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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)

Exit Strategy

>> Clean up The West Glacier KOA has a swimming pool, twice-weekly wildlife slideshows, and hot tubs for overtaxed thighs. Oh, and showers are $5. (800) 562-3313;

>> Pig out East entrance: Park Café and Grocery in St. Mary serves possibly the best Razzleberry pie in the country (406-732-4482; West entrance: Tupelo Grille in Whitefish has spicy gumbo and a shelf of gourmet tequilas (406-862-6136;

>> Best Dayhike: Highline Trail to Grinnell Glacier Overlook
This 13.8-mile highlight reel begins on a wildlife- and vista-rich traverse from Logan Pass along the Garden Wall, and it's always a solid bet for first-time visitors. Start early to see more animals and fewer people. Seven miles in, huff up a steep mile-long spur trail to the top of the knife-edged overlook for aerial views down to Upper Grinnell Lake and its shrinking–yet still impressive–glacier. Returning to the Highline Trail, continue a mile to the historic Granite Park Chalet and then plunge down to Going-to-the-Sun Road.

>> Try something new Tackle nine frothing rapids in a two-person ducky on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. You'll drop 15 miles along the Nyack Coal Creek wilderness area, where parts of The River Wild were filmed. Better yet, you're in a ducky, so you're closer to the water than in a big raft–and you don't have to know how to roll. Glacier Raft Company, (800) 235-6781;

Beat the Crowds

>> Sneak In Pick a trailhead in the south or east, and you'll find less traffic and easier permits. Check trailheads along US 2 on the southern boundary, with convenient campgrounds like St. Mary, Two Medicine, Cut Bank, Marias Pass, and Essex.

>> Start Early Find more solitude and see more wildlife by setting off at dawn on Going-to-the-Sun Road (

You're a Tourist, Now Act Like One
Hike the boardwalk trail from Logan Pass Visitor Center to Hidden Lake Overlook for dramatic scenery and habituated wildlife, such as mountain goats and ptarmigan, nibbling mere yards from the planks. Go early or late: Logan Pass parking lot often fills between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The Stats
Acres 1,013,594
Miles of trail 746
Phone (406) 888-7800

2007 visitation 2 million (total), 27,993 (backcountry)

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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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