park. If you wanted to drive up to Kintla, camp at the lake, and do some hiking (up along the N Fork, for example) that would be nice too. Kintla is a nice corner of the park.

I'd hesitate to count on walk-in permits that time of year. You might luck out, but you might also get totally frozen out of anything close to what you want. IMO too big a risk if you're visiting from far off.

Mark Ries
(mtmnmark) - M

Locale: IOWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
northern circle on 05/03/2011 18:42:54 MDT Print View

+1 on the northern circle one of the best trips of my life. Never forget having a griz sniff around the tent and waking up my new bride to make sure there was nothing in the tent she forgot to bear bag, then in the tent first thing in the morning after a night of little sleep seeing her pull a half eatin snack bar out of her shirt pocket and finish eating it! PRICELESS our first married fight. Four years later in the smokeys as she was chasing a bear out of camp I was secretly rooting for the bear.

Brian Austin
(footeab) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: re: northern loop on 05/03/2011 19:35:31 MDT Print View

Camping Permits. Last time I was there I rolled in and got my permits. IF the one by the lake(popular) was taken, just get an off trail zone camping permit. So, you gotta officially get off the trail 1000 feet. Big deal, 10 minutes max. Won't have mouse problems anyways =). OR if you really really want that sunset shot at the lake, eat dinner at the lake then do your 10 minute hike 1000 feet off trail and sack out for the night. The permit is only for the designated SLEEPING spots. Last time I was there, several of the spots were so horrid I didn't sleep there either. Others were graveled.

Side note: Who were the suckers who hauled the gravel in... Your tax dollars at work... Why we need to cut the budget of every department, so much bloat taking away money from things we ALL actually need, but can't "afford" because we are funding morons hauling gravel in the backcountry wilderness instead of doing something needed with said money. Tons of government waste, as far as I am concerned ALL departements have tons of said waste. Ok, back on subject. Sorry

I wouldn't worry about permits. In all the times I have run around our national parks, I have never reserved a spot except in Grand Canyon National Park as I had a car load of junk for a job and had a VERY short 1 night stay on my way to California from Ohio and I wanted to see at least the south Rim even though I knew the north rim was far superior.

You really won't have any problems in September getting permits.

Best time of the year in any northern national park. NO bugs, fall colors, or at least the begining of them.

Edited by footeab on 05/03/2011 19:44:11 MDT.

Scott Jarnagin
(TheBombadils) - F
backcountry camping on 05/04/2011 16:04:32 MDT Print View

I believe that in Glacier you are not allowed to camp anywhere in the backcountry except for the designated campsites. The exception is the Nyack/Coal Creek area, where you are allowed camping outside designated sites. Since I'm looking at the most popular backpacking area of the park I think I'm going to do the advanced reservation request and write a lot of alternate options so I have the best chance of getting the sites I want.

FYI I found this pretty useful for deciding what sites to look for:

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Glacier BC camping on 05/04/2011 18:34:50 MDT Print View

Scott, rangers give out a limited number of off trail BC camping permits. I believe the original intent was for folks climbing peaks to be able to bivvy up in the alpine. I don't have much insight into how liberal the NPS is about giving them out.

Scott Jarnagin
(TheBombadils) - F
my trip itenerary on 05/05/2011 14:13:51 MDT Print View

Submitting my application today. Here's my itinerary.

Hike in to Helen Lake (~15 mi)
8/29 - HEL (~8 mi)
8/30 - COS (~6 mi)
8/31 - MOL (~12 mi)
9/1 - KOO (~9 mi)
9/2 - FIF (~20 mi) out

I have a big range of dates starting 8/27 and saying I need to be out by 9/15 (1st priority of changes). I said I would sub STO for MOL (2nd priority of changes), and that I would reverse if needed (last change priority). For my 2nd choice i said I would cut out KOO and make it 4 nights, but that seems a bit rushed to me. This will be a combo trip with Jasper, so I figured whatever dates I get I will plan the rest of my trip around it.

Anyone have comments about this plan? Should the ~20 mi between Fifty Mountain and Many Glacier be concerning? I figured it would be the last day of the hike so I wasn't too worried about it since our packs will be a bit lighter and we can slog out. GRN seems pretty packed, and I don't want to really stay there anyway. I also thought about saying I would sub WAT or GOA for KOO, but I'd rather just day hike to there.

I'm planning to do a day hike or 2 either before or after this along the going to the sun road and in the two medicine area.

Brian Austin
(footeab) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: my trip itenerary on 05/05/2011 15:01:38 MDT Print View

If you are not into mountain climbing and only a trail hiker you would not be aware of all of the off trail designated areas in every national park.

Climbing voluntary forms available at ranger stations. At said ranger station they will have the off trail designated areas you can sign up for. (They surround every hiking trail) This is true in every national park I have visited. You will never see an official map with said off trail designated camping areas. The only way to view said areas is to walk into the ranger station itself. There is no such thing as preregistering for said areas. I generally pick the areas that have little interest to the mountain climbing community so it won't fill up their slots. IE low mountains.