Beaver Pond Loop

Glacier National Park, Saint Mary Region, Beaverpond Loop Trail

This path is perfect for hikers who are looking for an adventure in the early or later parts of the year. If you’re an individual who loves to get out and enjoy snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, the Beaver Pond Loop is definitely an option.

Remember the mantra: This is grizzly territory. Carry bear spray. Know when and how to use it. (Plenty of practice unholstering the canister and removing the safety clip is time well spent. A grizzly moving at full tilt can cover up to 50 feet per second. There’s no time to fiddle with the canister.) Don’t hike alone and make enough noise so that you don’t surprise a bear.


From U.S. Route 89 in Saint Mary, drive west on the Going-to-the-Sun Road 0.3 miles, then turn left on the road leading to the Glacier National Park offices and 1913 Ranger Station. If you’re coming from the west on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, travel 0.2 miles east of the park entry station and look to your right for the same road.

It can be confusing, but rest assured you’re still in the park.

At 0.3 miles, the road divides. Take the right fork. The road to the left leads to the park offices. Parking for this hike is 0.5 miles from where you left the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Look for the trailhead at the east end of the parking area.

I suggest walking the loop early in the morning for clearer air and to take advantage of the warm morning light shining on the peaks. I’ve described the hike going in a clockwise direction, but either way works.

The Hike

The 1913 ranger cabin is within several hundred feet of the trailhead. You’ll also find a barn. It was built in 1926 and first served rangers at the Lubec Ranger Station at the south end of the park. Workers disassembled and moved it to this location in the 1970s.3

In 1918, ranger Chance Beebe, the third inhabitant of the cabin, built and manned the park’s first check station for vehicles entering this part of the park. He greeted visitors from his 8×10 canvas tent furnished with a wooden table and three homemade stools. That year, 1,164 vehicles checked in.3 In 2021, 181,559 vehicles entered the park at Saint Mary.5

Leaving the ranger station behind, you’ll climb for less than a mile. The path meanders through meadows, old-growth Douglas fir trees, lodgepole pine and small stands of aspen. Along the way, the rebirth of forest burned by the 2006 Red Eagle Fire is impressive, especially in the spring. All this provides for a saunter surrounded with variety. 

Start looking for the beaver pond and the short path down to the water’s edge 1.3 miles into the hike. The beaver lodge is near the far end of the pond. A backcountry ranger told me he had seen a moose in this area two out of his three visits that season. Luck wasn’t with me that day.

Beaver Lodge, Saint Mary Region, Glacier National Park
Beaver lodge on a beautiful October day
Ecosystem Engineers

Beavers play a major role in the development and expansion of ecosystems. They are a keystone species, meaning the beneficial effect they have on the environment is much more than one would assume from their population size.

Beavers, the largest rodents in North America, can create wetlands more productive than the original stream they dammed. As their pond fills, surrounding soil moisture increases and plants adapted to pond living and wetlands move in. Insect populations then increase, as do birds that feed on them. Waterfowl, moose, muskrats, and fish benefit from the new habitat. Trees that could not survive the increase in water levels provide new nesting sites. And the more open forest canopy encourages the growth of new plants which can be an extra food source for deer and elk.

Sediment carried in a stream eventually falls out in the pond, improving the water quality downstream. Ponds and their canals created by beavers distribute life sustaining water throughout a larger area than did the original stream. This is essential for a lot of organisms during times of drought. When streams overflow their banks, beaver ponds can help lessen the impacts of flooding.

Beaver ponds eventually fill with sediment. The area often becomes a productive meadow, and over time, the forest returns.1,2

Two miles from the trailhead, the Beaver Pond route intersects the Red Eagle Lake Trail. Turn right to continue back to your vehicle. It doesn’t take long to realize that the single-track trail has morphed into an old-overgrown road bed.

The same backcountry ranger who told me about the moose also explained where to find the site of the long-gone Saint Mary Chalets. I’ll share that below. I did a little research and found that the historic chalets sat next to the 1920s Blackfeet Highway.6 The above information, a 1926 Montana Highway map and a topographic map, leads me to believe that the section of trail from the previous junction back to the parking lot is part of the original Blackfeet Highway.4

My wife listened politely when I told her about my discovery. If there was an eye roll involved, she cleverly disguised it. Nevertheless, my excitement remains.

Three miles into this trip, there’s a spur trail to the left, headed in the opposite direction toward Saint Mary Lake. Follow this path for about 400 feet. When you see the shoreline jut out into the lake, forming a point, you’ve found the location of the historic Saint Mary Chalets constructed in 1912.6 I used Google Earth to find that same spot. And there beneath the surface of the water lay the dock used during that period. Another enjoyable find!

  • Historic Saint Mary Chalets and Launch, Glacier National Park, T.J. Hileman
  • Historic Saint Mary Chalet, Glacier National Park (circa 1915 by Fred H. Kiser)
  • Launch at Saint Mary Chalets (circa 1933, by George Grant)

There is one more beaver pond you’ll pass just after rejoining the main trail. From there, it’s a short walk to the parking lot. Back at your vehicle, look west across the open area toward the line of trees. That’s the place of the original Saint Mary Campground before the park service moved it to its present location in 1963.

Beaver Pond Loop Trail, Saint Mary Region, Glacier National Park
Looking back southwest near the end of the hike.

Hike Summary

Total Distance: 3.5 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 465 feet; Loss: 470 feet
Difficulty*: 4.4, easy
(Calculated using Petzoldt’s Energy Rated Mile equation.)
Estimated Total Walking Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
(Calculated using an average speed of 2.5 mph and Naismith’s correction for elevation gain.)
*Difficulty: 0-4.9 easy, 5-9.9 moderate, 10+ strenuous

Before You Go

Are you prepared to take advantage of all the things there are to see and do along the Going-to-the-Sun Road? Driving this engineering masterpiece is an unforgettable experience. But there’s more! 

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  1. Baker, B. W., & Hill, E. P. (2003). Beaver: Caster canadensis. In G. Feldhamer, B. Thompson, J. Chapman (Eds.), Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation (2nd ed., pp. 288-310). : Johns Hopkins University Press.
  2. “Beaver Natural History Narrative.” National Park Service: Glacier National Park.
  3. Geoghegan, Holly. Historic Structure Report: Old St Mary Ranger District. N.p.: Glacier National Park, 1978.
  4. “Highway Map of Montana 1926, 2nd printing.” Official Website.
  5. “Park Reports: Glacier NP (GLAC) Reports.” NPS Stats.
  6. “Saint Mary Chalets.” National Park Lodge Architecture Society. Last modified , 2010.

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