Backpack the Triple Divide Pass Trail to Red Eagle Lake

Rate this Adventure 23.5 miles 2380 ft gain  - Loop Trail

Added by Hunter Day

A 3 day / 23.5 backpacking trip in the in a more secluded area in the backcountry of Glacier National Park that takes you along the Continental Divide over Triple Divide Pass. Triple Divide is one of two summits in North America where two continental divides meet, meaning water melt from the summit flows to the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic Ocean. Incredible views of deep glacier carved valleys, large water falls and scenic backcountry lake awaits.

A couple of notes to keep in mind before you start... this is a loop that takes you to a different part of the park so you will either need two vehicles (one for the pickup spot and one to take you to the trailhead) or you will need to hitchhike back to you drop off vehicle. Also you will need to obtain a permit for backcountry camping. Go to the backcountry permit office in either Apgar Village in West Glacier or St. Mary on the East Side of the Park. The campgrounds you will need to apply for are Atlantic Creek Campground, and Red Eagle Lake Campground.  

This adventure is very appealing, especially during the summer because in comparison this trail and area of the park are a hidden gem of sorts. The trailhead of the Continental Divide Trail is located in the Cut Bank area of Glacier National Park, which is found at the end of a 5 mile long gravel road.  This gravel road is found on the east side of Glacier Park between St. Mary Montana and East Glacier Montana along highway 89.  There is a large sign showing you where to turn West and head down the gravel road to the Cut Bank campground/ Trailhead. 

The Hike:

Day 1

The trailhead to Triple Divide Pass is officially called the Pitamakan Trail. This trail takes you to many parts of the Cut Bank area but breaks off to the Continental Divide Trial at mile 3.9. The first stretch of the trip is very easy as you follow the North Fork of Cut Bank Creek for 3.9 miles before you come to a junction, take a RIGHT. The trail will continue for 0.4 miles with slight elevation gain to the Atlantic Creek Campground, the first stop on your journey. Pick out a camp spot, set up camp, hydrate and get some rest because you will need to start early, and cover quite a bit of ground the next day.

Day 2

This will be the most difficult day of your backpacking trip, 10.5 miles total. You start the day with a 2.7 mile stretch and a little over 2,000 ft. elevation gain to Triple Divide Pass. Pack up camp, fill up your water, and get an early start before it gets too hot! First you will come to a junction in the trail 0.3 miles from camp, STAY RIGHT on the continental divide trail that takes you up to the pass. The trail can get really warm because it is exposed to the sun until sundown so hydration the day before is key! As you ascend the trail be weary of Grizzly Bears! In the fall huckleberry bushes at higher elevations are at prime ripeness and a favorite for bears, we ran into a Grizzly only about a mile from camp, be sure you are prepared with bear spray and make a bunch of noise because surprising a bear is the last thing you want. Continue ascending the trail and take in the views once you reach Triple Divide Pass! Medicine Grizzly Lake to your South and your destination of Red Eagle Lake lies hidden in the Hudson Creek Valley to your North! As mentioned before this place is very unique because water that falls or melts on Triple Divide Peak will end up in 3 different oceans. It's all downhill from this spot! 7.8 miles downhill and 2500 ft. to be exact. Take it slow at the start because it's pretty steep, usually windy, and you have a heavy pack on. As you descend you will see the beginning of Hudson Bay Creek in the form of numerous cascades. Again be weary of bears because the beginning of the descent is full of huckleberry bushes. You will continue down the trail for the 7.8 miles crossing Red Eagle Creek by way of two suspension bridges until you see Red Eagle Lake. We stopped along the creek to snack and take a quick 30 minute rest.  Depending on what permit you secured you will either camp at the head or foot of the lake. Set up camp and get rehydrated, eat food, and relax because you will have another  8+ miles the next day.  If your feet are hurting and you are covered in sweat (which is a definite possibility) jump in Red Eagle Lake for a refreshing bath! The views of the lake are incredible, surrounded by dead fall and burned forest and huge mountain peaks it is the perfect place to take in the sunset and enjoy your dinner. 

Day 3:

The hike out from Red Eagle Lake to St.Mary can seem tedious and if you have obligations to get back to civilization it is best to get an early start. You will exit the campground from the North Side of the Lake and follow the only trail out. 8.7 miles on the last day will cap off your adventure, as you follow Red Eagle Creek out there will be multiple crossings by suspension bridge and ascents and descents as you approach large cut banks that have been eroded. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time because if you only had one car you might need quite a bit of time to wave down a ride!

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