Nyack Creek - Coal Creek Trail Loop
Includes Middle Fork Flathead River Ford (Nyack Crossing), Nyack Crossing Trail, Nyack Creek Trail, Surprise Pass, Martha's Basin Trail, Beaver Woman Lake, Buffalo Woman Lake, Coal Creek Trail, Boundary Trail
Nyack Creek with Mount Stimson, Glacier National Park
Nyack Creek - Coal Creek Trail Loop
Trailhead: U.S. Highway 2, Nyack Crossing (Middle Fork Flathead River)
Distance: 43.1 miles (round trip)
Elevation Gain: 2,265 vertical feet
Elevation Loss: 2,263 vertical feet
The Nyack Creek / Coal Creek Trail Loop in Glacier National Park, also known as the "Nyack Coal Creek Loop", is one of the most primitive and demanding multi-day backpacking adventures in Glacier National
Park, and should only be attempted by experienced backpackers. The Nyack Coal Creek Loop is often
brushy and difficult to follow, with the likelihood of many downed trees on the trail, as well as nearly a dozen stream fords where some can be nearly waste high depending on the time of year. THERE ARE NO BRIDGES! This is definitely not a hike for beginners by any stretch of the imagination. The reward for taking on this amazing hike into the Nyack / Coal Creek Wilderness is you will see country that very few humans will ever lay their eyes on. This primitive area is known as the "Nyack Coal Creek Camping Zone", which plays by different rules than the rest of the backcountry camping areas in Glacier National Park. In the Nyack Coal Creek Camping Zone, hikers are allowed to camp anywhere along the trail that they'd like, provided they do not leave any trace of their campsite when they leave.
Finding The Trailhead (Nyack Crossing)
The trailhead to the Nyack Creek / Coal Creek Trail Loop in Glacier National Park is located approximately 10.9 miles southeast of West Glacier Montana along U.S. Highway 2.
Known as "The Nyack Crossing", the exact location is between mile markers 164 and 165. Between these mile markers you will see a railroad access road to the north (left). Take this road. When this short gravel road approaches the railroad tracks, turn right and drive another 0.2 miles until you see a parking area and a trail sign stapled to a power pole. You will be near a bridge where U.S. Highway 2 crosses the railroad tracks. Park your vehicle so you do not block the road. You then must ford the Middle Fork of the Flathead River to begin your Glacier Park hiking adventure around the Nyack Coal Creek Loop...
Nyack Crossing, Middle Fork Flathead River Ford (mile 0.0)
Shannon on the Nyack Crossing of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in Glacier National Park.
David on the Nyack Crossing of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in Glacier National Park.
We highly recommend that you get a map (they are readily available) of the Nyack Crossing from a Glacier Park backcountry office of Glacier Park visitor center. This map will show you exactly how to get to the Nyack Crossing, as well as where the crossing actually is. At these offices, the rangers will tell you precisely where to attempt to ford the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, because this exact location changes depending the amount of water that is flowing down the river and the time of year.
For tips on fording a mountain river or stream, please CLICK HERE.
Once you've crossed the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, you then have to find your way to the Nyack Crossing Trail Sign. There are USUALLY yellow or red flagging tape tied to trees along the way, so carefully look for these markers (see photo below).
Look for colored flagging tied to trees... This flagging marks the Nyack Crossing Trail in Glacier Park.
Nyack Crossing Trail Sign (mile 0.3)
Once you've located the Nyack Crossing Trail sign in Glacier National Park, then simply follow the trail to the Boundary Trail junction that is located about 0.2 miles ahead. The Nyack Crossing Trail sign marks the boundary of Glacier National Park.
The Nyack Crossing Trail Sign marks the boundary line of Glacier National Park.
Boundary Creek Trail Junction (mile 0.6)
Once you encounter the Boundary Creek Trail Junction, take a left on this trail.
Shortly after taking a left on the Boundary Trail, you will encounter the abandoned Nyack Ranger Station.
This area is deemed the Nyack Ranger Station Historic District, and the only two buildings left standing are a cabin and a barn (oh, and the out house). The Nyack Ranger Station Historic District has a rich and colorful history, and we highly recommend that you look into it if you're a history buff because it's quite fascinating. Once you snap a few shots of this historic old cabin and barn, then hike along the Boundary Creek Trail northward until you reach the Nyack Creek Trail Junction.... but just before this junction, you must ford Nyack Creek. This is the first of many stream fords you will have to plow through along the Nyack Creek - Coal Creek Trail Loop in Glacier National Park.
Shannon takes a peek at the historic Nyack Cabin in Glacier National Park. This abandoned complex used to be an old ranger station, and is now deemed The Nyack Ranger Station Historic District.
Nyack Creek Ford (mile 1.3)
Shannon getting ready for the first of many Nyack Creek fords. There's plenty more up the trail!
David crossing Nyack Creek in Glacier National Park. By the way, Nyack Creek is really, really cold!
The first thing you will notice about Nyack Creek in Glacier National Park is that it is really cold! The Nyack is fed by glaciers around the Mount Stimson area, and this water doesn't seem to warm up any by the time it reaches this spot! This is a slow moving but fairly deep ford, so definitely take off your pants as well as your boots if you don't want wet clothes.
Once you ford Nyack Creek, there is a steep bank waiting for you immediately upon getting out of the water on the opposite bank. It's quite difficult to gracefully get up this hill with your overnight back on while wearing your river sandals. Thankfully, there is a level spot with a log part of the way up to the left. You might consider putting on your pants and boots at this level area before continuing up the hill.
Nyack Creek Trail Junction (mile 1.4)
Once you reach the top of the steep bank, shortly after this you will encounter the Nyack Creek Trail Junction. Take a right onto the Nyack Creek Trail. The trail will then take you eastward through a mature forest with a fair amount of brushy vegetation on its floor, as the trail works its way up the north slope of Nyack Creek. The Nyack Creek Trail eventually reaches the rim of this steep canyon, with Nyack Creek below you to your right (south).
Shannon heading off onto the Nyack Creek Trail in Glacier National Park.
For the following section, we found that it is best to show you photographs of the Nyack Coal Creek Loop from surrounding summits to give you a better understanding of what this trail actually looks like and what mountains are surrounding you as you hike along the deep valley floors.... We feel it helps make better sense of this long and complex multi-day hiking adventure.....
Lower Nyack Campground (mile 5.9)
Approximately 4.5 miles from the Nyack Creek Trail Junction in Glacier National Park, you will reach the Lower Nyack Campground. This backcountry campground requires reservations and a backcountry permit just like all the other Glacier National Park backcountry campgrounds, even though you are in the Nyack Camping Zone that allows you to camp anywhere that you'd like (other than the designated backcountry campgrounds). So please keep this in mind while planning your Nyack Coal Creek Loop multi-day hiking adventure. Once you reach the Lower Nyack Campground, you can't help but notice the towering old growth larches and black cottonwoods in and around this nicely wooded area.
This is a view of the Nyack Creek Trail and the Lower Nyack Campground from Loneman Mountain in Glacier National Park. Mount Stimson dominates the landscape throughout most of the Nyack Creek - Coal Creek Trail Loop.
On your way to the Upper Nyack Campground in Glacier National Park, there is a tributary crossing as well as two Nyack Creek crossings along this stretch of the Nyack Coal Creek Loop between the Lower and Upper Nyack Campgrounds. The trail takes you through a long, wooden valley, where there are periodic openings in the trees where you can get a good view of Threesuns Mountain and the magnificent Mount Stimson. Further up the trail, near the Nyack Creek fords (approximately mile 13.3), there was a heavy blow down area in the late 80's, which allows views of Blackfoot Mountain and Pumpelly Glacier to the north, as well as the peaks surrounding the Cutbank Pass Area to the east, and the towering Mount Stimson to the south. The trail then climbs another 1.6 miles up a brushy section of the trail, where 9 miles beyond the Lower Nyack Campground you will finally reach the Upper Nyack Campground.
This is a view of the Nyack Creek Trail from the summit of Triple Divide Peak. Note Blackfoot Mountain and Pumpelly Glacier to the upper right. These two icons of Glacier National Park can be seen on your way to the Upper Nyack Campground.
About Mount Stimson
Mount Stimson dominates most of the Nyack Coal Creek Loop, as much of the trail is spent working its way around this great mountain. Mount Stimson is one of the tallest peaks in the park (10,142 feet), and is surrounded by extremely low valleys, such as the Nyack Creek Valley. These valleys are only about 4,000 feet above sea level, so nearly all the way around Mount Stimson there is an amazing 6,000+ vertical expression between its summit and the valley floors!
Upper Nyack Campground (mile 14.9)
This is a view of the Nyack Creek Trail portion of the Nyack Creek - Coal Creek Trail Loop from the summit of Norris Mountain in Glacier National Park. The location of the Upper Nyack Campground is blocked from our view by a ridge.
The location of the Upper Nyack Campground allows excellent views in nearly all directions, including Mount Stimson, Blackfoot Mountain, Pumpelly Glacier, the mountains of the Cutbank Pass area of Glacier National Park, and more.
Beyond the Upper Nyack Campground, you will hike by the old Upper Nyack Patrol Cabin, as you work your way through a nicely wooded area and another rim overlooking another deep canyon. This is quite a pleasant section of trail, and at approximately 2.6 miles you will reach the Cutbank Pass Trail Junction.
Cutbank Pass Trail Junction (mile 17.4)
After reaching the Cutbank Pass Trail Junction, the trail along the Nyack Creek / Coal Creek Trail Loop (a.k.a. Nyack Coal Creek Loop) reaches a swampy section of the trail, and remains quite muddy and swampy for the next two miles or so, until you then must once again ford Nyack Creek. After then entering a spruce forest, the trail then fords a good sized tributary. Pay close attention here as the trail swings up its west bank before crossing this cold mountain stream.
Surprise Pass (mile 21.9)
This is a view of the Nyack Coal Creek Loop from the summit of Norris Mountain in Glacier National Park.
A view of the Nyack Creek Headwaters in Glacier National Park, and a section of the Nyack Coal Creek Loop Trail where the trail leaves Nyack Creek and head up to Surprise Pass.
Once you cross this tributary stream and after a series of switchbacks, the trail then leaves Nyack Creek as it begins its gradual ascent towards Surprise Pass in Glacier National Park. You will pass through avalanche fields as well as dense forests, and the last time we hiked this trail we remember a ton of huckleberries at around mile 20.5. There is a small creek that the trail keeps crossing as well. Surprise Pass is the highest point on your Nyack Creek / Coal Creek Trail Loop in Glacier National Park. The views from Surprise Pass are wonderful, especially of Mount Pinchot to the northwest, which blocks most of the view of Mount Stimson. The west ridge of Mount Phillips is to the east. Once you've reached Surprise Pass, the trail then gradually descends as it approaches the Martha's Basin Trail Junction in less than a mile.
Martha's Basin Trail Junction (mile 22.8)
This is a view of the Martha's Basin and Surprise Pass from the Dawson-Pitamakan Pass Loop in Glacier National Park.
Martha's Basin in Glacier National Park is a gorgeous cirque that rest between Mount Pinchot and Peril Peak. The Martha's Basin Trail takes you across a stream that at certain times of the year can carry quite a lot of water. This stream is actually the headwaters of Coal Creek that originate in Martha's Basin. It's a gradual climb into the cirque, and there is a fork in the trail approximately one mile from the main Nyack Coal Creek Trail. The fork to the left climbs about 0.5 miles to Buffalo Woman Lake. Eaglehead Mountain looms to the west, and to the south towers the impressive Peril Peak above this wonderfully scenic spot. The fork to the right takes you on a trail that gradually descends 0.7 miles through an old burn, and eventually ends up at Beaver Woman Lake and Beaver Woman Campground, which both rest just to the south of Mount Pinchot. As Beaver Woman Lake Campground is an established backcountry campground, you must have advanced reservations and a backcountry permit to stay the night here. At the Martha's Basin Trail Junction, the main trail is now called Coal Creek Trail. (See photo above.)
This is a view of a portion of the Coal Creek Trail from the summit of Mount Rockwell in Glacier National Park. Note that the trail wraps underneath Mount Doody as it works its way to the Coal Creek Campground in Glacier National Park.
From Martha's Basin Trail junction, the Coal Creek Trail descends down the extremely brushy Coal Creek Valley towards the southeast. As the Coal Creek Valley then turns to the southwest, you will encounter the first of FIVE significant stream fords of Coal Creek before you reach the Coal Creek Campground, which is 9.4 miles from the Martha's Basin Trail Junction. Once the Coal Creek Trail reaches the bottom of the valley, it then skirts around the base of Mount Doody as it works its way to the Coal Creek Campground (See photo above.)
Coal Creek Campground (mile 32.2)
After a long and tiring 9.4 miles, with 5 major Coal Creek fords, you will finally reach Coal Creek Campground in Glacier National Park that sits near the banks of Elk Creek. Just before reaching the campground, you will hike across a few talus slopes, where you will get a seldom seen view of the famous Mount Saint Nicholas to the southeast. This amazing spire is deemed by most climbers as the over all most difficult peak to climb in Glacier National Park.
This is another view of the Coal Creek Trail from the summit of Mount Rockwell in Glacier National Park. As the Coal Creek Trail works its way along the valley floor towards the campground, you will be able to see the famous Mount Saint Nicholas to the east.
Fielding Coal Creek Trail
At the Coal Creek Campground, you will also encounter the Fielding Coal Creek Trail junction. The Fielding Coal Creek Trail originates at gravel road #1066, just past Bear Creek Guest Ranch along U.S. Highway 2. This trail cuts across the southern end of Glacier National Park in a northwest direction until it terminates at the Coal Creek Campground along the Nyack Coal Creek Loop.
From the Coal Creek Campground, the Coal Creek Trail then follows the north bank of Coal Creek for a about 2 miles, until you once again must ford Coal Creek. Just beyond this ford you will encounter the old Coal Creek Patrol Cabin area, as the Coal Creek Trail continues west. After hiking through a series of high benches, the trail eventually reaches the Boundary Trail Junction....
Boundary Trail Junction (mile 37.9)
Once you reach the Boundary Trail Junction during your Nyack Coal Creek Loop hiking adventure in Glacier National Park, to complete the loop and get back to your vehicle, take a right at this junction and follow the Boundary Trail for 4.5 miles until you reach the Nyack Crossing Trail Junction.
You must ford Coal Creek ONE LAST TIME just beyond the Boundary Trail Junction. At places the trail thins out a little, so keep looking for old metal trail markers nailed in some of the larger trees (see photo below).
Option: Coal Creek Crossing. You may also stay on the Coal Creek Trail and use the Coal Creek Crossing of the Middle Fork Flathead River, which is only 0.6 miles from the Boundary Trail Junction, but the problem is that your vehicle is about 5 miles up U.S. Highway 12 to the west. So you're better off taking the Boundary Trail back to the Nyack Crossing, where your vehicle awaits you. Also, by hiking back to the Nyack Crossing you have officially completed the entire Nyack Creek / Coal Creek Trail Loop in its entirety.
Shannon hiking along the Boundary Creek Trail between the Coal Creek Crossing and the Nyack Crossing in Glacier National Park. This marks the final stretch of the Nyack Coal Creek Loop.
Nyack Crossing Trail Junction (mile 42.4)
From the Boundary Trail Junction at mile 37.5 of your Nyack Coal Creek Loop adventure in Glacier National Park, follow the trail 4.5 miles back to the Nyack Crossing Trail Junction. While hiking along the Boundary Trail northward, it at times thins out quite a bit, so look for the old metal trail markers that are periodically nailed to some of the larger trees along the trail.
At the Nyack Crossing Trail junction, take a left and follow the trail and/or colored flagging that is tied to trees until you once again reach the Nyack Crossing of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
Please keep in mind that you are probably tired... so take EXTRA care in crossing the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Accidents are more likely to happen when fatigue has set in, so please be careful!
Middle Fork Flathead River- Nyack Crossing (mile 43.1)
Carefully ford the Middle Ford of the Flathead River and rejoice at the site of your vehicle that sits waiting for you across the railroad tracks.
A look back at the fabled Nyack Area from the railroad tracks. This is the long ridge that is home to Threetops Mountain, Threesuns Mountain and Mount Stimson, all of which are towering over Nyack Creek.