Pets allowed
Elevation Gain
4,660.00 ft (1,420.37 m)
Trail type
27.50 mi (44.26 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail spans nearly 3,100 miles across 5 states from Mexico to Canada, traversing a vast array of different environments and landscapes along the way. The CDT can be completed as a single thru-hike that will take 4 to 6 months, or by section-hiking smaller segments. The Montana-Idaho portion of the CDT features nearly 1,000 miles of diverse mountain terrain. You’ll pass alongside the lofty peaks of the Anaconda, Bitterroot and Beaverhead Mountains; walk through the rugged and remote Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex; and finally arrive at the “Crown of the Continent” that is Glacier National Park. In this guide we’ll take a closer look at the Spotted Bear Pass Alternate.

The Spotted Bear Alternate lies entirely within the remote Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. It is a popular alternate that many CDT hikers take as it saves mileage, is arguably more scenic, and avoids some burn area.

You’ll begin the alternate shortly after leaving the Chinese Wall behind. At Spotted Bear Pass take a left on the Spotted Bear River Trail. You’ll descend for a couple miles, then follow the river valley.

You’ll then leave the river and turn right on the Dolly Varden Pentagon Trail. There is the Pentagon Patrol Cabin in this area and some great camping nearby.

At the next junction veer right onto the Switchback Pass Trail. You’ll know you’re on the correct trail when you begin endlessly switchbacking your way up.

After a few miles and over 2,500’ vert you’ll finally top out at appropriately named Switchback Pass. You’ll have great views and enjoy the descent from here.

Beautiful Dean Lake lies ahead, backdropped against Pentagon Mountain. Continue descending, entering a brief burn area. You’ll eventually drop all the way down to Clack Creek.

Continue following the creek valley until coming to the Middle Fork Flathead River. You’ll need to ford the river, something that could be a challenge early summer or during a heavy snowmelt year.

After the river crossing you’ll find the Gooseberry Guard Station Cabin. Stay right on the trail and hike for about another mile until rejoining the official CDT.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round



Shorter and more scenic than official CDT.



Trailhead Elevation

6,758.00 ft (2,059.84 m)

Highest point

7,774.00 ft (2,369.52 m)


Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Big vistas

Typically multi-day


Permit required



Nearby Lodging + Camping

Flathead lake + Mission Range, Montana


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