Best Backpacking Trips in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado

Best Backpacking Trips in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado

by Mike White, Douglas Lorain


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Best Backpacking Trips in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado provides everything you need to know to organize and execute the best backpacking trips in the Mountain West. Mike White and Douglas Lorain, who have walked every mile of the trails described inside, take readers and hikers into some of the wildest and most scenic backcountry landscapes in the nation and help them design the ultimate trip.

Focusing on one-week excursions, the book offers details on all the aspects of trip planning—trail narratives, technical data, maps, gear, food, information on regulations and permits, and more. But it is more than a basic guidebook. Trip information is enriched by valuable and interesting sidebars on history and ecology that will increase appreciation for these natural areas and the people who were instrumental in their discovery or protection.

In Best Backpacking Trips in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, White and Lorain pass on their knowledge of quality hikes, planning and preparation, and the unique satisfaction of multi-day backpacking. This guide, put into practice, will result in the trip of a lifetime.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781607328377
Publisher: University Press of Colorado
Publication date: 05/01/2019
Edition description: 1
Pages: 346
Sales rank: 473,665
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 15 - 18 Years

About the Author

Mike White is a full-time writer and a former community college instructor. He is a featured speaker for outdoor and conservation organizations. White is the author or coauthor of numerous outdoor hiking guides, including 50 Classic Hikes in Nevada, Best Backpacking Trips in California and Nevada, and Best Backpacking Trips in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Douglas Lorain lived in the Pacific Northwest for decades and for the last several years has made his home in Montana—and he has explored the trails of the Mountain West extensively. Lorain is a photographer and has received the National Outdoor Book Award. He is the author or coauthor of Backpacking Wyoming, Backpacking Oregon, Backpacking Washington, Best Backpacking Trips in California and Nevada, and Best Backpacking Trips in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt


Part 1


Glacier National Park

Trip 1

Ptarmigan–Glenns Lake–Highline Loop

Who will gainsay that the parks contain the highest potentialities of national pride, national contentment, and national health. A visit inspires love of country; begets contentment; engenders pride of possession; contains the antidote for national restlessness ... He is a better citizen with a keener appreciation of the privilege of living here who has toured the national parks.

— Stephen T. Mather, national park service director, 1917–29

Almost every time someone publishes a survey, Glacier National Park ranks as the best national park in the United States for backpacking. And how could it not? With an abundance of large wildlife, dozens of spectacular waterfalls, hundreds of stunning alpine lakes, countless wildflower-filled meadows, an infinite amount of amazing mountain scenery, and a network of over 700 miles of hiking trails, the park offers everything a mountain-loving backpacker could want. If the authors were so inclined, we could easily include four or five extended trips in the park and still not really do the place justice. But space limitations (and a sense of fairness to the many other outstanding hiking areas in the Rocky Mountains) kept us to just two superior Glacier Park adventures, which we feel are the best of an outstanding selection.

This trip, sometimes called the Northern Loop, takes you through the incredibly scenic northeast portion of the park. The recommended basic loop includes a generous supply of outstanding scenery, stunning lakes, crashing waterfalls, and just about everything else you could hope for from a classic backpacking trip. To immeasurably enrich your experience, however, take a few extra days and add several side trips, especially the very long but commensurately very rewarding adventure to scenic Boulder Pass. Regardless of how long you stay or how far you go, you'll gather enough memories to last a lifetime.

Ptarmigan–Glenns Lake–Highline Loop Location

Days: 5–13

Distance: 52 miles (minimum loop); 106 miles (with recommended side trips)

Type: Loop

Scenery: 10

Solitude: 2

Technical Difficulty: 6

Physical Difficulty: 7

Elevation Gain/Loss: +10,750'/?10,750' (minimum loop), +16,200'/-16,200' (106-mile trip)

Season: Late July to mid-October

Best: August

Map: Trails Illustrated: Glacier-Waterton Lakes National Parks

Resources:Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park, by Vicky Spring; Blood Lure, by Nevada Barr; Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West, by Michael Punke

Contact: Glacier National Park

PO Box 128 West Glacier, MT 59936 406-888-7800

Permits: All advanced reservations for backpacking in Glacier National Park are made online at Starting in 2019, all reservations submitted on March 15 (opening day) will be processed in random order in a "modified lottery" system. Processing reservations received on March 16 or later is done on a first-come, first-served basis, so you should apply as soon as possible to increase your odds of acceptance. Beginning on March 15 (March 1 for large groups of 9–12), requests can be made up to seven days before the day of departure. A charge of $40 (credit card or PayPal) is levied for each application/reservation, $30 of which is refundable if your request cannot be filled. Applicants will be notified by email, which may take up to a month due to the typical high volume of requests. For more information, consult the park's website.

Without a reserved permit, you must get in line very early (usually by 5 AM or so of the day before your trip is to begin) and pray for a first-come, first-served permit. Even for the earliest risers, however, the odds aren't good, so be very flexible about where you want to go, where you want to camp, how many miles you are willing to travel per day, and how many days you can stay for your trip.

Regulations: Along park trails, camping is only allowed at designated campsites. Group size is limited to a maximum of twelve persons. Visitors are required to properly store all food and other items away from bears at all times, even if you are only gone for a few minutes.

Nearest Campground: Many Glacier Campground — 0.3 mile

Nearest Airports: Great Falls International Airport (GTF) — 195 miles

Glacier Park International Airport (KFCA or GPI) — 95 miles

Nearest Outdoor Retailer: Rocky Mountain Outfitter — 105 miles

135 Main Street Kalispell, MT 59901

Outfitter: Glacier Guides

11970 Highway 2 East PO Box 330
West Glacier, MT 59936

Transportation Logistics: There are no public transportation options, so the easiest way to reach the trailhead is to drive your own vehicle. The park's free shuttle bus over Going-to-the-Sun Road does not access the trailhead for this hike.

Backcountry Logistics: (GB, BB, Sn, St, W) Glacier National Park is grizzly bear country. Although rare, attacks do occur and people occasionally get killed. Properly store all food and other odorous items away from the bruins and well away from your tent. All official campsites have bear poles or wires for hanging your food and designated cooking areas — use them! Although not prohibited, solo travel is not recommended. Make noise while you hike, so bears are not surprised by your arrival (a potentially dangerous situation). Never approach a bear, especially not a sow with cubs. Stay away from any carcasses you encounter, as bears often feed on these and aggressively protect them from intruders. Always check with park rangers about recent bear activity and any closures due to bear encounters. Finally, you should carry bear spray, know how and when to use it, and keep it readily available.

The weather in any mountain environment is subject to rapid changes, a fact especially true this far north in the Rockies. Rain is fairly common, and more than once I have woken up to fresh snow on the ground in July and August. Carry rain gear, warm clothing, and a sturdy tent.

Lingering snowfields often cover the trail on steep, north-facing slopes well into late July or even early August in some years. On cold mornings these snowfields can be dangerously icy, which makes parts of this loop too hazardous for most hikers before late summer.

The park has dozens of seasonal bridges, installed as the trails open up in the summer. Without these bridges, you may face some tricky or even dangerous fords. Ask about the status of these bridges when you pick up your permit to ascertain the safety of crossing the various streams and rivers along the way.

The Glacier backcountry is understandably popular. This not only makes getting a permit difficult, but also affects your sense of solitude. All on-trail hikers are required to stay with other backpackers at designated campgrounds, which are invariably full throughout the summer. For bear safety reasons, the individual sites are usually fairly close together, and you are required to hang food and eat with the other campers in the designated food-preparation areas. Especially in camp you will never really feel alone, which is fine if you enjoy the company, but may be off-putting for those seeking solitude.

Almost all the established sites in the designated backcountry campgrounds in Glacier National Park have lots of rocks and gravel. Carry a sturdy and thick ground cloth to protect the bottom of your tent from sharp stones.

The relatively wet climate, especially on the west side of the park, means plants grow very quickly, which explains the almost ubiquitous brush often crowding even well-used trails. Generally, this is not a problem, but after a rainstorm or when plants are covered with dew in the morning, you'll get soaked hiking through the many brushy areas along the trail. Use rain pants and gaiters to stay dry and comfortable.

Amenities and Attractions: The nearest town with a reasonable array of shops, restaurants, motels, and other amenities is Browning. A more limited number of tourist facilities are found at the smaller towns of Babb and St. Mary. For a full range of services, you'll have to drive either to Great Falls or Kalispell. In Browning, on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, history buffs will find an hour or so of their time worthwhile to tour the excellent Museum of the Plains Indian.

There's a lifetime's worth of natural attractions in and around Glacier National Park. Near the starting trailhead don't miss the wildly scenic (and extremely crowded) day hikes to Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake. To the north, Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park offers dozens of outstanding hikes, most notably the trail to Crypt Lake and the very scenic Carthew-Alderson Traverse. In the southeastern part of Glacier National Park, you'll be delighted with the hikes to Medicine Grizzly Lake and Triple Divide Pass, as well as the terrific trails to Oldman Lake and Upper Two Medicine Lake. At Logan Pass, don't miss the spectacular (and spectacularly crowded) hikes to Hidden Lake and along the Garden Wall. No matter how much time a hiker spends here, he or she will be handsomely rewarded.

The Swiss-style Many Glacier Hotel is one of the national park system's classic hotels built during the golden era of rail travel. A night's stay will be well rewarded with the dramatic early morning view across Swiftcurrent Lake of the surrounding mountains.

Directions to Trailhead: Drive US 89 to the tiny community of Babb. Turn west at a junction at the south end of town, following signs to Many Glacier, and drive this paved road for 7.7 miles to the entrance station for the park. After paying the entrance fee, continue another 4.1 miles, and then go straight at the junction with the access road to Many Glacier Hotel. Exactly 1 mile later, go straight again where a road goes left, this time to the Many Glacier Ranger Station and Campground, and proceed 0.2 mile to another fork in the road. Go straight here, and park in the enormous (but, nonetheless, often full) lot for the Swiftcurrent Picnic Area.

One of the Fathers of American Conservation: George Bird Grinnell (1849–1938)

Seeing Mount Grinnell, Grinnell Point, Grinnell Falls, Grinnell Lake, Upper Grinnell Lake, and, of course, the famous Grinnell Glacier, a visitor to Glacier National Park can't help but ask, "who was this Grinnell guy anyway?"

"This Grinnell guy" was George Bird Grinnell, who was born in 1849 to a wealthy family in New York City, and, apart from having to grow up explaining a rather odd middle name, he had things pretty good. He spent most of his youth at a house in what was then a rural part of Manhattan Island called Audubon Park, named for its recently deceased and famous resident, John James Audubon. Lucy Audubon, John James's widow, was a friend and teacher for young George, and the grown Audubon children were good friends of the Grinnell family.

The next relevant event in George's life happened just after he graduated from Yale. He managed to land a place on a scientific expedition to the West led by Professor Othniel Charles Marsh, a renowned paleontologist. On this trip in the summer of 1870, Grinnell experienced some of the last of the classic "Wild West." He met real trappers, was chased by hostile Indians, survived rattlesnakes and prairie fires, had his train stopped for three hours by an enormous herd of buffalo, and was even guided for a time by the famous Buffalo Bill Cody. The expedition also managed to find a wealth of very significant fossils, but the adventurous happenings were what appealed to George, a young man who was now completely enamored with the West. His future course in life seemed set.

He returned to the West in 1872 to accompany the Pawnee tribe on its last great traditional buffalo hunt, and again in 1874, traveling as a naturalist with General George Armstrong Custer's Black Hills expedition. Fortunately, he declined to fill the same role in Custer's disastrous 1876 Little Big Horn campaign.

In the summer of 1875, Grinnell was the naturalist on an expedition to the newly established Yellowstone National Park. He was enthralled by the spectacular and unusual sights, but also showed his first strong concerns about conservation issues as he watched the unchecked slaughter of the area's rapidly diminishing big game, especially bison, and saw rough bands of "tourists" vandalizing the geysers and other natural features. He was dismayed that despite the area's status as the world's first national park, Congress had not appropriated a single penny for rangers or any other measures to protect or maintain the place in the first six years of the park's existence.

Grinnell soon began writing columns for a new magazine called Forest and Stream. After just four years he had taken over as editor of the magazine, which rapidly became the nation's leading voice on conservation issues. He skillfully used his editorials to galvanize hunters and anglers into the first important political force for conservation. He called for commonsense game laws with bag limits, hunting seasons, and licenses — hardly radical notions by today's standards. His words had some effect, and a few local and territorial laws were passed, but enforcement was nonexistent and there was usually no penalty for breaking the law, so the slaughter of the buffalo (and a host of other animals) continued. In just a decade of massive commercial hunting, the buffalo numbers went from tens of millions to a scattered couple of thousand. Very soon, the nation's entire population of wild bison resided almost exclusively in Yellowstone National Park.

Poaching was rampant in the park, and the federal government did almost nothing to stop it from happening. Grinnell's voice gradually brought together a coalition in an attempt to halt the slaughter and shame the government into action. Eventually the situation was so bad that the phrase "wildlife wars" became literal, when the United States Cavalry was sent in to run the park and save Yellowstone's wildlife. And none too soon, because at one point in 1902 the wild buffalo population reached a perilously low twenty-three animals. But pushed, prodded, and cajoled by Grinnell's insistent demands for better enforcement and punishments for poachers, the government finally took the necessary actions and the herd just barely survived. Today, thanks to Grinnell, the Yellowstone herd of wild bison numbers around four thousand, with several thousand more in other parks and preserves scattered around the United States and Canada.

While saving the bison from extinction would be more than enough for the résumé of most men, Grinnell had several other significant accomplishments in his long life. In 1886 Grinnell called for the formation of the Audubon Society, which focused on the conservation and enjoyment of birds. He named the society in honor of the man whose family he had known so well as a boy. The group grew rapidly in popularity (39,000 members after only the first year), with chapters all around the country, and is now one of the largest conservation and outdoor organizations in the United States. More significantly for the fledgling conservation movement, however, was that Grinnell, along with Teddy Roosevelt and a few other powerful people, co-founded the Boone and Crocket Club. This small group of avid hunters was the first major organization in the United States to have a stated goal of advancing legislation to protect wildlife. For the first time in history, the conservation movement had a powerful political voice. And more than anyone else, Grinnell was both the club's brainchild and most vocal spokesperson, using his platform in Forest and Stream. Among other vitally important achievements, Grinnell and the club members very narrowly stopped the most wildlife-rich part of Yellowstone from being handed over to the then all-powerful railroad lobby.

In 1885, Grinnell made his first trip to the mountains of northern Montana. He hunted bighorn sheep and mountain goats, and, like generations of people since, he marveled at the amazing scenery. He found the St. Mary region in the eastern part of the range particularly entrancing. Over several visits he and a local guide, James Willard Schultz, extensively explored this spectacular land and named countless of its rugged features. And if several of the landmarks ended up with the name Grinnell attached to them, perhaps we can forgive this bit of ego. More significantly, he once again employed his well-honed writing skills to use the platform of Forest and Stream to fight for the creation of a new national park. Grinnell was the first to describe this remarkable place as "the Crown of the Continent," and his tireless efforts led directly to the creation of Glacier National Park in 1910.


Excerpted from "Best Backpacking Trips in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Mike White and Douglas Lorain.
Excerpted by permission of University Press of Colorado.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Maps,
List of Trail Profiles,
Part 1. Montana,
Glacier National Park,
Trip 1. Ptarmigan–Glenns Lake–Highline Loop,
Trip 2. Gunsight Pass Traverse Crazy,
Mountains–Custer Gallatin National Forest,
Trip 3. Crazy Mountains Traverse,
Madison Range–Lee Metcalf Wilderness (Spanish Peaks Unit), Custer Gallatin National Forest,
Trip 4. Spanish Peaks Loop Beartooth,
Mountains–Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Custer Gallatin National Forest,
Trip 5. The Beaten Path,
Part 2. Wyoming,
Yellowstone National Park,
Trip 6. Bechler River Trail,
Grand Teton National Park,
Trip 7. Teton Crest Trail,
Cloud Peak Wilderness, Bighorn National Forest,
Trip 8. Solitude Trail Loop,
Bridger Wilderness, Bridger-Teton National Forest,
Trip 9. Wind River Highline Traverse,
Bridger and Popo Agie Wildernesses, Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forests,
Trip 10. Cirque of the Towers Loop,
Fitzpatrick Wilderness, Shoshone National Forest,
Trip 11. Glacier Trail to Gannett Peak,
Part 3. Colorado,
Flat Tops Wilderness, White River and Medicine Bow–Routt National Forests,
Trip 12. Trappers Lake–Devils Causeway Loop,
Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness, White River National Forest,
Trip 13. Maroon Bells: Four Pass Loop,
Weminuche Wilderness, Rio Grande and San Juan National Forests,
Trip 14. Weminuche Wilderness Traverse,
Appendix: Best Times by Season,
About the Authors,

Customer Reviews