Dawson Pass, Two Medicine Area of Glacier National Park
Dawson Pass is located on the Continental Divide in the the Two Medicine Area, and it is one of the most scenic passes in Glacier National Park. It's not an easy hike, but the rewards are well worth the effort. You will see gigantic mountain peaks as far as the eye can see, glaciers, lakes and bighorn sheep. Dawson Pass is truly a hike worth considering if you are in good physical condition.
NOTE: If you'd like to continue on from Dawson Pass, there is a wonderful 17 mile loop that will take you back down to the Two Medicine Campground called the Dawson-Pitamakan Loop. This is one of the premiere day hikes in Glacier National Park. For more information click here.
There are two ways to get to Dawson Pass. One is the North Shore Trailhead located in the Two Medicine Campground. The distance to Dawson Pass from here is 6.7 miles with a vertical elevation gain of 2,450 feet.
The other way is take the Two Medicine Boat across Two Medicine Lake and take the trail from the upper boat dock. This trail connects with the Dawson Pass Trail. Be alert for signs- they are easy to follow but if you are not paying attention along the trail, you could miss one. The boat shaves off about 3 miles (one way!) so it really makes for an easier day. The only downside is that the boat leaves for the upper boat dock at 9 AM, last boat of the day picks hikers up at the upper boat dock at 5 PM to take you back to the Two Medicine parking lot, so you don't have a lot of time to enjoy the pass.
Yet another option is to take the Two Medicine morning boat, and then walk back on the North Shore Trail. This way you don't have a schedule. However, you are walking an extra 4 miles because it's three miles around the lake, and then once you reach the trailhead at the campground, if you parked your car at the boat parking lot, it's another mile back to your car. (We do a lot of mountain climbing in the Two Medicine Area, and we wish there was an earlier climber's boat, and a later pick-up. That way climbers and hikers could utilize the boat more. We can rarely use the boat because it leaves too late and comes back too early.) But however you get there, Dawson Pass in Glacier National Park is magnificent, and it's worth the effort
Trailhead: North Shore Trailhead at Two Medicine Campground (Or the Boat)
Distance: 6.7 miles from the trailhead, 3.7 miles by boat (one way)
Elevation Gain: 2,450 vertical feet
As you walk along the North Shore Trail, you will wrap around the base of the gigantic Rising Wolf Mountain that towers above you at 9,513 feet. This part of the hike is basically flat. The next part of the hike, once you get past Two Medicine Lake, begins to climb, and the steep hiking begins two miles before the Pass, which is 1,200 feet of steady climbing.
Once you reach Dawson Pass, you will want to grab your camera. The view is absolutely spectacular, and you will immediately forget how tired you might be from the hike! Directly in front of you (straight west) is Mount Phillips with Lupfer Glacier clinging to is east face, and just north of Phillips is the monstrous Mount Stimson, one of 6 peaks in the park over 10,000 feet in elevation. North of Stimson is Mount Jackson and the glacial complex that surrounds it's southern slopes.
The huge valley directly to the west of Dawson Pass that runs north and south is the famous Nyack Valley with Nyack Creek running through it. This is one of the most remote areas in the park- very few people ever get into the Nyack. The sharp matterhorn that rises up from the pass to the north is Flinsch Peak, and the mountain than runs from the pass to the south is Mount Helen. The sharp peak to the far south is Mount St. Nicholas, which is one of the most technically challenging peaks in Glacier National Park.
If you want to be really adventurous, and you are in proper physical condition, you can literally walk up the ridge to the south of Dawson Pass and it will take you to the summit of Mount Helen (8,538 feet). This hike requires no technical skills whatsoever, and the view from Mount Helen is so beautiful it's difficult to describe. So it you've ever wanted to climb a peak in Glacier National Park, this is definitely a good one because it's just a hike, and the view is awe-inspiring!
BRING A GOOD WIND-BLOCKING JACKET
Dawson Pass is the windiest pass in the park, and if you don't have adequate wind gear, you'll be miserable. Bring something to cover your ears as well. (And of course for all hikes in Glacier National Park, bring clothing for all types of weather!)