Olson Creek Valley
Includes Lake Janet, Lake Francis, Thunderbird Pond
Lake Francis, Glacier National Park
Olson Creek Valley
Trailhead: Goat Haunt (Waterton Lake Trail)
Distance: 8.6 miles (one way) Goat Haunt to Brown Pass
Elevation Gain: 1,900 vertical feet
The Glacier Park hike to Lake Janet, Lake Francis, Thunderbird Pond and eventually Brown Pass via the Olson Creek Valley is an extremely scenic section of the Boulder Pass Trail in Glacier National Park. In fact, the Olson Creek Valley is one of our favorite Glacier Park hikes, and once you hike this amazing 8.6 mile section of the Boulder Pass Trail, you'll more than likely agree.
Lake Francis, Lake Janet and Thunderbird Pond are absolutely gorgeous Glacier Park lakes, and the mountains towering on each side of the Olson Creek Valley as you hike towards Brown Pass from Goat Haunt are incredibly scenic. Every step of the way along this amazing hike in Glacier Park is amazingly beautiful.
The Trailhead at Goat Haunt (Mile 0.0)
The trailhead to the Olson Creek Valley, which is part of the Boulder Pass Trail, begins at Goat Haunt Montana.
The actual trailhead is located just beyond the Goat Haunt Ranger Station, as is officially called the Waterton Lake Trailhead.
You will be hiking into a portion of the remote Northern Wilderness of Glacier Park, and the scenery and beauty of this amazing Glacier Park hike is an indicator of just how gorgeous the Northern Wilderness of Glacier Park truly is.
Just beyond the Goat Haunt Ranger Station, there are two trailhead signs. One trailhead goes left up the Waterton Valley, and the other heads right, which is the Waterton Lake Trail. That's the one you want to take to get to the Olson River Valley and the Boulder Pass Trail.
In about 0.2 miles along the Waterton Lake Trail, you will encounter the Rainbow Falls Junction. Stay right to continue your hike to Brown Pass via the Olson Creek Valley along the Boulder Pass Trail. Shortly thereafter you will cross the suspension bridge over the Waterton River, and just beyond this bridge is the junction to the Waterton River Backcountry Campground. Stay right to continue on to the Boulder Pass Trail and Brown Pass.
The Waterton Lake Trail takes you across the Waterton River on this suspension bridge on it's way to the Boulder Pass Trail Junction and Olson Creek Valley. Notice Mount Cleveland towering to the southeast.
Boulder Pass Trail Junction (Mile 0.5)
Approximately one half of a mile after you've begun your Glacier Park hike to the Olson Creek Valley and Brown Pass, you will reach the Boulder Pass Trail Junction. Take a left at this junction and begin hiking up the Boulder Pass Trail through the Olson Creek Valley. The trail to the right, which is the Waterton Lake Trail, takes you along the west shore of Waterton Lake all the way to Waterton Township, which is about 8.7 miles to the north.
The Boulder Pass Trail in Glacier Park will then begin to work it's way up the Olson Creek Valley, and you can't help but notice the gigantic Mount Cleveland to the southeast, as well as the iconic Citadel Peaks directly to the south of you (see photos above). Initially the trail climbs quite steeply, but levels off slightly in less than mile.
Lake Janet (Mile 3.2)
Lake Janet in Glacier Park is an incredibly beautiful lake, especially in the morning when the water is completely still and the mountains are glowing in the morning sun.
The first lake that you will come to along your Glacier Park hiking adventure through the Olson Creek Valley is Lake Janet, which is about 3.2 miles from the trailhead at Goat Haunt. Lake Janet is breathtaking, especially early in the morning on a perfectly calm sunny day. The reflection of Porcupine Ridge on the lake is awe-inspiring. The only thing that's missing at Lake Janet is a nice beach. This Glacier Park trail runs along the entire north shore of lake Janet, and there really is no place to enjoy a beach here...there is simply too much vegetation and trees. Oh well, I guess we can't have everything.
Lake Janet Backcountry Campground (Mile 3.5)
As you are enjoying your Glacier Park hike along the north shore of Lake Janet in the Olson Creek Valley, you will encounter the Lake Janet Backcountry Campground about halfway along the lake.
This is a very nice campground, but you will not see much of Lake Janet here due to the trees and vegetation. There are only 2 sites available, which is the same for the Lake Francis Backcountry Campground, as well as Hawksbill Backcountry Campground which are located further up the trail.
Once you're past Lake Janet, the view straight ahead of you begins to become quite scenic. The pyramid-shaped peak, known as The Sentinel, towers directly in front of you to west as you hike along the Boulder Pass Trail towards Lake Francis.
You will also begin to see The Guardhouse, which is another massive mountain just south of The Sentinel. Thunderbird Mountain will also begin to show itself as you get closer and closer to Lake Francis during your Northern Wilderness hike in Glacier Park.
Lake Francis Backcountry Campground Trail Junction (Mile 6.3)
As you continue to hike above the north shore of Lake Francis in Glacier Park, you will quickly come the the Lake Francis Backcountry Campground Junction. To see and enjoy Lake Francis, you must take this short spur trail (only a few hundred yards) that goes through the campground and down to an incredible beach.
It's quite a steep downhill haul for those with heavy backpacks on, but getting to this beach is a "MUST SEE", so either have someone in your party guard your backpacks while you go see the lake, and then switch, or simply keep your packs on and hike down to the lake all together. Either way, you really need to check out this amazing place.... it's truly worth the effort!
Lake Francis (Mile 6.4)
Lake Francis in Glacier Park is one of the most gorgeous lakes we've ever seen. The walls that surround this incredible lake are so tall that it's extremely hard to photograph. Our lens was to big to truly show you the size of these amazing walls hovering over Lake Francis. You'll just have to visit it for yourself to see what we're talking about! This beach that Shannon is standing on is a very magical place, and it's just below the campground.
Once you reach the beach at Lake Francis, you will more than likely say "WOW" right out loud. Huge walls of the north buttress of The Sentinel surround this gorgeous turquoise-colored lake that are so high above you it's difficult to photograph!
And amazing waterfalls are pouring down these tremendous walls as a result of the melting snow and ice from Dixon Glacier, directly above the lake yet out of view because the walls are so high.
And because of this glaciation above Lake Francis, the pulverized rock due to the moving Dixon Glacier results in a fine powder known as "glacier flour". This powder ends up suspended in the lake, and the water appears turquoise due the blue sky refracting off of these tiny particles.
With this amazing turquoise-colored water below these monstrous rock walls, and the incredible waterfalls, this spot on this beach is one of the most scenic in not only Glacier Park but in all of North America.
And as you look to the east, you will see the iconic Citadel Peaks on the skyline, as well as the gigantic Mount Cleveland as it dominates the skyline far to the east. (See photo below)
This is a view to the east from the shore of Lake Francis in Glacier Park. You get a great view of the Citadel Peaks, Mount Cleveland, and Porcupine Ridge.
Here's a tip: These walls are so high and the way they are positioned, during the morning hours up to about 10 o'clock, Lake Francis is lit up like a light bulb by the morning sun. This is by far the best time to really see Lake Francis at its best. So if you're coming down Brown Pass and get to Lake Francis in the evening, make sure you remember to visit the beach the next morning before you head to Goat Haunt.
The Lake Francis Campground only has 2 campsites, and therefore is usually booked every night of the summer. One of the campsites can be reserved in advance. This campground is the most popular campground in the Olson Creek Valley for several reasons. One reason is because Lake Francis is so darned gorgeous. Another reason is that many overnight backpackers who are hiking to Hole In The Wall and beyond (starting at Goat Haunt) will choose to stay at Lake Francis their first night.
And for those Glacier Park hiking adventurers coming from Brown Pass, Boulder Pass or Hole In The Wall, this is where they will want to stay before their final push to Goat Haunt. Hopefully you will get to stay here on one of your Glacier Park hiking adventures. If not, there are other options.....
Lake Francis is an amazing Glacier Park backcountry lake. The walls surrounding it are so high that it makes it difficult to capture it with a photograph... A photo just doesn't do Lake Francis justice. You've got to see it for yourself!
Hawksbill Backcountry Campground Trail Junction (Mile 6.5)
During your Glacier Park hiking adventure along the Boulder Pass Trail, if the Lake Francis Backcountry Campground is full, then only about 0.2 miles west of Lake Francis is the Hawksbill Backcountry Campground. The scenery from Hawksbill backcountry campground is very nice, and it's a welcome sight if that's where you have reservations for the night.
This campground has only 2 sites as well, and both can be reserved in advance. If you end up staying here on your way from Brown Pass, Hole In The Wall or Boulder Pass, then make sure to stop at Lake Francis and go down to the beach before you head down to Goat Haunt. You really do not want to hike by Lake Francis without heading down to the beach.
Thunderbird Pond (Mile 7.6)
The Thunderbird Pond is yet another turquoise-colored lake in the Olson Creek Valley in Glacier Park. The glacier that is creating this "glacier flour" is Thunderbird Glacier, located high above the waterfall on the famous Thunderbird Mountain that is looming above Shannon in this photo.
Once you leave Lake Francis in Glacier Park, you will hike through a forested area for about a half a mile, and then as the Boulder Pass Trail begins to open up, you will see the famous Thunderbird Mountain to the southwest, with Thunderbird Glacier resting on it's north face. As you keep hiking west along Olson Creek, you will encounter one of the prettiest "ponds" in Glacier Park. This turquoise-colored "pond" is known as Thunderbird Pond and it rest in a world class setting that will again take your breath away. The water of Thunderbird Pond, especially on a clear and calm day, looks somewhat like a geyser spring. This portion of your Glacier Park hiking adventure is absolutely remarkable.
Thunderbird Pond Snow Hazard
Early in the season, there is a stubborn drift at Thunderbird Pond that gives Glacier Park hikers some difficulty. Always ask a ranger before you begin this Glacier Park hike the status of this snow hazard, and make sure you bring traction devices for your boots (such as YakTrax). Hiking poles will also help you as you are crossing this snow field. And in some situations, depending on the condition of the snow, you may need a mountain axe with the knowledge on how to properly use it. Mountain axes are useless however unless that hiker knows how to properly use it and is adequately skilled on self-arrest techniques.
This is a view from Thunderbird Pond to the east. Mount Cleveland and the Citadel Peaks are in the far center of this photo. That's basically where your Glacier Park hiking adventure started.
Thunderbird Glacier rests high on the north face of Thunderbird Mountain. The waterfall is from the melting snow and ice on this massive glacier, and is why the water of Thunderbird Pond is turquoise-colored.
Olson Creek Valley Headwall (Mile 7.6 to 8.6)
Once you leave Thunderbird Pond on your Glacier Park hike up the Olson Creek Valley to Brown Pass and beyond, the trail begins to steepen somewhat as it climbs up the Olson Creek Valley Headwall. There are several switchbacks which makes this section of the hike much more pleasant. The view down the Olson Creek Valley to the east becomes more and more amazing the higher you get, with Mount Cleveland rising to the far east of the valley. You also can't help but notice Mount Chapman directly above you to the north (right), and Thunderbird Mountain directly to the south. The entire ascent between Thunderbird Pond and Brown Pass is about 600 vertical feet.
While hiking up the Olson Creek Valley Headwall in Glacier Park, you will get a great view of the iconic Thunderbird Mountain with Thunderbird Glacier resting on its north face.
This is a classic shot of the Olson Creek Valley to the east as seen from the Olson Creek Headwall in Glacier Park. Mount Cleveland dominates the skyline to the east. This is the valley you've been hiking up to get to this point on your Glacier Park hiking adventure to Brown Pass.
Brown Pass (Mile 8.6)
One mile beyond the Thunderbird Pond you will reach Brown Pass (6,200 feet). Brown Pass in Glacier Park marks the junction of the Bowman Lake Trail and the Boulder Pass Trail. Hole In The Wall is approximately 2 miles west of Brown Pass, along the Boulder Pass Trail. The trail skirts across the south slope of Mount Chapman to get there. Less than a quarter of a mile from Brown Pass is the Brown Pass Backcountry Campground, which is on the Bowman Lake Trail.
The Brown Pass Backcountry Campground is located less than a quarter of a mile west of Brown Pass on the Bowman Lake Trail. This is a convenient campground location for backpackers hiking up from Bowman Lake, or hikers coming down from Boulder Pass. However, the Brown Pass Campground is famous for its mosquitos. So remember to bring a TON of bug spray if you plan on staying at the Brown Pass backcountry campground.
Brown Pass is situated on a large sub-alpine meadow that at times is literally covered in wildflowers. And this beautiful open meadow is surrounded by amazing mountains, such as Mount Chapman, Thunderbird Mountain and Boulder Peak. Brown Pass may not be one of the highest passes in Glacier Park, but it definitely is a beautiful place just the same.
Beyond Brown Pass...
For information on Hole In The Wall, click here.
For information on Boulder Pass and Kintla Lake via the Boulder Pass Trail, click here.
For information on the hike from Bowman Lake to Brown Pass, click here.
The hike through the Olson Creek Valley is teeming with incredible scenery, and is one of our favorite Glacier Park hikes. Once you've hiked this amazing valley in Glacier National Park, you'll more than likely feel the same way we do about this breathtaking place in the remote Northern Wilderness of Glacier Park.