Glacier National Park, Montana
Go for the trekker’s trifecta
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Glacier’s rockexposed in striated walls, razor-sharp arêtes, and ice-carved hornsis ancient. Glacier’s terraina million-acre [404,686-hectare] wilderness that is one of the country’s largest intact ecosystemsis vast.
And Glacier’s bearswell, they’re big. They’re grizzlies. And when you’re far out on a trail, hiking below a pyramid of billion-year-old rock, you’re always aware that the 900-pound [336-kilogram] bruins are out and about with you.
The cerebral cortex offers logical assurances: Grizzlies scatter like rabbits when properly warned of your presence; attacks are exceedingly rare. But the reptilian brain won’t listen. It shifts sight, smell, and hearing into prey mode: The mountains seem sharper, the air purer, other animals more numerous and easier to spot. Glacier jolts you alive like no other place.
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5 Perfect Days
The Ultimate Itinerary
Hit the Going-to-the-Sun Road by 7 a.m., while everyone else is eating breakfast, for clear cruising and hard-to-find trailhead parking at Siyeh Bend. There, take off on an 11-mile [18-kilometer] day hike through Preston Park’s blooming meadows. The rocky, windblown pass into Sunrift Gorge is one of the highest sections of trail in the park.
Down in the gorge, waterfalls spill from Sexton Glacier, high on Matahpi Peak. Plump huckleberries fill the valley in August. Finish by walking one mile [1.6 kilometers] along Saint Mary Lake to the shuttle-bus stop at Sun Point for a lift back to your car. Pop your tent at Cut Bank Campground.
Because Glacier’s showy scenery comes without the serious oxygen deprivation that plagues hikers in higher parks, you can top three passes in a hike without killing yourself. The two-day, 19-mile [31-kilometer] Dawson Pass loop features two scenic passes and a stretch of alpine trail that’s outstanding even by Glacier’s standards.
Start today at Two Medicine Campground and plan to camp at Upper Two Medicine Lake or No Name Lake.
A short, steep climb to Dawson Pass puts you at the start
of one of the finest sky walks anywhere. For three miles [five kilometers] between Dawson Pass and Mount Morgan, the trail follows a narrow ridge. “Nothing but peak upon peakyou’re on top of the world,” says Dick Honrath, who has spent 25 summers hiking every trail in the park.
The homestretch back to Two Medicine follows the Continental Divide Trail.
The 20-mile [32-kilometer], point-to-point backpacking trip from Saint Mary Lake to Lake McDonald has it all: alpine lakes, lots of wildlife, and close-up views of the park’s biggest glaciers.
Hop the park shuttle to reach Sun Point, on Saint Mary Lake. From there, the trail heads west toward Gunsight Pass. Along the way, the Jackson and Blackfoot Glaciers glisten far up-mountain. Camp at Gunsight Lake in a prime stargazing spot.
Gunsight Pass can be covered with snow well into July, so pack an ice ax and know how to self-arrest. Mountain goats frequent the stretch of trail between Lake Ellen Wilson and Gunsight Pass, and wildflowers bloom lavishly. Finish the day’s hike at Lake McDonald Lodge.
Permits: Fill out the advance-reservation application found in the backcountry guide and mail it by April 15. Otherwise, you’ll waste trip time waiting in line for permits.
Contact: For a free backcountry pass, contact Glacier National Park (+1 406 888 7800; www.nps.gov/glac).
For the full Glacier guide, pick up the May 2002Adventure.
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