Backpack the Continental Divide in Glacier NP

33.4 miles 5257 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Rob Witt

Pristine lakes, gorgeous glaciers, cascading water falls, and impressive mountain peaks. Solitude in the backcountry of Glacier National Park. 3 day 2 night backpacking trip along the Continental Divide Trail (St. Mary to Two Medicine). 33.4 miles with 5,257 ft of elevation up and 4,560 ft of elevation down.

Park your car at the Two Medicine North Shore Trailhead, and take a National Park Shuttle (if they are running during the season--they stop around Labor Day in September) or set up a private shuttle service to St. Mary and the Red Eagle Trailhead (only ~$10-20 bucks a person).

The first day from the Red Eagle Trailhead to Red Eagle HD Campground is a mellow 8.5 miles with 300 feet of elevation gain. A great warm up day. You will hike through open meadows, cross a few bridges over rivers, and travel many miles through an old forest fire with remnants of scorched trees. The Red Eagle Trail connects and merges into the famous Continental Divide Trail, which you will continue on the rest of the journey.

Red Eagle Lake has great views of some impressive mountains in the distance, including the glacier carved valley that you will continue backpacking through the next day towards Triple Divide Pass. For those into photography, Red Eagle Lake has plenty of noteworthy shots, especially around sunset and dusk.

The 2nd day will be tougher than the first days stroll, but is extremely rewarding and worth it. This section to the Atlantic Creek Campground is 10.70 miles long with an elevation gain of 2,680 feet. You will be backpacking through lush forest in this stretch compared to the day before, and surrounded by mountains on both sides as you hike up the valley.

There is a steady climb for the majority of this stretch of the Continental Divide Trail as you continue up the valley towards Triple Divide Pass. As you climb the views will only improve, revealing more and more of the expansiveness of Glacier National Park. When hiking up the many switchbacks, remind yourself to look around; particularly back down from where you came, you will see plenty of new perspectives that you won’t want to miss.

On the other side of the pass, the views open up to what seems like a whole other world. Soak up this view and snag some photographs to help you remember this beautiful area. Medicine Grizzly Lake is seen far below in the valley with multiple cascading waterfalls down the major cliffs. There is another lake nestled higher up in the distance across the valley.

As you descend from the pass you will essentially lose all of the elevation that you had just previously gained. The Atlantic Creek Campground is your next camping destination and is located near, you guessed it, a nice flowing creek.

The third day makes for a long day especially with a pack, so start early and take a few breaks along this beautiful section of the Continental Divide Trail. From the Atlantic Creek Campground to the Two Medicine North Shore Trailhead, you have 14.20 miles to go with 2,277 feet of elevation to gain.

A few miles in you will come to Morning Star Lake, that has a massive glacial cave on the far side of the lake. Once you arrive to the campsite area near the lake, take a load off and dump your packs for a few mins to explore around the other side of the lake to the cave. From the distance the hole in the glacier ice seams tiny but as soon as you approach it, you will begin to notice how large it is. When inside the cave, you’ll find yourself surround in a spacious frozen cave that goes back quite a ways.

After Morning Star Lake you will begin the steady climb up to the Pitamakan Pass. The trail passes by a few more lakes; Katoya Lake, Pitamakan Lake, and an unnamed lake. They are worth at least taking some time to see since you can check them out from near the trail.

Pitamakan Pass also provides impressive panoramic views, that is if clouds aren’t surrounding you. As you descend from Pitamakan Pass you will see Oldman Lake. If you are flexible in your travels and can add another day I would see if you can snag a backcountry camp permit at Oldman Lake. This would break up a long day and allow you some more time to explore the backcountry of Glacier National Park.

The rest of the trail continues down the valley at a steady pace as you pass through more dense forests. You will eventually arrive at the Two Medicine North Shore Trailhead. I highly recommend heading into town to East Glacier (or even the town of Browning) to reward yourself with a hot meal and tasty beverage from one of the many restaurants.

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Overall rating: 

Great hike,

Just finished up this route, and man it was awesome. Due to permitting concerns, we flipped the route and started at Two Medicine and ended at St Marys. As well, we stayed at Morning Star Lake instead of Atlantic, which I think was a great decision. Atlantic is just in brush and not that scenic (just a low flowing creek nearby), whereas Morning Star is right at the base of the lake, and easy enough access to the glacier caves. (To get to the caves, walk the path from Morning Star to Red Eagle for about 5m, then right as you reach the tip of the lake (after the log bridge), turn left and walk alongside the edge of the lake until you can reach the caves. The rightmost cave is the biggest, but the one directly to the left of it is neater since its smaller and easier to walk all the way through. Another way to explain how to get to the caves is from Morning Star campground, walk counter-clockwise around the lake until you can reach the caves...there is no clear path) The passes were stunning, with plenty of opportunity to soak up the views. Once you arrive at the top of Triple Divide Pass, I also suggest taking the .6mi trip to Dawson Pass/Peak and check out those views as well. We managed to finish up our trip at around 2pm so had plenty of time to drive through the Sun Road and hike to Hidden Lake & visit the town of Browning. The walk from Red Eagle to St Marys wasn't too exciting, but had some fun bridge crossings and was a good way to start or end a trip. Thanks for the great suggestion!

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