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Backpacker Magazine – August 2008

Glacier National Park

Scramble up class III peaks and cross late summer snowfields on this strenuous but straightforward trip through Montana's big-mountain country.

by: Steve Howe

Beargrass Along Highline Trail (Cathy & Gordon Illg)
Beargrass Along Highline Trail (Cathy & Gordon Illg)
Dawson Pass Above Nyack Valley (Kirkendall-Spring)
Dawson Pass Above Nyack Valley (Kirkendall-Spring)

Entrance Strategy

>> Getting there The nearest major airports are in Great Falls (200 miles east) and Missoula (156 miles southwest). Glacier has two main entrances: the bustling West Glacier, accessed from Whitefish and Kalispell, and the tranquil east side via St. Mary and East Glacier.

>> Season For low traffic and easier reservations–but snowier passes and higher river crossings–head to Glacier in mid-June (bring gaiters and an ice axe). July is best for wildflowers. The tundra turns to glorious tones of rust and gold by mid-September.

>> Best frontcountry campground Two Medicine Campground on Two Medicine Lake practically sits on the trailhead for your trip, ensuring you get an early start. It's 15 miles from groceries and restaurants in East Glacier. ($20, 99 sites, first come, first served)

>> Pre-trip breakfast Glacier Village Restaurant (406-226-4464), on Main Street in East Glacier, opens at 6:30 a.m. for espresso, homemade pastries, and box lunches that you can rebag for your pack.

>> Gear shop Get pepper spray and a holster at Sportsman & Ski Haus on US 93 in Whitefish, outside the West Entrance (406-862-3111). It's your grizzly country equivalent of peace of mind.

>> Permits Go to for an application, campsite map, trail mileages, and charts that show open reservation dates. Half of all backcountry sites are held for walk-ins, but reservations ($30/party) are recommended. Applications are processed beginning April 16. Backcountry office: (406) 888-7857 from March 15 to October 31

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Chuck Ross
Apr 26, 2012

Gunsight Pass, August 24-26, 2011: We were lucky enough walk in to the backcountry office and get a trail permit for this hike in spite of the massive avalanche on Fullisade Mtn that had wiped out part of the trail. We had the recommended ice axe and crampons and were glad we did - this late in the season, a steep snowfield between Gunsight Lake and the pass was almost as hard as ice, and might well have been the last glissade you ever took if you couldn’t self-arrest. No matter when you go, monitor the trail conditions before you go, talk to the rangers, and be prepared. Oh yeah – it was spectacular, and we had almost the entire trip to ourselves!

Kathryn Harvey
Jul 27, 2011

Just back from Glacier 7/23/11- many higher trails and backcountry camps still closed due to snow so forcing lots of hikers to camp at lower level sites. Get your permits early and be flexible. Hiked and camped at Kintla Lake and Upper Kintla Lake - beautiful. Snowed in the mountains above us one night. Saw black bear on the trail and at camp. Beautiful flowers.

Jim Hall
Jul 21, 2011

Going to Sun Road opened LATEST ever last week July 12. Did Loop Trail to Granite Chalet (all up hill.) Last mile over snow. Coming down saw 3 Griz on ridge to east. Great flowers. Saw several deer close up.

Did the Pegan Pass Trail part way (four hours in) and it was over snow (July 14)about 95% of the way. Most snow ever seen at Glacier. Saw goats and two rams west of creek just starting out.

Did short Apikuni Falls hike and it was worth it. Don't let mile+ up fool you. Up hill. Lots of snow around falls. Be sure and safely climb on and see pool at base of falls.

Did hike at Bowman Lake area. Nice ride up to this NW area but hike was not worth it.

As of July 15 rangers said Highline Trail likely would NOT be open this summer at all. Too much snow.

Swiftcurrent Trail was nice, but just too many folks first couple miles. Great views and flowers and even snow for last snowcone before heading back to Georgia.

Avoid Avalanche Lake Trail unless you head out EARLY. Every body and his brother hikes that trail mid morning on.

In fact suggest early start on all trails in Glacier. Great cabins to stay at in Coram just on Highway 2 7 miles from park (west side). Peaceful Escapes by a store. $80 a night and brand new with kitchenettes even. Eat nearby at Glacier Grill. Great food and service.

Scott Sanders
Sep 05, 2008

I was there on the CDT project last summer and can't wait to return. The mountains at sunset are too beautiful to describe.


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