The Floral Park Traverse is probably the most well known traverse in Glacier National Park, but it’s not for the lazy or unexperienced. Gaining over 4,000 ft of elevation and descending more than 7,000 over 19 miles is well worth the views if you can find the route. Below is the video of our day with the story following. There are also some photos and descriptions to help should you try. My disclaimer is that you need to know your physical abilities, the weather, etc before you go out and give this day a whirl. Like they say on the Zion shuttles, “Your safety is your responsibility”. That being said, enjoy!
My desire to do the famed Floral Park Traverse has been a long running one. It seems like each year I’d make plans to either ski it or hike it, but always had something come up or summer blew past us like it does every year. This year, a friend of mine saw that I had written that I’d like to attempt it this year and so he contacted me and wanted to know if this Fall would work. I emphatically said yes and we were off.
September 7th was the last day of the Park’s free shuttle system and we wanted to take advantage of it as the trip traditionally starts at Logan Pass and ends at Lake McDonald Lodge. We didn’t want to have to be back down by a certain time (as you never know what may happen), so we drove two cars to Lake McDonald Lodge, then took one back to the Transit Center so we could pick up one of the first buses that head all the way up to Logan Pass without stopping. At 8:15am, myself and Kristen, along with our friends Steve and Nancy hit the trail.
The weather was perfect as we walked up the boardwalk to Hidden Pass and the overlook to Hidden Lake. We saw a few collared goats that are part of a study on mountain goat and human interaction as we took the steep trail down to the lake. This is where you leave the trail to head, ultimately, for Sperry Glacier where you’ll join back up with a trail.
We forded the chilly Hidden Creek at the outlet and followed a well worn path along the shores of Hidden Lake. The trick is getting out of the basin. The most common mistake is trying to get out of the basin very early. The classic route out involves following the lake until it bends to the west and picking your way along faint paths until you get to a big boulder field with an obvious path that goes up a ramp to the cliff that’s been looming above you.
From there, we began climbing up to the basin above Hidden Lake’s south shore where a saddle exists between Bearhat Mountain and Dragon’s Tail. When you first get to the saddle and look over, you are staring down crazy cliffs to Avalanche Lake far below. While incredible, this isn’t the route. Follow the ridgeline south and east for views of Sperry Glacier and Comeau Pass in the distance and Floral Park with Mary Baker Lake below you.
While there are a few ways down the steeper incline, we went climbers left until you pass most of the trees where a creek bed forms and we followed that down. If you look at the bottom of the creek that you are in, you’ll see a human trail that goes from it to the lake. Pick your way down the forever slope to the lake.
While having a snack at the lake, a view up towards the Sperry Basin had us chatting about what our route was going to be. We narrowed it down to a couple of options and had some folks in front of us who took one of them and we decided to follow it which worked great. The route we took had us angling to the shelf right above the longest cliff band that reaches to the valley floor. A little navigating of foliage and we were on a sweet rock slab sloping upwards to the moraine that extends down. Staying on the top of this moraine proved to be easier going and we were up in the basin.
From the basin, there are myriad ways to travel across. One option is to stay higher along the base of the glacier while another is going straight through the ponds, rock slab and glacial debris and the third one is to try and skirt it all along the moraines at the edge of the basin. We did a little of all of them.
Our initial approach was going to be to stay a bit higher so we didn’t go up and down as much. At some level, you end up more in the middle going up and down. We saw some obvious steps up on the glacier and were angling to stay high and hit that up. By the time we worked our way there, we underestimated the angle of the slope and how icy it would be. After a few steps, we decided to skirt around towards the south end of the basin and come up the rocks. At least we walked on the glacier a little!
We headed on down near the Little Matterhorn and then walked some wonderful rock slabs up to Comeau Pass, crossed some snow and found our way up to the pass. A one horned goat was uncommonly aggressive in that she eyed us down and then started purposefully walking towards us. Turns out, she was protecting her yearling kid. We gave her space.
Dropping down into Glacier Basin where Sperry Chalet sits is amazing with two hanging lakes, Akaiyan Lake and Feather Woman Lake. As you cut back and forth along the trail, big boulders make you feel like a miniature in a land of giants. We saw numerous marmots and mountain goats with one nanny that had a laceration on her belly and a larger mountain goat (probably male) with a big blood patch on his rump. Our theory was some sort of territorial/maternal protection issue that got rough. The wilds are harsh.
The Fall days are shorter and we took our time a bit much and had to put on headlamps on the last part of the trail. Stories were non-stop and told loudly so that anything around could enjoy them and know that four hikers were coming down. Just before, I recorded my blog while the setting sun kissed the tops of mountains with gold. I had finally hiked the famous Floral Park Traverse.
10 responses to “Floral Park Traverse”
Thanks for posting this! I was in the park in early August and did hikes with a buddy on the 6th, 7th & 8th. While on this trip I had hoped to partially do this route up to the saddle south of Bearhat. but Hidden Lake (beyond the overlook) was closed for bear activity. May I ask how long it took you to get from your start at Logan Pass to Comeau Pass?
[…] through backpacking trip reports I happened across a report talking about the often traveled ‘Floral Park traverse’, ah ha! This 9.5mile off-trail route connected Hidden Lake with Comeau Pass providing the […]
I did this hike on September 5th, 2020 and it was fantastic! Thanks so much for all of the details in your post and video. This was the main source of information that I used to map out our route and it went really well. We knew that we would probably end up walking in the dark whether it would be in the morning or evening and our group of five decided hiking early morning would be best. We decided to leave Logan Pass at 6 AM. We were leaving Hidden lake and heading up to the ridge above Avalanche lake/Floral park when the sun came over the mountains. We took our lunch at Comeau Pass at around 12-1 PM. The views on this hike are out of this world, this is the most beautiful hike I have ever done and I grew up hiking in Glacier. We ended up taking an hour and a half long break that was much needed at Sperry Chalet. The last six miles from the Chalet to Lake McDonald are extremely brutal due too the constant downhill and pure exhaustion from the previous 14 up and down miles. We arrived at our car at 6:15 PM, the total mileage was 20.4 miles. This was not the hardest/most technical hike I have done, but it sure is the longest and most exhausting hike that I have taken on. TIP: I had never used trekking poles before this trip and thought people that used them were sissies. Thankfully I decided to get a pair and bring them along just in case. They are absolute lifesavers, I cant imagine trying to drop down into Floral Park/Mary Becker lake without those poles. They are also helpful on those last 10 miles of straight downhill.
Luke, I’ve seen several references that Floral Park was dangerous, but looking over the path on Google Earth, I just don’t see that. We have a night booked at Sperry Chalet this summer, and are considering this hike in from Logan Pass. I’ve downloaded a GPX track so I don’t see route finding as an issue either. Is there any reason that two people who regularly hike 10-15 miles with 3000-4000′ of elevation gain shouldn’t do this hike?
Hello Scott! What makes this a bit tricky is that it’s off trail and there is route finding. While a GPX track will be super helpful (especially keeping you from dropping down into either the Avalanche Creek drainage or Snyder Creek drainage), it probably won’t be perfect to navigate a few of the features such as the ramp out of Hidden Lake, and the ramp out of Floral Park (and even the tarns/snow below Sperry Glacier). Give yourself plenty of time as it’s way more work than hiking trails. If the weather is iffy, don’t go. If that area gets socked in, it gets really dangerous as it’s hard to figure out where you need to go next.
Thanks for the note Jake, your day hike maps of the parks are fantastic. I’m still not sure if we will attempt Floral Park, we have so many miles of hikes planned out for this summer, the traverse might be too much to work in.
I am planning this very hike, can you tell me what your thoughts are on going in reverse would be ? Start at Lake McDonald Lodge and go to Comeau , then out to Floral Park, and end at Logan Pass?
Couple of things to note.. it’s not a hike, but an off-trail route with the beginning and ending sections being on trail. It’s a huge day and not much room for error. If the weather is looking sketchy at all, turn around as it’s very easy to end up lost. The reason that it’s traditionally done from Logan Pass to Lake McDonald Lodge is that the elevation is in your favor. Logan Pass sits at about 6,600ft while Lake McDonald Lodge sits at about 3,200 feet. There is a lot of elevation change throughout the day as you descend to Hidden Lake, then up on the other side, descend into Floral Park, then ascend back up to Comeau Pass. My back-of-the-napkin math says that if you went from Lake McDonald to Logan Pass, your net gain would be 6,700ft and your net loss would be 3,300ft while those numbers are switched if you start at Logan Pass.
Hike 734 made some great comments regarding the elevation difference that should be considered. Something else to think about is if you do the hike “backwards” you will need to hike up the ridge after Mary Becker lake. I would say that the descent is the hardest part of the hike and I can only imagine trying to hike up that creek bed descent. Something else you want to consider is time management. If you are coming from the lodge, you will get to that ridge later in the afternoon/evening. The last thing I would want to do is try to climb that with limited light. Also, take weather seriously. We have been trying to do the hike this year but have been rained out on both attempts. We are gonna try once more at the beginning of September, but if the weather is not perfect or near perfect, you do not want to attempt this hike.
Luke, thank you ! I know understand all the more reason to do it via Logan pass – thank you.