Glacier National Park: Chief Mountain to Logging Lake via Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail

This 83-mile, week-long transect of Glacier National Park on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail features turquoise pools, ragged peaks, and vibrant wildflowers.
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This 83-mile, week-long transect of Glacier National Park on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail features turquoise pools, ragged peaks, and vibrant wildflowers.

Day 1
Naturally, Rowan and I want quality time alone–we’d eloped just weeks before our hike, and this Continental Divide-crossing route will not only be my Reader Leader dream trip, but also our honeymoon. And judging from the deserted parking lot at the Chief Mountain entry near the Canadian border, we are off to a good start.

The rewards come quickly on the Pacific Northwest Trail. Just two miles in, we pop through the trees for our first blown-open view of Glacier’s jagged peaks: Sentinel and Bear Mountains, both well over 8,000 feet, with a golden meadow sprawling below, framed with an explosion of purple lupine, beargrass, and fireweed. We are mesmerized. At mile seven, we take a 300-yard side trail to Gros Ventre Falls, a 30-foot cascade spilling into a turquoise pool before coursing down another drop. Rowan can’t resist a swim in the frigid water. That night, we camp at idyllic Glenns Lake Camp at mile 10.5, next to sky blue waters beneath aptly named Pyramid Peak.

Day 2
We cruise along Glenns Lake in awe of the scale of Cosley Ridge and Pyramid Peak. As we begin climbing Stoney Indian, it seems that every 100 feet of elevation gain grants us another mile of sky to see, another lake, waterfall, or row of peaks to appreciate. It’s immediately obvious why Stoney Indian campsite is so sought after: It’s prime real estate, offering a lake and a waterfall, an amazing westerly view, and an open-air privy.

Day 3
We leave camp at 10 a.m. on trail thick with white, confettilike cow parsnip—neck high at times and heavy from last night’s rain. At Waterton Trail, we hear wolves howling, then turn and head north toward Goat Haunt. My spirits warm with the day and shoot sky-high when we arrive at our next campsite at Lake Francis, a teal pool beneath thousand-foot cliffs. From the beach, we see runoff from Dixon Glacier plunging hundreds of feet into the lake, and peaks turning peach in the setting sun.

Day 4
We climb up Brown’s Pass, a 6,255-foot saddle, enjoying Thunderbird Falls as a navigational handrail along the way. When we crest the top, we negotiate a graveyard of pines snapped like matchsticks. Most of the trees had broken at their bases during a late-season avalanche, and snow still obscures the trail. Once we find the path, we lengthen our trekking poles and begin a steep and loose descent to Bowman Lake at mile 43, where we camp beneath 9,000-foot Mts. Peabody and Carter.

Day 5
The seven-mile stretch of trail along Bowman Lake is flat, fast, and breathtaking. The park’s topography changes quite a bit on the west side of the Continental Divide, and when we leave the PNT and turn down Lower Quartz Trail at mile 44 we begin to notice the differences. The trees grow thicker and taller, and the mountains are rounder and gentler than the sharp peaks east of the divide.

Another difference: We don’t see a soul, and our campsite at calm and piney Lower Quartz Lake is deserted. We arrive at camp early, and talk about packing fishing rods the next time, so we can cook a trout dinner. Or maybe even horsepacking one day. Less than an hour later, a couple on horses appears. The husband jumps off his horse and says, “Do you like fish? I’ve heard this lake is full of cutthroats.” After dropping six fish at our feet, the couple rides away to leave us to a private feast. Does the trail magic ever stop?

Day 6
As we hike from Lower Quartz Lake to the Inside North Fork Road crossing at mile 60.7, the sense of being utterly alone becomes palpable. We never see so much as a fresh footprint. We linger by crystal-clear Lower Quartz Creek and have a languid swim in its shallow (and warm) waters.

After crossing the road, we continue south to Logging Lake Trail. “Would you mind silencing your bear bell?” Rowan asks. “The incessant jingle is grating. And I’d love to see a bear.” Who was I to argue with a man who had lived with lions? So, against my better judgment, I silence my bell, and zip my lips.

We hike 30 minutes before seeing a grizzly 20 yards off the trail. It behaves like every other bear I’ve ever encountered and takes off. My reaction? Mark a waypoint! After all, I had become a trail reporter and thought the editors of Backpacker would like their readers to have such a juicy detail. But the bear only runs a short distance before stopping to stand on its hind legs and get a better view of Rowan. I make some noise, and the bear takes off again. Rowan naturally complains that I cut his first bear encounter short. I roll my eyes and un-silence my bell for the remaining 4.5 miles to our camp at Logging Lake.

Day 7
Logging Lake is a skinny, seven-mile-long pool tucked into a tight valley that hardly anybody goes to. The reason? The trail along its banks dead-ends, so it’s not useful for big circuits. We’d planned on camping at trail’s end, just 4.5 miles away, for our final night. But when we awake the next morning, we want to be still—we put in more than 70 miles, are sore, and already have a prime campsite on the beach of this inviting lake. Nothing sounds better than spending a day lounging by the water—enjoying this remote and sublime landscape to the fullest—before hiking back out to the road. It is our honeymoon, after all.

Shuttle Glacier Transportation (406) 892-3390; glaciertransportation.com

Contact (406) 888-7800; nps.gov/glac

-Text and mapping by Colleen Contricsiane-Lewis

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 133.3

Waypoints

PNT001

Location: 48.995966, -113.659884

The route begins from this parking area on the west side of MT 17/Chief Mountain Hwy, just south of Chief Mountain Customs.

PNT002

Location: 48.988047, -113.667126

Descend a series of switchbacks to the Belly River.

PNT003

Location: 48.975936, -113.678799

Turn left, heading south.

PNT004

Location: 48.933129, -113.713045

Turn right at T-junction.

PNT005

Location: 48.931215, -113.740511

Turn left for a quick out-and-back to Gros Ventre Falls, a 30-foot cascade spilling into a turquoise pool before coursing down another drop.

PNT006

Location: 48.914617, -113.779371

Glenns Lake Camp: Spend the night next to sky blue waters beneath aptly named Pyramid Peak.

PNT007

Location: 48.880672, -113.837085

Stop for views of Paiota Falls.

PNT008

Location: 48.878345, -113.841037

Look back for views of Glenns Lake and Cosley Ridge.

PNT009

Location: 48.871687, -113.849902

Pass Paiota Falls.

PNT010

Location: 48.877756, -113.858957

During the climb to Stoney Indian Pass, it will seem like every 100 feet of elevation
gain grants another mile of sky to see, another lake, waterfall, or row of peaks to
appreciate.

PNT011

Location: 48.88172, -113.865093

Stoney Indian Pass: Take in five-star views from this 6,908-foot perch. Next: Descend to Stoney Indian Lake.

PNT012

Location: 48.887238, -113.869042

Stoney Indian campsite: This site is prime real estate, offering a lake and a waterfall, an amazing westerly view.
and an open-air privy. Next day: Descend northwest along Pass Creek.

PNT013

Location: 48.897622, -113.905091

Turn right, heading north up Waterton Valley to the southern tip of Waterton Lake.

PNT014

Location: 48.957418, -113.892474

Turn right to visit the Waterton Ranger Station. Turn left to continue the loop.

PNT015

Location: 48.957982, -113.892158

Waterton Ranger Station

PNT016

Location: 48.953846, -113.901486

Cross a suspension bridge.

PNT017

Location: 48.958028, -113.903815

Turn left, heading west.

PNT018

Location: 48.945602, -113.942798

Lake Janet

PNT019

Location: 48.940938, -114.004912

This camp at Lake Francis overlooks a teal pool beneath thousand-foot cliffs. From the beach, look for runoff from Dixon Glacier plunging hundreds of feet into the lake, and peaks turning peach in the setting sun.

PNT020

Location: 48.947848, -114.023581

Pass Thunderbird Pond, then begin climb to Brown Pass.

PNT021

Location: 48.950794, -114.035584

Crest Brown Pass (also the Continental Divide).

PNT022

Location: 48.903682, -114.121292

Camp at Bowman Lake beneath 9,000-foot Mts. Peabody and Carter. Next day: The seven-mile stretch of trail along Bowman Lake is flat, fast, and breathtaking.

PNT023

Location: 48.828368, -114.188676

Turn right (south). Ahead, the trees grow thicker and taller, and the mountains are rounder and gentler than the sharp peaks east of the divide.

PNT023

Location: 48.811612, -114.193311

Crest Quartz Ridge, then drop down the backside.

PNT024

Location: 48.798638, -114.173183

If you're lucky, you won't see a soul at this campsite on calm and piney Lower Quartz Lake. The route runs south from here.

PNT025

Location: 48.725185, -114.22819

Turn left, heading south-southeast.

PNT026

Location: 48.69909, -114.19374

Turn left on Logging Lake Trail.

PNT027

Location: 48.697617, -114.193203

Optional: Spend the night at Logging Creek Camp.

PNT028

Location: 48.706989, -114.183288

Keep your eyes open for grizzly bears: our map contributor spotted on here.

PNT029

Location: 48.742833, -114.125204

Campsite at Logging Lake, a skinny, seven-mile-long pool tucked into a tight valley that hardly anybody goes to.

PNT030

Location: 48.767505, -114.051604

Hikers also have the option of staying at this site on Logging Lake. From here, turn around and hike back to the road, or continue to the end of the trail at the northern tip of Grace Lake.

Glacier National Park

Location: 48.986549, -113.671972

Small Pond

Location: 48.975826, -113.678696

Small Pond

Location: 48.975825, -113.678703

Pack Animals

Location: 48.951681, -113.694575

Meadow

Location: 48.943091, -113.703491

Trail Sign

Location: 48.933593, -113.713294

Footbridge

Location: 48.934673, -113.71521

Footbridge

Location: 48.934681, -113.715217

Gros Ventre Falls

Location: 48.930836, -113.740356

Gros Ventre Falls

Location: 48.930845, -113.740344

Views near Cosley Lake

Location: 48.927313, -113.747159

Glenns Lake

Location: 48.914673, -113.779285

Glenns Lake

Location: 48.914624, -113.779221

Wildflowers

Location: 48.882638, -113.833251

Waterfall

Location: 48.880691, -113.836813

Trailside Views

Location: 48.878419, -113.840718

Trailside Views

Location: 48.878264, -113.840804

Creek Crossing

Location: 48.874933, -113.846383

Views from Stoney Indian Pass

Location: 48.881735, -113.864665

Waterton Lake

Location: 48.958073, -113.892066

Ranger Station

Location: 48.957996, -113.892034

Suspension Bridge

Location: 48.953875, -113.9011

Lake Janet

Location: 48.945617, -113.942213

Lake Frances

Location: 48.940325, -114.004827

Lake Francis in the morning

Location: 48.940064, -114.004751

Lake Frances

Location: 48.939972, -114.004891