Jun 12, 2013 at 8:01 pm #1304148
My brother and I, and our two teenage sons are taking a trip to glacier national park from July 18th through the 23rd this year. We are super excited but since we've never been to this area, we are a little lost with our itinerary planning. I'm doing a lot of research on my own, but some sound advice from my fellow BPL'ers would be really appreciated!
I'm looking for a 3-4 night trip in the back country, hiking 8-10 miles per day and getting some fishing in along the way if possible. We don't have permits at this point so I'll need a few options as backup plans since we'll likely need to do a walk up reservation. Any advice on trails and backcountry sites that would fit this bill would be great.
Also, any advice on the Bob Marshall Wilderness as a fall back option would be appreciated.
Thanks!Jun 12, 2013 at 10:55 pm #1996126
@glacierramblerLocale: NW Montana
There are a lot of options here. I'll just list a few to get you started, but the best resource is probably Erik Molvar's very excellent hiking guide to the park. For fishing, Russ Schneider's fishing guide is very helpful as well.
But also know that Glacier is not really a fishing park. You can do a lot of that here, but it's rarely the fishing destination that even a few places nearby are. Honestly, I find that I have to make a decision between the two–better hiking or better fishing (in fact, it's a decision I'm trying to make for this weekend–get to a snowy pass or try a new rod).
Keep in mind that logistics in Glacier can be a real challenge. Make sure you understand where you're beginning and ending. Also, don't rely on the park shuttles to be timely. They're nice, but they're anything but on time (something that's nearly impossible with tourists involved), and construction delays on the Going-to-the-Sun Road only make this worse.
1. The Belly River – Beautiful, low-elevation country with two of the highest mountains in the park rising up from the meadows, lots of lakes and easy logistics in and out. Also very popular and hard to get into. Take Lee Ridge either in or out (in is probably easier, though out is a better aesthetic experience, in my opinion). This little visited spot shouldn't be left off your itinerary in the Belly.
2. The North Fork drainages – Lots of options here. If you want to fish, Grace Lake above Logging Lake is considered some of the best in the park. But because these lakes all end up butting against the cliffs of the divide, there are few longer trip options. The trails also tend to be brushier and have fewer views. The plus side is that they are often easier to get into (except Bowman and Kintla, which are very popular).
3. Two Medicine to Walton – This is the only really good hiking and fishing trip that I can come up with right now. The tradeoff is that you'll have both, but not at the same time. Go up to Cobalt Lake and over Two Medicine Pass for some gorgeous hiking. Stop at Lake Isabel for some great fishing. Then hike 15 miles through the woods to get to the Walton Ranger station. Or, you could go back up and over the pass (this might be the best option for views and logistics).
4. Another good option might be to go from St. Mary to Red Eagle Lake, up and over Triple-Divide Pass, and into Cut Bank. That just might make your mileage work. I heard from a guy I was talking to recently while waiting for a backcountry permit that Red Eagle Creek is good fishing; though, I can't say how reliable that information is. You might have some options in Cut Bank as well, but check the fishing guide because I haven't made it into that area for fishing–only hiking. Also, this would be a real challenge logistically, but you could make it work.Jun 13, 2013 at 11:38 am #1996270
John KlinepeterBPL Member
@johnzotkLocale: Northern Rockies, USA
Here is a possible Bob Marshall backup plan. I did this clockwise loop August 4 through 8, 2011. The approximate length is 40 miles, maximum elevation 7000 feet. The walking is relatively easy. There are stream crossings the first and last days but nothing scary. We saw nobody except on the first and last days. I have no knowledge of the fishing opportunities, unfortunately.
On a map look for Highway 89 about half way between Browning and Choteau. There is a road leading into the Swift Dam. A parking area (county park?) is just to the left as you approach the dam. The trail head is not particularly well marked and is between your car and the dam. The route takes you south along the reservoir to Gateway Pass, Gateway Gorge, north along Strawberry Creek to Badger Pass, a side trip part way up Family Peak (my avatar) for the views, then back to the trail head via the North Fork of Birch Creek. Note that the area north of Swift Dam is on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation and requires a $10 per person Conservation Permit (2011 data). It appears to be possible to bypass the Reservation by taking trail #171 (Blind Creek) south from the No. Fork of Birch Creek, adding some mileage but also adding what appears to be nice scenery (per satellite photos) in the Mts. Richmond and Sentinel area.
I suspect you will be able to obtain a permit for Glacier Park. Have a great time wherever you go!Jun 13, 2013 at 2:54 pm #1996363
Hi Skip. Sounds like you've done some good research. Mid-July will be getting crowded, but will be better permit-wise than August. I'll keep my suggestions terse and let you fill in the gaps. Ask more questions if necessary.
Belly to Many (pay shuttles available)
-Lee Ridge up and down to Gable Creek CG, fishing in Belly River is pretty good.
-Easy day up to Cosley Lake, fish the Mokowanis River on the way up.
-Liz Lake head or Helen Lake. Never fished them, but I hear it's not bad.
-To many via the tunnel or Redgap Pass.
Two Med to St. Mary (or vice versa, also pay shuttle)
-fishing in Red Eagle lake and in creek below the lake is good, Med Griz lake is also good
If you want fishing more than mountains the Bob will probably serve you better. A simple out and back on the South Fork from Meadow Creek up to the White River and back is a fine trip. You can also access Badger Pass from the CDT trailhead at Marias Pass. That area doesn't get so much traffic, and the S Fork Two med river fishes decently. You could also do a loop out of Gibson reservoir. Hike north from the parking area, then west over a pass (can't recall name) down to the N Fork Sun, which is big, scenic, and fishes well.Jun 13, 2013 at 8:10 pm #1996457
Great info folks!!!! The trip is definitely more about the mountains, the hiking and the wildlife. Fishing with my tenkara setup is really just a bonus. All of these trips look awesome – I especially like the look of the Bellly area.
Any input on the Nyack/Coal creek loop? The elevations are fairly low but the logistics would be easy given the loop and there seems to be lots of water along the loop.
Dave, who operates the pay shuttles? I see the Glacier Park Inc red bus shuttles but they don't appear to go to the Belly area.
Any advice on hammock camping at the backcountry sites? I could go to the ground but I'd prefer not to.
I'll be getting in late afternoon on Thursday. Are there any portion of the front country campgrounds reserved for backpackers like Yosemite has?
-SkipJun 13, 2013 at 8:20 pm #1996458
John, this looks like a great option! Thanks for the input. I love the idea of being able to camp wherever you want and the isolation of the Bobs. That said, it's hard to pass up the chance to do GNP! Decisions, decisions…Jun 13, 2013 at 8:51 pm #1996464
GP Inc does the shuttles on the east side. They run from the Chief TH at the border down to the East Glacier lodge, stopping at each major entry point to the park. Not cheap, but effective.
Coal-Nyack is pretty cool, but the ford of the Middle Fork will probably be a bit high, and you can't fish in either creek.
Hammocking in the park is problematic. Sites above 5k may or may not have useable trees, and some lower sites are in burns which may or may not have good trees. Best to have a contingency. At least in the Bob you could hike a bit more and get out of the burn.
Front country camping is actually a big problem. The park CGs tend to fill up fast, and the commercial campgrounds aren't very scenic. Best option is camping on national forest south of the park along Highway 2. There's a campground at Marias Pass, and you can drive a bit up the Highland Road (3 miles east of Marias) and find a nice free site (its a good dirt road).
The Bob has good mountains, but rarely are you in them. In Glacier you can reliably get in the mountains pretty easily.Jun 13, 2013 at 9:13 pm #1996471
Great info Dave – thanks again. Should I even try for an advance reservation at this point or can I assume that things are full?
-SkipJun 21, 2013 at 9:10 am #1998673
Im going to be in the same area (Great Bear / northern Bob Marshall) about a week before Skip and would welcome any input on the weather.
The weather info says 30s at night and 60s during the day for Essex area. This is what we've been planning for, but Ive also been watching GNPs pictures of plowing the Sun road. The amount of snow in those pictures has me a bit worried about our choice of routes with regards to snow cover and also stream crossings. Any words of wisdom?Jun 21, 2013 at 5:32 pm #1998771
The northern Bob is on average lower than Glacier, and tends to get less snow. It's also, again generally speaking, broader and more open and thus melts out faster. Even though Logan Pass might be only 50 miles north of your route, conditions will be pretty different.
Stream crossings probably won't be a problem, unless you're intending to wade the Middle Fork. Melt peaked early and is well on the way down. If you have more specific route questions fire away.Jun 22, 2013 at 7:29 am #1998873
Thanks David, that rebuilds the comfort level that we haven't overlooked something major in our planning and we shouldnt get any start-from-scratch surprises when I call the ranger district office in a week or so.
This will be our first trip to the Bob and we are really looking forward to it!Jul 21, 2013 at 4:52 pm #2008187
Post-trip info about temps etc
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