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Gunsight Pass Trail

Glacier National Park

Glacier + Northern Lewis Range, Montana

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Gunsight Pass Trail

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  • The first section of trail passes through dense forest and berry patches. Be bear aware!- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • View over the St. Mary River valley.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Florence Falls is a worthwhile side hike.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • View of Jackson and Blackfoot Glaciers.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Gunsight Lake.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Typical site at Gunsight Lake backcountry camp.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • A tricky swinging bridge across the creek.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Views from the trail are amazing the whole way after passing Gunsight Lake.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Looking back at Gunsight Lake.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • A secondary summit of Gunsight Peak towers over the pass.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Making the final climb to the top of the pass.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Mountain goats love to hang out at Gunsight Pass.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • A goat shedding its winter coat.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • The goats seem curious about people in their territory.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Snowfields remain all year up here.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Lake Ellen Wilson seen from the trail descending Gunsight Pass.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Wildflowers above Lake Ellen Wilson backcountry camp.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Waterfalls high above Lake Ellen Wilson.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • A backcountry campsite sits right on the shore of the lake.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • The terrain around Lake Ellen Wilson is wide open and beautiful.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Lake Ellen Wilson below Mount Jackson.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Summer runoff and wildflowers.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Mount Jackson is one of the tallest in the park at 10,052 feet.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Humans aren't the only travelers to use these trails.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • A gnarled whitebark pine tree high near Lincoln Pass.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • View of Mount Jackson from Lincoln Pass.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Descending to Sperry Campground from Lincoln Pass.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Sperry Chalet, which was destroyed by wildfire in 2017.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • Sperry Trail below Sperry Chalet.- Gunsight Pass Trail
  • - Gunsight Pass Trail
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Day or overnight options. Beautiful campsites. Wildlife.
Cons: 
None.
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Alerts: 
September, 2017: The Sperry Chalet, Sperry Chalet Campground, and much of the surrounding terrain have been completely burned by the Sprague wildfire.
Region:
Glacier + Northern Lewis Range, MT
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
No
Net Elevation Gain: 
3,700.00 ft (1,127.76 m)
Parking Pass: 
National Park Pass
Preferable Season(s):
Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Biking
Total Distance: 
20.00 mi (32.19 km)
Trail type: 
Shuttle
Trailhead Elevation: 
3,240.00 ft (987.55 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Pro Contributor

If you're wondering how to fit all the best of Glacier National Park into one backpacking trip, Gunsight Pass may be the answer you're looking for. The trails and campsites between Jackson Glacier Overlook and Lake McDonald link deep woods, idyllic streams, picturesque waterfalls, pristine lakes, high peaks, huge glaciers, proud vistas, and plentiful wildlife. A one- or two-night trek is the best way, but it can also be done as a very long day hike.

Route

Gunsight Pass is on the saddle between Gunsight Mountain and Mount Jackson. The Gunsight Pass Trail begins at Jackson Glacier Overlook on Going-to-the-Sun Road and goes generally southwest, climbing more than 3,000 feet in 9.2 miles to reach the pass. From there the trail continues generally west, down to Lake Ellen Wilson and eventually linking with Sperry Trail at Sperry Chalet. The distance from Gunsight Pass to the Sperry Trailhead at Lake McDonald is approximately 11 miles.

Many spur trails along the way make worthwhile side hikes if you have the time and energy. These include: St. Mary Falls, Florence Falls, Jackson Glacier, Sperry Glacier, Gunsight Mountain, Snyder Lakes, and Mount Brown Lookout.

Camping

All backcountry camping requires permits, which are reservable in advance online. They are alternatively available in person at the backcountry office the day before or day of your hike. Either way, the number of permits is limited, and sites along this route usually fill up very quickly. The campgrounds from east to west are Reynolds Creek, Gunsight Lake, Lake Ellen Wilson, and Sperry. For more information, visit the national park's backcountry camping webpage.

Lodging at Sperry Chalet has been a very popular option in the past. Sadly, the Sprague fire destroyed the dormitory building in 2017, but plans to rebuild this historic structure are underway. Be sure to check in for updates before you start your hike. 

Logistics

You can begin the hike from either end. Out-and-backs of any distance along the route are worthwhile, but because Gunsight Pass is approximately halfway between the two starting points, you will get far more bang for your buck by doing it as a thru-hike. This is made easy by the park's free shuttles along Going-to-the-Sun Road: You can leave your car at either end and catch a ride. Parking is much more plentiful at Lake McDonald Lodge on the hike's west end than at Jackson Glacier Overlook on the east end. Just be sure to check the shuttle schedule so you know when the first and last buses run.

Updates, Tips + Comments

Updates, Tips + Comments

Field Guide

Field Guide

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Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(9 within a 30 mile radius)

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(52 within a 30 mile radius)

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