Maximize miles on the trail this summer with this guide
Story & photography by Kay Bjork
Hiking season is way too short for those obsessed with the thrill of reaching farther and higher into the wild and wonderful backcountry, and this year threatens to be even shorter with near-record breaking snow combined with a lackadaisical spring. Many of the trailheads won’t be accessible until July and likely even later in the high country this year. Here is a way to cover more new ground — by hiking trails one way, doing a loop or even a lollipop where minimal steps are repeated.
Two in Glacier
Glacier Park is breaking records in attendance each year for a reason: it’s spectacular. You will have to share the road as well as the trail with many others seeking the splendor of the dramatic peaks, iconic glaciers, wildflower-spattered slopes and turquoise water. So get the most out of the experience by starting your adventure early when the light is gorgeous, the roads and trails are quieter, air is cooler and wildlife are normally more active.
Siyeh Pass One Way
Piegan Pass trail to Sunrift Gorge
Piegan Pass Trailhead to Siyeh Pass
Elevation gain: 2,240 feet
Sunrift Gorge Pullout Trailhead
Elevation gain: 3,440 feet
You either need two cars for this one-way hike or can park your car at Sunrift Gorge and take the free shuttle service back to Siyeh Bend to begin the hike, which has a smaller elevation gain with 2,240 feet versus 3,440 if you start at the Sunrift Gorge. It can also be tricky to catch the last east-side shuttle at 5:18 p.m. if you leave your car at Siyeh Bend and end the hike at Sunrift Gorge. While planning your hike, be sure and check trail conditions with a ranger or on the park’s website because crossings can be treacherous across the east slopes of Matahpi Peak and Going to the Sun Mountain when the trailhead is snow covered. Weather can change quickly and be windy at passes, so consider packing extra clothing.
Plan to hike on a day with clear skies because the views are extraordinary. The trail passes through forest, along creeks and through dramatic mountain scenery. Begin at Piegan Pass Trailhead and follow Siyeh Creek into a forested area for 1.2 miles. When you reach Piegan Pass Trail junction, go left and continue until you reach another junction, where you turn right onto Sieyh Pass Trail, meandering through the magical Preston Park with meadows dappled with wildflowers and subalpine trees. The trail becomes steeper as you climb to Siyeh Pass, but switchbacks take some of the bite out of the trail.
The hike tops out at Siyeh Pass at 8,080 feet, one of the highest passes in the park. Framed by the towering Mount Siyeh, which at 10,003 is one of six peaks in Glacier Park higher than 10,000 feet. Mount Siyeh’s 4,200-foot dramatic north face is one of the highest walls in North America. At the pass you drop down into the open slopes of Baring Creek Valley where Baring Creek tumbles through red rocks and meadows brimming with wildflowers throughout the summer.
Two Medicine Lake Loops
South Shore Trailhead
Use concession boat near South Shore Trailhead for return
Elevation gain: 350 feet
Returning on North Shore Trailhead
Elevation gain: 350 feet
You have two options, and both include a hike on the South Shore Trail, a moderate trail across meadows, over a suspension bridge on Paradise Creek and through forested areas. For the loop hike return on the North Shore Trailhead and for a one-way, you can catch the Sinopah historic boat at the west end of the lake. Tour fees apply. (The cost is $6.75 adults and $3.50 for children. Children under 4 are free.) If the boat is full, take advantage of the wait and take in the views while waiting for the next. If you are touring with a multi-generational family, the Two Medicine Store and boat rentals offer alternative activities for those who want to skip the hike.
Outside Glacier Park
Jewel Basin – Mount Aeneas and Picnic Lakes Loop
Elevation gain: 2,080 feet
Jewel Basin Hiking Area is popular in part because of its proximity, only 30 miles from downtown Kalispell. But that doesn’t overshadow the exceptional beauty and uniqueness of this hikers-only area studded with 25 alpine lakes and offering huge views in the sub-alpine areas. The parking lot fills quickly in the summertime, especially on the weekends, so get started early for this one.
Take the gated road until you reach a junction for several trails. Take #717 to the microwave building and then continue up the ridge to reach Mt. Aeneas where a local goat herd might greet you. It is likely you will also have to share this summit with other hikers, but take in the amazing views before dropping down the backside to reach the trail to Picnic Lakes. Here you will make a rather steep descent that can be snowy with loose gravel, so proceed with caution. To your left in a northerly direction look for the trail beneath Mt. Aeneas that will wind through Picnic Lakes and to Picnic Lakes Notch, which will take you down the Camp Misery Trailhead and back to the parking lot.
Holland Lake Lookout – Sapphire Lake – Upper Holland Lollipop
Elevation gain: 4,000 ft
This trailhead is over an hour from the Kalispell area, but the pretty drive down the Swan Valley, quieter trails and extraordinary scenery make it worthwhile. This is one for seasoned hikers, covering approximately 14 miles with 4,000 feet elevation gained. Expect to meet and yield to horses on this trail, which is one of the main outfitter routes into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Head down Highway 83 until you reach mile marker 35 and go four miles to the trailhead located at the end of the road. Take the Holland-Gordon Trail #35 for 4.2 miles in a section that travels above Holland Falls and Holland Lake with a pretty creek crossing and frequent glimpses of the cascading creek. After 4.2 miles, you will reach Upper Holland Lake. Here you follow the shoreline to reach Trail #120 to Sapphire Lake, a great place for lunch or a dip before making the final ascent to the Holland Lookout. Continue on Trail #120 until you reach the high point, and look for an unmarked trail that leads to the lookout. This is probably the most difficult section of the trail, traversing a steep slope with minimal tread. A less direct but easier route can be found by taking Trail #48 and then Trail #42A to the lookout. Once you reach the old lookout building, take time to soak up the tremendous views before hopping on Trail #42A and then Trail #42 to make a three-mile descent to a junction that will take you back on the Holland-Gordon Trail for the remaining 1.4 miles, the only section you will do twice (making the stick to the “lollipop”). It is a full day of hiking, so you will probably be ready to unload your pack, take your boots off and crack a cold one after this one!
Know Before You Go
With the increase in hikers on all trails, it becomes critically important that hikers are aware of the rules and guidelines made to preserve these wild places for generations to come. Visit the websites or ranger stations to learn how you can be a good steward of these special areas.