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Two of the most beautiful (and challenging) hikes in Glacier National Park

Glacier national park, hikes in glacier national park, couple at glacier national park, glacier national park adventuresDid you know that Glacier NP has just 25 glaciers left? When you compare that to the 150 glaciers it had in 1850 it makes you realize the incredible effect global warming is having on our fragile little planet. It’s estimated that by the year 2030 there will be no more glaciers left in Glacier… at which time the park will be forced to adopt a new name, GASP! For that reason, and so many more, Drew and I knew we couldn’t pass up the chance to visit this incredible place that’s all too quickly melting away. Avalanche Lake:

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dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park, tilt shift, waterfall glacier national parkWith so much beauty to see, so many mountains to explore and only 2.5 days to do it all, we were a bit overwhelmed with where to start. We had just been in Yellowstone for 3 days prior and had no phone service or wifi since Minneapolis, so our Glacier research was down to ZIL. Luckily we met a Ranger who knew exactly what we were looking for and a local who gave us the scoop on a backcountry hike that went along some epic goat trails (yep that’s right, goat trails) and that’s the story on how we found out about 2 of THE BEST hikes in Glacier National Park:

Glacier national park, hikes in glacier national park, couple at glacier national park, dawsom pitamakin hike, mountain goat glacier national parkHike #1: Two Medicine’s Dawson – Pitamakan Pass Trail (counterclockwise), 15 miles round trip + a 3-mile boat ride ($6.50 per person), or you can hike the entire 18.8 mile loop.

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national parkWe awoke at 7am, made our picnic lunches, filled our CamelBaks, ate breakfast and rolled on in to the Two Medicine Campground which, in our opinion, was the most picturesque and well-laid-out campground in the park. Shortly after arriving, we found the wooden bridge (near campsite 100) that marked the beginning of our day’s grand journey.

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national parkIt started out steep. We decided to go with the more gradual slope up Dawson first and ended with the steeper grade for the ride down Pitamakan. Before we knew it we had arrived to a breath-taking valley filled with flowers, chiseled peaks and cool, pine-scented breezes:

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national parkAs the trail continued to ascend, we passed Old Man Lake (.3 miles off the trail) and were faced with relentless switchbacks that soon tested our lungs, hearts and minds, but what we saw at the top made every heart-pumping, muscle-burning step worthwhile:

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national parkWe had no idea that we were going to be gifted with such beautiful sites. We had made it to Dawson Pass.

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national parkAt 7,600 feet, we were sitting on the Continental Divide which falls upon the saddle formed between Mt. Helen and Flinsch Peak. The piercing-blue waters of Old Man Lake and Boy Lake left us mesmerized, and just before convincing each other to gather our things to continue onward (it was now 2pm), we were brought face-to-face with a thundering herd of Big-Horned Sheep!

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park, big horned sheep

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park, big horned sheepThey stared at us for a good, long moment before setting out to masterfully scurry across the steep mountainside. Notice the man on the trail in the photo below (!).

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park, big horned sheepAs we passed the pass… the ground transformed into a dramatic, rocky cliff trail reminiscent of what we were faced with when summiting Mount Whitney.

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park

dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park, glacier yoga, yoga on cliff The views were gorgeous. We stopped for a few photo ops, hiked over the second pass, met another furry friend and admired the brightly colored flower fields that framed this incredible (and challenging) well-worth-it day.

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dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park, boy with binoculars, binoculars

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dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park, girl with purple flowers, girl hikingNote: Because we wanted to make it to the dock in time for the last boat, which was scheduled to leave at 5:30pm, we actually ran down the trail for the last 2-3 miles just like this:

Drew jumping gif, jumping gif, We ended up making it just in time, but it turned out that there wasn’t enough room for everyone on the boat. Luckily the boat made an extra trip, which is typical during high season, so we all had a way back. Moral of the story is not to worry if you are cutting it close, you will most likely make it back for the last-call boat if anything.

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dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park, two medicine boat, tilt shift boat, glacier park boatIn total, this hike took us about 8.5 hours (including a 30 minute lunch break and multiple photo op stops), making for a full-day excursion. When we got back to camp we took a refreshing and COLD jump in the lake before preparing a delicious, always well-deserved, meal.

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dawsom pitamakan pass trail, glacier national park hikes, trail sign, glacier adventures, adventures in glacier national park, picnic, glacier park picnicHike #2: The off-trail, backcountry ShingriLa to Iceberg Lake hike in Many Glacier, 10 miles round trip. We started at 10:45 and ended at 7pm, with 3 long breaks in between.

ShangriLa Map, shangriLa backcountry, glacier national park shangrilaThe sketch above was the only map we had for this epic trail that took us up and over to Iceberg Lake along narrow and steep goat trails, a secret path known only by locals.

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, goat trailThe key to doing this hike was being able to find the correct goat trail. We started off on the trailhead for Swiftcurrent Pass and kept our eyes peeled for the 2nd small footbridge, counting only the ones without railings of any sort. Once we passed both footbridges, we looked to the right and took the first narrow path through the wilderness, aka. goat trail, and bushwhacked our way into a sprawling meadow:

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national parkWhat happened next was a mixture of rock climbing, scrambling, guessing, backtracking and eventually, VICTORY. What’s important to remember when climbing up the rocky area near chimney glacier is to veer right at most of the questionable spots – this, along with some critical thinking skills, is what helped us find our way:

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacierWhat we were gifted with next was beauty, sweet solitude, freedom for our toes and lunch. The great thing about backcountry trails is that hardly anyone, especially the tourists, know about them, so if you’re visiting during high season they are the perfect getaway.

Butterfly gif

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, man in lake

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, girl in lakeThe glacier water was incredible.

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, glacial waterNote: Rangers, even in the backcountry permit offices, are not permitted to talk about backcountry hikes. Be sure to do your research (print out the map we featured above), get a climbing book or talk to a local before embarking on this, or any, goat trail journey.

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, iceberg lakeAfter an hour-long break next to the serene, sparking waters, we prepared for one of the most intense downhill runs of our hiking careers. Shards of slate, otherwise known as scree, is what we would be surfing, sliding, rolling and skiing down. We somehow managed to successfully make it down the trail in the photo below (it was harder that it looks):

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, screeWe had our first glimpse of stunning Iceberg Lake from the top of the scree and met a few more Big-Horned Sheep before making our way to the bottom.

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Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, iceberg lake, mr and mrs adventure

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, iceberg lake

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, iceberg lake The artfully scattered icebergs looked like jewels as they floated across Iceberg Lake’s turquoise-blue waters.Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, iceberg lake, mr and mrs adventure, polar bear dive, swimming in freezing cold waterAs soon as we made it to the shore Drew couldn’t help but dive right into the 30 degree glacial pool!

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, iceberg lake, mr and mrs adventure, polar bear dive, swimming in freezing cold waterYou gotta watch this video, his face was priceless:

I don’t think even he could believe he did that!

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, iceberg lake, mr and mrs adventure, polar bear dive, swimming in freezing cold waterFrom here the rest of the trail was a breeze. We followed the wide, packed-down, partially paved path that everyone takes to Iceberg Lake, which made us even more grateful for the secret trail we had shared with just a few other brave souls that day, though the views were nothing short of stunning the whole way back.

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, iceberg lake, mr and mrs adventure, deer in woods

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, iceberg lake, mr and mrs adventure, deer in woods

Shangrila hike glacier, iceberg lake hike, best hikes in glacier national park, couple hiking glacier, iceberg lake, mr and mrs adventure, deer in woodsTips for hiking in Glacier NP:

  • Bring bear spray. Luckily we didn’t need it but for us the most important purpose it serves is peace of mind.
  • Bring a bathing suit. The water is cold but if you’re hiking on a warm, sunny day you’ll want to join the other brave souls who are taking the polar plunge.
  • Wear sturdy boots, especially if you are doing any backcountry trails, or running down miles of scree, ie. ShangriLa.
  • Take a first aid kit and make sure it has moleskin and medical tape. I got a wicked blister and was lucky to find someone kind enough to share their supplies. Here’s a short video on how to properly bandage a blister 🙂 

11 Comments

  1. Reply

    Rob - Parkcation

    January 31, 2019

    Sounds like an amazing adventure. We are planning our trip to Glacier now and are already drooling over your photos. Thanks for the tips on the hikes!

    • Reply

      Brittany Rouille

      February 1, 2019

      You are going to have a great time!! Wish you could take us along with!

  2. Reply

    John

    August 26, 2018

    Good intel in Shangri La! As the other poster mentioned, you have the trails mixed up for the Pitamakin/Dawson loop.

    • Reply

      Brittany Rouille

      August 29, 2018

      Glad you found this useful! And thank you for helping with the trail title mix up – I switched it but maybe I had it written right the first time? Let me know if it’s right now, it should be 🙂

  3. Reply

    Delaine Wendling

    August 11, 2018

    Hey Mr. and Mrs. Adventure! Thanks so much for this post. My friends and I just got back from a trip to Glacier. We followed your guide for the Dawson/Pitimakin and Shangri-la hikes, had so much fun and were thankful for your descriptions. Wanted to point out that the names of the Dawson and Pitimakin passes in the post should be switched. It’s Pitimakin pass y’all hiked up first to catch the boat. Wanted to point out the mix up for fellow adventurers following the blog! Thanks again!

    • Reply

      Brittany Rouille

      August 20, 2018

      Oh you’re amazing. THANK YOU SO MUCH! We’re so happy to know you followed our steps and we so appreciate you pointing out the mix up, I will make that change now for our future adventurers 😉 Lots of love!

  4. Reply

    Delaine Wendling

    August 11, 2018

    Hey Mr and Mrs Adventure! Thank you so much for this post. My friends and I just went to Glacier and used your blog to guide our Dawson/Pitimakin and Shangri-la hikes. We had so much fun and were blown away by the views. We did notice that you have Dawson and Pitimakin passes switched. Pitimakin pass is the one you hit first in order to catch the boat. Wanted to point out the mix up for fellow adventurers following this blog. Thanks again!

  5. Reply

    Holly Cubbage

    July 17, 2018

    We did this exact hike a few days ago, wish I had seen your photos and map beforehand, it would have saved some time.

    • Reply

      Brittany Rouille

      August 20, 2018

      Awww, we wish you would have seen it earlier too! Did you do the hike clockwise or counter clockwise?

  6. Reply

    Vidya Murugan

    September 1, 2015

    hope to follow someday 🙂

    • Reply

      mrandmrsadventure

      September 8, 2015

      If it’s a dream you will make it happen 😉

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