Hiking Piegan Pass to Grinnell Lake to Many Glacier, September 2015
Piegan Pass is an enjoyable, fairly easy hike from the Going-to-the-Sun road on the east side of Logan Pass beginning at Siyeh Bend. You have the choice of hiking up to the pass and dropping over all the way to Many Glacier, or just hiking up to the pass and back down to your vehicle. If you hike all of the way over to Many Glacier, be sure you have another car to pick you up so you aren’t stuck. You do not want to turn around and hike back up this pass again!!
It is just under 5-miles one-way to the pass. If you hike all of the way to the Many Glacier Hotel, you are looking at a 12.8-mile hike one-way. We needed to get back to the Many Glacier Campground (rather than the hotel), so we wanted to hike to the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead instead of going to the Many Glacier hotel. So we split off at the bottom of the pass to the left and went toward Feather Plume Falls and Grinnell Lake. I think that this way adds about a mile and a half more than hiking straight to the hotel. This makes the hike just over 14 miles I think. However, if you hike to the hotel and then still need to hike over to the campground, you will be hiking along the road from the hotel to the campground and I would rather hike along trail, so turning left at that junction worked best for us.
The day we hiked it was also the day of the grizzly bears. We ran into 6 Grizzlies on the trail as we were hiking. Click here to read more about the bear excitement.
We camped at Many Glacier and my awesome husband stayed with our girls while Bryan and I left early to drive around to Siyeh Bend to begin our hike.
The gorgeous fall colors and the possibility of the pink sunrise as we passed the overlook of Wild Goose Island on St. Mary Lake called for us to pull over and wait for the sun to rise. It didn’t end up as pink as we had hoped, but we ran into a few Australian people traveling the world and had a nice chat with them. This view is always pretty anyway — click here to see photos of the sunrise that day over St. Mary Lake.
We drove through the Reynolds Fire burn and parked at the trailhead. We were the only vehicle there. The hike starts out next to Siyeh Creek, and then you turn to your right and hike through the trees for awhile. You will hit a junction just over a mile in where you will take a left toward Piegan Pass.
This trail is well-marked the entire way: just follow the signs to your destination and you will be fine.
You get all of the elevation gain over in the beginning (around 1850 feet elevation gain according to hikinginglacier.com). The beginning section in the trees offered limited views, but you do cross over beautiful streams and you do get glimpses of the Piegan Glacier.
At about 2.8 miles you reach the junction of Siyeh Pass and Piegan Pass. I think another great day hike would be to just go up to both passes and back down in one day. We turned left to head to Piegan Pass. It took us about an hour to get to this point just above the treeline. Even if you just hiked to this point, the scenery is spectacular with views of Piegan Glacier.
From here it is a straight shot across a rocky hillside to Piegan Pass.
The views from this point across the rocky slope to the pass are beautiful. You will get nice views of the Going-to-the-Sun Road far below you now. It is open in this area, but keep in mind that there may still be bears that you may not spot easily — we ran into 3 grizzlies in this section of the trail that I almost just walked right by!
After we made it past the grizzly bears, there was a large family of Big Horn Sheep laying just off the trail.
Then you arrive at the pass, and you are able to see down into the Many Glacier Valley. Be sure if you turn around and go back to your vehicle at this point, that you walk just past the pass along the trail to the other side to get a view of the beautiful blue lake below before you turn and go back.
I am sure most people stop at the pass to enjoy lunch. My friend Bryan and I like to travel quickly, and the wind was howling at this point so we kept moving. We could hear the wind as we came up the pass from the other side, but I knew there was no way we were going to turn around at that point and walk back past those bears! Not a chance!
There is the perfect rock setup on this side to get photos.
Besides stopping for a few photos, we had to move quickly as we dropped down the other side of the pass. The wind grew stronger and stronger, causing me to be concerned I may be blown off of the trail. Each time the wind would ease up, I would run to cover some ground before the next gust hit me. I couldn’t hear anything. Watch the video of our hike to see how windy it was!
Because of the wind, I hardly spoke to Bryan in this section. I quit really paying attention for bears, because it is open as the trail switchbacks down the mountain. We stopped at a beautiful waterfall for a photo.
As we came around the next corner, that is where we ran into the mama grizzly bear with her two cubs. This was an unexpected encounter because I had been so focused on the wind and watching my feet, that I looked up and — bam — three more grizzlies in front of me! Yikes! Click here for the rest of the bear story.
Once we dropped below the bears, we finally got into the woods and the wind eased up. Here you reach the stunning Morning Eagle Falls. There is a nice viewpoint to get your photo taken, and the trail will lead you down to the creek to get closer photos by the waterfalls.
After the day of the bears, I was feeling pretty spooked at this point. We had not seen another person on the trail the entire day. I was moving quickly at this point to cover ground and inch our way closer to Many Glacier.
One key thing to remember if you hike this as late as we did in the year is that they remove the bridges that cross the creeks as you drop down toward Many Glacier in September. When we did it we had to do four creek crossings without bridges. One of the creeks we were able to find rocks to jump over, but the last three we had to take off our shoes and wade across. This is not a big deal depending on how high the water is that year. Hiking poles help keep your balance as well. Thankfully Bryan shared his poles with me to cross one creek!
This was a low water year so it wasn’t bad, but if the water were higher some of them would be more difficult to pass. Mostly I just did not want to fall in the water and break any of my camera equipment!
Feather Plume Falls was completely dry this year by the time we walked by it. It has been a dry year.
Bryan spotted an elk in this section, but I missed it. I think we were following moose tracks in the trail, but we never did see a moose. Bryan and I then dropped down to Grinnell Lake, and the trail out from here is where we saw a few people. This section of the park is more heavily traveled around Lake Josephine as people head up to Grinnell Glacier. There was no one at Grinnell Lake though, we only saw people just after we waded across the stream on our way toward Lake Josephine.
In true Bryan and Alex hiking fashion, we didn’t stop for lunch or for a break. The only time we stopped was to determine what to do about the bears. And to cross all of the creeks! Oh yes, and to take photos. Can you tell we love to take photos? I have to take a lot for my website, so I am thankful that I have found other people to get outdoors with who love it as much as I do!
Piegan Pass is a pleasant surprise of a hike. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and the views are incredible. Thanks to Bryan for joining me!! In my opinion, if you are not sure you can make it all the way to Many Glacier — a great majority of the views are up to the pass and just beyond — so hiking to Piegan Pass and back to your car would be a great hike!
Warm Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Alex M. Neill
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