Gunsight Pass Hiking Guide

gunsight pass

About Gunsight Pass Trail

  • Trail Highlights -Spectacular alpine hiking, lakes, glaciers, lush meadows, abundant wildlife
  • Roundtrip Length – 19 miles
  • Elevation Gain – 5,260 feet
  • Peak Elevation – 7,050 feet
  • Parking Lot — Yes
  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Region – Logan Pass
  • Availability of Water – Yes

Gunsight Pass Trail is one of the most popular backpacking treks in Glacier National Park. I’ve personally hiked it 3 times. Once as a day hike (from beginning to end and I would never recommend anyone do this hike in one day), once as a 2 day backpacking trip and once as a 3 day trip.

If you’re interested, I’ve created a photo tour of Gunsight Trail.

It begins in the St. Mary Valley, traversing rock outcroppings and lush alpine meadows as it climbs to the Continental Divide. From there, the trail descends to Lake McDonald. The views on this hike are beyond spectacular and you’ll have a true, Glacier backcountry experience as you travel through pristine wilderness and some of the most mind-blowing country in the U.S.

If done as a three-day backpacking trip, this is a hike that can be done by people in moderately good shape, as no leg of the trail requires expert hiking ability. People even do it with kids. It can also be done in two days if you want to push yourself a bit harder.

The main objective is to pace yourself and not attempt to cover too much territory in one day. Do it that way and you’ll have the backpacking trip of a lifetime! Be aware that any overnight trip in the park requires a backcountry permit, so be sure to get one before you head off on your trek.

Gunsight Pass Trail Guide

The Gunsight Pass Trailhead starts at Jackson Glacier Overlook and parallels the St. Mary River, crossing Reynolds Creek on a narrow footbridge just past Deadwood Falls at 1.2 miles. For the next 5 miles, you’ll pass through dazzling alpine meadows strewn with wildflowers in summer. At 6.2 miles you’ll arrive at Gunsight Lake.

From here, you’ll be rewarded with awesome views of Gunsight Mountain, Gunsight Pass and the Continental Divide at the other end of the lake. To your right, you’ll see Fusillade Mountain and the trail you’ll climb as it switchbacks up Mount Jackson. The campground here makes for a great first night camping spot.

From here, you’ll cross over a wooden suspension bridge, before climbing steeply up the north face of Mount Jackson. The trek to the top of Gunsight Pass is 3 miles and 1,600 vertical feet. It’s a strenuous hike unless you’re in great shape, but the views along here are awesome, with Gunsight Lake below you, snowmelt streams cascading down the mountain and snowcapped peaks all around.

Once you get to Gunsight Pass at 9.2 miles, you’ll have a great view of the stunning turquoise glacial waters of Lake Ellen Wilson and the snowcaps all around. If the weather isn’t great, there’s a fully enclosed stone shelter with log benches you can take a break in. From here, the trail then switchbacks down to Lincoln Creek Valley and the north side of Lake Ellen Wilson. From here, you’ll follow a .3 mile trail down to the campground at the lake.

From Lake Ellen Wilson, you’ll switchback up to Lincoln Pass at 7,050 feet and Lincoln Lake. Along the way, as with other sections of the trail, you’ll probably come across mountain goats. They’re pretty tame around here and will usually let you come within about 10 feet of them.

As with everywhere in Glacier National Park, you’ll be sharing territory with grizzlies, so always carry bear spray and make plenty of noise when hiking – especially when coming around a bend — to scare them away.

From Lincoln Pass, you’ll be heading down to the Sperry Campground at mile 13.2. The historic Sperry Chalet is .1 mile from the campground. It’s a beautiful stone lodge built by the Great Northern Railway in 1913 and is only reached on foot. If you’ve made reservations well in advance, you can stay at the Sperry Chalet and be pampered with a real bed and some delicious meals. You can also treat yourself to dinner only if you’ve made a reservation.

From here, you’ll descend .2 miles to meet up with the Sperry Glacier Overlook Trail. This final stretch of trail to Lake McDonald has heavy horse and hiker traffic and takes a steep descent, losing 3,300 feet over the next 6.7 miles as it travels through Douglas fir and western red cedar. You’ll cross Snyder Creek and turnoffs to Snyder Lake and Mount Brown Lookout.

You’ll reach your final destination at Going to the Sun Road and Lake McDonald Lodge. Unless you’ve left a car here, you’ll have to catch one of the shuttles back to the trail’s beginning.

Congrats though! You just completed one of the most iconic hiking trails in all of North America! Hope you took lots of pictures!

Additional Gunsight Pass Photos

Check out a full photo tour of Gunsight Pass!

Additional Glacier National Park Hiking Info

Check out other Glacier National Park hiking trails, or head back to the hikes in the Logan Pass area.

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Glacier National Park Travel Guide

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