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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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
- Distance: 56.5
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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The Brown Pass Campground is another option for nights one or two.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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This kiosk displays trail info and campground regulations. © Charlie Williams
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Thimbleberry alongside the trail is easily confused with the slightly lager-leafed Devil’s Club. © Charlie Williams
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A view of Bowman Lake from the shore near the campground area. © Charlie Williams
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Climb toward Brown Pass
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Looking to the southeast over Brown Pass toward the Hawksbill. © Charlie Williams
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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
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Cairn-marked talus slopes on the climb toward Boulder Pass. © Charlie Williams
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Looking into Boulder Valley from the trail near the campsite. © Charlie Williams
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Named for Louis Agassiz, the “Father of Glaciology,” look for the glacier as you descend toward Upper Kintla Lake. © Charlie Williams
Upper Kintla Lake
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Views of the lake from the Boulder Pass Trail. © Charlie Williams
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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
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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