Swiftcurrent Pass Trail
The best view trail in Glacier National Park
I hiked the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail mid June 2015 very little snow basically all at or near the pass.
Swiftcurrent Pass Trail was not clear of snow until mid August 2011, during 2013 the trail was almost totally snow free by late June. During the 2008 hiking season this trail didn't open until early August. The point being that July is usually the earliest that you can rely on this trail being open, unless there is another 100 year winter as occurred in 2011. It is a steep climb with lots of switchbacks up to Granite Park Chalet. The Granite Park Chalet will be open July 1, 2015 through September 11, 2015 you can buy snacks and water at Granite Park Chalet. It is very nice to sit at a table inside the refreshingly cool Granite Park Chalet dining area and drink a semi-chilled drink.
The chalet was designed by architect Samuel L. Bartlett and was built in 1914. Once you get to the Granite Park Chalet you have completed the hardest part of the uphill grind. When the Granite Park Chalet is not open there is NO WATER available.
GIA GPS altitude Profile is from Granite Park Chalet to first crossing of Swiftcurrent Creek on the Many Glacier side os Swiftcurrent Pass.
The photo below was taken in late June of 2007, on July 3, 2011 I Snowshoed up to the Granite Park Chalet and this building had snow up to the bottom edge of the roof!
The Loop Trail used to be a heavily wooded trail up to Granite Park Chalet until the forest fires of 2003. There is a poster out showing a wall of flames at the Loop. Now the Loop Trail has underbrush but little in the way of shade. The positive side is that you have great views of Heavens Peak. This is another one of Glacier Parks horse trails masquerading as a hiking trail.
Swiftcurrent Pass Trail
On August 8 2011 the snow line was 6,700 feet, in places on the trail. At Granite Park Chalet the snow was over 8 feet deep on 7-2-11. Pathways were shoveled out to allow access to the buildings.
A slow hiker's guide™ to Glacier National Park Wildflowers
Whitefish Pilot article on my Wildflower Guide.
The Loop and Swiftcurrent Pass Trail as a combo wasn't clear in 2011 before August. See The Loop Trail regarding the first part of this hike. The Loop and Swiftcurrent Pass Trail is eleven miles long, gains 2,600 feet and drops 2,300 feet. This is a brutal hike, it's worth it but don't ever attempt this as your first hike in Glacier National Park unless you're in superb condition. On 7-2-11 I hiked to Granite Park Chalet from the Loop and there was 100% snow cover for the last two miles with eight feet of snow at the Chalet. In 2010 on 7-8-10 I hiked to Granite Park Chalet, it was a sunny, HOT day, wildflowers along the trail from shortly after leaving the Loop till reaching the first meadows which were filled with glacier lilies, the meadow below Granite Park Chalet had 4 feet of snow, the staff from Granite Park Chalet had shoveled a path through the snow. Swiftcurrent Pass Trail past the Chalet was covered in snow but several hikers had come up from Many Glacier while I was at the Chalet.
Glacier Park added a sign to this post regarding Shuttle Times in 2011. In 2013 the shuttle sign was gone, don't know if it was stolen or removed by GNP. Since the Shuttle stops at 7 pm at Logan Pass, panic was frequently the result of reading the shuttle hours sign for those hikers that felt the Highline Trail was a simple stroll.
From Granite Park Chalet it is just under a mile to Swiftcurrent Pass and seven miles along the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail to Many Glacier Road. It's an easy climb to Swiftcurrent Pass from Granite Park Chalet. After you get Swiftcurrent Pass and begin the descent into the Many Glacier Valley you will be able to see Swiftcurrent Glacier. From the Glacier view spot it's all downhill. After you get to Many Glacier Valley it is four miles over slightly rolling terrain to the Many Glacier parking area. The Eastside shuttle to St Mary starts here, or did as for the 2014 hiking season GNP has a new concessionaire the first change in 30 years. There is a restaurant and a small gift shop/grocery store at the trailhead.
Swiftcurrent Glacier 2007 from Swiftcurrent Pass Trail. This trail is one of four day hike trails that come near a glacier. Two other day hike trails provide a view of a glacier.
Descent from Swiftcurrent Pass to Many Glacier Valley
The trail is in good shape until you get to this rock outcropping. You can't miss it. This is the time to decide if you are going to continue down the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail. The steep final descent of the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail was heavily damaged during the Pineapple Express in the fall of 2006, the trail crew was able to make the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail passable, just barely, in spots. The downhill part of the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail as of late August 2007 was dicey at best and at times dangerous. If your afraid of heights or at some points a very narrow loose surfaced trail, turn around now. Hopefully the trail crew will be able to make some more permanent repairs. If it's raining or foggy I would turn around at this point. If you're hiking over the continental divide on Swiftcurrent Pass or Piegan Pass you will need to get an early start to be able to catch the Many Glacier to St Mary EastSide shuttle. Hitchhiking out of Many Glacier used to be a time honored tradition but I haven't done it for several years. Hitchhiking into Many Glacier would be much more difficult. Since Glacier National Park started free shuttle service along Going to the Sun Road in 2007, hitchhiking in the park has become trickier. I was able to hitchhike from Siyeh Bend to Apgar on 7-8-10, it did take some time to get a ride but that was mainly do to the fact that all but one of the cars coming up from St Mary were full.
This hike is one of my top priorities for the 2014 hiking season. Logistically I will camp in Many Glacier and drive to The Loop and park my car. Hike back to Many Glacier relax and get a good nights sleep than catch The Many Glacier Shuttle (hopefully there will be one) From St Mary Visitor Center take the parks free shuttles back to my car at The Loop. A less stressful physically and mentally method of doing this hike. Of course the least stressful is to have access to two cars!
When I get to this rock outcropping I think of Mary Robert Rinehart's book Through Glacier Park "There was a time when I had thought that a mountain pass was a depression. It is not. A mountain pass is a place where the impossible becomes barely possible. It is a place where wild game has, after much striving, discovered that it may get from one mountain valley to another. Along these game trails men have built new paths. Again and again we rode through long green valleys, the trail slowly rising until it had left timber far below. Then at last we confronted a great rock wall, a seemingly impassable barrier. Up this, by infinite windings, back and forward went the trail. At the top was the pass."
USGS Alden, W.C. 554 Grinnell Mountain on the right. August 15, 1911
It' was my understanding that Two Medicine Pass is even more spectacular than this spot on the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail. Well during the 2013 hiking season I finally made it to Two Medicine Pass. The view is not as visually stunning as is this one into the Many Glacier Valley, however it is a very powerful view into a very remote, undeveloped area of Glacier Park. The trail is the only sign of civilization.
Previously there was one afternoon shuttle a day EastSide Shuttle from Many Glacier to St Mary Visitor Center. Be aware that most of the EastSide Shuttles start service on July 1 to co-ordinate with Glacier National Park's shuttle service. Also the schedules are VERY limited. It took me some time in 2007 to find out about the Eastside Shuttle schedules. GPI has done a better job this year with the information. The schedules are also posted at each of the stops. The EastSide Shuttle Fee from Many Glacier to St Mary was $10.00 CASH? Please remember to bring your Glacier Park pass as you will need it to re-enter Glacier Park at the St Mary entrance. The National Park Service cut back on the hours of operation for the Glacier Shuttle in 2008. BEWARE that it may not be possible to get back to your car at The LOOP using Glacier Park Shuttle Service. During 2013 hours of service were 7:30 am to 7 pm. Since the eastside shuttle leaves Many Glacier at 5:40 pm you would be hard pressed to get a Glacier Park Shuttle back to The Loop. 2014 Shuttle schedule is 7:30 am to 7 pm. Not sure when Logan Pass will be open from the east side of Glacier Park during the 2014 hiking season. On the west side it will be open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, the first time in eight years.