Trip Report Glacier Park Lakes

Hi All,

Just returned from a nice trip and thought I'd share.

Around Christmas time my 26 year old son suggested a backpacking trip into Glacier to hit a few lakes. I worked a summer in the park a lifetime ago and was pretty excited for the opportunity but life threw a curve ball to our family so I haven't backpacked in probably 30 years and was a bit hesitant. My wife's family is in the area so we usually muster the gumption to deal with the crowds and visit the park once a summer but we/I haven't been in the sticks of Glacier for a long time.

My son came up with about eight possible trips and really wanted to go through Ptarmigan Tunnel but I figured lugging my middle aged bones plus a full backpack up and down that pass would require some CPR so we (I ;) ) settled on three less ambitious itineraries. We lucked out and got our first choice, which was three lakes on the northeast side.

My son works part time at REI and so I was lucky to get a number of 'hand me downs' from him. According to him, the work joke is that REI stands for Recycle Employee Income ;). This worked out great for me because he set me up pretty well with second hand gear for about a third or half of what it would have cost to go new.

The longest day was gonna be about 10 miles. I like to think I'm reasonably fit, but the last time my wife and I hiked that far was about three years ago...and that was with light day packs and little elevation gain, so I came up with a plan to use a half marathon training schedule, doing hikes instead of runs. I started about 5 months ago and it worked out pretty well. I continued to add weight to my pack and by the end of my "training" schedule I was packing about 40 lbs that included my old school tube, waders and other gear in to some area lakes where I live.

Enough of the background info...on with the trip.....

On the way in we stopped for the obligatory huckleberry shake and a tourist photo.. IMG_2414.JPG

before we picked up our permits, watched the required How Not to Get Eaten by a Bear video and then arrived at the Chief Mountain Trailhead around 8pm. We slept in the truck that night and hit the trail early the next morning.

We'd been spoiled with great weather the previous 10 days and were kinda bummed to see rain and cooler temps in the forecast for half of our 4 day trip...oh well.

The trail was an easy down hill going in and this was our first view of the Belly River after leaving the trees. I hadn't been in this area for probably 34 years and it was pretty cool regardless of the weather.

A little farther down the trail we ran into Bullwinkle. It's always pretty cool to watch these guys strip leaves off a bush or branch...pretty efficient.


Below is probably the biggest beaver pond I think I've ever seen....

One of a couple suspension bridges over amazingly clear water. The bridges, by the way, are surprisingly tippy in the middle;)

We made the 8 miles in to the first lake rather quickly and were getting set up by about noon. The weather followed the old joke...if you don't like it, just wait 15 minutes, cuz it was alternating between bright sun and wind with dark dark clouds. I must have accidentally overfilled my vinyl replacement tube during a shady moment cuz when I returned to start fishing a short time later, it was quickly losing air. Although I was ticked at the rookie mistake, I was glad it happened on shore rather out on the water! Even though I use an inflatable lifejacket waistpack as a belt...that would have sucked!.

And thanks to whoever it was who suggested the UV curing aquaseal....that made life much better. I'd blown a seam and the Tenacious tape wouldn't form a tight seal but the aquaseal did the trick filling the gaps....for the most part....and I was out on the water in about a half hour.

Note that we were nearly screwed because I hadn't considered a float tube a watercraft. I didn't even think about the required Aquatic Invasive Species inspection..figuring that was for boats....luckily the off duty permit guy we bumped into determined we were good to go.

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We ended up being pushed off the water by wind, thunder, and lightning twice that day. Perhaps the weather put the fish down because aside from a couple taps, all I caught was about a 10 inch rainbow. That said, it was such a beautiful place, it was hard to be frustrated.

And check out the primo poopers. I figured I'd be dropping deuces in the woods, but these made it like staying at the Hilton :)

We were driven into the tent by the weather at about 8pm. We got pelted by hail but the thunder rumbling through the valley was a treat. Luckily it wasn't still raining in the morning and we were able to break camp without getting too wet. The trek to the next lake was our shortest day at just under 6 miles. But for whatever reason, I felt the worst this day. I've got a bum hip that barks at me from time to time and it decided to flare up during the hike. Still, we were at the second lake by about 1100 and the cool lake water worked wonders. We fished this lake solid for the next 8 hours and had a blast. One had to work to find fish, but they were fairly large by my standards and seemed to average around the 2 lb range.

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We caught a bunch of these....which I was guessing were Brown's of a different color scheme than I'm familiar with. They fought like browns, though, bull dogging for the bottom.

My son ended up ditching the tube on a gravel bar and proceeded to put on a clinic...all the while watching over his shoulder for visiting bears;)

A griz came down to the far shore (in the background of the above pix) in the early evening and it was a treat to watch it from the tube. I considered kicking close enough to get a few pix but decided to let it luck the patch job would have failed about then;) I was having to pump it up about every 30 minutes by this time...all because I didn't want to stop fishing to do a better fix it job.

We got rained on again that night. The thunder rumbled around until about midnight, but again we were lucky and it wasn't raining in the morning. We made the 8 miles to our last lake, Elizabeth, without any problems. My trail legs were in good shape and we were on the water before noon. It was awesome. The bad weather had passed and we had the campground at the foot end to ourselves for about 3-4 hours. Fishing was consistently good

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The Belly River was the first place I'd ever caught a grayling so it was a treat to return and get some more. They were of good size, not the least bit leader shy, and plentiful.
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By about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, the throngs started showing up. We had been spoiled the previous two nights by having only one or two other people in the campsite. Elizabeth lake is pretty popular and we estimated there were over 20 people so we decided to bug out. Crazily enough, we had fished enough and it was time to go. We broke camp and threw our stuff in the packs and were heading out by 5:30...estimating we would be at the truck by 10pm...just before dark.

Yeah, it was kinda crazy. I don't care to hike at twilight, but we went for it all the same. The first 6 miles flew by and then we started running into these.


One of these guys evidently had an upset stomach from some bear grass cuz it left a red ropy pile the size of which I hadn't seen since being in Alaska. And damn, that kept us making noise and staying alert. ;)

The last three miles were a grind of gaining and losing elevation until the final rise to the trailhead but we made it to the truck by 9pm and laid in the parking lot to ease our legs for about a half hour. It had been an 18 mile day and all in all a great trip!

For those who consider doing such a trip, I'll suggest you go for it. I figured this would be my last chance...maybe it was a mid life crisis thing...but it was awesome and plan to continue getting into the alpine lakes that so many others on this site already enjoy.

And sleeping on the ground wasn't as bad as I had envisioned ;)

Mike d
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Bruce Baker

Active Member
I thought they were invasive?

From Glacier NP website:
"Lake trout (also called mackinaw), historically found only in park waters draining to Hudson Bay, now occur in most of of the large lakes west of the Continental Divide. However, there is no evidence that non-native lake trout were directly stocked in park waters. They apparently became established in several of the park's west side lakes through migration from the lower Flathead River system where they were introduced during the early 1900s."


WFF Supporter
I thought they were invasive?
so did i. i was trying to figure out what lake MD was fishing to confirm if it has lakers and i stumbled on this:

"The Native Lake trout is currently ranked "S2" in Montana because it is at risk due to very limited and/or potentially declining population numbers, range and/or habitat, making it vulnerable to extirpation in the state. This species is a glacial relic in Montana known from native (never-stocked) populations occurring in Waterton Lake, Glenns Lake, Cosley Lake, and St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park and Lower St. Mary Lake on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, as well as a couple of small populations in the upper Missouri River basin. Otherwise, all other populations in the state are introduced."

kinda cool

Upton O

Blind hog fisherman
Absolutely one of the best written reports I’ve read on any forum and the photos added the right “spice”. Well done, indeed
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Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
Yes, thanks for sharing. Am heading to Whitefish and Glacier area next week with a couple of other old farts, and your report is a stoker, even though we will be on the Flathead.
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WFF Supporter
Yes, thanks for sharing. Am heading to Whitefish and Glacier area next week with a couple of other old farts, and your report is a stoker, even though we will be on the Flathead.

I’m jealous! It’s getting more and more difficult to have to go back to work. Each year when we return and hit the traffic at Indian John Hill or the I 5 mess I have to remind myself why it is we live here:confused:

I’ve had some great times on the Flathead....especially the south fork above the reservoir.

Wish I could call in ‘slick’ and join you ;)

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