Gunsight Pass Trail

HARD 20 reviews
#19 of 114 trails in

Gunsight Pass Trail is a 19.6 mile moderately trafficked point-to-point trail located near East Glacier Park, Montana that features a lake and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October.

DISTANCE
19.6 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
3750 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Point to Point

backpacking

birding

camping

hiking

nature trips

walking

forest

lake

views

wild flowers

wildlife

no dogs

The Gunsight Pass Trail is 20.6 miles long starting on Going to the Sun Road between Logan Pass and St Mary Lake and ending at the Lake McDonald Lodge. With day hike access to 2 glaciers, stunning scenery and 3,000 feet of total climb, it is deserving of a multi day backpacking experience.

hiking
16 days ago

hiking
4 months ago

My wife and I did this hike across 3 nights as part of our honeymoon, starting at Jackson Glacier Overlook and spending the first night at Gunsight Lake, the second night at Lake Ellen Wilson, and the third night at Sperry Campground.

This is an absolutely incredible backcountry adventure, beginning with a solid descent into the Reynolds Creek valley, then flattening out alongside the St. Mary River until gradually climbing uphill after the footbridge approaching Gunsight Lake. A lot of this area requires navigating thick underbrush, with limited visibility, so be sure to make lots of noise to avoid unwanted wildlife (read: bears) encounters.

The campground at Gunsight Lake was wonderful and fairly compact, in a good way. The campsites are in a row along a tree line next to the lake, with easy access to the pit toilet (an outhouse) and food prep/storage area. There's also many small foot paths that move you between these areas, as well as to the shore of the lake. One tip: be sure to get up early (6-6:30 AM) to catch the mist rising off of the meadow/lake.

From Gunsight Lake you climb significantly to Gunsight Pass, all the while taking in the views from above. It's a long climb, but it never feels overly strenuous. Arriving at Gunsight Pass comes with a great sense of accomplishment, as well as a spectacular vantage point of Gunsight Lake and Lake Ellen Wilson below.

The descent to Lake Ellen Wilson is a series of steep switchbacks, but nothing too daunting. Just when you think you've reached the campsite, however, you're met with another winding descent down, which isn't too bad on the way in, but will add another layer of difficulty when heading back out.

The Lake Ellen Wilson campground is gorgeous and it's no wonder that it's such a coveted location. Our only complaint is that the pit toilet is a decent distance from the campsites and food prep/storage area, which in the grand scheme of things isn't a big deal considering it's better than finding a log and digging a hole.

**One thing to note is that the entirety of this hike (and its campgrounds) are in prime bear habitat. While we didn't see any during our entire trip, we did see scat and there have been countless reports of bears in this area, so don't let your guard down or travel too far without your bear spray.**

Heading out of Lake Ellen Wilson to the Sperry Campground isn't nearly as difficult as the hike out of Gunsight Lake, and for that we were thankful. On the way over Lincoln Pass a blanket of grey clouds rolled in and treated us to a brief shower—it didn't fall too long or too hard, and we enjoyed the smell of the fresh rain. Only a short 2.7mi hike later, we arrived at Sperry Campground.

The Sperry Campground is situated along a short ridge line with sweeping views of Lake McDonald below, each campsite privy to the view. The food storage/prep area and the pit toilet (outhouse) are at the far end and have the best view. This was the one campground during our trip that we didn't spend much time in, as the delightful Sperry Chalet was only another 0.4mi down the trail, providing such comforts as a table and chairs for reading comfortably, and a hot grilled cheese with a glass of lemonade for lunch (we'd be lucky enough to score walk-in reservations for dinner that night, as well as having breakfast in the morning).

While we were eating dinner at the chalet, a strong thunderstorm swept in, a testament to the unpredictable and constantly changing weather patterns of Glacier National Park. As we took in the spectacle of high wind gusts, rain, and lightning strikes from the porch, we watched in awe as a single bolt of lightning fell from the sky and struck only a short distance away behind the ridge line—a few minutes later, we watched as a large plume of smoke began rising behind from behind the trees.

Our exit to Lake McDonald blocked by a burgeoning forest fire, we were forced to wake the next morning and unexpectedly hike back the 14mi to Jackson Lake Overlook. While the hike was as beautiful as on the way in, the grueling distance and elevation eventually took their toll, and we simply yearned for its end. An impressive 6 hours later and we caught a ride with some friends we'd made along the trail back to Logan Pass, catching a shuttle back to our car, our journey finally coming to an end.

hiking
5 months ago

hiking
5 months ago

6 months ago

7 months ago

Its a really nice day hike if you are staying at Sperry Chalet. Do bring water; sperry has a spigot to fill your bladder. There are grizzlies who frequent the trail. Bear spray is a MUST. It is excellent "negative" reinforcement for the bears to NOT interact with humans. After all Glacier is a bear habitat where they shut trails down to protect the bears. The unmanned Gunsight Pass chalet is a good place to chill and have your hikers lunch and get out of the elements if it should turn blustery wet and cold (it does in a heart beat) at the pass. Being in pretty good shape helps alot and having the right gear for the back country does too. Enjoy !

11 months ago

11 months ago

Beautiful scenic area. Bring bear mace

backpacking
Sunday, October 23, 2016

Beyond spectacular! Completed this epic journey from Sept. 29 - Oct. 1 and caught near-perfect weather. Plenty of water along the entire trail, so I recommend traveling with little water as long as you have a good purification system. The most challenging portion of the hike is the ascent above Gunsight Lake to the pass. Mountain goats followed me from just above Gunsight Lake all the way to Sperry campground, posing for pictures along the way while begging for food. Someone seems to have been careless because the goats were extremely friendly and had no problem walking within inches from me. Saw 7 bears between Gunsight Pass and Lincoln Pass, mostly on eastern side of Lake Ellen Wilson. Juvenile black bear charged me on the very narrow trail/ledge near the waterfall on the eastern side of Lake Ellen Wilson below the pass. He decided to turn around after coming as close as 35 feet, standing on his hind legs and growling at me. Don't dally on this portion of the trail as there's absolutely no room to maneuver on little more than a 2-foot wide trail with a steep drop off to certain death. I carry a small air horn that worked well in keeping the bears at a distance. Spray should be a last resort. I highly recommend this trail late in the season as there were no ice fields and the colors made the view all the more surreal. You'll need to wade through 2 creeks because the footbridges had been taken down by then. Definitely the best hike I've had in Glacier or anywhere else on the planet.

backpacking
Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Amazing views. I hiked from the trail head all the way to Mcdonnalds lake. Very amazing hike! Watch for goats and bears! The ice fields were sketchy, so bring ice axes or trek polls.

hiking
Monday, July 18, 2016

Amazing trail. Great condition. Marked perfectly. Hemlock grove and shade for first 2/3. And then mountain views for final 1/3 into sperry chalet. Amazing experience having lunch and coffee at chalet. We climbed 3400 ft in 6.4 miles.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

hiking
Saturday, November 28, 2015

Great backpacking trip - amazing views from Gunsight Pass after a great night camped at the lake. Lots of mountain goats, and a bear was wandering around camp on the way down. A few snow fields to cross, but in mid September it had not yet started snowing yet and was doable just with hiking shoes.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Always check conditions before going to see if you need an ice axe like we did, but absolutely gorgeous!!!! Mountain goats, bears and marmots.

hiking
Saturday, January 04, 2014

We trained last spring in Austin to prepare for this great hike. This trail is only open about 100 days per year!
The trail is in good shape except for the initial
Portion of the lower trail which needs serious trimming. Be sure to bring bear spray as this is bear haven! The trail views are absolutely spectacular and can only be seen from a plane or on this hike.
Bring lots of water in late summer or bring water filter as we used both. We hiked in late august and while cool in the morning it got very warm in the afternoon sun and we went through about 40-50 ozs of water. You will encounter very friendly Mt goats on trail and two followed us for over a mile!
Best to acclimate to altitude before trying some of Glaciers hikes-- allow 3-4 days.
This is a serious hike but not technically hard. Just a long slow climb on day 1 crossing two Mt passes and crossing a snow field.
Plan ahead (by6-9 months) and stay at Sperry Chalet on the Mt. Well worth the cost for a great meal, entertainment by the staff and a comfortable bed!
The hike out is all downhill and enjoyable.
We did it at age 60 to celebrate!! We plan on going back and doing it again!
We took 8 1/2 hrs on day one and 4 hrs on day two and maintained a nice but enjoyable pace.

hiking
Thursday, July 18, 2013

Very nice hike with wonderful views along the way along with some side trails worth of exploring. We hiked the trail in early June and only passed by one other person on the trail that day. Although we had to navigate through snow for the final 1 1/2 miles, it was worth it. As my wife and I stood by Gunsight Lake we were treated to; not one but two, avalanches that created snow falls that drained into the lake for almost 20 minutes; and only we got to see it, spectacular. I highly recommend this hike anytime you are in East Glacier

hiking
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

hiking
Thursday, August 30, 2012

Just as nice as it was in 1965 when we climbed Mt Jackson and exited via Sperry Chalet.
This is a great hike with simple logistics. Start at the Apgar Transit Center at 0700 (be there early to get the first bus). Take the shuttle to Jackson Glacier overlook and have a vehicle waiting at Lake McD Lodge where you can swim and have a refreshing drink of your choice within minutes of completing your hike.

hiking
Sunday, August 19, 2012

Most beautiful place I've ever been. It's a 6.2 hike to gunsight lake but well worth the hike. Total serenity and plenty of trout in the lake. Leave early because it takes 2.5 hours to get there and spend the day

hiking
Sunday, November 06, 2011

Went as far as Speary Chalet and then spurred off up to Speary Glacier flat out amazing