Extended Backpacking Trips in Glacier National Park – Part 1

Feeling overwhelmed with where to start on planning your extended backpacking trip in Glacier National Park? In this video, Jake helps you find the appropriate resources to get started and provides you with his favorite areas. Part 2 covers some options in detail.


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31 responses to “Extended Backpacking Trips in Glacier National Park – Part 1”

  1. Mike Hein Avatar
    Mike Hein

    Nice start to the topic, Jake. It can be daunting to plan a backpacking trip. I did it last year and for me it was the first time doing overnights at Glacier. It required a lot of attention to detail. Your video emphasizes all the right things: the backcountry guide, the need for a plan B, for starters.

  2. […] do start on planning my extended backpacking trip in Glacier National Park?” In Part 1, I explored resources and approach to getting a great extended backpacking trip in Glacier […]

  3. Jake,

    Great blog, I’m so glad I found this. Always knew about Glacier NP, but after researching, the place looks amazing, and totally geeked up. A few questions, and some background. I have never gone backcountry hiking, but have done an extensive amount of primitive camping in the boundary waters (canoeing). I’m in pretty good shape (fitness level on a 1-5, probably a 3.5/4), will hopefully be in better shape, by the summer for the trip. I’ve never been at altitude. Are treking poles needed?

    Questions, 1) I am focused on the boulder pass trail (going E-W), in late July/Aug. My gf and I are thinking about doing this trail over 5-7 days, with maybe a relaxing day at a cool camp site. How do you get to Goat Haunt? I’ve never hitchhiked, what are the chances of catching a ride on the west side, back down to a place where we can get to Many glacier? What kind of fitness level do you need to be in to hike that trail? Are there an abundance of mosquitoes/black flies/horseflies in the park during that time? We are also looking at staying at Many Glacier lodge for a day or two afterwards. Finally, we are exploring the idea of taking the train. Can you pick up a shuttle on the west side and the going to the sun road, and does it drop off at Many Glacier? Thanks for any information, and all your help. Your videos have been extremely helpful. I am going to check out or buy a book on backpacking in Glacier. So excited.

    One last comment, this is a trial/training run, in order to hike the John Muir trail next year.

    Thanks again.

    1. I think you’ll really enjoy the trip… especially the section by Hole-in-the-Wall and Boulder Pass. Keep an eye out for the trail status reports for the amount of snow in that area. Who knows what that will look like. Late July/August is on the border of snow in the high country. Trekking poles are something that I’m starting to use more and more. They are definitely helpful going over creeks and on snowfields as well as lightening the impact on your knees. You get to Goat Haunt either by hiking there from the Chief Mountain trailhead or driving/getting a shuttle to Waterton, then taking the boat or hiking down Waterton Lake. You could probably hitchhike out. Eventually someone will take you at least to Polebridge, then it’s a matter of finding someone to take you to West Glacier. Once there, you can ride the Park’s free shuttle to the East Side, then take a shuttle from either Xanterra or GPI (see my shuttle blog under backpacking) up to Many Glacier. Hmmm, fitness level. If you’re a fit person, your backpack isn’t crazy heavy and you’ll be taking your time (i.e. shorter days), you should be fine. Bugs are hit or miss in the Park. You might find that they are horrible low and non-existent or minimal high. Different drainages offer different deals. My guess is you’ll find some. Bring bug spray or nets… whatever you do when you’re in Minnesota. 😉 In regards to the train, there are two stops in relation to the Park. East Glacier and Belton on the west side. From East Glacier, there is a paid shuttle that can run you up to Many Glacier. If you go to the Belton stop in West Glacier, you’ll need to walk a little over a mile to the transit center and take the free shuttle to St. Mary and then a paid shuttle. Check out my shuttle blog for details and links. In regards to buying a book on backpacking, consider my day hikes guide. The map alone is worth it. You can see where your steep sections of trail and distances between trail junctions. You’ll appreciate it over the Nat Geo map. 😉

  4. Two questions.
    1. Do you think the ptarmigan tunnel will be open the 19th of July in 2015?
    2. On my trip in July I have the choice of taking either the High-line Trail to Logan’s Pass or Swift-current pass to Many Glacier. Both starting from Granite Park.

    1. 1. It should be!
      2. How are you getting to Granite Park?

    2. 1. I believe that the tunnel opens up on the 17th of July usually. You’re right on the cusp.
      2. I’m not sure how you’re getting to Granite Park without coming from either place unless you’re backpacking from the north (or from Flattop, but that’s not typical). That’s a super hard question as both are fantastic. There is a lot more elevation down to Swiftcurrent, but it’s beautiful and a great way to see a wide variety of wildlife. Over to Logan Pass will be a bit more busy, but you’ll spend the entire time in the alpine with epic views. I would also recommend the back breaking side trail to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. It’s pretty steep, but short and the views of the glacier are more than memorable.

  5. Chase Weir Avatar
    Chase Weir

    Hey Jake, I’m looking at doing about a 4night trip with around 6 friends in early/mid August. I’ve been on a couple hiking trips but never planned one, and I don’t think anyone else has been on one yet. I’m looking at doing your Many Glacier loop through Ptarmigan, Cosley, Stoney Indian Lake, Fifty mountain, granite park but don’t want to be out more than 5 nights if we can help it. If we can get many glaciers head to elizabeth lake foot, could we hike to Cosley and do the Bear Point trip the second day (sleeping at Cosley) or is that too ambitious? The other option I was looking at is start at Many Glacier head, loop around through granite park, fifty mountain, flattop, back at granite, and then out at many glacier. We’d have 2-3 cars so I’m not too worried about setting up shuttles if a loop isn’t the best option though.
    Thanks, Chase

    1. You can do the Northern Circle in 5 days, but you’ll definitely be pushing it. I would recommend that you do it in 6 days/5 nights so you can do it without killing yourself. I would hope that you do a little bit of backpacking beforehand to make sure that your pack feels right and you can pull it off before you turn a dream trip into a march of misery. 😉

      On your second trip, not sure what you mean by “Loop around through Granite Park” as that is a crazy long day unless you’re planning on staying at Fifty again.

      Honestly, I think that your biggest challenge will be getting your sites. Any time you want to get Fifty Mountain, Elizabeth Lake, Granite Park, or Stoney Indian in August, you are pushing it. With 6 people, you need two sites, so you’ll be really pushing it. You might consider two smaller trips instead. Realize that you’ll not see all of Glacier in 6 days and then choose a really great trip and enjoy it. Consider something along the eastern front from Two Medicine to St. Mary or St. Mary to Chief Mountain or start in Many Glacier and explore up to Helen Lake, then up to Stoney Indian Pass and back out Chief. Of course look into getting the Northern Circle and, if you get it, Sweet! If you don’t make sure you have a few other plans.

      1. Chase Weir Avatar
        Chase Weir

        We were looking at 6 days/5 nights for the loop, nights at Elizabeth foot, Cosley, Stoney Indian lake, Fifty Mountain, Granite Park and then off the trail the next night, I just didnt know if Bear Point is a full day in itself or if we could make it from Elizabeth to Cosley in the same day as Bear Point. We have a couple days in campsites beforehand to do some daytrips so we should be able to get our packs felt out. By loop around I meant we would leave the Many Glacier trailhead, sleep at Granite Park the first night, then at Fifty Mountain, then at Flattop, then again at Granite Park, and hike back out at Many Glacier.
        We’ll be reserving the start of April so that should help our luck, but we’ll know well in advance if we have our sites or have to replan.

        1. Yeah, you’ll be fine hiking to Bear Mountain Point in the morning, then over to Elizabeth. As far as hiking from Flattop to Granite, that’s a pretty epicly big day. And regardless of when you’re getting your reservation in, they hold all of the reservations between Jan 1st and April 15th in a big pool, then randomly draw them and fill them out in the order that they’re drawn. What I was saying was that, with two sites needed because of six people and the sites you’d like, your chances are pretty slim. Doesn’t mean you won’t get them, but also start looking at other options. I hope I’m wrong, but I’d start thinking for some “Plan Bs”. 😉

  6. I need a realistic 4 night trip for October 15th, 2015. We have done the north Loop in 5 days. As I should be I worry about weather that time of year. I was thinking the two medicine (dawson Pass Pitamakan loop. Doable that time of year? Any other suggested trips as a backup plan would be appreciated.

    1. I think you’re fine with the Pitamakan/Dawson Loop. The reality of October is that if it’s bad, you’ll be miserable on any trip, but if it’s good, everything is available to you (minus any shuttles). The Park is much quieter and fantastic. I love climbing peaks during that time of year especially. Maybe you could do a trip where you spend two nights at a camp and climb something during the layover day. For example, if you do Pitamakan/Dawson, Flinsch Peak is a great, straightforward climb. (no ropes, technical, etc) As far as alternatives, you could hike up to Hole-in-the-Wall and do a four day trip up there. Maybe Bowman Head or Brown Pass the first night, Boulder Pass the second night, morning climb up Boulder Peak, then move camp to Hole-in-the-Wall, then out the last night. Of course you could just spend two nights at Hole-in-the-Wall instead and climb up to the pass that day… which would be perfect!

  7. Amanda Avatar

    Hi Jake –

    Here is our approved literary. I called the ranger station who said we should pick up our permit at the Apgar ranger station as opposed to Polebridge. I can’t find an address for Apgar anywhere.

    Bowman Lake Campground to Brown Pass (BRO)
    BRO to Hawksbill (HAW)
    HAW to Waterton River (WAT)
    WAT back to BRO

    If we don’t get a walk up permit for the back country Bowman Lake Campground should we be worried? Seems like a long first day in that case. Is there a place at Bowman Lake Campground to leave our truck?

    So many questions! Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

    1. hike734 Avatar

      Apgar is easy to find. Just come in the west entrance in West Glacier, then follow the signs (at the big T after you enter the park, turn left, then make a right where the sign says, “Apgar”). I’m glad you got your reservation. I think Browns Pass is doable in a day… but you’ll definitely want to get an earlier start. When you pick up your permit, I would try to get some different campsites if you can. Hawksbill isn’t one of my favorite campsites and Waterton is just okay. When you get there, see if you can get Hole-in-the-Wall after Brown or maybe get Bowman the first night, then HOL on the second night. If you do the route that is listed, other options would be Francis instead of Hawksbill and Kootenai Lakes instead of Waterton. Just a couple of thoughts. Lake Francis is beautiful, Kootenai Lakes has loads of moose and Browns Pass, Hole-in-the-Wall, and Boulder Pass are all sweet alpine campsites.

      Oh and there is plenty of places to park at Bowman Lake. Just head over to the picnic area, not the campground. 😉

      1. Amanda Avatar

        Thanks so much!!!! I will let you know what happens.

  8. Hey Jake, my friend and I have been trying to plan some section hikes on the CDT for this upcoming summer. Neither of us have every backpacked as much as we plan to on this trip, but are excited to get out and spend some much needed time in the woods after graduating from college. The plan was to go to Colorado and then come to Montana to hike the Glacier Park, but we decided to spend all of our time in Montana. We were going to fly into Kalispell and travel to East Glacier where we would access the trail. We planned going from East Glacier to Two Medicine to GTTS road to Many Glacier to Goat Haunt to take the ferry to Waterton. Allowing ten days on this hike and more if we needed it. This is my first planning trip and I am overwhelmed with what goes into it. I bought books and maps and planned to come to the park in June. In the video above you mention that July is better, but even later is good if you can. We are from North Carolina and I am a teacher, so my time frame is kinda small. Neither of us have a great deal of experience hiking through snow, so what would you advise?

  9. Drew,

    Definitely get Jake’s map. It’s the best. If you follow Jake’s suggestions for his top 10 day hikes as outlined on his map, you’ll have incredible stories to share with your friends back in North Carolina. Plus, if you’re somewhat new to hiking, you won’t be spending a lot of money on backpacking gear if you’re just doing 5 to 15 mile day hikes.

    Over the last 20 years hiking glacier, I’ve noticed it’s getting more and more difficult to get a premium backcountry permit for those pristine and epic Glacier views.

    If you’re flying into Kalispell, then you may want to start by first claiming a campground as your base-camp on the West side of Glacier for a few days – Enjoying Lake McDonald, Avalanche Lake and a little hike along McDonald Creek – then using the shuttle service to Hidden Lake and HighLine Trail.

    Then mid-vacation, pack up and relocate to set up base camp on the east side or even down south over by the Two Medicine area. This way you’re not spending all your time traveling back and forth across the park in traffic while optimizing what little time you have.

    And if you can swing the dates – First two weeks of September the days are still long and the crowds are gone. And mid-October is just stunning when the Larch Pines turn yellow before they drop their needles – betcha didn’t know that!


  10. Tim Macasek Avatar
    Tim Macasek

    Hi Jake, thanks for creating such a great resource for trips to GNP. It can be a little overwhelming. My two friends and I are taking a trip out to GNP August 12-19th and are trying to plan a few overnight hikes. I’ve noticed it’s hard to coordinate things because many of the cabins and hotels within the park are booked. We’d like to try and do a 3 day/2 night and 2 day/1 night with time for a shower and actual meal in between. I believe we’re flying into Kalispell at 12pm on the 12th. I’d like to start off by camping at Avalanche campsite and going up to Avalanche Lake in the late afternoon for sunset. After that, I’m a little lost. I know we’d like to try and use Going-to-the-Sun Road if possible as well. Any good suggestions? I’ve watched your videos and am purchasing your map as a reference tool, but it’s almost information overload! Thanks!

  11. Josh Sanders Avatar
    Josh Sanders

    Hi Jake,
    Thanks so much for the information here, it’s super helpful! I’m planning on getting walk-up permits for a 4-5 day trip sometime between 8/18 and 8/25. Unfortunately we may end up with 5 people, which I know will make it significantly harder. I’ve been looking at the Northern Circle and Northern Traverse and have included some proposed itineraries below, but I’m also wondering if you have a suggestion for another trip that is a bit less traveled that we may have a better shot at getting permits for. Overall, we’d like to prioritize alpine views over solitude (we’d take both if we can get them!), but recognize we may just have to take what’s available this time of year. Thanks in advance for your help!

    Northern Circle (starting at Many Glacier):
    1st night – ELF/ELH (maybe COS if these aren’t available)
    2nd night – MOL (GLH/GLF/MOJ if not available)
    3rd night – STO/KOO (any suggestions here? just going to STO form MOL seems like a shorter day, but not sure how tough the climb is coming over the pass.)
    4th night – FIF (Maybe re-route to FLA if FIF isn’t available, but this seems to make for two long days back-to-back)
    5th night – GRN

    Northern Traverse (starting at Chief Mountain):
    1st night – COS/GLF/GLH
    2nd night – STO (KOO if not available)
    3rd night – WAT (maybe BRO/HOL if we stay the previous night at KOO. Do you have strong opinions on JAN, FRA, or HAW compared to the others in this area?)
    4th night – BRO/HOL
    5th night – UPK (KIN if not available)

    1. hike734 Avatar

      Both trips sound great (I’m concerned about how you’ll do the shuttle for the traverse as there’s no easy way to do it unless you have two cars or generous friends.) Chances of you getting those trips are pretty low with 5 people… as walk-in for those trips is hard enough with one site needed. If you want solitude, the Coal-Nyack loop is cool… limited views compared to other epic routes. I think you’re really going to need to pay attention to walk-in availability as you’re getting closer and take what you can. East side has better views in general. Anything going over a pass gets you to epic alpine.

      1. Josh Sanders Avatar
        Josh Sanders

        Thanks so much Jake, this is super helpful! We’ve been looking at the Coal-Nyack Loop as a backup option – particularly with the fires the last few days, though I know that there aren’t as many big mountain views. If we end up doing that, do you know anything about Ice Lake?(https://www.google.com/maps/place/Ice+Lake/@48.5105615,-113.5777801,3651m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m8!1m2!2m1!1sice+lake+montana!3m4!1s0x53689f29a6bf4ff7:0xc152160c251be40c!8m2!3d48.5095255!4d-113.5798413)

        I can’t find more than a passing mention of it anywhere. The pictures tagged to it on Google Maps look great, but I can’t tell if some of them may have just been mislabeled from Iceberg Lake. Is it worthwhile to make that the second campsite instead of Upper Nyack? Is it accessible by trail, or would we have to do some offtrail hiking (I figure following the Stimson Creek streambed would probably be easiest)?

  12. Hi Jake! LOVE the site- so much great information. I had my first backpacking trip last year, a friend and I did Bowman-Hole in the Wall- Boulder- Bowman-Out. It was a lot (between Bowman and Brown at least) but I survived!

    Looking at some options this year, and I keep coming back to Logan and Highline. We’re planning on three nights this time, but I can’t find much on Flattop (other than it might be dull). Would you see any issues with a Logan-Granite-Fifty-Flattop-Loop(exit) trip? We’ll just have one car so the shuttle sounds like a great option.

    Would it be worth staying at Fifty for two nights and doing some day trips around there and then just going all the way out instead of stopping at Flattop CG?

    Open to any similar suggestions. I’ll be going through all of this other info in the interim

    Anyway, thanks again!

  13. Loyde C Avatar

    Thoughts on Backcountry Lakes
    Hi Jake,
    Well our permit application is in and now we wait to see what we get. Our requested itineraries take us to or past a number of backcountry lakes; Helen, Elizabeth, Mokowanis, Old Man, Red Eagle… Several in our party are excited for the chance to swim in a glacier fed mountain lake. What, advice, comments or warnings do you have for us? We are all strong swimmers (Triathletes) so that is not a concern.

    1. hike734 Avatar

      They are cold, but refreshing! No need to worry about rip tides or anything like that. I wouldn’t necessarily jump in too late in the evening if you get/stay cold easily. I like the afternoon/early evening at the latest to rinse off the salt, then dry off and warm back up before the sun goes down. Good luck on your itinerary!

  14. Jim Waigand Avatar
    Jim Waigand

    Hi. Planning a multi-day Glacier backpack next year. Are there any reliable food drop locations, where we can mail food/supplies to pick up en route? Ranger stations, visitor centers, hotels, campgrounds?

  15. Catherine Avatar

    Great resource! Thanks for sharing. Had to cancel our trip for this year but looking at next year. Thinking I might go in September but I’m interested to hear about water sources for backpacking from KOO (looks like descent source) to FIF (?) to GRN. Would really like to avoid packing water for 2 days especially since those will be longer days. Just sounds like a lot of sources have dried up later in the season. Appreciate any feedback!

  16. Zachary Breaux Avatar
    Zachary Breaux

    Thank you SO MUCH for all of your work on this site, and on HP! I am planing a July/Aug trip for 2021- we will be meeting up with my parents who are doing an “old people train trip” and we finish their trip with them. We will have 4-5 days (total including air travel) before we meet them to backpack in Glacier. Do you think this is enough time for Bowman to Kootenai, then up to Porcupine Lookout? Neither of us has been to Glacier before, coming from Texas we will be conditioning for long days in the months before. We will have contacts who can collect us on roads to start and stop the hike. Does this sound doable? If so, where would we exit to be collected assuming 4 hiking days? If not do you think there is another plan we should make to see the best parts of the park? Thank you!

  17. I’m writing a screenplay and Mt. St. Nicholas is an important, significant character in the story. It’s very early in the writing, and I have two questions you may be able to answer for me. Anything more than that and I’d feel obligated to hire/pay you. That might come, if I can launch this project. As I am sure you can imagine, consciously choosing this place for the setting of a feature film is at the least ballsy, perhaps unrealistic, and possibly impossible. But I also imagine you are drawn to such endeavors. Last post on this site was over a year ago, and you may be dead. If you aren’t, my email is below…

  18. Jake!

    I appreciate your site big time,thanks!
    Am planning a 5 day packing trip to Glacier late August 2024. Was thinking seriously of the Bowman – Kintla Lake route. First which direction do you reccomend? Second was hoping to spend 2 nights at Boulder pass (Hole in the Wall allowing only 1 night stays) for some day hiking. Is this a good idea?

    thanks again

    1. Jake Bramante Avatar
      Jake Bramante

      Gosh, I’m not sure which route would be better. I could make an easy argument either way. I think your bigger issue will be figuring out how to get from one trailhead to the other as well as getting a campsite. Two nights at Boulder Pass would be really cool, although I would probably opt for one at Boulder Pass and one at HOL. Not a lot of “day hiking” up there although there are a couple scrambles to choose from if that’s your jam.

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