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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
- Distance: 133.3
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.
Location: 48.988047, -113.667126
Descend a series of switchbacks to the Belly River.
Location: 48.975936, -113.678799
Turn left, heading south.
Location: 48.933129, -113.713045
Turn right at T-junction.
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.
Location: 48.914617, -113.779371
Glenns Lake Camp: Spend the night next to sky blue waters beneath aptly named Pyramid Peak.
Location: 48.880672, -113.837085
Stop for views of Paiota Falls.
Location: 48.878345, -113.841037
Look back for views of Glenns Lake and Cosley Ridge.
Location: 48.871687, -113.849902
Pass Paiota Falls.
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
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.
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.
Location: 48.897622, -113.905091
Turn right, heading north up Waterton Valley to the southern tip of Waterton Lake.
Location: 48.957418, -113.892474
Turn right to visit the Waterton Ranger Station. Turn left to continue the loop.
Location: 48.957982, -113.892158
Waterton Ranger Station
Location: 48.953846, -113.901486
Cross a suspension bridge.
Location: 48.958028, -113.903815
Turn left, heading west.
Location: 48.945602, -113.942798
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.
Location: 48.947848, -114.023581
Pass Thunderbird Pond, then begin climb to Brown Pass.
Location: 48.950794, -114.035584
Crest Brown Pass (also the Continental Divide).
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.
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.
Location: 48.811612, -114.193311
Crest Quartz Ridge, then drop down the backside.
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.
Location: 48.725185, -114.22819
Turn left, heading south-southeast.
Location: 48.69909, -114.19374
Turn left on Logging Lake Trail.
Location: 48.697617, -114.193203
Optional: Spend the night at Logging Creek Camp.
Location: 48.706989, -114.183288
Keep your eyes open for grizzly bears: our map contributor spotted on here.
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.
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
Location: 48.975826, -113.678696
Location: 48.975825, -113.678703
Location: 48.951681, -113.694575
Location: 48.943091, -113.703491
Location: 48.933593, -113.713294
Location: 48.934673, -113.71521
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
Location: 48.914673, -113.779285
Location: 48.914624, -113.779221
Location: 48.882638, -113.833251
Location: 48.880691, -113.836813
Location: 48.878419, -113.840718
Location: 48.878264, -113.840804
Location: 48.874933, -113.846383
Views from Stoney Indian Pass
Location: 48.881735, -113.864665
Location: 48.958073, -113.892066
Location: 48.957996, -113.892034
Location: 48.953875, -113.9011
Location: 48.945617, -113.942213
Location: 48.940325, -114.004827
Lake Francis in the morning
Location: 48.940064, -114.004751
Location: 48.939972, -114.004891