Gunsight Lake & Mt. Jackson

A father-daughter adventure

In July of 2013 my daughter and I set out on a camping and climbing trip to Gunsight Lake. We would meet my friend Dustin at camp on Gunsight Lake where we would base our climb of Mt. Jackson. The weather forecast was ideal and we were excited to get on top of some glaciers.

Gunsight Lake is a wonderful back country campground. It is set up like the other back country sites but the proximity to the lake and the views from the campground make this one of my favorite destinations. The hike in to the lake is only 6.5 miles and the elevation gain is a gradual 1500 ft. And there is plenty to see on the way in.

Ready to hit the trail for an adventure

After a couple miles of slow descent from the trail head we found Deadwood Falls. Here the creek creates some impressive erosive features on the colorful rocks as it hammers it’s way through the surrounding walls. This is a popular spot for hikers to stop and take photos. Remember that drowning is the leading cause of death in GNP so always be careful around slippery rocks and moving water.

Deadwood Falls area

The initial descent ended when we reached the St. Mary River. Here we found wetlands and meadows ideal for wildlife viewing. This river basin is prime country for moose and bear and hikers usually have sightings of them more often than not. A few prominent peaks loomed around us including Citadel, Dusty Star, and Going-to-the-Sun.

This is Moose country! (Citadel Mountain)

About four miles in we found the trail branching off to Florence Falls. We decided that would be a good place to stop and eat lunch. From the main trail it was only about one mile to the falls and absolutely worth the extra effort. And no matter what you’ve packed for lunch it’s going to taste a million times better sitting next to those falls!

Florence Falls
First full view of Jackson Glacier along the trail (Mt. Jackson on the right)

Arriving at the lake on a hot July afternoon we were anxious to go for a swim and cool off. We quickly set up our tents and headed for the lake shore. The water was cold but not intolerable. We took a brief swim, basked in the warmth of the sun, and enjoyed the views of Mt. Jackson, Gunsight Mountain, Blackfoot Mountain, and Mt. Logan.

Who wants to swim?
Our camp site right by the lake

We returned to camp and headed to the food-prep area to make our dinner. Another camper arrived to join us, short of breath and laughing. He had just chased down a deer that ran off with one of his trekking poles. He was able to recover the pole and show us the chewed up grip with deer slobber dripping off it. The deer and marmots here are notorious for being a nuisance like that. They love the salt on grips of poles and soles of shoes so NEVER leave anything out on the ground or within reach of tall deer. I have my own tattered pole handles and flips flops to attest to the determination of these critters.

We went to bed early because we had a big day ahead of us. We planned to climb Mt. Jackson, the 4th of the six 10,000 ft peaks in Glacier, behind Cleveland, Stimson, and Kintla. The climb from the campground would entail just under 5,000 ft elevation gain over a few miles to reach the summit at 10,052 ft. With bellies full of complex carbohydrates we slept soundly with visions of glaciers, mountains, and sparkling waters filling our dreams.

The next morning we awoke early and headed across the suspension bridge on the trail over to Jackson Glacier. From there we branched off-trail and began the ascent of the mountain. My daughter got a little spooked at some of the exposure so when we took a break at 8,400 feet she remained on the ridge while Dustin and I continued to the summit. The remaining 1,500 ft was an easy class 2 and 3 scramble to the top.

It was thrilling to be on the top of Mt. Jackson. On the top we had spectacular 360 degree views. We had also gained a view of the Harrison Glacier. While we were taking summit photos we heard the incredible sound of a monstrous ice chunk cleaving apart from Jackson Glacier and crashing down the cliffs below. Unfortunately we were only able to hear the event and not see it. I would say the sound was similar to a sonic boom followed by continuous thunder with a jet flying overhead, all in about 10 seconds total.

The name of the mountain was changed from a tribal term in 1891 by G.B. Grinnell. The previous name was “Sixikaikoan” which meant Blackfeet Man. According to Jack Holterman in his book Place Names of Glacier National Park this may be the peak that inspired Grinnell with the term “Crown of the Continent” as this is the only 10k peak on the continental divide.


Celebratory summit hand stand
Summit view looking SE
Summit view looking NW over Gunsight Lake

Gunsight Lake is a fantastic destination for a day hike, overnight camp, or as part of the Gunsight Pass trail that goes from the Jackson Glacier Overlook to Sperry Chalet and down to Lake McDonald Lodge (about 20 miles total). This hike can be done from either direction depending on your itinerary. There are waterfalls along the trail and long cascades near the head of the lake. Flora and Fauna are also typically abundant. Don’t forget your bear spray, bug spray, fishing pole and camera.

Morning view from the bridge
Views from the trail
Gunsight Lake from the Gunsight Pass trail looking west

Mt. Brown Fire Lookout

October 2018


Built in 1928-29 and manned full-time until 1971 this lookout stands at 7,487 ft

The Mt. Brown Fire Lookout is a fantastic feature in the Lake McDonald Valley. You’ll find spectacular views, migratory birds, flora and fauna, and currently you can see just how close the Sprague fire came to destroying this historic structure.  This hike however, is not a casual hike and should only be attempted by those in excellent physical condition.


The sign does NOT mention the lookout

The Mt. Brown trail boasts the most elevation gain of any official trail in the park at 4,325 vertical feet. This is accomplished in only 5 miles so be prepared for a continuous uphill slog! Find the trailhead directly across the road from the Lake McDonald Lodge parking area. The shared trailhead also branches off to Snyder Lakes, Fish Lake, Comeau Pass, and Sperry Chalet.

We hiked this trail in October 2018, just after the Howe Ridge Fire wreaked havoc in the park. It was a weekend of perfect Fall weather. Temps were cool, wind was mild, and skies were clear. An early cold snap weeks earlier turned the trees so the colors were in-your-face vivid.

At first we were in thick forest
Rising off the forest floor (PC Rachel Payne)

The Sprague Fire of 2017 burned out much of the area surrounding the trail so there were sustained views along the way that were not available in the past. And there was something oddly beautiful about all that black char on the skeletal remains of trees towering around us. The new undergrowth was fresh and green and spoke of new beginnings.


As we got higher and higher along the trail we began to appreciate the prominence of the mountains around us. Peaks in immediate sight were Stanton, Vaught, McPartland, Little Matterhorn, Edwards, and Gunsight. To the south we could see Lake McDonald in its entirety. And we saw from the southern base of Stanton the area of the 2018 Howe Ridge Fire and where it met up with the 2003 Robert Fire.

From within the Sprague Fire we see the Howe Ridge Fire and Robert Fire

You will see quite a few people on this trail because of its popularity but it rarely feels “crowded” because the dauntingly steep grade tends to spread people out sparsely. We saw only a dozen people on the trail this day, but despite the difficulty they ranged in age from adolescent to geriatric. I hope I’m climbing 4,300′ a day when I’m in my 70’s!

Can you see the lookout above?

Mid-to-Late October is a time of year when migratory eagles are passing through this area. We came across two volunteers from the Citizen Science Program who were doing annual raptor counts on one of the rocky outcroppings where the view into the Snyder Valley was prime for seeing birds. Sometimes the lookout is used as a base camp for the raptor count activities. Want to get involved in projects like this? Go here: GNP Citizen Science

The Snyder Lakes and Sperry Chalet trails are ~2000 ft below
Approaching the lookout. Mt. Brown visible in the trees to the right (PC Rachel Payne)

Of course the views from the lookout are fabulous! We took our time getting the photos we wanted, which certainly included panoramas. Then we had a quick bite. Lunch always tastes good on a mountain and this was no exception. And today our dessert included some Ibuprofen because we knew we would “kneed” it for the pounding our joints would take on the way down.

This is a fairly popular winter trail as well. I have snowshoed this trail before and I plan to ski it this year. Who knows, maybe I will even do a winter ascent of the Mount Brown summit!

Fire Line
The fire came within 100 yards of the lookout !
Starting off from Lake McDonald. The classic colored rocks


Advice from a Ranger

from GNP Facebook Page, author unknown

Advice From A Ranger (tr)

Remember to always wear your hat,

take a good honest look at your shoes,

they’ll be your friend for the next sixteen miles,

then repeat after me:

water is life, water is life, water is life,

take a drink even when you’re not thirsty,

and then look around you,

wherever you are,

you are no different,

than the alpine paintbrush or the grizzly bear,

than the aspen, or the mountain goat, Continue reading “Advice from a Ranger”

The Day Pack…

Suggestions for day trips in GNP

People are often asking me gear questions, probably because they know I’m a gear junkie and I spend a lot of time in the park.  The most common questions are about my choice of pack and what I take with me for day trips. So I’d like to tell you my thoughts on this very dynamic and ever changing list.

Emily and Alex on the summit of Mt. Gould

First and foremost you need a good pack that fits well. A properly fitted pack will distribute the weight appropriately, prevent skin abrasions, prevent sore shoulders, and won’t make you off balance. I recommend trying on packs before buying. You should put weight or gear in the pack when you try it on. Have someone knowledgeable about proper fit (a friend or store salesman) inspect the pack while trying it on. Walk around with the weighted pack and make sure it feels comfortable. If it doesn’t fit well or you feel it pulling back on your shoulders right away…that’s not the pack for you. Continue reading “The Day Pack…”

Making Memories Along the Highline

by Amy Grisak

Amy is a freelance author and photographer in Great Falls, MT

As each summer flits by, it’s more obvious that time is precious with our children. For many summers, my girlfriends and I ventured into Glacier for a grand “Moms’ Hike Out” exploring the trails and chalets as we recharged our mental batteries. This year, we included our kids as three of us brought our 11 year olds on an overnight trip to Granite Park Chalet.

Securing a room at the chalet is competitive reservations at its finest. There were four of us, including my son Samuel, on the computers at the appointed date in January ready to type as soon as the 8 a.m. hour hit. Although all of us submitted reservations, only two of us were given the dates we requested, but we had our spot! From then it was watching the copious snowfall and counting down the days until mid-July.


Continue reading “Making Memories Along the Highline”

A Great Hike near Marias Pass

Calf Robe Mountain

A man does not climb a mountain without bringing some of it away with him and leaving something of himself upon it. Sir Martin Conway

Calf Robe Mountain is part of the Continental Divide and is located on the Firebrand Pass trail which starts at the Lubec Lake Trailhead. Elevation at the peak is 7,920 ft and ranks 173 of 234 named peaks in the park. This is not a challenging hike/climb even though round trip mileage is around 10 miles and elevation gain is 2,800 ft. Most of the distance is covered on-trail versus off-trail.

Near the trailhead along Hwy 2

Continue reading “A Great Hike near Marias Pass”

Piegan Mountain – Glacier National Park

August 21, 2018 by Joanna Adams

Right now, a lot of the park is under fire and what’s not seems to be covered in an oppressive blanket of smoke. I am so thankful we at least got one more hike in before the smoke came.

There are so many great peaks in Glacier. I picked this one out because it seemed like a good beginner peak without a lot of technical spots or intense climbing.

We started our trek early. . . I always do when going to Glacier. The swarms of people seem to start congregating early and with the crazy intense heat we’ve been having lately, it is great to get a head start.

By the time I got the trail head at Lunch Creek, I had already downed a full cup of coffee so felt quite ready to take on the journey. The climbers trail at Lunch Creek is super easy to find.

Continue reading “Piegan Mountain – Glacier National Park”