WEST GLACIER — Situated at the north end of the Lewis Range and with views across the valley to the Livingston Range, Glacier National Park’s Fifty Mountain backcountry campground lives up to its name.
Cathedral Peak and Mount Kipp stand above a glacier lily-filled meadow just uphill to the northeast. Rainbow, Vulture, Anaconda and Longfellow peaks, Mount Geduhn and more line up along the horizon to the west, past Flattop Mountain. And if that’s not enough, the nearby Sue Lake overlook offers views north to the Stoney Indian Peaks and Mount Cleveland, the tallest in the park.
As for getting to Fifty, there are options, though they’re nowhere near as numerous as the surrounding summits.
The scenic Highline Trail stretches 19.5 miles northwest from Logan Pass to the camp. From The Loop and Packers Roost on Going-to-the-Sun Road, a trail travels about 12 miles north over Flattop Mountain through the remnants of a 2003 wildfire. And from Goat Haunt, after crossing the U.S.-Canada border by foot or boat from Waterton Lakes National Park, it’s about 11.5 miles south up out of a lush valley.
If you plan to stay at Fifty Mountain, you’ll need a backcountry camping permit – issued each spring by drawing or 24 hours before departure at stations around the park.
We recently tried our luck at permits and pieced together a trip starting with a night at Goat Haunt, spending two at Fifty and ending at The Loop.
Our first day on the trail was marked mostly by rain, with a couple of short breaks in the storm at Kootenai Lakes, where moose can be seen, and on the lingering snowfields leading to camp near the Continental Divide.
The next morning, the clouds began to break at breakfast and we caught sight of a grizzly sow feeding on a ridge outside of camp. We climbed to the Sue Lake overlook and hiked a short distance southeast on the Highline before returning in time for a spectacular sunset.
On the final day, we packed up and crossed the Divide west of camp at Kootenai Pass, rising over Flattop and down through the beargrass-filled burn and a waterfall-filled canyon. Back at The Loop, we arrived at our vehicle, ready for the drive home.
Location: The Fifty Mountain backcountry campground is at the north end of the Lewis Range in Glacier National Park.
Distance/duration: The campground is 19.5 miles northwest of Logan Pass on the Highline Trail, 12 miles north of The Loop and Packers Roost on Going-to-the-Sun Road via Flattop Mountain or 11.5 miles south of Goat Haunt. We hiked in from Goat Haunt and out to The Loop, which took about six hours each day with a lot of stops for photos.
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous, with steep sections if hiking up from Goat Haunt or The Loop and long distance from Logan Pass.