Kids backpacking in Glacier NP
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Jeff Gerke
(mtnrunner) - M

Locale: Utah
Kids backpacking in Glacier NP on 12/30/2011 07:29:28 MST Print View

The family and I may take a trip to Glacier NP this summer. My oldest son and I backpack together quite a bit but I want to do more with my younger two. My younger two are 8 and 12. I would like some recommendations for a couple of good two day one night kid friendly backpacking routes in Glacier. The one I have in mind is to start at Logan pass and hike into Granite Park and camp. The next day hike over Swiftcurrent pass and end at Many Glacier. My kids can handle 15 miles spread out over two days if the terrain isn't too tough. Would this be a good route for them? The major obstacle is that I read that you can only stay at Granite Park as part of a longer itinerary. Looks like we can not stay there if we are only in the backcountry one night. I would be open to some 3 day 2 night routes as well if the mileage and terrain are fairly easy for my kids.

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Kids backpacking in Glacier NP on 12/30/2011 08:21:44 MST Print View

Jeff, your idea of the Garden Wall-Granite Park-Swiftcurrent Pass is a good one. Yes, the Granite Park CG is reserved for through hikers only (although they opened it up this past summer to anyone, due to the heavy snowpack in the park, to serve the disappointed hikers with other reservations that had to be cancelled). You could always book a couple of rooms at the Chalet to make it work. However, the ~3000' steep descent from the pass down to the Swiftcurrent Lodge is a real knee-buster, and maybe not suitable for the younger kids.

Other suggestions:

1) You could do a 7-8 mile in-and-out to one of the lakes on the west side--Kintla, Bowman, or Logging. Not the most spectacular hikes in the Park, but flat, easy hiking, and scenic campsites once you get there. It's mostly hiking in the forest.

2) This past summer I did a 2-night hike to check out 2 campsites I'd never stayed at--No Name Lake and Upper Two Medicine Lake. Fairly easy stuff, and even more so if you shorten the hike by taking the tour boat from the east end of Two Medicine Lake to the west end (saves maybe 2 miles). If you do this, stay at No Name first, as it's a bit less scenic than the beautiful Upper 2 Med campsite.

3) A very easy 3 mile hike from the Goat Haunt boat dock to Kootenai Lakes (where you are guaranteed to see some moose). You have to drive to Waterton in Canada, then take the tour boat to Goat Haunt. Might be a bit cumbersome for you, logistically. Passports are probably needed to cross the border.

4) Several nights can be had in the Belly River country. The trailhead is near the border crossing, but still on the U.S. side. It's about 7 miles to the Gable Creek campground, and from there there are two choices--to Elizabeth Lake, or follow the trail toward Stoney Indian Pass, where there are several stellar campsites on Cosley, Glenns, and Mokowanis Lakes.

5) Another fun in-and-out one nighter is to hike to Gunsight Lake.

6) A 2-night suggestion would be the Quartz Lake loop, which begins and ends at Bowman Lake on the west side of the Park.

7) A very easy overnighter can also be had by hiking from the Fish Creek CG 4-5 miles along the west side of L. McDonald to the campsite. Not terribly scenic until you actually get to the tent site, but then you get quite the vantage point.

One thing I might add is that the Many Glacier area is full of grizzly bears. The three valleys that converge at the Many Glacier lodge (Grinnell, Swiftcurrent, and Iceberg-Ptarmigan) are intermittently closed due to bear activity. You should carry 2-3 cans of pepper spray wherever you hike in GNP, and make lots of noise. Good luck with your planning. You really can't go wrong in GNP.

Edited by Zia-Grill-Guy on 12/30/2011 09:45:01 MST.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Kids backpacking in Glacier NP on 12/30/2011 08:28:00 MST Print View

At 8 and 12 they can easily handle miles and elevation - if you get them trained starting now ;-) Kids are tougher than we think and why wait? 8 is plenty old enough! Start taking them on dayhikes and even overnighters! They could handle a 2-3 night trip just dandy.....

James Castleberry
(Winterland76)
Kids backpacking in Glacier NP on 12/30/2011 08:30:10 MST Print View

Michael Lanza wrote a good article about doing Gunsight Pass with his family.
https://thebigoutside.com/Glacier_s_Gunsight_Pass_4VU.html

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Kids backpacking in Glacier NP on 12/30/2011 09:03:09 MST Print View

I could have handled a 3,000' descent a lot better at 12 than I can today. I probably would have run down that at 12.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: Glacier with kids on 12/30/2011 09:44:59 MST Print View

You're right that Granite is reserved for non-overnighters. A pity, as that route would be good otherwise.

I'd strongly encourage you to hit the alpine. I'd imagine kids would get a bit bored with walks in the green tunnel like Quartz. A lot of this also depends on the time of year, and how fast the snow melts.

Doing Gunsight with a stay at Ellen Wilson or Gunsight Lake would be the best option. It will push your mileage. Starting in Two Medicine and going out to Cut Bank, camping at Morning Star Lake, would be the next best option (and a good bit easier, with almost as a good of scenery). If you want to boat in the Goat Haunt, an out and back to Browns Pass, ideally camping at either Hawksbill or Francis, would be very nice. If you have a serious shuttle driver along going from the Loop to Goat Haunt, with a night at Fifty Mtn (best bc site in the park), would push the miles but is substantially easier than going over Gunsight.

Jeff Gerke
(mtnrunner) - M

Locale: Utah
Re: Kids backpacking in Glacier NP on 12/30/2011 11:01:58 MST Print View

Thanks for all the great info so far! Hopefully I'm lucky in the lottery cause my route choices will be limited with kids.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Re: Kids backpacking in Glacier NP on 12/30/2011 11:58:00 MST Print View

I'll say it again: kids only limit you if you let them limit you.

A child in good health and shape with good gear can do adult miles and adult trips!!

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F - M

Locale: NW Montana
Gunsight Lake to Lake Ellen Wilson to Lake McDonald on 12/30/2011 12:08:39 MST Print View

I'll second Dave on the Gunsight/Ellen Wilson Lake routes. It's 22 miles total, and you'd have one major climb each day on that route.

If you camped your first night at Gunsight Lake, it would be a mostly downhill day until a relatively gentle rise up to Gunsight Lake the last mile and a half to two miles.

Day 2 would have you climb up to Gunsight Pass, then it's all downhill to camp by Lake Ellen Wilson. Alternatively, you could get to Sperry campground if you wanted to make more miles, but it would mean another climb up past Lincoln Peak (not sure if it's officially a named pass or not).

Day 3 would be on up to Lincoln Peak (there is a short, unmaintained trail to the summit at the pass, well worth the views of Lake Ellen Wilson spilling out into Beaver Chief Falls and dropping 1,300" into Lincoln Lake--just below you on the summit). Then you would descend into the Sperry Basin and hike mostly downhill to Lake McDonald.

This one of my first major hikes in the park, and it is one of my best memories. It's what pushed me into hiking as a life pursuit not just a summer's fun.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F - M

Locale: NW Montana
USGS Glacier National Park Topo Map on 12/30/2011 12:13:33 MST Print View

Also, I have a very high-quality digital PDF of the USGS topographic map for Glacier (150+ MB) that I downloaded off of the USGS website years ago. I did a quick search, but I couldn't find it again.

If you're interested, PM me and I'll burn it to a CD and mail it your way. It's a great way to plan routes, etc. and with the amazing ability to zoom in so much, it's almost like having the quads for the park! (Okay, not really, but it's still really impressive.) Not to mention that you can print your own maps.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F - M

Locale: NW Montana
Re: Kids backpacking in Glacier NP on 12/30/2011 12:16:25 MST Print View

(Apologies in advance for the thread drift...but...)

Gary, was your avatar picture taken in GNP's Belly River?

It is another excellent area to hike with little elevation change (campgrounds at Elizabeth and Cosley Lakes come to mind for an overnighter). Just beware of the mosquitoes in the woods at the Chief Mountain Border Crossing. They are vicious!

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Belly River on 12/30/2011 13:40:55 MST Print View

Good eyes, Clayton--that indeed is the Belly River, with the route to Stoney Indian Pass in the background. Here's my favorite shot of Cosley Lake (telephoto) from my personal campsite beach:Cosley Lake
I chose that photo because it closely resembles the BPL default avatar. I'm a bit ashamed at the 40# pack, but that was about the time I joined BPL. Thanks to ya'll, I would now be doing that same 5-night trip with maybe 23-25#.

I wanted to add something else about the route to Gunsight Lake from the Jackson Overlook : From the overlook to Reynolds Creek (~1.3 miles) you drop 640'. Then from Reynolds Creek to Gunsight CG (~5 miles) you gently regain 700'.

As for that pass near Lincoln Peak, it is actually named Lincoln Pass.

I so love that country. I was raised in Choteau, and we spent a lot of time hiking the trails on the east side when I was a kid. You're lucky to live there.

Jeff Gerke
(mtnrunner) - M

Locale: Utah
My Itineraries on 01/23/2012 09:15:18 MST Print View

You all have been very helpful in my research. The following are the itineraries I have come up with. I'm thinking of putting in for two trips so I can have four itineraries. However I would have to loose the $30 for one of the trips if I get two. I have four itineraries figured out but having a hard time prioritizing them. I think the first two are my favorites. The first one would be a clear winner if it wasn't for the shuttle issue. After doing some research it looks like it will take a good two hours by park shuttle to get from Lake McDonald to the Gunsight Pass trail head. We would have to ride a shuttle to Logan Pass then switch shuttles to go down the east side to the trail head. If anyone has opinions on how to prioritize the following itineraries I would be glad to listen. All my trips are planned for 3 days 2 nights. Keep in mind I have an 8, 12 and 15 year old. Sarah - I know kids can be tough and I plan to get mine in decent shape before the trip. However they do like to whine sometimes.

Itinerary 1
Gunsight Pass to Lake McDonald 21 Miles
First night - Gunsight Lake
Second night - Sperry

Itinerary 2
Two Medicine Loop 15-16 Miles
First night - Old Man Lake
Second night - No Name Lake

Itinerary 3
Cut Bank to Morning Star Lake out and back
Both nights at Morning Star Lake with day hike to Pitamakan Pass

Itinerary 4
Belly River out and back
Both nights at Belly River Ranger Station or Elizabeth Laek
Day hike second day.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: Glacier with kids on 01/23/2012 13:49:12 MST Print View

Those are all good options. The first would definitly be the best, and the days are broken up pretty well. All the steep climbing in the second day, but there will be enough cool stuff that the edge of such exertion should be blunted.

I'd say your two hour time frame for a shuttle ride is correct, if you go in the middle of the day. A cleaner option would be to park in Apgar and take one of the hiker shuttles early. They go directly to Logan Pass. The ride down to Jackson Glacier overlook is pretty short and early in the day less subject to delays. This would cut the shuttle time in half (on the trail by 1030), and you'd only have a fairly short (one intermediate stop) ride back from McDonald to Apgar at the end of the trip. You could even get ice cream at the store before getting on the shuttle.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F - M

Locale: NW Montana
Re: re: Glacier with kids on 01/23/2012 22:22:48 MST Print View

I'll second everything Dave said.

The trouble with shuttling from Lake McDonald Lodge is you don't know how many people will get off the bus there. I've done hikes where we shuttled to Logan Pass and hiked down to the lodge, but the earliest people had to wait for a second shuttle--and we were there about 7:30. If you're willing to start early (early enough to be ready and waiting for the first run) it can definitely work. Also, the hike in to Gunsight Lake is not too bad, so if you're not on the trailhead until 10:00 or later, it shouldn't be a big deal.

Also, option 2 is excellent too. It's one of my favorite hikes in the park. Your first day and last day will be good, but not too spectacular as far as views go. It's day 2 that will be awesome! The Pitamakan-Cut Bank Pass area, going on to Dawson Pass is phenomenal for the views of the Nyack Valley. It's well worth it! And you're doing it in the right direction too. It's much steeper going to Dawson/No Name Lake first.

Let us know what you get. It doesn't look like you can go wrong here.