The long and wonderful hike over Gunsight Pass in Glacier National Park is traditionally done as a two day backpacking trip (or a nice stay at the alpine Sperry Chalet), but we decided to tackle it as an incredible day hike. It was a perfect day full of blue skies, stunning lakes, waterfalls, wildflowers, and a few moose to top it off.
I was hiking with some folks from the Glacier Conservancy as well as some generous donors and their friends. If you love Glacier National Park, consider becoming a member. They do incredible work to help our beloved Glacier National Park.
I’m not sure if you can order up a prettier day for a hike. We dropped off our cars at Lake McDonald Lodge and hopped into a van over to the trailhead at Jackson Glacier Overlook. A couple of the folks on the trip were just hiking to Gunsight Lake, then were going to hike back and drive the van back over.
We started out just before 9am in the cool morning. The birds were singing as we lost elevation down to Reynolds Creek. Just before crossing over the creek, we stopped at Deadwood Falls and watched an American Dipper couple bobbing and diving into the water and fly back to their nest hidden behind an arch along the creek.
From there we crossed over the creek and followed up along the lovely St. Mary River through the trees with occasional looks at the tall peaks across and up the valley. The trail then began to climb through dense shrubs and the views to the headwaters of the river opened up. Blackfoot Glacier and Jackson Glacier sat nestled below the tall, rocky mountains with Mt. Jackson towering above them all.
We followed the valley all the way to the shores of the lake where we had lunch and spotted a couple of moose. We then said goodbye to two of our party, then continued on up through more flowers towards the pass. As the taller foliage gave way to rocks and alpine vegetation, the views got more and more incredible. Another moose was spotted as we passed feeder streams and waterfalls towards the head of the lake.
A couple of snowfields made for some intensity as we traversed their steep faces. There were four in all which took us past more flowers and waterfalls to the shelter cabin at the pass. From here, views on both sides were inspiring and we stopped for another bite to eat overlooking Lake Ellen Wilson with the sounds of falling water in our ears.
We dropped down towards the beautiful lake, past a larger waterfall, then back up through beargrass meadows, passing six mountain goats keeping cool on a snowfield. The hike up towards Lincoln Pass is some work after you’ve already climbed up to Gunsight Pass, but it was worth it. Just before you get to the pass, the traverse through the alpine area is fantastic.
Once at the pass, you can see Sperry Chalet and the other outbuildings. We dropped down there and recharged for the long slog out. We passed more waterfalls as we descended with the trees eventually swallowing us up. At 10.5 hours of hiking and 20 miles later, we finally emerged at Lake McDonald Lodge with sore bodies and happy hearts.
12 responses to “Gunsight Pass 2016”
You Da Man Jake… What a Hike , A long Chogie ,But the Juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
No Place Like Glacier Is There ????
There isn’t! I’m not sure what everything else you said meant, but I think I agree. 😉
Wow, that is one long day! We did the same hike as a backpack last August, staying at Gunsight Lake and Sperry Campground – with the resident mountain goats 🙂 It is awesome!
Your way is more sane. 😀
Hey there – love your insight and really find your map useful!
I have a friend headed over Gunsight in a couple of weeks and wanted to give her insight to the hike. Do you think she should take crampons for the snow fields? In the past when I hiked the Pass, I encountered some small snow fields but not enough to need them – do you think they are necessary now?
I think she’ll be fine. I would recommend trekking poles as that really helps, but they should be much smaller by then. 😀
My favorite hike relived again. Thank you. I was in Glacier a couple of days before but didn’t get to hike. Logan Pass was in gridlock and my company wasn’t up to anything more strenuous than Hidden Lake (not young like me).. A small quibble- you’re fast-panning again- made me dizzy.
I’m pretty sure that I pan quickly every once in awhile because I subconsciously need you to comment. 😉
Just kidding. I appreciate the reminder. It gets hard to video when you have a huge group as people want to keep moving because once you stop with a bigger group, it takes 20 minutes to get going again.
Jake, I was excited to see you hiked Gunsigt pass just days before I am to backpack through over two nights! Q: on the NPS trail status it mentions the large snowfield at 1.5 miles up from Gunsight Lake as “PASSAGE NOT RECOMMEND” – what did you all do at that section? How about the other snowfields? I’ve got crampons and an ice axe (added weight) I can take along. We are backpacking with a 12 year old carrying his own hearty pack and I want to ensure his safe success getting up to the pass.
I don’t think that you’ll need ice axe/crampons. I would bring trekking poles as that makes it much easier. It’s been so hot here and we’re late enough in the season to where they’re melting fast and the snow is usually soft when you go and cross it. Just be careful and take your time.
Hi Jake, my 2 friends and I are taking a trip to GNP 8/12-8/19 and unfortunately weren’t able to secure any backcountry permits for some of the overnight hikes we wanted to do. We’re planning on bringing a few itineraries, but I wanted to see if you had thoughts on our chances of getting any of these. Logistically it’s been kind of difficult to plan our trip not knowing where we’ll be on any given day, especially when you’re trying to see as much of the park as possible. Here are a few options we’re looking at (most start at trailheads and have campsites inbetween). Sorry for the length of this post in advance!
#1 Gunsight Pass
JOE-GUN (4.9M) to GUN-SPE (7.7M) to SPE-STE (6.7M) = 19.3M
1) JOE-GUN-ELL (9.9M) to ELL-SPE-STE (9.4M) = 19.3M
2) STE-SPE-ELL (9.4M) to ELL-GUN (5.0M) to GUN-JOE (4.9M) = 19.3M
3) STE-SPE (6.7M) to SPE-GUN (7.7M) to GUN-JOE (4.9M) = 19.3M
#2 Pitamakan-Dawson Loop
TNE – OLD (7.9M) to OLD to NON (5.4M) to NON-TNE (5.0M) = 18.3M
1) TNE-NON (5.0M) to NON-OLD (5.4M) to OLD-TNE (7.9M) = 18.3M
2) TNE-OLD (7.9M) to OLD to UPT (10.2) to UPT-TNE (6.4) = 24.5M
3) TNE-UPT (6.4M) to UPT to OLD (10.2M) to OLD-TNE (7.9M) = 24.5M
4) TNE-NON-OLD (10.4M) to OLD-TNE (7.9M) = 18.3M
#3 Highline Trail-Piegan Pass
LPE-GRN (7.6M) to GRN-MAN/SCE (7.6M) to MGE-JOE (12.9M) = 28.1M
JOE-MGE (12.9M) to MAN/SCE-GRN (7.6M) to GRN-LPE (7.6M) = 28.1M
#4 Pitamakan Pass
TNE-OLD-MOR (11.1M) to MOR-ATL-REH (13.8M) to REH-REF-REE (6.1M) = 31.0M
REE-REF-REH (8.5M) to REH-ATL (10.7M) to ATL-MOR-OLD-TNE (14.2) = 31.0M
Any other suggestions for a 3 day/2 night and overnight hike would be great. Thanks for this website and your map, they’ve been extremely helpful in planning our trip!
I think you’re solid on your trips… You won’t be able to do the GRN-MAN trip as that needs to be part of a larger trip. You can read more about that in the exceptions section of the park’s backcountry deal here: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/upload/Backcountry-Map-Web.pdf
Also keep an eye out on the walk-in availability as things get closer. Another couple of areas to think about for those dates would involve the Belly River area and Bowman Lake to Hole-in-the-Wall/Boulder Pass.