Photo Gallery: Backpacking the CDT Through Glacier National Park

By Michael Lanza

After more than three decades of wilderness backpacking all over the U.S. and around the world, rarely does a new trip immediately leap into my all-time top 10. But that’s exactly what happened when three friends and I backpacked a north-south traverse of 94 miles through Glacier National Park in a glorious week in September, mostly following the Continental Divide Trail.

Backpacking for six days from Chief Mountain Trailhead on the Canadian border to Two Medicine in the park’s southeast corner, we enjoyed the full Glacier experience, from daily wildlife encounters to scenery unlike anything you can find anywhere else in America—as I think you’ll see in the photos below.

We saw bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bears, moose, and one grizzly bear (from a distance that was adequately safe, though we were wishing it was greater). It being September, we also heard elk bugling almost every morning and evening, and enjoyed mostly sunny, dry days and comfortably cool nights.

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A backpacker on the Dawson Pass Trail in Glacier National Park.
Jeff Wilhelm backpacking the Dawson Pass Trail in Glacier National Park. Click photo for my e-guide to this trip.

We also happened to meet a number of CDT thru-hikers on the final day or two of their months-long journey, and it was kind of special hearing their stories and seeing their excitement over their imminent completion of an epic trek. Almost to a person, they all said Glacier is one of the two best sections of the CDT (along with the Wind River Range).

And then, of course, there were the views of skyscraping cliffs, waterfalls, and icy peaks looming high above deep, glacier-carved valleys. We made long climbs over five of Glacier ’s finest mountain passes—Redgap, Piegan, Triple Divide, Pitamakan, and Dawson.

Do this trip right with my expert e-guide to backpacking the CDT through Glacier.

Although the scenery really awed us every day of the trip, it seemed like the perfect culmination of it when, on the last day of backpacking, we followed the high, alpine Dawson Pass Trail. It delivered just maybe the trek’s best, long views of the glaciers and peaks in the park’s remote interior.

After the backpacking trip, we capped off our visit with an eight-mile, out-and-back dayhike from Two Medicine following the CDT up to Scenic Point—for yet more views of those lakes, valleys, and peaks that have reminded visitors for many generations of the Alps.

Click on the photo gallery below and scroll through these pictures from that trip—they’ll give you a strong sense of the inspiring majesty of this north-south traverse through Glacier. Then scroll below the gallery to find links to my stories about this trip and others in Glacier at The Big Outside.

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See my feature story about this 94-mile hike, “Wildness All Around You: Backpacking the CDT Through Glacier.”

See also “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips” and all of my stories about Glacier National Park, including these (some of which require a paid subscription to read):

5 Reasons You Must Backpack in Glacier National Park
“Descending the Food Chain: Backpacking Glacier National Park’s Northern Loop
Jagged Peaks, Mountain Lakes, and Wild Goats: A 3-Day Hike on Glacier’s Gunsight Pass Trail
The 6 Best Long Hikes in Glacier National Park

I can help you plan this or any trip you read about at my blog. Find out more here.

Want to take what’s arguably the best long backpacking trip in Glacier? Check out my expert e-guide “The Best Backpacking Trip in Glacier National Park,” which tells you everything you need to know to plan and successfully pull off that 65-mile hike of a lifetime. And see all of my e-guides.

If you want to plan a backpacking trip in Glacier or any other popular park, start with my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”


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6 thoughts on “Photo Gallery: Backpacking the CDT Through Glacier National Park”

  1. Michael,

    I met you in September hiking in Yosemite. We hiked to North Dome together and you took my picture there.

    I am planning a trip to Glacier and am seeking information on about hiking in September. How late is too late. Is it feasible to hike Glacier in either the third or fourth weeks of September?

    Thanks in advance.


    • Hi Paul,

      Nice to hear from you and thanks for becoming a new subscriber to The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories, I appreciate that. Watch for my upcoming story about my September trip in Yosemite.

      Mid-July through around mid-September is peak season in Glacier, although good weather can sometimes extend into early October. New snow occasionally falls in late August or September, although those early snowfalls typically melt away with the next sunny day. If there have been one or two sunny days post-snowfall before you start a hike, it all may have melted away—that happened right before my last trip in September 2018 and we had great weather and dry trails. But of course, there’s a chance snow could force you to alter plans in September and the chances of snow increase a bit as you get deeper in September.

      I love backpacking in Western mountains in September: I’ve done a weeklong trip in the West every September for some years, always with companions who are capable of handling whatever weather we encounter. In the second week of September 2018, we had six straight sunny days and clear nights in Glacier, temps in the 30s and 40s in the mornings and 50s to 60s in the afternoons, and cold wind at some high passes (we wore warm layers hiking), and we heard elk bugling almost every morning and evening in our campsites. But the week before we arrived—around Labor Day—the park got cold rain in the valleys and heavy, wet snow at higher elevations.

      Glacier is obviously much farther north than Yosemite and the High Sierra and it gets wilder weather. I was considering abandoning my Yosemite plans this past September because of the wildfire smoke and going to the northern Rockies, but that region had a forecast for temps down to the teens and single digits at night and barely above freezing during the days. September is just a crap shoot that far north.

      If you’re backpacking, see my e-guides to a couple of great trips in Glacier. And I can help you plan that trip. See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how.

      Thanks for the comment and keep in touch.

  2. Hi Michael, yes you are correct in stating Glacier National Park is magnificent! My husband and I had the enormous pleasure of hiking there in 92,94,97,01 and 04. We were planning one last trip in 2010 but his health problems didn’t allow that to happen.

    I lost him last year, but have so many photos, videos and memories to last me forever. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos and journey.

  3. Hello Michael. I’m so pleased to have found youuuu!!!! I can’t tell you enough how thrilled and inspiring your hiking experiences and stories are. I LOVE,LOVE, LOVE your BLOGS – the thorough description of the trails, the STUNNING Photos, the humour and the history!!! Reading your stories is the best kickoff start to my day! If only I could afford to make a trip to America and join youuuu on a hiking trip!!! It would be the ulitmate moment for me because you simply are the BEST! Thank you for all your wonderful work, inspirations and generously sharing your stories with us. Keep up the good work! A thousand times we love you!

    • Hi Janine, that’s such a nice comment I hardly know what to say. Thank you very much. I hope you continue enjoying my blog and that you get the opportunity to visit America someday. Take care and keep in touch, I’d love to hear from you again.