Rockwell Falls

. . . a Two Medicine Hike with options

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine

In the southeastern corner of Glacier National Park is a region known as Two Medicine. It’s a place of lore, rich history, and majestic landscapes.

The name can be traced back to an 1801 map drawn by Akomakki, a Blackfeet chief. Peter Fidler, employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company to map the region, somehow ended up with Akomakki’s work. It subsequently became part of the Company’s records. Noted on the drawing is a location the Blackfeet referred to as Na-too-too-Kase – “Place of Two Medicine Lodges.” We know it as the Two Medicine River.6

By the 1890s, Two Medicine was one of the most visited locales in what would become Glacier National Park. The Great Northern Railway (GNR) brought wealthy adventurous souls to Midvale (East Glacier) where they mounted horses and traveled over the Mount Henry Trail to the Two Medicine Valley.4 It didn’t take long for the word to get out.

To accommodate the growing demand, GNR began a bold development campaign. Louis W. Hill, Great Northern Railway’s chairman of the board, commissioned nine Swiss-style chalets between 1910 and 1913.3 On the eastern shore of Two Medicine Lake in 1913, GNR built a large resort which included two chalets,  a dormitory, and a large building that housed the kitchen/dining room. The kitchen and dining hall is the only survivor of that complex. Today, it’s the camp store.7,8 The fireplace in that building provided an appropriate setting for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to deliver his fireside chat to the nation in 1934.3

Excerpt from FDR’s speech:

There is nothing so American as our national parks. The scenery and wildlife are native. The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people, that it is in the process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us. The parks stand as the outward symbol of this great human principle.1

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1934
Glacier National Park: Two Medicine Chalets
Two Medicine Chalets ca. 1914. Courtesy of NPLAS.

Besides the chalets, GNR built miles of trails. These grand routes, with unassuming names like the Northern and Southern Circles, and Inside Trail, were the thoroughfares used by cowboys and wranglers to give guests a backcountry experience second to none. Once the Inside Trail was completed around 1916, guests saddled-up for multi-day horseback trips from Two Medicine to Saint Mary via Pitamakin and Triple Divide Passes.2

After the Going-to-the-Sun Road opened in 1933, the popularity that Two Medicine enjoyed in the early days began to wane. But, it’s bustling again. Don’t be surprised to find the parking lot full before lunchtime.


The Trailhead

Follow the Two Medicine Road past the ranger station toward the lake. You will pass the camp store on your right while entering the small parking lot. Look toward the lake and locate the boat landing. The trailhead is nearby.

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine Lake
Painted Teepee Peak, Sinopah Mountain, Lone Walker Mountain, Mountain Helen, a ridge of Rising Wolf Mountain (left to right)

The sweeping mountain scene from the shore will most likely grab and hold your attention for a while. Sinopah Mountain, across the lake, is the quintessential Glacier. The peak was named after a Blackfeet maiden and the daughter of Lone Walker who was a powerful Blackfeet chief. You can see his mountain in the background to the right of Sinopah. To your right, is a massive red mountain. Its name is Rising Wolf, who was the husband of Sinopah. That was the Blackfeet name given to Hugh Monroe. Born in 1798 in Quebec, he came west at 16 to apprentice with the Hudson’s Bay Company. They sent Monroe to live with the Blackfeet, specifically Chief Lone Walker, and encourage trade.5

To the left (south) of Sinopah Mountain is the pyramid shape of Painted Teepee Peak. Proceeding counterclockwise, Never Laughs Mountain is the next summit. The enormous mass of Appistoki Peak looming in the southeast is unmistakable.


Two Medicine South Shore Trail

This is bear habitat-both grizzly and black. Before you head out, be sure to have bear spray. Educate yourself on when and how to use it. Just as important, let bears know where you are by making noise from time to time. Strong winds ripping through the trees can be deafening. Be loud. 

The path heads out into subalpine fir, lodgepole pine forest. The understory includes bear grass which puts on quite a show in June. Elongated white flower clusters borne at the top of a two to four-foot stalk are spectacular. Huckleberries also grow here. The sought after purple fruit is usually ripe by the end of July to the first part of August. These berries are a significant food source for both black and grizzly bears. So, be especially vigilant during that time.

Fool’s huckleberry or Menziesia shrubs grow alongside huckleberries. However, it’s poisonous when eaten. Distinguish the two by crushing a leaf and then smell it. A skunky smell is characteristic of Fool’s Huckleberry.

Glacier National Park Flowers: Fool's Huckleberry
Fool’s Huckleberry can grow up to 7 feet tall.

At 0.2-miles (0.3-kilometers) from the trailhead is the Paradise Point Trail junction. The 0.4-miles (0.6-kilometers) path leads to a cozy little beach on Two Medicine Lake. Rising Wolf Mountain, reaching over 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) above the water surface, fills the view to the north. It’s a beautiful place for a picnic.

About 0.5-miles (0.8-kilometers) from where you started the South Boundary Trail, you will walk by ponds created by beavers. Out in the water, there are dome-shaped structures made of interwoven branches and twigs and packed with mud. That’s their lodge. These 60-pound (27-kilogram) rodents survive the harsh Two Medicine winters in their grass and leaf-lined living quarters. Using an underwater entrance, they access food stashed at the bottom of the pond while bitter winds drive snow over the ice above.

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine
Beaver pond and lodge along the South Shore Trail.

By creating a pond, beavers change the habitat, which attracts different plants and animals, including moose, fish, insects, amphibians, and birds that make their living near water.  

After many years, the pond fills with silt and plant debris. The beavers exhaust their food supply and move. Without maintenance, the dam collapses and the water drains. A meadow develops in the fertile soil. Eventually, trees will take over the location again.

At 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometers), the Aster Park Trail leaves the South Shore Trail. This footpath leads to Aster Falls (0.1-miles/ 0.2-kilometers) and Aster Park Overlook (0.7-miles/1.1 kilometers). The overlook is a steep climb, but well worth the effort. Unbroken views of Two Medicine Lake, Rising Wolf, Flinsch Peak, and Sinopah are outstanding.

By the time you reach the bridge over Paradise Creek, the trailhead is 2.3 miles (3.7 kilometers) away. This undulating and swinging suspension structure over fast moving water may test your balance. Just go slowly and keep your hands on the side cables.

Glacier National Park: suspension bridge
Suspension bridge over Paradise Creek

The Two Medicine Pass Trail leaves the South Shore Trail at 2.6 miles (4.2 kilometers). The path to the right leads to a boat dock at the head of Two Medicine Lake. If space is available, one can buy a return ticket aboard the launch, Sinopah.

Stay to the left on the Two Medicine Pass Trail to reach Rockwell Falls. This route passes beneath the southeast slopes of Sinopah Mountain. From this perspective, one would never guess from photographs it’s the same beauty seen from the foot of the lake. Nevertheless, Sinopah presents a different but spectacular profile.

Glacier National Park: Sinopah Mountain
Sinopah Mountain from the Two Medicine Pass Trail.

The next footbridge crosses the stream that has just made the plummet over Rockwell Falls. The short path to the right ends up near the base of the last cascade. From this location, most of the cascades and pools are not visible. However, a way to view the upper falls exists.

Glacier National Park: Rockwell Falls
The lower cascade of Rockwell Falls.

Retrace your steps back across the footbridge and walk up the incline on the far side of the creek. Near the top, a trail heads up the slope. The footpath is steep with loose gravel in sections, and rock cliffs near the falls can be wet and slick from the mist of the falling water. Use caution.

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine
Near the top of Rockwell Falls
Glacier National Park: Two Medicine
Rockwell Falls upper cascade
Glacier National Park: Two Medicine
One of the pools of Rockwell Falls

Summary Distances and Elevation Gains

Hike NameRound Trip DistanceElevation Gains
Rockwell Falls7.0 mi/11.3 km375 ft
Options from Trail Jct
Paradise Point0.8 mi/1.3 km—-
Aster Falls0.2 mi/0.3 km100 ft
Aster Park Overlook1.4 mi/2.3 km670 ft

Notes

  1. “FDR Radio Address at Two Medicine.” National Park Service: Glacier National Park, Montana. Last modified , 2016. Accessed June 27, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/historyculture/fdr-radio-address.htm.
  2. “Glacier National Park Tourist Trails: Inside Trail; South Circle; North Circle.”National Register of Historic Places. Accessed January 13, 2019. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/891c38e1-bd58-46f9-ae65-ce7a377288f9.
  3. Guthrie, C.W. The First 100 Years. Helena, MT: Farcountry Press, 2008.
  4. Passmore, Blake. What They Called It. Vol. 2. Kalispell, MT: Montana Outdoor Guidebooks, LLC, 2016.
  5. Robinson, Donald H. Through the Years: in Glacier National Park. 5th ed. West Glacier, MT: Glacier Natural History Association, Inc., 1973.
  6. Thompson, Sally. People Before the Park. Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press, 2015.
  7. “Two Medicine Chalet: Glacier National Park.” National Park Lodge Architecture Society. Last modified , 2010. Accessed June 27, 2019. http://www.nplas.org/twomedicine.html.
  8. “Two Medicine General Store.” National Register of Historic Places. Last modified , 1984. Accessed June 27, 2019. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/a908db2a-c76c-46a5-8e07-b6879ab16465.

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