Coal-Fielding Trail

Coal – Fielding Trail

The old South Boundary trail used to run the entire southern length of Glacier National Park along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Today it stops at the Coal Creek trailhead. The southernmost trail that traverses east and west is the Coal-Fielding Trail.

Starting at Coal Creek, you ford the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and work your way up the Coal Creek drainage, crossing it once before you get to the trail junction where you cross it one more time before working your way up and over a ridge. While the Coal Creek trail is pretty well maintained, this trail doesn’t receive much traffic, so the maintenance is a bit lower as well, so it frequently has downfall and other such “adventures” along the way. Most of this area has been burned, so the views are pretty sweet, but offers no protection from the sun.

The next creek drainage you come to is the Muir Creek drainage that you work up and over to eventually come to the Park Creek drainage. (their used to be an old trail that went down along Muir Creek to the South Boundary Trail) I met three all black wolves in this drainage and got a little bit of footage of one of them which is pretty sweet! No real great views as this area is a wooded forest.

After you ford Park Creek, you intersect the Park Creek trail that will take you north over Two Medicine Pass or south to the South Boundary trail. Continuing east has you climbing another ridge to get up and over to the Ole Creek drainage. Once again,there is another trail running north and south. North takes you past Ole Lake to Firebrand Pass while South brings you to the Walton Ranger Station near Essex. You’ll gain a bit more elevation if you choose east and spend time in an airy lodgepole pine forest with some sweet views popping up here and there until you start getting close to the patrol cabin and Elk Mountain trail junction. After that, it’s a short walk to your car across a railroad track and a little road on private property to an awaiting vehicle.

This trip is a bigger trip at over 23 miles and about 6,000 feet of elevation gain with one river crossing and at least 4 creek crossings. It’s a great fall trip and offers some nice solitude and animals that don’t get much human contact.

The following drainages are visited by this trail with links to the blogs
Coal Creek Drainage (Only the Coal Creek drainage, not the Nyack or South Boundary Trail)
Park Creek Drainage (Only the Park Creek drainage, not Two Medicine)
Ole Creek Drainage (Only the Ole Creek Drainage, not Autumn Creek or Firebrand Pass)
Elk Mountain

Coal - Fielding Trail
Aspens in the Fall

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10 responses to “Coal – Fielding Trail”

  1. Mike Kinsella Avatar
    Mike Kinsella

    6000 feet of elevation gain!!!! The Grand Canyon was easier than that!

    1. hike734 Avatar

      But do they have wolves? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Mark Hufstetler Avatar
    Mark Hufstetler

    I’ve thought about trying part of the Fielding-Coal Creek route for years, now, but it always seemed too masochistic … but you made it look like something I ought to try.

    And that last few seconds of video is by far the coolest of the entire Hike 734 series. Totally made my day. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. hike734 Avatar

      Well you can see it on my face when I did the blog. That one was looming pretty foreboding and I think God wanted to give me a little nudge in the middle by giving me quite the experience! Glad it made your day as it certainly did when it happened to me!

  3. Josh F. Avatar

    I hiked COA to PAR last week as part of an 8 day trip, and you are right about the crazy amount of downfall on the Fielding. It definitely tests your mettle as you cross hundreds of trees. Fortunately, we met up with some NPS and Sierra Club volunteers who are working to clear trees and brush near the Park Creek junction to make it a little more passable.

    1. hike734 Avatar

      Did you see my wolves while you were there? ๐Ÿ˜‰

      1. Josh F. Avatar

        No wolves, but I did see four black bears (including two cubs) between PAR and UPP, which was by far the wildlife highlight of the trip.

        1. hike734 Avatar


  4. Hi Jake,
    Iโ€™d like to hike this next fall, do you think the elevation gain would be less doing it in reverse?

    1. Yes it would! See the description here: and note that the way I have it from Coal to Fielding has it gaining more elevation. Your river crossing will be at the end of the day, so give yourself plenty of time so that you have daylight to cross. ๐Ÿ˜€

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