Glacier Park's best hiking route

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of February 21-28, 1996
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Glacier Park's best hiking route
Q: I recently went on a one-week backcountry trip in Kauai, Hawaii. It was the Na Pali Coast hike to Kalalau. Can you recommend any other backcountry hikes that combine the challenges and picturesque rewards of the Na Pali hike? I'm willing to travel anywhere in the world, but it has to be suitable for a July or August trip.
Mary Soranno
Minneapolis, MN
[email protected]
Rugged and rife with grizzlies, Glacier offers spectacular backpacking
A: With the world as your oyster, there are countless multiday treks in every corner of the globe that deserve a close look. To narrow the field, though, I recommend a rigorous hike that, in the scheme of things, is practically in your backyard. Plan your trip to Glacier National Park for late August--prime time for hikers and, unfortunately, bears.

The 58-mile-long Great Northern Traverse begins on the west side of the park and skirts the Canada border, crossing truly magnificent Continental Divide terrain before exiting the park at its northeastern boundary. This seven- to ten-day haul through grizzly country begins along Kintla Lake and then climbs to 7,910-foot Boulder Pass on its way to the head of Waterton Lake. Part II takes you another 26 miles through Waterton Valley, up Stoney Indian Pass, and through the wild and beautiful Belly River Valley to the Chief Mountain customs station. Be aware that the area between Boulder Pass and Brown Pass is usually under snow until late August, so you'll need strong legs and snowfield-crossing skills to negotiate this sometimes challenging route.

To find the trailhead, drive 33 miles north from Kalispell on U.S. 2 to the park's West Entrance at West Glacier, then north to the trailhead in Kintla Lake Campground. Pick up your backcountry permit en route at the Apgar Visitor Center near the West Entrance, as the Polebridge Ranger Station--closer to the start--isn't always fully staffed. Permits are available one day in advance and are based on backcountry campsite availability. It's a good idea, then, to be flexible with your route, which might mean staying an extra night at one campsite in order to secure sites along the rest of the route. Keep in mind also that trails may be closed due to higher-than-normal bear activity.

For more information, check the visitor guidebook for Glacier National Park, call the park headquarters at 406-888-5441, and pick up a copy of The Trail Guide to Glacier & Waterton National Parks ($12.95; Falcon Press). As for suggestions for lung-busting but rewarding treks in the other 49 states, check out "The Best Hike in Every State" in the Destinations section of our April 1996 issue, on newsstands and online in mid-March.

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