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Backpacking the Glacier National Park Gunsight Pass Trail

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Glacier National Park is called by many the Crown of the Continent. After spending the last week hiking and backpacking the 20+ miles of the Gunsight Pass Trail, I can see why. It was amazing, wild and spectacular!

Based on some extremely good trip planning advice from Michael Lanza at The Big Outside, we stood in line at the Glacier backcountry permit station for two days and managed to snag reservations for the Gunsight Lake backcountry campground and the Sperry backcountry campground (for my hiking buddy who did not have reservations at the Sperry Chalet).

We were not able to get a permit for the Lake Ellen Wilson campground, which freed up a day, so took the park shuttle up to Logan pass the first day and did a dayhike of the Highline Trail, which is a beautiful alpine trail with spectacular mountain views.

The following day, we started out at the Gunsight Pass trailhead and arrived by the shores of the beautiful Gunsight Lake.

It was an interesting evening and night which included being followed by some rather aggressive mountain goats, and the attempted theft of my trekking poles by a salt-starved deer!

The following day was the hike up the west face of Mount Jackson to Gunsight pass, which included four snow bridge crossings where snow had completely covered the trail. Two of them were relatively easy but the other two were a bit sketchy and included some scrambling!

Once we reached Gunsight pass, which sits between Mount Jackson and Gunsight Mountain, we then descended to Lake Ellen Wilson.

After resting a bit, we then climbed up to Lincoln Pass, which was the highest point of the trail at 7050 feet. By the end of that day, we reached the Sperry campground and the chalet.

We spent two nights at Sperry and used the day in between to hike up to the Sperry Glacier! The hike was led by Janet Paul Bones, a former ranger naturalist in Glacier National Park, and it was spectacular for both the views as well as the knowledge shared!

Some completely random, and totally biased thoughts about this hike and the local area:

  • The backcountry rangers of the National Park Service are some of the friendliest and most helpful people you will meet. The ones we ran into at the offices and in the backcountry were extraordinarily knowledgeable and happy to share that knowledge. Can you say that about any other police force?
  • Hiking over two mountain passes was tough. Next time, will definitely try to break up the day by trying for a night at Lake Ellen Wilson
  • Out of all the U.S. National Parks that I have backpacked in the U.S. (Shenandoah NP, Yosemite NP, Rocky Mountain NP, Yellowstone NP), this has been the closest, from an amazing mountain vista perspective, to what I have experienced in hiking Banff National Park in Canada.
  • We book-ended this trip with stays at the Lake McDonald Lodge. What the lodge has going for it is the location, so it is a good place to hang out and have a bite to eat. I did not find the accommodations to be all that great.
  • Drove out to Whitefish, Montana which was about an hour or so away and also spent a night there. It is a great mountain town and would be the place that I would base myself out of for future visits.
  • Absolutely loved the great coffee and the excellent self-serve huckleberry frozen yogurt at the Red Caboose in Whitefish. The wonderful hospitality shown to two strangers by the hostess Mika (sp?) and the barista Brendon was just delightful!

There were so many trails and places still left unexplored. So this is a place that I will most certainly be back to visit!

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This blog post first appeared on Anil John | Blog ( The opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent my employer’s view in any way.

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