ST. MARY — Glacier National Park’s Triple Divide area holds the centerpiece jewel in the Crown of the Continent. What it lacks in tourist attention, it makes up for in geographic significance.
The Cut Bank Ranger Station between St. Mary and Two Medicine is one of Glacier’s least-used access points, despite its location along its busiest border. An inauspicious sign marks the turnoff along Highway 89. No hotel or visitor center awaits at the end of the road.
Nevertheless, the front-country campground at the entrance to the Cut Bank Valley makes a fine staging ground for trips into the park’s interior. Cut Bank Creek burbles alongside many of the campsites, and a huge meadow of wildflowers surrounds the trailhead.
After about 4 miles, that trail splits at the junction with Atlantic Creek, with one route turning south toward Pitamakan Pass and the Two Medicine Valley. The other continues to Triple Divide Pass and crosses into the Red Eagle drainage and on to St. Mary Lake. Nobody will write raves about the Atlantic Creek backcountry campground, which lacks both scenery and privacy.
But all campsites look alike in the dark, so don’t waste daylight there. Stroll instead 1.4 miles to Medicine Grizzly Lake for excellent fishing, or march the 2.6 miles to Triple Divide Pass. The former sparkles 1,800 feet below the latter for most of the long, steady climb to the pass.
Triple Divide Peak doesn’t punctuate the Glacier skyline the way Razoredge Mountain does. But its summit marks the meeting point of three continental drainages. Rain and snow on its west face flows to the Pacific Ocean. Moisture on its southeast side finds its way to the Missouri River, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. And what lands on the northeast slopes drains into Hudson Bay, near the Arctic Circle.
Blackfeet Indians called the northern Rocky Mountains “the Backbone of the World.” Modern-day enthusiasts have named it the Crown of the Continent. Triple Divide, at the meeting point of North America’s three major waterways, landmarks that reverence.
Location: East side of Glacier National Park between St. Mary and Two Medicine entrances.
Distance/duration: 4 miles to backcountry campground, followed by about 2 more miles to either Medicine Grizzly Lake or Triple Divide Pass.
Difficulty: Long day hike or pleasant overnight backpack experience, with 1,800-foot elevation gain from Atlantic Creek backcountry campground to Triple Divide Pass.