Gunsight Pass Trail, Glacier NP - August 11, 2023

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Rhody Seth

Active member
Dec 18, 2015
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Charlestown, RI
Planning our recent trip to Montana, my wife and I figured out the best day for me to have my "big day" where I go off and do a big hike. It would be a bit nerve racking for her knowing I'd be alone in grizzly country and that we'd have no communication until we met up at the end of the day. Logistically, with one car and a 35 minute drive to the park entrance, it was tricky but Glacier National Park has a great shuttle system which worked well. My dutiful wife dropped me off at the Apgar Visitor Center at 6 AM so that I could wait in line for the 7 AM shuttle. There were about half dozen folks ahead of me in line when I arrived and conversation with them passed the time quickly. By the time the shuttle arrived at 6:50 AM there were another twenty or so behind me. I was pleased to get on the first shuttle and more pleased when the driver announced that after making the trip up to Logan Pass (the only stop for the the early morning shuttle ) he would then continue east and make all the subsequent stops. I would not have to worry about jumping between shuttles.

The shuttle ride was a treat in and of itself - the views on the Going to the Sun Road were quickly sublime. And the trail running couple next to me provided lots of info about the peaks we saw and gave me some intel on the hike I'd be doing. By the time the shuttle dropped me off at 8:30 AM I was absolutely beaming and reading to begin.

My hike would be the Gunsight Pass Trail, a twenty mile point to point hike. I would hike from Jackson Overlook past two lakes and over two mountain passes on the way to Lake McDonald, where I would meet my family at the end of the day. Planning this hike, my wife booked a boat ride for her and our daughter at 5:30 PM, with the hope that I would be able to complete the hike by the time it ended. I thought that was very doable, especially with what I had seen of the trails thus far but I'm one of those people that hates being late. Not starting until 8:30 AM, I didn't want to dilly dally.

It was, in short, a spectacular hike. Unlike New England trails which are seemingly criss-crossed with roots on even the flattest of trails, much of these 20 miles were smooth dirt with only a few stretches of loose rock. After the initial miles of dense vegetation and forest, the trail opened up and breathtaking views of mountains surrounded me. The water of Gunsight Lake shown a teal color which didn't seem real and as the trail climbed along side the lake the views got better and better. They like their switchbacks out there and while it makes the trail longer, it offers a different incredible perspective every time you change direction.

Normal Seth blunders abound on the hike - I aggravated a grouse early on which chased me, causing me to drop my bear spray. After battling my way back to retrieve it, I realized I dropped my phone in its place. Dropping my phone would be a reoccurring issue and I almost lost it in a stream crossing. I spied it floating downhill at the last second and managed to spear it with my trekking pole, sliding into the water in the process.

Past Gunsight Pass was Lake Ellen and I began to encounter more people, though they were still few and far between (something I would appreciate more after the heavy traffic we experienced on the Grinnell Glacier Trail). The sights continued to impress and I took the advice of the trail runners and made the short detour up Mt. Lincoln for a spectacular 360 view. From there it was all downhill and past Sperry Chalet it was six miles down to the lake. When I began this hike, I had hoped that if time permitted I'd be able to tackle one of the side trails on this route. I moved fast enough to make this happen, but a blister on my toe was all the excuse I needed to abandon this thought and proceed directly down to Lake McDonald, reaching it at 4 PM. It was packed with tourists enjoying the day and I joined them for a refreshing dip in the lake. My wife soon found me, very relieved that I was done and I saw them off for their boat ride while I relaxed at the lodge.

This was probably the best hike I've ever done, and if you want to watch a 20 minute video of the trip, I'm really happy with how it came out.

Thanks--enjoyed the TR and video. A relative used to work in the park and we visited every other year until I graduated from high school. My parents were day hikers and we hiked a number of the trails.