Outbound Collective logo

Boulder Pass Trail: Kintla Lake to Boulder Pass

Flathead County, Montana

Details

Distance

35.06 miles

Elevation Gain

5600 ft

Route Type

Out-and-Back

Description

Added by Madalyne Staab

Glacier National Park is often touted as one of the best places in the whole USA when it comes to hiking and backpacking, natural scenery and wildlife encounters. With tons of trails to choose from (over 700 miles at last count), it can obviously be tough to decide where exactly you want to explore.

While you will likely see guides and trail reports on such popular hikes as Avalanche Lake, Grinnell Glacier and the Highline Trail, we instead want you to consider adventuring on a bit more off-the-beaten-path trail. In this case - the Boulder Pass Trail, which takes you from the banks of Kintla Lake to the top of a glacier-serrated valley right on the doorsteps of the Canadian Rockies.

Below is our ultimate adventure guide to backpacking the beautiful Boulder Pass Trail.

TOTAL DISTANCE: 17.5 miles one-way, so around 35 miles total

ELEVATION PROFILE: just over 3,000 feet gained

TIME NEEDED: 2-4 days

TRAIL CONDITIONS: easy to follow singletrack trail, is mostly flat from Kintla Lake to the end of Upper Kintla Lake (distance: ~11 miles), then starts to gain elevation up to the pass; lots of larch trees and huckleberry bushes, bit overgrown in places, stunning views of the Agassiz Glacier, water is easily available.

START | The Boulder Pass Trail begins at the Boulder Pass Trailhead which is located at the very end of Inside North Fork Road. Right after the trailhead is the Kintla Lake Campground, which is open until October 31st (though services, like water, close on September 12th). This very remote front-country campground offers campsites, a ranger station, water and bathrooms.

1 | From the trailhead, the singletrack trail starts out quite flat and wooded. About half a mile in you will get to a T in the trail. If you go right you will reach the campground, if you go left you will continue on the Boulder Pass Trail, which follows the banks of Kintla Lake for around 6 miles. Go left.

2 | After 6 forested miles, you will reach the first campground along the trail: Kintla Lake Head Campground. This campground has a really nice spot to make lunch, filter water and go to the bathroom. On our hike out, this is where we stopped to have lunch.

3 | From the first campground, it is around 5 miles to the beginning of Upper Kintla Lake (again, mostly through pine and larch forest). Right before you leave the large Kintla Lake behind you will see a wooden cabin and a small hitching post. From the cabin, you will enter the dense forest once again.

Between the two lakes, you will pass through a large grove of larch trees - that, if you time it right in the year (early October), will be a beautiful shade of gold. This part of the hike was one of our favorites - especially since you also are given some incredible views of the surrounding peaks (including Kinnerly Peak).

After the larch forest, you will spit out into a large open meadow with a rumbling waterfall on the left side. This is a great spot for wildlife spotting - especially grizzly bears.

4 | Upper Kintla Lake is another super pretty crystal clear lake. It is home to bull trout, which are protected. Therefore you are not allowed to fish on Upper Kintla Lake (you are allowed to on the larger Kintla Lake). At the end of Upper Kintla Lake, you will see the second campground (also named Upper Kintla Lake). Here is a great spot to take a rest, filter water, eat a snack and use the bathroom before you start the long climb up to the pass.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: this is also a fantastic place to cool off after the long, 11-mile hike - which, more than likely, left you a bit sweaty.

5 | Once you leave the bank of Upper Kintla Lake, you will quickly start the climb up to the pass. While there really aren’t too many parts of the trail that are super steep - only a couple of sections near the top - it is a steady climb for over 6 miles.

The beginning of this section is through dense pine and larch trees. You will also need to cross a sizeable wooden suspension bridge, which traverses the Kintla River. From the river, you will begin a steady climb higher up the mountainside. Soon enough the dense trees will fall away and you will be out in a more meadow-y landscape. From there, you will have amazing views of the Agassiz Glacier across the valley as well as a sizeable waterfall that tumbles down the mountainside.

6 | Keep hiking up the mountainside - including up a few switchbacks - until you start to cross multiple small streams in quick succession. From this point on the trail, you are within two miles of the top of the pass (you got this!).

Soon enough, you will see a clear flat ridge right above the trail. This is the last section before you top out on Boulder Pass. 

7 | Once the trail begins to flatten out, you will see a large rocky slab in front of you and the large looming Gardner Point (7,359 feet) behind that. Right in front of that mountain is a small copse of pine trees - this is the campground. There will be a metal sign pointing you towards the campground, as well as numerous large rock cairns outlining the way to go. Cross the rock slab and a small gurgling stream (your water source at camp) for about another 5 minutes until you reach the campground. You made it!

BOULDER PASS CAMPGROUND

This super scenic backcountry campground might be one of the best in all of Glacier National Park. It has 3 very flat (and soft) tent sites, a food prep area that is guarded against the wind by tall pine trees, and a pit toilet that might just have one of the best views in the whole Rocky Mountains (everyone raved about this toilet beforehand and it did not disappoint).

We spent two nights at the campground and absolutely loved it. The sunrises and sunsets were magical, as were the stars and view of the Milky Way.

MAKE IT A LOOP

If you don’t want to do an out-and-back backpacking trip, then you have the option to hike out from Boulder Pass towards Brown Pass (7.9 miles away). From the top of Brown Pass, you will descend a few thousand feet in elevation until you reach the Bowman River in the forested valley below. Once you reach the river, you will continue hiking down toward the very large Bowman Lake. Altogether, this loop is around 39 miles long. Do note that you will need a shuttle for this option.

💬 INSIDER TIP: we originally planned on doing the whole loop, but after factoring in the amount of driving it would take between the trailheads, we decided to just do an out and back (plus our real goal was to see Boulder Pass and Hole in the Wall). If you decide to do the whole loop, you can camp at Hole in the Wall, Brown Pass (though most people say this isn’t a great spot), and the head of Bowman Lake.

HEAD UP TO HOLE IN THE WALL

One of the main reasons we chose this backpacking route in particular was the chance to see this incredible mountain destination. To reach Hole-in-the-Wall, just keep hiking along the Boulder Pass Trail for another 6.3 miles or so. Along the way, you will cross over a very cool glacier field (where there are two mesmerizing alpine lakes) before you see a sizeable round valley down below. You will circumvent the whole bowl, before heading down a singletrack trail into the actual stunning Hole-in-the-Wall valley.

There is a backcountry campground here, but make sure to check if it is open (sometimes it closes for environmental reasons). Also, be aware that this is a common place to see bears - grizzly and black bears - so never wander off without your bear spray and keep all food/smelly stuff close by.

We spent an afternoon exploring this area and absolutely loved it. The pine forest, mountain views and numerous waterfalls make it feel like an alpine oasis. Highly recommend!

CONTINUE ON TO GOAT HAUNT

You can also simply keep heading along the Boulder Pass Trail until it reaches Brown Pass (where there is a campground) and then on to Goat Haunt, a specific section of the park. Once you reach the second pass, head to the left and continue hiking east along the Boulder Pass Trail. From Boulder Pass, it is around 13.2 miles to reach the heart of Goat Haunt and the Continental Divide Trail (or around 30 miles from the start of the Boulder Pass Trail). This is another great backpacking option - especially if you want to explore more massive peaks and mountain lakes. 

Backpacking the Boulder Pass Trail gives you an incredible opportunity to explore a much less popular area of Glacier National Park. Plus, it is just absolutely beautiful: jagged mountain peaks, glowing white glaciers, dense larch forests, and crystal clear mountain lakes. Seriously, the whole time we were backpacking we couldn't believe how stunning the whole area was.

CONTACT INFO

The Kintla Lake Ranger Station is located right next to the Kintla Lake Campground just past the trailhead and can be reached at (406) 888-7800

Read More

Download the Outbound mobile app

Find adventures and camping on the go, share photos, use GPX tracks, and download maps for offline use.

Get the app
Download GPX File

Features

Backpacking
Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Forest
Lake
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

Have you done this adventure? Be the first to leave a review!

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Nearby

Kintla Lake Campground

Camp Out at the Hornet Lookout

Kayak Bowman Lake, Glacier NP

Camp at Bowman Lake

Waterton Lake via Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake to Quartz Lake Loop