Glacier Park Loop

Glacier Loop
Siyeh Bend - Piegan Pass - Many Glacier - Swiftcurrent Pass - Logan Pass
33.7 Miles
6,366ft Elevation Gain
5:26:32 running time

This was one of those spur of the moment trips, where you find out the day before you've got the weekend free and an endless plate of possibilities.  I like it in that regard because there is no time devoted to searching route options, seeking beta, and other general planning.  It's just, what's a cool loop run to do in glacier tomorrow, look at a map, and go.  With the family staying in Washington to avoid a smoke filled Missoula valley, I headed up to Glacier on Friday August 23rd.  Arriving in the park after 9pm, I found a spot to pull over near Lake McDonald and settled into the back of the subaru for the night.
By 8:30am on Saturday, I'd made the drive up and over Logan Pass and had started up the trailhead at Siyeh Bend.  The first 4.5 miles are gradual uphill to Piegan Pass at 7,600ft, after starting at 5,850ft.  The lungs were getting use to the altitude, but the body felt good and I could tell it was going to be a good day.  This is a popular trailhead in the park as it starts high and in a short distance gets you up to one of the most spectacular passes in the park.  I passed roughly 10 people on the way to Piegan Pass.

Trail headed directly for Piegan Pass

 
Route Map
One of the greatest thrills of arriving at any mountain pass is wondering what the view is like on the other side.  "WOW", Piegan Pass did not disappoint!  Seeing the sheer 1000's of feet of vertical wall along the backside of the garden wall was sheer impressive.  With a small turquoise lake at the bottom to boot!  This view ended up being the best of the entire run.  

On Piegan Pass looking north toward Many Glacier.
From the pass it was about 8.5 miles down to Swiftcurrent Lake where the Many Glacier Lodge sits.  A series of gradual switchbacks leads down the valley through a beautiful rocky and grassy alpine landscape.  This is one of those sections where you are hooting and hollering at the excitement of gliding down the trail through such a stunning environment.
Waterfall between Piegan Pass and Many Glacier
Once coming back into more wooded terrain, I came upon a cluster of huckleberry bushes that were ripe for the picking.  I spent a few minutes throwing hand fulls of berries into my mouth before continuing down.  During the 4 miles of running through wooded terrain before arriving at Swiftcurrent Lake, I was most vocal to alert an nearby bears.  I pretty much had this section of trail to myself, so I was shouting out every 100yds or so to let whatever could hear me know I was coming.  The trail starts to flatten out the last couple of miles before Swiftcurrent Lake and there are a few forks in the trail that drop down towards Lake Josephine.  Not having a map on me, I knew as long as I kept on track towards Many Glacier, that I'd be able to meet up with the trail heading to Swiftcurrent Pass.
Arriving at Swiftcurrent Lake looking north towards at the Many Glacier Lodge.
Arriving at Swiftcurrent Lake, and having no real desire to go to the Many Glacier Lodge, I ran along the shoreline trail on the the south end of the lake, which eventually led me towards the Swiftcurrent Inn and Campground.   This was the most populated section of the run, where I was passing many people on the shoreline trail, running about 1/2 mile on road, through the Swiftcurrent Inn parking lot, and arriving at the Swiftcurrent Pass trailhead.  After 2:25 of running and 15 miles it was time to go back uphill again.
At Swiftcurrent Lake looking west towards the Swiftcurrent Valley (to the left of the middle peak).
The trail is pretty gradual for the next 4 miles up to Bullhead lake.  The gradual nature and proximity to Many Glacier, makes for a really popular hiking trail in the park.  Therefore, a bunch more "On your left" as I went through the herd.  After Bullhead Lake the crowds thin and the trail gets steep.
Bullhead Lake looking up toward Swiftcurrent Pass.
From the lake it's 3.5 miles to Swiftcurrent Pass with a climb of 2,00ft to an elevation of 7,200ft.  The climb offers a nice series of totally runnable switchbacks which leave you guessing how exactly it will route you to the pass.  Arriving at this pass was anticlimactic compared to the views of Piegan Pass.  Swiftcurrent is a very long and wide pass, so much so that you don't necessarily feel like you've arrived at a pass at all.
On Swiftcurrent Pass looking west.
At the pass there was the option to run 1.5miles up to Swiftcurrent Lookout.  I wasn't feeling like tacking on another 3 miles and more vert to this trip so I kept on trekking the mile to Granite Park Chalet.  Heck, I didn't even know how long this loop would be to begin with.
Trail sign at Granite Park Chalet
I arrived at the Granite Park Chalet after 3:48 of running and 23 miles.  The Granite Park Chalet is a uniquely Glacier Park structure and historical landmark.  I remember hiking in to stay at the chalet when I was 8 years old.  So, I spent a couple minutes and walked into the chalet on the way by.  Still looks the same and probably always will.
Highline Trail headed to Logan Pass.
Once on the Highline Trail I knew it was pretty clear sailing with 7.6 miles to Logan Pass with just a 600ft climb along the way.  The trail again starts getting popular, so normal passing courtesy is in order.  This section of trail is truly unique as you're up high in alpine terrain along the Garden Wall with expansive mountain views to the west.  By this point however, I found myself more focused on the trail then taking in the views.
Focusing on the trail.
The closer you get to the pass the more you get on top of the Going to the Sun Road.  It offers a unique birds eye view of cars and jammers making there way along the cliff side road.
With a couple miles to go and the sun beating down pretty hot, I couldn't help but take a sip from one of the streams cascading down from the garden wall.  I still had luke warm water in my bladder left, but this fresh burst of icy cool mountain water rejuvenated my energy levels for the final push to Logan Pass.
Rocky and exposed trail section, with Heavens Peak in the background.
Arriving at Logan Pass, it was a zoo of cars circling the parking lot.  After 5 hours and 30.7 miles of running, I was ready for the gradual down hill decent on the Going to the Sun road to Siyeh Bend. About 3 miles later, I closed the loop where I had started earlier that day.
My food intake for the run consisted of 3 handfuls of freshly picked huckleberries, 4 gels, and a handful of trail mix.  After arriving at the car, I jumped into Siyeh Creek for a quick rinse off and iced the legs for about 15 minutes.  I felt remarkably good and fresh after this run. 
All in all, this is a great Glacier Park running loop.  The views are Glacier spectacular, the trail is 100% runnable, and the climbing is not terrible.  For those who want to tackle only a section of this loop run, it is very doable with easy access points at Many Glacier, and the Loop below Granite Park Chalet.  I highly recommend it as it's a great way to take in both the east and west sides of the park. 
Elevation Profile


I have extensive GoPro footage from this run, so maybe once the days grow short this winter, I'll spend some time putting together a video recap.
To see the detailed map and elevation profile of this route, visit my Strava activity, http://www.strava.com/activities/77240949
Stay tuned and happy trails!
Wolf

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