Gunsight Pass Trail Backpacking Trip

It was 3 am and dark, when I got up to go to the backcountry office in Glacier National Park to try and get permits for a 3 day backpacking trip to Gunsight Pass Trail. I arrived just before 4 am and I was 4th in line to wait until the office opened at 8 am. Then it started to rain while we were all huddled in our camp chairs trying to keep warm. It was a very long 4 hours but finally the Park Rangers arrived just before 8 am and we began the process of acquiring backcountry permits. I was assured that I was going to be able to get the 3 campsites I wanted, but when it came to my turn the Ranger said that they had sold the one campsite left at Gunsight Lake campground to an employee about 5 minutes before. Change of plans; I got the first night at Sperry Campground, second night at Lake Wilson Campground and the third night back at Sperry Campground. We started our hike early as it is a steep 6.2 mile climb to reach Sperry Chalet and Campground.

The Gunsight Pass Trail begins across the road from the Lake McDonald Lodge parking lot where we left the Jeep. The trail ascends through a forest of western hemlock, red cedars and larches along the Snyder Creek drainage. Soon we came to the area burnt by the Sprague fire in 2017. During the two-month blaze the wildfire burned 16,982 acres, and destroyed the interior of the historic Sperry Chalet dormitory. After following Sprague Creek for two miles the trail reached an opening where we had a great view of Beaver Medicine Falls. As we looked up at the cliff face we had our first view of the Sperry Chalet, still a long hike to get there. At about 5.75 miles I crossed the footbridge over Sprague Creek towards Sperry Chalet, and continued on to the Sperry Campground where I found a beautiful campsite with fantastic views of the valley far below and Lake McDonald. Sperry Chalet sits high atop a rock ledge at 6,550 feet, with two main buildings, a two story dormitory and a kitchen/dining room. The historic stone dormitory was tragically lost during the Sprague Fire, it was rebuilt, and in October 2019, roughly 2 years after the fire, reconstruction was completed. Fortunately, the Sperry Chalet dining room which was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1913, was not damaged at all by the Sprague Fire. We enjoyed an amazing yellow, red, orange brilliant sunset while cooking dinner at our campsite. It was a tough hike, climbing 3,360 feet elevation in 6.2 miles, carrying heavy backpacks, and we were exhausted and ready for a good nights sleep in our tent. Click on thumbnail to view images

Day 1

Day 2

After a leisurely breakfast with some other campers, and the local mountain goats we set off for our short 3 mile hike to Lake Ellen Wilson Campground. We hiked past the tarn, where we got our water supply, and ascended steep switchbacks through scree and then meadows to Lincoln Pass (7,050-ft). At the pass we had amazing views of Mount Jackson (10,052-ft) towering over the Lake Ellen Wilson Basin. As we descended along the trail the views opened to beautiful Lake Ellen Wilson (5,929-ft) and Mount Jackson towering above the lake and we can see Gunsight Pass, the saddle on the ridge above the head of the lake. We turned off the trail toward Lake Ellen Wilson Campground, 0.3 miles descending to the lakeshore where we found the best campsite with a view looking out across the lake. This campground has the best toilet, sitting on a platform with 360 degree views. Even the food prep area is wonderful next to a huge boulder surrounded by logs to sit on while eating your meals. We stopped here for lunch before heading up to Gunsight Pass. When we returned from Gunsight Pass we experienced the most brilliant sunset with the alpenglow shining on the distant peaks. Click on thumbnail to view images

Side Trip to Gunsight Pass

After lunch we started hiking up to Gunsight Pass. As we reached the head of the basin views open to a beautiful waterfall crossing the trail and the remains of glaciers on Mount Jackson’s northwest-facing slope. When the Park opened in 1910 there were 150 glaciers, today there are only 26. The trail begins to climb switchbacks on moderately-steep to steep grades to the top of Gunsight Pass (6,946-ft), where we had even better views of the waterfalls and glaciers on Mount Jackson. On the top of the Gunsight Pass there is an old historic stone warming shelter, completed in the early 1930s, with a door and plenty of log benches for sitting, a welcome resting place in foul weather. We continued descending down the trail toward Gunsight Lake, and had breathtaking views of Gunsight Mountain and the waterfalls tumbling down the massif’s colorful slopes. We came to a scenic overlook with panoramic views stretching down the length of Gunsight Lake to the high peaks surrounding the Going To The Sun Mountain in the distance. The trail began a steep descent from here so we turned around and headed back to our campsite on Lake Ellen Wilson. Once we arrived back at our campsite we took a refreshing swim in Lake Ellen Wilson, well worth it. Click on thumbnail to view images

Day 3

We did not want to leave this surreal campsite on the lakeshore of Lake Ellen Wilson. But it was time to head back to Sperry Campground, and after spending a few hours backing up we started back on the trail to Lincoln Pass. It was another bluebird day and the views were even more spectacular from the trail. When we reached the top of Lincoln Pass we could see Lincoln Lake down in the valley. We arrived back at Sperry Campground, set up our tent, and enjoyed the views once again looking down Glacier Basin to Lake McDonald. The sunset was brilliant as we lay in our sleeping bags enjoying the tranquility. Click on thumbnail to view images

Day 4

Our last day on the trail, heading back down the 6.2 miles to Lake McDonald parking lot. As we were packing up our campsite we had some visitors, a marmot and a huge deer with a great rack. Hiking down was a lot easier than coming up the trail, and we encountered a group riding horses going up to Sperry Chalet for lunch. What a nice relaxing day trip. Finally, we made it back to the Jeep and stopped at Lake McDonald for a well deserved, refreshing swim in clear, warm water. We then had lunch of French Fries and beer on the way back to the RV. This was anĀ  amazing backpacking trip and I highly recommend it. Click on thumbnail to view images