When Jake Bramante decided his life needed a reboot in 2009, he quit his job, sold his house, and headed for Glacier National Park. He became the first person to hike all 734 miles of Glacier’s trails in one year, then compiled his stories, videos, and maps on a website—hike734.com—to help you, should you want to live the dream, too.
The Wildest Wilds
The 6-mile out-and-back to Preston Park has it all—including an option to extend. From the Siyeh Bend trailhead, climb through a fir forest to the alpine meadow, Bramante’s favorite nap locale. Make plenty of noise as you approach this grizzly hangout (rent bear spray at Glacier Outfitters in Apgar). You may spy the bears hunting moths and marmots on the surrounding slopes. Settle in for lunch among the lavender showy fleabanes, purple gentians, yellow twin arnicas, and white dryas (peak bloom at the end of July). At 10,014 feet, Mt. Siyeh’s sheer face of striated limestone lords to the north, while Piegan Glacier, one of the park’s 26 remaining glaciers, nestles in a cirque at the end of the valley. Turn around for easy logistics, or continue over Siyeh Pass and beneath the enormous Sexton Glacier to close a 10-mile point-to-point at the Sunrift Gorge trailhead (grab a free shuttle back to your car before the last ride at 4:43 p.m.).
Stray far from the beaten path when you head to the Two Medicine area in Glacier’s southeast corner. There, soak in the alpine solitude on a quiet, 10.2-mile out-and-back to Firebrand Pass, where berries burst from the underbrush in August. Find the trailhead on US 2 near mile marker 203, then meander through mountain meadows and aspen stands en route to a high basin at mile 4.5. Along the way, huckleberries are ripe for picking (park rules allow you to collect up to a quart).
Bramante swears by the 17.9-mile Pitamakan-Dawson Loop—a much quieter alternative to the popular Highline Trail. “It’s the closest thing to peakbagging that you can have on-trail in Glacier,” he says. “You get epic views the whole hike.” Bramante prefers to do it counterclockwise to enjoy the 2-mile boat ride across Two Medicine Lake at the back end of the trip (or skip the tour boat altogether by hiking 3.1 miles along the shore). From the Two Medicine Campground, take the Oldman Lake Trail through the pines, then climb to the scree-filled saddle below 8,781-foot Mt. Morgan at mile 7.6. Follow the shale 3.2 miles along the ridgeline high above gray peaks, green drainages, and blue alpine lakes. Tackle a steep descent into Bighorn Basin, where the area’s namesake sheep loiter with their lambs (peak cuteness in late July). Camp at a mountain goat favorite, No Name Lake, in the shadow of Pumpelly Pillar’s twisted mudstone column. Close the loop by skirting meadows of purple harebell, blue gentian, and white mountain deathcamas. (Take the .9-mile spur to the boat docks; buy a $14 ticket on-board or online.)
To sample the best of the Many Glacier area without the crowds, stop just before you reach its heart. On Many Glacier Road, pull over 1.5 miles short of the ranger station at the Apikuni Falls trailhead to tick off a 27-mile, three-day loop. Pick up the trail to Poia Lake and trek 6.5 miles through aspens, keeping an eye out for elk as you follow a 5,600-foot ridge. Take a dip in Poia’s clear water (Bramante says it’s one of Glacier’s “warmest” lakes), lounge on the pebble beach, and set up camp for a night beneath bare limestone. On day two, log a 10-mile push by climbing to Redgap Pass, which overlooks two river drainages and the teardrop of Kennedy Lake. Drop down the scree slope and continue to Elizabeth Lake at mile 17, where Bramante, a self-described “bird nerd,” once did a loon survey. He recommends overnighting at the lake’s outlet to catch the loons’ eerie calls and morning reflections of the surrounding 9,000-foot peaks. Next day, backtrack to the junction below Redgap Pass and bear south to walk through the 250-foot Ptarmigan Tunnel, carved into pink rock. Now in the main Many Glacier area, you may encounter some hikers, but the historic tunnel is worth the company. At the road, walk 1.5 miles east to your car.
For the best sweat-to-scenery ratio in the park, tackle the 12.5-mile out-and-back to Cracker Lake. From the historic Many Glacier Hotel, follow a creek all the way to the glacial cirque (just 1,500 feet of gain), passing summer flora like purple sky pilots, white dryas, pink wild roses, and red-spotted saxifrages. If high wind doesn’t turn you around, camp beneath the 3,000-foot cliffs that tower over the half-mile-wide tarn.
Season Mid-July to late September, though high passes may not open until mid-August depending on snowpack. Permit Required for overnights ($40 application fee + $7/night per person); reserve online. Walk-in permits available day of. Contact