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Danni, Amber, and I near Scenic Point in Glacier National Park (photo courtesy of Danni Coffman).

From Saturday, July 21st through Saturday, July 28th, Danni Coffman, Amber Steed, and I backpacked through Glacier National Park in Montana.

The Map

Our seven night, eight day, 134-mile backpacking route in Glacier National Park is penned in red. We began at the Bowman Lake Trailhead and finished at East Glacier. The red circles indicate the backcountry campsites at which we overnighted (image courtesy of Danni Coffman).

The What Went Down

Day 1 | Bowman Lake Trailhead to Brown Pass backcountry campsite | approximately 14 miles

A forest-y walk along the north side of turquoise Bowman Lake. It’s hard to believe this kind of turquoise is made by nature. A short-but-steep climb up to the near side of Brown Pass. The mosquitoes atop Brown Pass are Alaska caliber, from remnant snow still buried in nearby avalanche debris from two winters ago. We flail around the campsite, trying not to be consumed. Danni’s friend, Dave the Glacier National Park Encyclopedia, joins us the first couple of days.

Day 2 | Brown Pass backcountry campsite to Mokowanis Junction backcountry campsite over Stoney Indian Pass | approximately 22 miles

Over the rest of Brown Pass, then a forever descent to the Goat Haunt Ranger Station and the shore of Waterton Lake. You can see Canada from here! A right hook southbound to the easterly turnoff for Stoney Indian Pass. The trail to Stoney Indian Lake is overgrown by cow parsnip taller than us, a bushwhacker’s delight! Wading in Stoney Indian Lake. Hopping/skipping/jumping Stoney Indian Pass. Jaunting past the waterfalls, cascades, and stream crossings on the pass’ east side. Way hungry, but we refuel in camp and peace is restored.

Day 3 | Mokowanis Junction backcountry campsite to Elizabeth Lake backcountry campsite | about nine miles

We say good-bye to Dave, him to the real world, us to Elizabeth Lake. A recovery day, walking on the north shores of Glenns and Cosley Lakes and a zip past Dawn Mist Falls. An all-afternoon lounge on the smooth rocks of Elizabeth Lake’s shore. We sip bourbon from a flask and dunk our toes in cold, cold water.

Day 4 | Elizabeth Lake backcountry campsite to Many Glacier Campground over Redgap Pass | about 20 miles

A windy ascent of Redgap Pass. We disturb the morning meal of a bighorn sheep nursery herd. Leaning into the wind to stay in contact with the Earth. Freezing fingers! A tailwind pushes us down past pretty Poia Lake. Over a tree-d hump and the down the longest of approaches to the Many Glacier developed area. Dinner, beer, and wine (Too much wine!) from the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. Campfire chillin’. Hurrah for half way!

Day 5 | Many Glacier Campground to Reynolds Creek backcountry campsite over Piegan Pass | about 15 miles

We wake up rough around the edges from last night’s debauchery. Moose, a mama and her feisty babe. Piegan Pass, going up! Way beyond treeline and staying there. Lunch at the pass with overzealous ground squirrels, boxing marmots, and one curious bighorn sheep. Piegan Pass, I suspect, is home to unicorns. Downhill and a crossing of the Going to the Sun Road. I now understand why wild animals act so nut-so on roads. Days of woods-y slowness, the pace of nature, then the sudden rush of motorized, metal boxes. We survive, I’m not sure how.

Day 6 | Reynolds Creek backcountry campsite to Atlantic Creek backcountry campsite over Triple Divide Pass | roughly 26 miles

This marathon day is made easier by about 14 miles of flat morning walking. And the arrival of Sonya, another of Danni’s friends. She smells good and tells stories. Danni has fire in her belly and leads the charge. A big black bear on the edge of Saint Mary Lake. A nekkie dip in Red Eagle Lake. Sweet Jesus, the joy of Triple Divide Pass! Celebratory dinner at camp.

Day 7 | Atlantic Creek backcountry campsite to Two Medicine Campground over Pitamakan and Dawson Passes | approximately 18 miles

The sweeping two or three miles between Pitamakan and Dawson Passes on this day, be still my heart. The exposure, the views! Replete rad-ness. Powerwalking down, down, down to Two Medicine Campground at almost four miles per hour. Good-bye Sonya. Camp store snacks! Ice cream, I have never loved you as much as I do today.

Day 8 | Two Medicine Campground to Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier over Scenic Point | about 10 miles

One last high point. Until next time, next year, same people, new place. Walk wild. Feel wild. Be wild.

The Visuals

Click and watch!

The Thanks

Danni: Thanks for planning this stupid-amazing trip and for bringing me along. Thanks for making me laugh so hard I sometimes had to drop my pack and pants to pee on the spot. Thank you for getting us deep into the wild. Thanks for your friendship.

Amber: Thanks for liking me the first day we met. Thanks for the nutty scientist voice. Thanks for liking food as much as you do. I’m only mad that you were less hungover than me after our night in Many Glacier.

Dave: Thanks for the surprise beer, the encyclopedic park knowledge, and for saving my arse when I almost fell in the stream crossing.

Sonya: Thanks for your joy on our marathon day, and for smelling so sweetly when all of us stunk. Thanks for heaving that heavy pack around to prove that girls are tough. Thanks for the killer powerwalk off Dawson Pass!

Ted: Thanks for the shuttles. Without you, we might still be out there. Thanks also for being Danni’s husband and contributing to her coolness.

14 Responses to “Backpacking Montana’s Glacier National Park”

  1. Kathy says:

    Great trip report and video…thanks for sharing!

  2. Danni says:

    Love the slideshow/video and the summary. Thank YOU for being such an awesome friend etc.

  3. Sara says:

    Sounds like such a fun trip! Enjoyed the write-up.

  4. Alli says:

    This looks like an awesome trip! Thanks so much for the play-by-play, I’m hoping my friends and I can do the same/very similar trip next year. Any tips or things you would do differently?

  5. Meghan says:

    Thanks, ladies!

    Alli, I don’t think we would do a single thing differently. Seamless, beautiful mountain play this week was. Thanks for the note and question.

  6. Pam says:

    Meghan, this is beautiful. Love the slideshow, pining for some real mountains here in CT. What kind of pack do you use? I’m in the market for a multi-day pack and I haven’t bought such a thing in 20 years and I’m kind of clueless.

  7. Kendra Ralstin says:

    It does my heart good imagining you girls doing this! I love your awesome haiku-like descriptions. You captured it totally. Yay for you and Danni!

  8. Meghan says:

    Woohoo, thanks JeffO, Pam, and Kendra!

    Pam, I used an Osprey Talon 33 Liter pack. As you can see in the photos, it was a little small for the gear and food I carried on this eight-day trip, as I had to attach the tarp-tent to the outside of the pack. For me, this pack is real comfortable with heavy loads and over the long haul. My best advice for you is to go to your local outdoor store and try on a bunch of packs in the 30 to 40 liter-range. Make sure the salesperson weights them with at least 30 pounds so you can really see what they feel like on. You’ll quickly feel packs that won’t or will feel comfortable for you.

    Kendra! How nice to hear from you! Do you know, we talked about you on our trip, were your ears burning? I’m thinking of running Le Griz and you’ve run Le Griz and so we talked about you. Holla’! Thanks for stopping by and especially for saying hello. 🙂

  9. Pam says:

    Thanks, Meghan. I ended up with an Osprey Ariel 65 (I often have to carry stuff for my kids, so I need a big pack). Took it to the White Mtns in NH last week and it worked perfectly. Barely noticed it was there.

  10. Mark says:

    As a former Montanan, this makes me so jealous. Nice write-up and slideshow.

  11. Lauren says:

    Great write up and video! Question: I really, really want to avoid the mosquitoes. We are headed to kalispell august 9 and heading into the glacier backcountry with our 12 year old daughter, arriving in Waterton by foot/boat by August 12. Do you think we will stay high enough to avoid the bugs if we hike from Granite Pass to Waterton?

    thanks for any advice,
    Lauren

    • Meghan says:

      Lauren,

      I’m by no means an expert on Glacier National Park, but I think you will have a hard time avoiding mosquitoes, sorry! The only real way to escape them is to be out there after a couple hard frosts that will kill the majority of them off–and even then there’s no guarantee because mosquitoes live on such short life cycles that they can hatch out after a couple mild days/nights.

      My best advice is to plan for them. They are most active in the morning and the late afternoon/evening, when the temperatures are mild. They are inactive during the heat of the day and the cold of the night. A headnet, rain jacket, and rain pants (you should already be carrying the rain jacket and pants for weather) serve as a great protective layer. You might still need a bit of DEET-based bug repellent for your hands and face when you pull the net up to eat or drink or the like (I am generally anti-chemical but I think a bit of DEET is necessary to ward off thick hoardes of mosquitoes).

      Also you can do your best to avoid the worst of them, as they will be thickest near to a moist breeding ground like a lake or a swamp and where there’s little air movement and thinnest in drier areas where there is a bit of a breeze (mosquitoes don’t fly well in the wind).

      Sorry if this isn’t the news you wanted to hear, but don’t be discouraged! Just plan ahead and you can still be comfortable.

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