Glacier National Park: Bowman Lake to Kintla Lake

Epic, glacial-era geology and rugged mountain views from the Continental Divide are the highlights of this 4- or 5-day point-to-point in Glacier National Park's northwest corner.
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Epic, glacial-era geology and rugged mountain views from the Continental Divide are the highlights of this 4- or 5-day point-to-point in Glacier National Park's northwest corner.

Bowman and Kintla Lakes are located at the northwest corner of Glacier National Park, and this horseshoe-shaped point-to-point connects them with an epic 39-mile trail over Brown and Boulder passes with an overnight stop in the stunning glacial cirque, Hole-in-the-Wall.
The first day follows Bowman Lake's flat shoreline and day two climbs 2,200 feet, touching the Continental Divide before settling into a hanging valley. Day three climbs another 1,100 feet to Boulder Pass and the route's high point at mile 17. Camp in the boulder-strewn valley there, or descend a headwall on a scenic, switchbacking trail—look for the Agassiz Glacier—toward Upper Kintla Lake.
The westbound stretch of trail comes within 1.5 miles of the Canadian border and connects Upper Kintla and Kintla lakes as it skirts several burn areas below the Boundary Mountains and Starvation Ridge.
Reaching Kintla Lake, however, isn't the end of the journey: it's 20 road miles between trail-end and Bowman Lake, so plan ahead and arrange a shuttle either within your own group, or with locals before your trip (commercial outfitters aren't permitted to travel to Kintla, so plan to be creative about your ride).
-Mapped by Charlie Williams

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 56.5

Waypoints

GBK001

Location: 48.8286432, -114.2018187

Parking for the Bowman Trailhead is along the main campground road next to the self registration bulletin board. Follow the trail through lodgepole pines toward the lake, turn left on the road, and then bear right onto the trail. You'll pass the ranger cabin and a sign announcing the Upper Bowman Campground.

GBK002

Location: 48.8373793, -114.1954994

Stay to the right at this junction with the Numa Ridge Trail. The thick montane forest on the lake's north side is dominated by Douglas fir, but the brushy trail can be slick with black mud.

GBK003

Location: 48.8674531, -114.1705227

Near mile 3.2 the trail comes within a few feet of the lakeshore and there's a small gravel beach perfect for a quick break and a view. From this point, the trail is closer to the water; the open understory allows for more regular views of the water.

GBK004

Location: 48.904223, -114.121284

Nearing the north end of Bowman Lake is the campground spur trail. The two southernmost sites have the best views and a cooking area fire pit, but the others are very secluded. Watch for eagle activity in the area.

GBK005

Location: 48.9118954, -114.1093254

Cross a stream. Though low and easy to cross in late summer, spring runoff can make this (and the crossings of Pocket Creek, 3 miles ahead) much more difficult.

GBK006

Location: 48.9340312, -114.0788984

The trail crosses 3 Pocket Creek branches just north of their convergence with Bowman Creek. The first and last are less significant than the middle one where there is a bridge under construction. From this point, the climb intensifies toward Brown Pass.

GBK007

Location: 48.9527756, -114.04109

The Brown Pass Campground is another option for nights one or two.

GBK008

Location: 48.950708, -114.035605

Though Brown Pass is 6,255 feet above sea level and on the Continental Divide, the climbing continues on the Boulder Pass Trail as the route turns west. Look east for a view of Hawksbill and an alternate eastern approach toward Boulder Pass.

GBK009

Location: 48.9576226, -114.0537071

As the trail swings north it cuts into the side of the cliffs of the Helena Formation. Although wide and safe, this short stretch of trail may challenge hikers fearful of heights. Up ahead, you'll pass over the lip of Hole-in-the-Wal before the trail splits.

GBK010

Location: 48.9626382, -114.0592861

Bear left @ Y-junction for a 1-mile round-trip to Hole-in-the-Wall's popular campground. The short side-trip to the base of the glacial cirque is a worthwhile detour for lunch or camping. From Hole-in-the-Wall, return to this point and turn left, heading north.

GBK011

Location: 48.9611167, -114.0919018

You'll hike along the upper rim of the cirque, along the wall of a hanging valley, across a cairn-marked talus slope, and over several ledges en route to Boulder Pass. This 7,470-foot pass is the route's high point and the trip's halfway point.

GBK012

Location: 48.96313, -114.102315

A 0.1-mile spur trail leads north to the tent pads and food preparation area of Boulder Camp. From here, it's a thimbleweed-flanked, switchbacking, 3,250-foot descent toward Upper Kintla Lake.

GBK013

Location: 48.9808366, -114.1471767

Cross Kintla Creek on a bridge; ribbons and cairns mark the main trail. A sign up ahead marks the right-hand spur trail to Upper Kintla Campground.

GBK014

Location: 48.980709, -114.153566

There are 4 tent pads, a food prep, and fire area near the campground and a hitching post for stock animals nearby. A gravel beach on the lakeshore is also nearby (good place to dry gear).

GBK015

Location: 48.978696, -114.2194462

From the Upper Kintla Campground to Kintla Lake is a 5-mile, mostly-flat trek through predominately Douglas fir and Engelmann spruce. You might spot western larch and wild roses near the trail and glimpses of the burn from a 2003 fire on the upper lake's far side. This gravely creek crossing leads to a clearing, then a recovering burn zone, and a hilly moraine.

GBK016

Location: 48.97596, -114.253008

The old Kintla patrol cabin precedes the middle Kintla Campground. There are 6 tent pads, a food prep area, a fire area and a hitching post. On the gravel beach and in the lake are remnants of the early 20th-century Butte Well.

GBK017

Location: 48.9734566, -114.2863083

From the campground, the trail cruises an overcrowded forest (a product of the no-burn forest management policy) for 1.5 miles before a short, sharp 300-foot climb from the lakeshore.

GBK018

Location: 48.9378793, -114.3459821

The trail splits less than half a mile from the route's end. Bear right to bypass the drive-in camping area and continue to the parking lot.

GBK019

Location: 48.935179, -114.3527

It's about 19 miles by road between Kintla Lake and Bowman Trailhead. Shuttle logistics can be difficult, but consider leaving a car or bicycle here, or hiring a ride in Polebridge or another nearby town before your trip.

Climb to Boulder Pass

Location: 48.9610039, -114.0868378

Registration Sign

Location: 48.8286503, -114.2017114

This kiosk displays trail info and campground regulations. © Charlie Williams

Thimbleberry

Location: 48.8537598, -114.1826248

Thimbleberry alongside the trail is easily confused with the slightly lager-leafed Devil's Club. © Charlie Williams

Bowman Lake

Location: 48.9042513, -114.1208696

A view of Bowman Lake from the shore near the campground area. © Charlie Williams

Hole-in-the-Wall Falls

Location: 48.937837, -114.0738773

© Charlie Williams

Climb toward Brown Pass

Location: 48.9468007, -114.0665817

© Charlie Williams

Brown Pass

Location: 48.9544664, -114.0366268

Looking to the southeast over Brown Pass toward the Hawksbill. © Charlie Williams

Cliffside Slope

Location: 48.9574535, -114.0528488

© Charlie Williams

Sheer Walls

Location: 48.9583271, -114.0539217

© Charlie Williams

Hole-in-the-Wall

Location: 48.9655966, -114.0666676

© Charlie Williams

Stromatolites

Location: 48.9641315, -114.0658092

Helena limestone in the ravine near where Hole in the Wall Falls begins, has some excellent exposures of 1.1 billion year old stromatolites. © Charlie Williams

Talus

Location: 48.9625255, -114.0816879

Cairn-marked talus slopes on the climb toward Boulder Pass. © Charlie Williams

Boulder Valley

Location: 48.9629763, -114.099369

Looking into Boulder Valley from the trail near the campsite. © Charlie Williams

Agassiz Glacier

Location: 48.9580735, -114.1076946

Named for Louis Agassiz, the "Father of Glaciology," look for the glacier as you descend toward Upper Kintla Lake. © Charlie Williams

Upper Kintla Lake

Location: 48.9616238, -114.1194534

Views of the lake from the Boulder Pass Trail. © Charlie Williams

Precipitator

Location: 48.9759919, -114.2522335

This rusty hunk was an oil precipitator used to separate water from oil at wells. The Butte Well was drilled in 1901 but never produced any oil. © Charlie Williams

Boulder Trail Sign

Location: 48.9378652, -114.3455744

© Charlie Williams

Polebridge Mercantile

Location: 48.764895, -114.2850637

Excellent sandwiches and a post-hike brew await at the Polebridge Mercantile just south of the trailhead. © Charlie Williams

Northern Lights Saloon

Location: 48.7651213, -114.2850101

With occasional live music and afternoon hours, this Polebridge destination is also worth a stop. © Charlie Williams