If you want to cross the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park and are looking for more adventure than walking past the sign atop Going-to-the-Sun Road, take the trail over Gunsight Pass instead.
The 20-mile trail connects Jackson Glacier Overlook on the east with Lake McDonald Lodge on the west, and can be done as a long day hike or as a backpacking trip.
Along the way, you’ll see plenty of waterfalls, at least a couple of glaciers, possibly moose and more than likely mountain goats.
One of the easiest ways to hike the full length of the trail is to park at Lake McDonald Lodge, ride the free shuttle over Logan Pass to Jackson Glacier Overlook and then walk back to your vehicle – at the end, you’ll have the added benefit of being able to sink your tired feet in the lake behind the lodge.
The trail begins by dropping from the overlook and crossing Reynolds Creek into the St. Mary River drainage. Here, you can look for moose in bogs, then take a side trip to see Florence Falls.
Before reaching Gunsight Lake at about 6 1/4 miles, the trail rises out of the trees, offering you views of Mount Jackson, Blackfoot Mountain and their respective glaciers, and Mount Logan. From the shore at the east end of the lake, take in the numerous cascades down the red and gray cliffs and green slopes surrounding the basin.
After crossing the suspension bridge at the outlet of Gunsight Lake, the five miles over the pass and down to Lake Ellen Wilson account for most of the 3,287-foot elevation gain along the entire route. It’s also where you’re most likely to encounter mountain goats.
The trail rises above the bright blue Gunsight Lake, and early in the season crosses lingering snowfields – some of which can be quite steep – and runoff creeks, before arriving at the 6,946-foot pass. From here, descend through drier, rockier terrain to Lake Ellen Wilson – you might want to remove your footwear where a waterfall splashes over the trail.
From Ellen Wilson, head uphill again, over a snowfield and through goat territory to Lincoln Pass, where there’s an optional scramble up Lincoln Peak.
About three miles from the lake, you’ll reach Sperry Chalet, then it’s six miles downhill on dusty horse trails and into the shade of dense forest to the Sun Road, Lake McDonald Lodge and your ride home.
Location: Gunsight Pass is between Jackson Glacier Overlook on the east side of Glacier National Park and Lake McDonald Lodge on the west.
Distance/duration: About 20 miles. Could be hiked in a long day or backpacked over one or more nights, with stops possible at Gunsight Lake, Lake Ellen Wilson, and the Sperry Chalet or campground.
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous, with the possible hazard of steep, lingering snowfields depending on the time of year.