Stoney Indian Pass Trail
Stoney Indian Pass
Trailhead: Chief Mountain Customs
Distance: 26.6 miles (one way) Chief Mountain Customs to Goat Haunt
Elevation Gain: 2,725 vertical feet
Elevation Loss: 3,869 vertical feet
The hike to Stoney Indian Pass (6,908 feet) from Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead and ending at Goat Haunt is a classic overnight backpacking adventure in Glacier National Park (26.6 total miles). The view from Stoney Indian Pass is beyond breathtaking, and because the scenery is constantly changing throughout the entire hike, you'll be in CONSTANT AMAZEMENT the entire way. Not only are there magnificent mountains of Glacier National Park's Lewis Range all along the way, but there are also gorgeous lakes and some of the most remarkable waterfalls you will ever see.
The hike to Stoney Indian Pass in Glacier National Park is 18 miles from the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead, so this is definitely for overnight backpacking only. The hike remains relatively level all the way along the Mokowanis River to the end of Glenns Lake (first 14 miles) and then the hike begins to steepen as you work your way up the great headwalls to Stoney Indian Pass.
There are several backcountry campsites all along this famous hike to Stoney Indian Pass, so you can tailor your trip according to the distances you feel you can cover in a day.
Chief Mountain Customs vs. Goat Haunt
The legendary Stoney Indian Pass is located in the remote northern wilderness of Glacier National Park, and there are several ways of getting there. The two most direct ways to reach the Stoney Indian Pass is either via the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead located on the highway 17 north of Babb, or the Goat Haunt Trailhead. To get to Goat Haunt Montana, you must go to Waterton National Park and take the boat across the international border back into the U.S. to the southern end of Waterton Lake. From Goat Haunt to Stoney Indian Pass is about 8.5 miles but is a fairly steep hike the entire way, whereas the distance from the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead is 17.9 miles. This hike, however, is extremely gradual until the final 4 miles, and you hike along several gorgeous lakes. The first part of your hike, however, includes a drop in vertical elevation of about 700 feet in the first few miles. The total distance between Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead and Goat Haunt is 26.6 miles.
Don't Go "The Wrong Way"
MOST overnighters prefer to start at Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead, and end up at Goat Haunt in Glacier National Park because it's downhill all the way once you've reached the pass. So this is by far a much easier hike than the other way. But there's another even more important reason to start at Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead...
The views approaching Stoney Indian Pass from Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead are second-to-none, and you will miss all of that if you go the "wrong" way.
If you start at Goat Haunt, the views will be behind you instead of in front of you. So unless you like walking backwards, or enjoy constantly having to turn around, we strongly recommend that you start at the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead and end at Goat Haunt.
This is the bridge you'll use to cross the Belly River near the Belly River Ranger Station on your way to Cosley Lake, Glenns Lake, and eventually Stoney Indian Pass.
Backcountry Permits/Campsite Reservations
For all overnight backpacking excursions, you must obtain a backcountry permit from a ranger station. During this process you must also reserve your specific campsite for each night along your hike. The earlier you do this the better. In fact, do this MONTHS in advance if at all possible. Keep checking with the NPS website for when they begin accepting applications.
Now if you do not have prior reservations for the hike to Stoney Indian Pass, all is not lost because they also try to keep some sites open for "walk-ins". And there are also cancellations you can take advantage of.
Below are descriptions of some of the main highlights along the Stoney Indian Pass Trail starting at Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead...
Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead (mile 0.0)
The trail (Belly River Trail) initially drops about 700 vertical feet in the first two miles from the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead, then climbs only 250 vertical feet in 6.7 miles to the foot of Cosley Lake. You will follow the Belly River Valley until you reach the Gable Pass Campground. Here you will encounter the Stoney Indian Pass Trail junction. Take a right onto the Stoney Indian Trail, where it will soon cross the Belly River on a well built suspension bridge, and will then climb in elevation up and over a ridge until it finally takes you to the foot of Cosley Lake and the Cosley Lake Campground.
Gros Ventre Falls
On the way to the Cosley Lake Campground, you will see a short spur trail that takes you down to the Gros Ventre Falls. It's only about a hundred yards to the falls, so please DO NOT leave your overnight packs unattended at the junction.... instead take them with you.
Bear Mountain Observation Point
Bear Mountain Observation Point.
About a half mile before you reach the Cosley Lake Campground at the foot of Cosley Lake, you will encounter the Bear Mountain Trail junction. This 1.7 mile spur trail takes you up nearly 1,400 vertical feet to the Bear Mountain Observation Point. The view from this overlook is absolutely spectacular! You will get an incredible view of the entire Mokowanis River Valley that will be one of the highlights of your Stoney Indian Pass hiking adventure. Therefore, we HIGHLY recommend that you hang your packs at the Cosley Lake Campground, and hike up to the Bear Mountain Observation Point. You can either take this short hike that afternoon, or do it bright and early the next morning. We prefer morning because the entire Mokowanis Valley is lit up by the morning sun coming from the east.
Cosley Lake (mile 8.7)
This is the classic view of Pyramid Peak (center), Mount Kipp (left) and Cathedral Peak (right) reflecting in Cosley Lake. The glacier along the slope of Cathedral Mountain is The Shephard Glacier. The trail to Stoney Indian Pass takes you directly into these mountains!
Cosley Lake is an absolutely gorgeous lake, and the Cosley Lake Campground is a great place to camp along your hike to Stoney Indian Pass. The campsites are really close to the shore of Cosley Lake, and this is where you'll see the classic view of Pyramid Peak, Mount Kipp, Cathedral Peak to the west. If you're lucky, you'll get a perfect mirror image of these incredible mountains reflected on the water.
In addition to the Pyramid Peak area, you will also have a great view of Mount Cleveland reflecting onto Cosley Lake. Mount Cleveland is the highest peak in Glacier National Park, and is a legendary mountain with a rich mountaineering history, some tragic and some inspiring.
Glenns Lake Foot (mile 10.2)
Glenns Lake Campgrounds
Glenns Lake is a long, narrow lake that actually has two backcountry campgrounds, one at the Glenns Lake Foot, and one near the Glens Lake Head. The hike is basically flat with a few rolling hills. Much of this hike is in a fairly dense forest, so the views are somewhat limited at times. It's still an amazingly beautiful leg of your hike to Stoney Indian Pass.
Mokowanis Junction Campground (mile 13.2)
About 3 miles beyond the head of Glenns Lake is the Mokowanis Junction Campground. (About a tenth of a mile before reaching this back country campground, you will encounter the spur trail that leads to Mokowanis Lake and Mokowanis Campground).
Mokowanis Lake (mile 14.3)
Mokowanis Lake in Glacier National Park is directly underneath Pyramid Peak (see above photo), as well as Mount Merritt (not shown). Mokowanis Lake reminds us of being in a giant cathedral.
Mokowanis Lake is surrounded by huge, jagged mountain peaks, including the amazing Pyramid Peak and the mighty Mount Merritt, which is one of the "Big Six" over 10,000 feet in Glacier National Park and stands directly above the lake. Mokowanis Lake is an extremely popular place to camp, but there are only two backcountry campsites! So obviously these sites are extremely hard to get reservations for.
The Mokowanis Lake-Mount Merritt Area is known for grizzly bears. For some reason, they love the slopes along the west side of Mount Merritt, which is directly above Mokowanis Lake. In fact, we spotted several grizzlies high on the slopes of Merritt, and one time we found ourselves face-to-face with a grizzly sow and cub on the Mokowanis Lake Trail about 200 yards from the lake right at nightfall (see right photo). The photo of these bears is blurry because it was practically dark and I didn't have a tripod handy. In this photo, the bears had just jumped off the trail after we met face-to-face around a blind corner, and the mother was debating with her "fight or flight" instinct.
We were talking loud, but not loud enough due to the loud rushing stream near us, so we didn't hear them and they didn't hear us. When we met the bears around a blind corner, we were all surprised, but fortunately everything worked out just fine. This is just a really good reminder that you need to talk loud whenever hiking in grizzly country, and when you're near loud water, talk REALLY, REALLY loud to let the bears know you're there so they aren't surprised. (By the way, we always carry bear spray!)
The Hike Up to Stoney Indian Pass...
(2,100 vertical feet)
On your way to Stoney Indian Pass, just past Mokowanis Junction you will begin working your way up two levels of massive headwalls, and this is where some exceptional waterfalls will greet you. Paiota Falls, Raven Quiver Falls, and Atsina Falls (see left photo) all cascade down these monstrous headwalls, and you will definitely want to snap some photos of them. This is a glorious section of your hike, so take it in.
This entire headwall area is remarkable, with the towering peaks and the tremendous waterfalls. It's like walking in heaven, and is something everyone should experience who is able to participate in overnight backpacking adventures in Glacier National Park. You'll find yourself "pinching" yourself to make sure you're not dreaming.
Mount Kipp with Raven Quiver Falls and Paiota Falls along the Stoney Indian Pass Trail.
Glacier tarn (lake) on the way to Stoney Indian Pass in Glacier Park.
The hike from Mokowanis Junction to Stoney Indian Pass is about 2,100 vertical feet.
Stoney Indian Pass (mile 17.9)
Stoney Indian Pass is definitely one of the most famous and legendary passes in Glacier National Park.
Stoney Indian Pass offers spectacular views of Stoney Indian Lake and the valley heading down to Goat Haunt, as well as the view towards the east. The tall matterhorn directly the the left of Stoney Indian Pass is Wahcheechee Mountain, and the tall, long ridge to the right is part of the Stoney Indian Peaks, which are also the south buttress of the iconic Mount Cleveland, which is the tallest peak in Glacier National Park.
Stoney Indian Pass with Wahcheechee Mountain towering above it.
Stoney Indian Pass is a great place to enjoy a nice lunch, and the best place to eat it is just about 50 yards to the right of the actual pass above some cliffs. There is a nice rock shelf where you can sit and enjoy the view.
Stoney Indian Lake (mile 18.5)
The amazing blues and greens of Stoney Indian Lake remind us of the colors of a geyser hot spring. This lake is known as a "glacial tarn", and is a popular place to spend the night at one of its backcountry campsites.
Stoney Indian Lake is a remarkably beautiful high mountain tarn with gorgeous coloration, and is about 600 vertical feet below the pass to the north. When you get to its shore, when the lighting is right, it almost looks like a giant geyser hot spring because of the greens and blues. This famous lake is definitely worth visiting, and this is where a very popular Stoney Indian Lake Campground is located.
Onward to Kootenai Lakes and Goat Haunt....
Beyond the campground, you can see the amazing landscape that takes you downward into the Waterton Valley, then onto Kootenai Lakes. Kootenai Lake Campground is the next backcountry campground (mile 23.8), and is about 5.3 miles from Stoney Indian Campground along what is called the Waterton Valley Trail. 2.8 miles further is Goat Haunt Montana, which is the marks the end of your hike (mile 26.6). Note: You will lose about 2,500 vertical feet from Stoney Indian Pass to Goat Haunt.
This is a view from Stoney Indian Lake towards the Waterton Valley. The trail winds down this valley and eventually ends up at Goat Haunt in Glacier National Park. The next backcountry campground is located at Kootenai Lakes, which is about 2.8 miles this side of Goat Haunt. As you can see, the hike out is also amazingly beautiful.
Kootenai Lakes (mile 23.8)
This is a view of the Mokowanis River Valley from the Bear Mountain Observation Point in Glacier National Park.