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Backpacker Magazine – November 2009

National Parks Hall of Fame: Best Alpine Hike

Live longer, take the North Circle Route. Glacier's highcountry views and crisp alpine air are rumored to add years to a backpacker's being.

by: Jim Gorman

North Circle Route, Glacier, MT

Not quite halfway into a 43-mile, C-shape route through the heart of Glacier's stupendous high country comes a point at which most backpackers simply can't take another step. Fatigue is not the problem. From atop Fifty Mountain Pass, the view in every direction includes mountains ice-sculpted into horns, blocks, pyramids, fins, and cresting waves of striated rock. Presumably 50 high peaks in all, should you count them. Which you should do, insists Denny Gignoux, owner of Glacier Mountain Guides. "Every day spent at Fifty Mountain adds a year to your life," he says. Hikers who complete this route might live a very long time indeed; it maximizes time spent above the park's magical 6,000-foot threshold, where krummholz gives way to alpine tundra and stunning views. The route begins at Logan Pass and heads north on the Highline Trail, a deservedly popular path right under the Continental Divide (take the .5-mile detour to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook). Past Granite Park Chalet the trails get lonelier and the views even bigger. Connect Fifty Mountain, Stoney Indian Pass, and Ptarmigan Tunnel (a 75-foot-long corridor blasted through the Ptarmigan Wall) before ending at Many Glacier. Book a night in the early 20th-century log-and-stone hotel for a proper finish.

Season Mid-July to late September.
Permits Required
Map Trails Illustrated Glacier National Park ($12,
Contact (406) 888-7800,

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Tom H
Apr 17, 2010

Better yet, start at Logan Pass and take the east side of the Continental Divide, Siyeh Bend to Many Glacier, Ptarmigan Tunnel, Elizabeth Lake, up the Mokowanis River to Stony Indian Pass. I tried going up Mt Merritt from Mokowanis Lake, but the weather was rainy and wet and the peaks socked in. I hiked up to Sue Lake as a side trip and there is a route up and over the top, but I wanted to do Cleveland and the next day, I did a side trip up Mt Cleveland, some exposure, had an at large campsite for this, then down to Waterton and back to the south, thru Fifty Mtn CG, to Granite Park Chalet and the Highline back to Logan Pass. It was an 8 day trip and 105 miles with side trips and about 75 miles staying on the trails. Wonderful trip.

Greg S.
Jan 07, 2010

You can certainly do the route in reverse as that is what we did in September. Started out at Many Glacier, then went to Poia Lake, over Red Gap Pass to Elizabeth Lake, then Mokowanis Lake over Stoney Indian Pass to Stoney Indian Lake, next to Fifty Mountain (check out the Sue Lake overlook) and last night at Granite Park. Up and over Swiftcurrent Pass back down to Many Glacier from where you started.

Nov 30, 2009

Can you do this route in reverse?


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