Exploring the Big Sky Country of Glacier National Park

Day 1Siyeh Pass Loop

My first hike in the park was completing the Siyeh loop, starting at Siyeh bend and finishing at Sunrift gorge (going the reverse route tacks on roughly 2k more feet of climbing). The Gaia app tracked this at 10.2 miles and 2,236 feet of elevation.

Entering Preston Park

The hike starts climbing gradually through the forest and continues to do so for about 1.1 miles before hitting the junction with Piegan Pass. Head off to the right and after another 1.8 miles enter Preston Park. Now I don’t know who Preston is, but his or her park is beautiful. Abundant wildflowers and dramatic mountain views are what you behold while walking through this magical alpine valley.

Once through the park you start the switchback climb to Siyeh Pass. At about 700 feet, the climb itself isn’t too aggressive, just enough to get the heart rate high. From this point till the end of the hike you’re in sun exposed terrain so lots of water and sunscreen are a must on a hot, sunny day. Once at the top, views of Matahpi Peak, Mount Siyeh and Goat Mountain command your attention. Continuing on one of the highest maintained trails in Glacier NP, you reach amazing views of Baring Creek Valley, Going-to-the-Sun Mountain and Sexton Glacier. It’s tough to watch where you’re walking when waterfalls, colorful rock formations and scenic vista’s hold your attention.

The Krummholz

Once you’ve switch backed your way towards relatively flat land, you will come across a forest of stunted trees known as krummholz. The last remnants of the hike skirt Baring creek until you reach your final destination at Sunrift gorge trailhead.

Day 2Avalanche Lake & Lake McDonald Kayak

Parking around GNP tends to fill up very early so I kicked off at 6:30am from the Trail of the Cedars. The path through Trail of the Cedar’s is along an ADA friendly boardwalk with information posted about the local flora. Close to where the Avalanche lake trail branches off there is a fantastic view of vibrant Avalanche gorge, worthy of a momentary stop for sure.

The Avalanche trail is 4 miles and Trail of the Cedars 1/2 mile per hikinginglacier.com (I forgot to track via my Gaia app). The trail is a gradual climb through the woods for most of the hike, passing some pretty, moderate sized waterfalls in the beginning. After that it’s fairly straightforward with little to see along the way (IMO).

However, the lake itself does not disappoint. Three dramatic waterfalls originating from the unseen Sperry Glacier flow down from Little Matterhorn to feed the lake. A hiker I met along the shoreline said he felt like he was in a scene from Jurassic Park. I followed the shoreline until the trail closure (due to bear activity) and found a quiet spot to sit on a rock and enjoy the views of the lake. It’s a short, relatively easy hike with a good payoff, as long as you start early!

Avalanche Lake

After the hike, I got my kayak inspected and launched on Lake McDonald from Sprague Creek Camp. If one is looking for solitude, this is where it’s found. I practically had the lake to myself short of a couple other kayakers’ way off in the distance. After about 1.5 hours the wind quickly picked up and forced me to dig my paddles in and grind it out back to shore. Kayaks and paddleboards can be rented from Apgar village if you’re interested and don’t have your own watercraft.  That is if chilling in complete solitude on a pristine lake surrounded by mountains is your thing.

View of Lake McDonald from Kayak
View of Lake McDonald from Kayak

Day 3 – Highline Trail

This hike is rated #1 in the park and for good reason! The trail starts from Logan’s Pass and has you following high above Going to the Sun road for about 2.5 miles before turning to climb up to Haystack pass.

Going to the Sun Road & Logan's Pass
Going to the Sun Road & Logan’s Pass

If you and heights don’t get along than this is likely not the hike for you, if you dig views for days, than this is your jam! The beginning of the hike is known for the cables used for skirting the edge. But to be honest many other parts of the trail are narrower with no safety cables.

Once the trail turns from the pass you begin to hike under the Garden wall on a pretty flat plain. Most of the hike is exposed and there are a couple talus crossings and forested canopies (don’t forget to say hey bear, whistle, sing loudly or otherwise make noise when approaching the forested areas or blind corners).

At 6.9 miles, you come to the junction for the Grinnell glacier overlook (the word overlook is a stretch as you are really just on the knife edge of the Continental Divide). At 0.6 miles and 900 feet of elevation, this spur trail will leave your thighs burning. There’s no mixing words, it’s an uphill slog the whole way. But the views of Grinnell Glacier and The Salamander, totally worth it! The effect of the glacial sediment coloring Grinnell Lake looks like something out of a Bob Ross painting. The day I hiked up, sunny skies quickly turned into a rainstorm which perfectly timed its arrival with mine at the mountaintop. The hike back down isn’t forgiving on the knees or the mindset when wet and slippery.

Grinnell Glacier & The Salamander
Grinnell Glacier and The Salamander

Once back on the Highline trail, its 0.8 miles to the Granite Park Chalet. This makes for a great hiker pit stop before heading back to the pass or down to the loop trailhead. I had fortunately made friends with some hikers and was able to complete the loop with them vs. hiking back the way I came. In total, the Highline from the pass to the loop trailhead with the Grinnel Glacier side trip was 13.7 miles and 2,014 feet of elevation according to my GPS.

 Day 4 – Bowman Lake

 I headed out to Bowman Lake intending to hike the Numa Ridge lookout trail. I stopped off in Polebridge for the famous Huckleberry bear claws and I can attest that they are worth the hype and the extra ass fat. The road to Bowman Lake is roughly 30 miles from Apgar Village and isn’t paved after the first 10 miles. It’s mostly well grated dirt roads except for the first mile after Polebridge and the last 7 to the lake. Once at the trailhead there were the typical grizzly warning signs as well as a caution to not hike alone or at night…well shit!

I walked along the Bowman lake trail…alone…for about an 8th of a mile before hitting the Numa Ridge trail split off. After giving myself a five minute pep talk, I headed up the trail. As I was hiking, I clanked my poles and kept clearing my throat to alert any potential wildlife of my presence. About a mile into walking through the dense forest, I still hadn’t seen any other humans and kept thinking to myself how stupid this was.

Bowman Lake

I was so freaked out about bears, hiking alone, and knowing that not a single soul knew where I was, that I wasn’t even enjoying the hike. Deciding I didn’t want to be a cautionary tale, I turned around and went back down to hang out by the lake. I found a little quiet spot to journal, reflect on my trip thus far, and just enjoy the beauty around me. Maybe I would’ve been fine, perhaps I wouldn’t have seen any wildlife whatsoever. But it wasn’t a chance I was willing to take for a few mountaintop pics.

Day 5 – Gunsight Lake

After backing out of the previous days hike, I was determined to get into the woods. First I drove out to the Wild Goose lookout because it’s a cool spot, the most photographed part of the park, and it’s the opening shot of the movie, the Shining. After that my hike of the day was to Gunsight Lake which my GPS recorded at 12.3 miles and 1,529 feet of elevation.

After yesterday’s attempt, I was nervous but knew I needed to get out and face my fears. The night before, I read some stat that roughly 200 people have actually been attacked by bears within the park, so with as many people that visit, I figured my odds were good. There was heavy overgrowth on both sides of the trail, many parts being up to my waist or higher…prime places for bears to be. So onward and upward while whistling, which I discovered I am not good at, and talking loudly to myself. I figured a crazy looking, out of tune, disheveled hiker was likely to scare any prey away…and definitely any potential suitors should any have been on the trail.

Mirror Pond & Mount Jackson
Mirror Pond & Mount Jackson

About 3 miles into the hike, a very short opening in the forest reveals a look at mirror pond with Mount Jackson looming high above. Outside of that, there are little views to be had for about the first 4.5 miles of the hike. It’s pretty much soft bushwhacking and talking to oneself. Once the views do open up you get a fantastic view of Mt. Logan, Mt. Jackson, and Blackfoot and Jackson Glaciers. This remains the view until just a little less than a mile before the lake, which you don’t see until your right at it.

Impressive views of Gunsight Mountain open up and the last 0.7 mile is hiking through a very tall meadow of wildflowers with views of Mt Jackson, Gunsight Mountain, Fusillade Mountain and Jackson Glacier. While the first half of the hike doesn’t offer much in the way of views, you get your payoff in the end. Yet another impressive alpine lake fed by multiple waterfalls cascading down from various parts of the mountain.

Day 6Piegan’s Pass

As the first 1.1 miles of the trail is shared with the Siyeh pass trail that I had previously hiked, I moved pretty quickly to the Piegan Pass junction. Once at the junction I took a left and continued to climb through what looked much like Preston Park, respite with wildflowers and picturesque high alpine meadows.

After about 3 miles, the hike makes its way across the talus slopes of Mount Siyeh and affords great views of Piegan Glacier. From this point forward the trail is completely exposed and in late Aug only one minor snow field existed, which was easy to navigate.

Once at the pass, keep walking a couple hundred feet and the views open up to Angel Wing, Bishops Cap and Mount Gould along with sweeping views of Many Glacier valley. Even in summer, pack a jacket as the winds kicks up significantly and temperatures drop about 15 degrees at the top. As with every other hike in GNP, it did not disappoint.

Amazing hikes, ever changing mountain scenery, waterfalls, alpine lakes and meadows, sunsets at lake McDonald, and no Grizzly encounters made for a pretty solid six days at GNP. More pictures from my hikes within GNP can be found by going to my photography site.

Sunset at Lake McDonald
Sunset at Lake McDonald

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