If solitude is what you’re after, this hike near the southeast border of Glacier National Park will deliver. Explore as little, or as much, as your group can handle. However, you’ll need two vehicles for the entire point-to-point trek. Remember, the park service prohibits dogs on all trails. And that’s a good thing in this grizzly bear habitat.
The trip begins atop the Continental Divide at Marias Pass and ends 8.6 miles later at a vehicle pullout on the north side of U.S. Highway 2 close to mile marker 203—the usual start for the Firebrand Pass hike.
At Marias Pass, on the north side of U.S. Highway 2, there is a large gravel area near the railroad tracks. Park there, cross the rails and walk along the tree line to find a trail headed north. This is the Summit spur trail, which provides access to the Autumn Creek Trail.
After one-half mile, the trail crosses an earthen dam on the west end of Three Bears Lake. In 1902, Great Northern Railway (GNR) built this structure and another one on the east end to raise the water level of the naturally occurring Summit Lake. GNR needed the increased volume to supply a 50,000-gallon storage tank at Marias Pass.1 There, steam locomotives replenished their onboard water supply.
When you intersect the Autumn Creek Trail, 1.1 miles from the trailhead, turn right. The easy-going path reaches its highest point of just under 6,000 feet in elevation 4.5 miles from the start and directly under the mountain formation known as The Mummy.
The footpath leads you through an open lodgepole pine forest with bear grass, huckleberries, and grouse whortleberries in much of the understory. When spring brings good rains, and there is ample soil moisture, bear grass blooms are spectacular. Small meadows along the path are home to a variety of other wildflowers. During June and July, they show off with multicolored displays.
Seven miles from the trailhead, look for the Lubec Trail junction (some refer to it as the Coonsa Trail). It’s another 1.5 miles to U.S. Highway 2. Panning east to west, Calf Robe Mountain, Summit Mountain, and Little Dog Mountain provide a spectacular scene.
Total Distance: 8.6 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 1,116 feet; Loss: 1,219 feet
Difficulty: 10.7, strenuous (Calculated using Petzoldt’s Energy Rated Mile equation.)
Total Walking Time Estimate: 4 hours (Calculated using an average 2.5 mph speed and Naismith’s correction for elevation gain.)
Autumn Creek Trail – Blacktail Hills Option
In winter, the Blacktail Hills route is popular with skiers and snowshoers. You’ll also need to plan for two vehicles on this point-to-point outing. The trip begins at Marias Pass, as described above, and ends near mile-marker 194 (193.8) on U.S. Highway 2. There is a pullout on the south side of the highway just east of the exit point. I recommend ending here so the steepest part of the trip is experienced going downhill.
Turn left (west) when reaching the Autumn Creek Trail. Little Dog Mountain will be north of the trail and Elk Mountain will appear to the west. During winter, the open areas on the east side of Elk Mountain down to Autumn Creek can be hazardous.
Orange tags on the trees mark the route. These are especially helpful after a snowstorm. If you’re traveling this trail in winter, be sure to check the Avalanche Report.
Total Distance: 5.7 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 579 feet; Loss: 1,126 feet
Difficulty: 6.9 moderate (Calculated using Petzoldt’s Energy Rated Mile equation.)
Total Walking Time Estimate: 2 hours, 34 minutes (Calculated using an average 2.5 mph speed and Naismith’s correction for elevation gain.)
If the Dawson Pitamakin Loop isn’t in the cards and you would like something a little less crowded than Upper Two Medicine Lake, a hike to this hidden gem might interest you. The name is underwhelming, but the scenery is at the other extreme.
No Name Lake is in the Bighorn Basin of the Two Medicine region in southeast Glacier National Park.
From East Glacier, drive 3.5 miles north (5.6 kilometers) on Montana Highway 49, the Looking Glass Road. Travel west on the Two Medicine Road about 7 miles (11.3 kilometers). At that point, you can decide whether to turn right to the campground or proceed straight ahead to the parking lot by the Two Medicine camp store and boat dock. The descriptions below will help you make that choice.
From Saint Mary, it’s about 27 miles (43.5 kilometers) south to the Two Medicine Road via US Highway 89 and the Looking Glass Road. Plan for at least one hour driving time. It could be more if highway construction is still going on. The Looking Glass Road is a narrow, winding road that is not in the best of shape. Yet there are beautiful vistas looking west into Glacier National Park.
No Name Lake Hiking Options
Travel up and back on Two Medicine Lake aboard the Sinopah: 5.6 miles (9.0 kilometers) on the trail.
One way on Sinopah: 7.5 miles (12.1 kilometers) on the trail. (Note the Glacier Boat Company requires a round-trip ticket to travel up the lake, whether or not you return on the boat. However, you can purchase a one-way ticket at the head of the lake for a return trip.) There could be a considerable wait time for the boat trip back depending on the number of people with the same idea.
No boat ride. Start at the North Shore Trailhead near Two Medicine campground: 10.0 miles (16.1 kilometers) round trip.
The distance is about 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) along paved roads from the Northshore Trailhead near the campground to the parking lot in front of the Two Medicine camp store.
I describe Option 2 below. The distance from the head of Two Medicine Lake to No Name Lake is 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) gaining 761 feet (232 meters) in elevation. The return trip via the North Shore Trail to the trailhead near Pray Lake and Two Medicine campground is 4.7 miles (7.6 kilometers).
No Name Lake via the Sinopah Launch
It had been raining, but my wife and I drove to Two Medicine, anyway. We wanted to mix it up a bit and combine a ride on the boat Sinopah across Two Medicine Lake with some trail time. The next day would be the launch’s last trip for the season. Then, rather than going back into her boathouse for the winter, she is going to Kalispell for refurbishment. Sinopah has been well taken care of since her construction in 1926.
Both Sinopah Mountain and the 45-foot (14-meter), 49 passenger boat were named for a Blackfeet Indian maiden. Her father was Chief Lone Walker. There is a mountain to the west of Sinopah Mountain that bears his name. Sinopah married Hugh Monroe, a Hudson’s Bay fur trapper and trader. The Blackfeet named him Rising Wolf. His mountain is on the north side of Two Medicine Lake.²
We parked near Sinopah’s mooring in the lot south of the Two Medicine camp store. There is a lot of history here. This building was originally the Two Medicine Chalets kitchen and dining hall built by the Great Northern Railway in 1912 for wealthy passengers arriving from the east.⁴ President Herbert Hoover used the Two Medicine Chalets complex as his base of operations in August 1930. On August 5, 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave one of his famous Fireside Chats near the fireplace in this building.³
The captain usually blows the boat’s horn when it’s time to come aboard. Once we were underway, the skipper’s stories about the area and commentary on landmarks kept everyone entertained while we motored two miles to the west shore. There is a shelter near the dock at the head of the lake. For those who hike and then return by boat, this can be handy should the weather turn bad while waiting.
Two Medicine Lake is at 5,164 feet (1,574 meters) elevation. The trail will ascend 761 feet (232 meters) over about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) to No Name Lake at 5,925 feet (1,806 meters).
Shortly after leaving the west shore, a boardwalk will carry you above the sensitive and soggy forest floor. Thimbleberries grow along this section. If you’re lucky, there will be ripe fruit to snack on as you walk. You may notice long dark scars on the trunks of the large spruce trees growing in the area. These are frost cracks. When the temperature suddenly plummets during winter, the outside of the trunk contracts more quickly than the inner wood. The result is a rapid splitting of the wood that can sound like a gunshot.
After 0.1-miles, you will come to the South Shore Trail. Keep right. After 0.6-miles, there will be a junction of the South Shore Trail, Upper Two Medicine Lake Trail and the North Shore Trail. Turning left will take you to Twin Falls, 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometers) and Upper Two Medicine Lake, 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers). Turn right and proceed another 0.2-miles (0.3- kilometers) to reach the Dawson Pass Trail.
This area is moose country and fall is the mating season. The day before our hike, park officials closed the backcountry campground at Upper Two Medicine Lake because several moose had taken up residence in all but one campsite. A cantankerous bull charged one camper. Last year, we came upon a bull bedded down in the middle of the trail leading to No Name Lake and Dawson Pass. After some time and when he was good and ready, he moved. They are large and powerful animals. Give moose a wide berth.
At the next trail junction, turn left onto the Dawson Pass Trail. The footpath to the right is the one that will take you back to the trailhead on the return trip. There is a section of switchbacks between this junction and the path leading to No Name Lake 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) away. That will be the steepest part of the hike. The number of edible huckleberries remaining surprised us. Magnificent scenery, sharing the hike with my best friend and fresh “hucks.” Life is good.
The No Name Lake Trail ends 0.3-miles (0.5-kilometers) after leaving the Dawson Pass Trail at the west side of the lake and the backcountry campground. Two of the three campsites can be reserved, but there is a one night limit. Near the food-prep area is a small beach perfect for having lunch.
All good things must end sometime. So, when it’s time to leave, return to the Dawson Pass Trail turn right and 4.7 miles (7.6 kilometers) later you will arrive at the trailhead near Pray Lake and the Two Medicine Campground.
If you parked in the lot by the camp store, it is about 0.8-miles (1.3 kilometers) farther along paved roads to reach your vehicle. You never know. Surprising things can happen on this stretch. While we were sauntering along the asphalt, three bighorn sheep with their eyes bugged out and running full tilt blew by us at an arm’s length away. We never did see what spooked them.
No Name Lake Hike Summary (one-way on the boat Sinopah)
3 hours 42 minutes (at 2.5 miles-per-hour and allowance for elevation gain)
Thanks for Visiting
If you’ve found this post useful, I invite you to check out my book Glacier National Park, Going-to-the-Sun Road: A Traveler’s Guide. Within this MultiTouch iBook are descriptions of hikes originating along the road corridor from West Glacier to Saint Mary. Interactive maps and photo galleries are included. You’ll also find points of interest highlighted, history, and other recreational opportunities.
A trip through a Glacier National Park forest in transition.
The Apgar Bike Path is one of three trails in Glacier National Park where bicycles are permitted. Of course walking is okay too. The trailhead can be found south of the Backcountry Permit Office in Apgar Village. This nearly level, paved path through a lodgepole pine forest can be surprisingly void of people. It’s suitable for many ability levels and an excellent early season option.
This can be a relaxing saunter through a forest in transition. In 1929, the 39,000-acre Half Moon Fire consumed the western hemlock/western red cedar forest that grew in the area. Now, shade intolerant pioneer species, like lodgepole pine and western larch, predominate the overstory near the trail. But given enough time and lack of disturbance, shade-tolerant species will prevail.
Check out the understory and one future for this forest. I found western white pine and Douglas fir, which are intermediate in shade tolerance. To my surprise, there are many shade-tolerant species alive and doing well. These included: grand fir, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar. The stage is set for the later stages of forest succession.
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If you visit this path in June, there will be bear grass blooms appearing like puffs of white smoke among the trees. Huckleberries are a bonus later in the summer. However, bears are known to visit this area. So, don’t leave your bear spray in the car.
The Route with Options
The three-mile round trip starts out in a southwest direction from the trailhead near the Backcountry Permit Office. It soon crosses the Camas Road. At about one-half mile, there is a short spur trail leading to the Ox-Bow Overlook on McDonald Creek. The trail course changes to the southeast and does not veer right or left for over a mile. The makers were efficient in getting from point A to point B. As near as I can tell, this is the old road way from the Belton Bridge to Apgar.
The path crosses the Glacier Institute Road at 1.4 miles and ends at the Going-to-the-Sun Road 1.5 miles from the trailhead in Apgar Village.
Extend the trip by continuing on the path another one-half mile to the intersection of Grinnell Drive and Mather Drive in the Glacier National Park Headquarters area. Walk or ride about one-quarter mile to the end of Mather Drive. There you will find a gravel path, the beginning of the South Boundary Trail, that proceeds down an embankment and then upstream along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River reaching the Belton Bridge at 2.75 miles from the Apgar trailhead. Believe it or not, this was the original entrance into Glacier National Park.
There can be a lot of action here during rafting season. Have a snack and take a few pictures down along the river before the return trip. Or, continue across the bridge and follow the road into West Glacier.
This area is off the radar for most visitors during the summer. After the snow has blanketed the high country trails in the fall, this is a good option. If you’re ambitious, it is a definite consideration for a midwinter ski trip.
From the West Entrance Station of Glacier National Park, drive to the ‘T’ intersection and then turn left onto the Camas Road. Travel about 1.2 miles and turn right onto to the Fish Creek Campground Road. After another mile, you should arrive at the junction for the Inside North Fork Road. Turn left and proceed along the narrow winding gravel road for 6.6 miles. Its blind curves can be dangerous. Be sure to stay on your side of the road.
In 1901, the Butte Oil Company carved a 40-mile path through the wilderness from Apgar to Kintla Lake. The rough, ungraded wagon road with stumps and bogs was made to haul oil drilling equipment to exploit the oil seeps found near the head of Kintla Lake. The well was drilled. It did not produce and was eventually abandoned.4 The original wagon path morphed into our Inside North Fork Road.2
Your clue that the drive is coming to an end is the bridge over Camas Creek. Shortly after crossing the stream, you should see the Camas Creek Trail sign on your right. The road is closed to automobiles a couple hundred feet beyond the trailhead.
Repeated flooding near Anaconda and Logging Creeks has rendered the road unsafe for cars and trucks. It’s an expensive fix. The park service has been evaluating their options. Despite that, hikers and bikers are welcome to use the road.
To Christensen Meadows
Straightaway, the path enters a lodgepole pine forest. But after only 0.3-miles, it breaks into extensive open areas. This is the beginning of Christensen Meadows.
Although the scenery does not match that of Rogers Meadow, the history is every bit as interesting. Ernest Christensen established his 160-acre homestead in 1896. He paid $16/acre which at the time was considered to be at the high end of its value.1
He and his neighbor Josiah “Joe” Rogers went away for a while to serve as packers in the Spanish-American War of 1898. When Christensen returned, he continued making improvements to his homestead. Some of these included the construction of a new log home, barns, root cellar, well, and fencing. He raised timothy hay and sold it to tourists and the Park Service. This hardworking settler also did horse packing with Joe Rogers and operated his own tourist business at Lake McDonald.1
Onward to Rogers Meadow
As you continue down the trail, you will notice that Camas Ridge, to the north, has burned in the past. The 70,609-acre lightning-caused Moose Fire of 2001 is to blame. To the south is Howe Ridge. The most recent burn, of course, was the Howe Ridge Fire. But, the man-caused Robert Fire of 2003 consumed 52,747 acres which included Howe Ridge. That promoted thick lodgepole pine growth and left an abundance of sizeable dead timber. The summer of 2003 has been referred to as the “Summer of Fire.” Fires that season burned 13% of Glacier National Park. It was the worst fire season in the park’s history.3
The trail continues in a northeast direction up the Camas Creek drainage and wanders in and out of forested areas. At 3.2 miles, the beautiful Rogers Meadow comes into view. Camas Creek slows here and meanders with full looping curves through the wetlands. The peaks of Stanton Mountain, Mount Vaught, Heavens Peak, and Rogers Peak are the striking backdrop to all this.
If you’re lucky, you might spot one of the beaver, river otters, or moose that call this place home. Bears and wolves are also known to move through this valley. This is the stuff of movies – the beaver slapping the water with his tail, the stream falling away from a moose’s antlers as he pulls his head from the water, the mournful howl of a wolf, and the silhouette of the humpback grizzly bear wandering across the meadow. It could happen.
Rogers started his homestead in 1896 too. When he and Christensen returned from the war, he began building his ranch. At one time, Josiah had 100 horses besides cattle. He raised 50 acres of timothy and constructed 1.5 miles of fencing. Oil exploration businesses and the U.S. Geological Survey crews used his packing services as did many visitors to the Lewis Glacier Hotel on the east side of Lake McDonald. Somewhere he found time to court the woman whom he married in 1902. He lost her to illness in the winter of 1908. Joe sold his ranch in 1914.1
If you call it a day here and return the same way you came in, it will be a 6.4-mile round trip. The end of the Camas Trail is another 10.7 miles. The trail passes Trout Lake in 4 miles, Arrow Lake in 7.1 miles, and finds Camas Lake at the end. The path from Arrow to Camas requires several stream fords and can get pretty brushy. Probably best planned as an overnighter.
Another option is to continue up the Camas Creek Trail to the West Lakes Trail. That junction is a little south of Trout Lake. This route will lead you up and over Howe Ridge exiting at the north end of Lake McDonald. Christensen and Rogers most likely used the same path. The distance to the West Lakes Trailhead at Lake McDonald is about 7.5 miles from Rogers Meadow. Naturally, vehicle logistics will need to be worked out.
Bick, Patricia. Homesteading on the North Fork in Glacier National Park. West Glacier, MT: National Park Service, Glacier National Park, 1986.