Poia Lake

Poia Lake, Glacier National Park

Poia Lake, named after a hero in Blackfeet mythology, is a beautiful 30-acre body of water lying at an elevation of 5,800 feet near the transition zone of subalpine to alpine in the Kennedy Creek drainage.

Choose the challenging out and back hike, a mellow overnighter, or travel on the back of a horse.

Trailhead

Drive 2.8 miles west from the Many Glacier Entrance Station. Look for a parking lot on the right side of the road. The trail for Apikuni Falls leaves this spot, headed northwest and the Red Gap Pass Trail to the northeast. Poia Lake is on the Red Gap Pass Trail.

If you’re driving from the west, look for the parking area on the left 1.1 miles east of the Many Glacier Hotel road junction.

There is another trailhead. However, I don’t recommend it. The Sherburne Cut Off leaves from the entrance station and doesn’t bother with switchbacks as it climbs Swiftcurrent Ridge. You’ll climb 1,000 feet in one mile. The tradeoff is saving 2.4 miles. But with the reduction in distance comes a slower hiking speed because of the trail’s steep grade. You might save 15 – 20 minutes. If you’re wondering about using this footpath on the trip out, know that it has sections of loose material and poor footing. Some folks unaffectionately refer to this route as the luge.

Grizzly and black bears frequent this area. Be wise and make enough noise to not surprise the bruins. Carry bear spray where you can unholster it in a couple of seconds. Know when and how to use it.

The Hike

The trail climbs steadily through a forest interspersed with small meadows where it’s possible to spot whitetail deer, elk, moose, and bear. 

Moose Swiftcurrent Ridge, Red Gap Pass Trail, Glacier National Park
Young Bull Moose

After four miles, you’ll reach Swiftcurrent Ridge Lake (Moran’s Bathtub) on the south side of the ridge crest. It’s not worth fishing unless the idea of catching white sucker and lake chub interests you. Attempts to introduce grayling in the 1920s and 1930s failed because the lake lacked suitable spawning habitats.2

There’s a pretty sweet view south over the lake toward Allen and Wynn Mountains. 

From the lake, the trail uses several switchbacks to reach the ridge top and then descends into the Kennedy Creek drainage. This stream is the namesake of John Kennedy, not our revered past president, though. This particular Kennedy was a whiskey trader. In 1874, he built a trading post where Kennedy Creek flows into the Saint Mary River (9.5 miles northeast of Poia Lake).1 The Blackfeet named him Otatso, which means walking stooped. A tributary of Kennedy Creek bears that name.3

Be aware that the park service has closed the entire length of Kennedy Creek to fishing. 

Upon reaching Poia Lake, a trail on the left leads to the backcountry campground. The park allows two of the four sites to be reserved online.

Poia Lake, Glacier National Park
Poia Lake Evening

If you continue along the shoreline, there’s a bridge over the outlet and a path veering to the right from the Red Gap Pass Trail. Follow that route for great vantage points of Poia Lake Falls. 

If you keep an eye on the exposed rock faces of the surrounding mountains, the chances of seeing mountain goats are pretty good. Or, look for pika in the nearby talus slopes. Locate these furry little members of the rabbit family by their characteristic “eeep” calls and look for their “hay piles” in the talus near a meadow’s edge.

Pika
American Pika (CC BY-SA 4.0_ Frederic Dulude-de Broin)

Hike Summary

Total Distance: 13.1 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 1,676 feet; Loss: 808 feet
Difficulty: 16.5, strenuous
(Calculated using Petzoldt’s Energy Rated Mile equation.)
Total Walking Time Estimate: 6 hours 4 minutes
(Calculated using an average speed of 2.5 mph and Naismith’s correction for elevation gain.)

Notes

  1. Buchholtz, C W. Man in Glacier. West Glacier, MT: Glacier Natural History Association, Inc., 1976.
  2. Downs, Christopher C., and Carter Fredenberg. “Glacier National Park Fisheries Monitoring and Management Report 2016.” National Park Service History Publications. Last modified , 2016. http://npshistory.com/publications/glac/fisheries-ann-rpt/2015.pdf.
  3. Robinson, Donald H. Through the Years in Glacier National Park. West Glacier, MT: Glacier Natural History Association, Inc., 1973.
  4. Smith, Andrew. “The Art of Making Hay.” The National Wildlife Federation. Last modified April , 1997. https://www.nwf.org/Magazines/National-Wildlife/1997/The-Art-of-Making-Hay.

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