Last year we made a reconnaissance visit to Glacier National Park – our first time back in almost 30 years. We did one hike (Scalplock Mountain Lookout) in the extreme southern end of the park but were put off by the hoards swarming around the hikes further north. We gave it another try this year and (almost by chance) hit on the perfect time to visit the park: between the last week in August and the concession closures in mid-Spetember. By then most folks are past their holidays and the crowds have thinned considerably. This time we stayed at the Many Glacier Hotel (very nice, but there’s also a motor hotel and a campground nearby). Several major trails start right from the hotel’s backdoor and there is also a hotel shuttle (not free) that connects with the National Park Service (NPS) shuttle (free) that runs across the park.
To hike Piegan Pass, we used the hotel and then the NPS shuttle to get us to Siyeh Bend on the Going-to-the-Sun (G-T-S) Highway. Using the shuttle system allowed us to hike a 13 mile, 1,600 feet of elevation gain, loop without a car or car shuttle.
From the shuttle stop a Siyeh Bend, we took the cut-off trail up to the Piegan Pass Trail. The cutoff trail climbs on gentle switchbacks through a thick forest (with us hollering the whole way to warn the grizzly bears – which are NO JOKE in this park – one major trail was closed due to bear activity and there were several sightings around the lakes) before joining the Piegan Pass Trail, which then continues to emerge into an open mixture of forests and meadows,
and then across open slopes toward the pass (8,000 feet). Cataract Mountain is on the right.
Looking back, we could see our starting point on the G-T-S Highway at Siyeh Bend. Pollock Mountain is on the right.
From the pass, the trail drops in the Cataract Creek valley, bordered by high cliffs to the west and steep, open slopes to the east.
There are a number of falls and glacial runoff drainages visible from the trail, but the biggest fall is Morning Eagle.
The trail continues down the Cataract drainage through open meadows and krummholtz forest, with spectacular views of 2,000 foot cliffs and sharply defined peaks (such as Angel Wing) to the west.
The trail eventually levels off in forest (necessitating more shouting and talking to warn the bears),
then passes Lake Josephine and Swiftcurrent Lake,
before reaching Many Glacier Hotel. The weather was excellent and, because peak tourist season ends in mid-August, there were few hikers on the trail (we saw 5 other people the whole day). Compared to the Columbia River Gorge, the trails here are gentle (but generally above 6,000 feet) and offer totally awe inspiring views of mountains and lakes. We’re planning to come here again next year if work allows.