Best 3 Day Backpacking Trips in Glacier National Park

Hello,

My friend and I are going on an epic road trip in late May-early June, and we’re putting Glacier as our last stop to try to get the best weather.

However, looking through most of the pages for Glacier National Park, I’m finding a lot of proof that a lot of passes will not be easy… or warm.

So, what would be your advice for the best 3 day backpack trip in early June?

Thank you!

Cori

Answer

Hi Cori,

Since you’re from the Rockies, I’m sure you know that there has been an absurdly high late-season snowfall (this response was written in 2011… Late season snowfall and snowfall pack varies by season. I’d recommend contacting the NPS Rangers to find out specifically for whatever year you’re traveling, or drop me a note. I’d be happy to help you out).

While it’s always very challenging to predict what passes will be open in Glacier in early June (err… let me change that–it’s impossible to predict), this season is even more challenging.

I once hiked Gunsight Pass in late June and it was too early. Way too early.

Don’t put you or your buddies in danger–be sure to listen to whatever the Rangers tell you.

If you do decide to brave a mountain pass during this early season, be sure you have the following equipment:

  • Ice axes
  • 4 season tent
  • Extensive first aid kit
  • Bear spray, which is a must for any hiking in Glacier National Park
  • And tell people where you are going!

Most likely, you’re going to have to settle for a low elevation backpacking trip.

Cobalt Lake, near Two Medicine, might be open.

Or, you can hike Bowman Lake or Kintla Lake. They are both near Polebridge, an area I recommend everyone tries to see when visiting Glacier.

The likelihood is you can also hike from Chief Mountain Customs down to Elizabeth and Helen Lake. Ptarmigan Tunnel might be open, but I doubt it.

The bottom line is you’re going to have to improvise due to this insane amount of snowfall and how early in the season you’re going.

Be sure to stop back and share the details of your trip! And great call making Glacier National Park part of your road trip!

~ Perry

Comment from HockeyRef

This year (2011) you’re likely to be limited to valley hikes in June. There’s just too much snow at the upper elevations. That said, keep in mind that you MUST have a permit to go backcountry camping in Glacier. You can apply at a ranger station for a walk-up permit the day BEFORE your planned hike, or you can submit an application in advance by going to http://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm

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Best 3 Day Backpacking Trip in Glacier National Park

Great site! Could you possibly recommend a 3 day backpacking trip through Glacier National Park with great views and wildlife?

I was looking at Gunsight Pass, but it seems that 20 miles is not a lot for 3 days and me and my buddy are in great shape and not afraid of heights. Thanks for your time

Chris

Answer

Hi Chris,

First, great choice for considering Gunsight Pass. It’s one of my favorite hikes in Glacier National Park.

Day 0 (night of Day 1): Park one car at Bowman Lakea. Drive and camp the night at Kintla Lake’s frontcountry campground.

Day 1: Park at Kintla Lake. Hike from Kintla Lake base to Kintla Lake Head. Camp out for the night there. Distance is 6.6 miles and the terrain is rolling hills.

Day 2: Hike from Kintla Lake Head to either Boulder Pass or Hole in the Wall campground. The elevation gain is intense. Something like 3,000 feet in 4 miles (to Boulder Pass). Hole in the Wall campground is about another 2 miles from Boulder Pass. Both are some of the most breathtaking backcountry campgrounds in Glacier National Park.

Day 3: Hike from Boulder Pass or Hole in the Wall to Bowman Lake’s foot. There are TONS of mosquitos, so be warned 🙂

If you’re looking for a more complete itinerary, please don’t forget that I offer personalized montana vacation itineraries

Be sure to take lots of pictures and come back to share your adventure!

Have a great day!

~ Perry

Comment from HockeyRef

Another alternative is the 19-mile Dawson-Pitamakin loop in the Two Medicine area. It includes two passes (Dawson and Pitamakin) plus a spectacular four-mile stretch along the Continental Divide. Campsites are at Oldman Lake and No Name Lake. Total elevation gain is 3,000 feet, and it’s all front-loaded no matter which direction you go in (I personally recommend counter-clockwise with Pitamakin Pass first). This could be turned into a one-nigher if you want, or even a long day hike, which I’ve done twice.

Also, in the Many Glacier area is a loop that includes the Ptarmigan Tunnel, camping at Elizabeth Lake (foot), Red Gap Pass, and camping at Poia Lake. Total mileage is about 30 miles. Not sure of the elevation gain, but there are moderately strenuous climbs to the tunnel and over Reg Gap Pass.

Comment from Fawn

Good evening! This will be our first backcountry trip to Glacier. We will be arriving on the east side Amtrak train and want to spend 3-4 days in the backcountry, would like to ride the shuttle down the Going to the sun road and maybe put a boat shuttle in as well.

How long would it take to hike the Continental Divide Trail from E. Glacier to the northern part of Going to the Sun Road and take the shuttle down to the west Amtrak train?

Is this a good hike/idea? Is there a better more scenic 3-4 day route to fit these things in? Thank you for your help!!

Comment from Perry

I’m sorry, Fawn, but I can’t answer that question. Everyone hikes at a different pace. Generally, you can hike around 3 miles/hour but that doesn’t take into account inclines and declines in terrain.

Comment from Fawn

Hello and thank you for the quick reply! Could you suggest a hike with great scenic views from the East side train depot, including the shuttle down Going to the Sun Road to the west train depot?

It would be great to include a boat shuttle in too. We will spend 3-4 days total in the park. Thank you for your help.

Comment from Perry

Sorry, Fawn, but I’m not familiar with any hikes that meet those needs.

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  1. Hi Perry,
    Three of us are planning a trip to Glacier over this Fourth of July. We are experienced backpackers and two of us live in the Tetons, so we will be acclimated to the elevation. We are planning to arrive from Idaho on the evening of July 3rd, giving us the 4th-6th as full days and the 7th as a half day (heading back in the afternoon for an 8 hour drive). Any recommendations for a 3.5 day, 3 night trip? We’d like elevation gain, spectacular views, and maybe a nice alpine lake. We average about 3 mph flat, 2 mph uphill.
    Thanks!
    Anna

    • Perry Rosenbloom says:

      Hi Anna,

      I’m a big fan of the Bowman > Hole in the Wall > Kintla loop that I mentioned above. You’ll need 2 cars for it though.

      Considering you’ll be there on one of the busiest weekends, I’d recommend reserving a backcountry campground ahead of time (you can do that through the NPS here).

      Another great backcountry trip I’d recommend is starting along Route 2… Hike about 7.2 miles into Park Creek campground (PAR). Then hike 8.7 to Lake Isabelle (ISA). Finally, climb Two Medicine pass and hike down to Two Medicine. That can also be done in 2 days. It’s a good area to go during July 4th weekend as it won’t be nearly as crowded as the Belly (the Many Glacier area).

      Again, you’ll need two cars though. The Bowman > Kintla trip can be done with 1 if you’re OK hitchhiking back :-).

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