Chief Lodgepole Peak just might be the easiest Glacier National Park peak you'll never know you've summitted. A well-maintained trail leads to within maybe 0.1 mi of its summit, and a short use trail takes you the rest of the way up. You'll think you're just on the highpoint of the ridge holding Two Medicine Pass (actually, you are) until you look at your map and notice you're atop Chief Lodgepole Peak, certainly one of the least-assuming summits along Montana's portion of the Continental Divide. Still, it's a named peak, and because it's accessible to anyone willing to undertake a RT hike of about 16 miles, it's worth mentioning.
You also get to start from what is hands-down one of the country's most beautiful trailheads (see photos on the right side of this page).
Although the mountain itself is nothing to make the heart ache, the views from it are. In every direction, the rugged, colorful peaks of the Two Medicine area dominate the scene; except for the small area of development along Two Medicine Lake, the entire setting seems like some mountainous world never seen by human eyes or visited by human feet. To be honest, I must say the views are not much different than those from the trail along the ridgeline to Two Medicine Pass, but standing where any step takes you down as opposed to standing where a step can still take you up is usually more satisfying. The summit views are also quite similar to those from Painted Tepee Peak (see link below); if you'd like to preview them, check out that page, but if you'd prefer to be surprised, then I can tell you that Chief Lodgepole's summit views are mostly unrepresented on this page.
From Chief Lodgepole, it is also a short, easy hike to the summit rocks of Painted Tepee Peak, but Painted Tepee's actual summit is not as easy to attain; it requires a short but exposed climb on rotten Class 3/4 rock. Another peak close to Chief Lodgepole is Grizzly Mountain; Grizzly's summit is a Class 2 affair. If you are heading for Grizzly or Painted Tepee, consider a quick trip to Chief Lodgepole's summit; it only takes a couple of minutes and a little extra effort to do so!
I have debated with myself whether Chief Lodgepole even warrants a page on SP, but since it is a rare GNP peak that is accessible to just about anyone in reasonable shape, and since it is also a rare GNP peak that has a maintained trail to or very close to its summit, I thought it deserved a place here. If you want a GNP summit that does not involve off-trail travel but is far enough from trailheads to offer spectacular panoramic views without crowds around, this one might be for you.
RT distance is about 16 miles. Elevation gain is about 2500'. This is all Class 1 hiking; the very short spur to the summit is arguably Class 2 (Class 1+ if such a thing exists).
From Two Medicine Lake, hike the South Shore Trail; at trail intersections, keep on the path for Cobalt Lake and Two Medicine Pass. After Rockwell Falls, the trail starts its first real climbing and maintains a moderate grade to Cobalt Lake, after which it climbs steeply to Two Medicine Pass on the Continental Divide. Once atop the ridgeline above the lake, the trail heads southeast for the pass, but first it approaches a minor summit (Chief Lodgepole Peak). The official trail starts descending to Two Medicine Pass before it reaches the summit, but an obvious spur will take you all the way up Chief Lodgepole Peak.
WIND WARNING: Two Medicine Lake is one of the windiest places in the park. It is the norm and not the exception to have strong breezes blowing off the lake. When strong winds are blowing, be aware that the winds will be even stronger on the ridges. The day I climbed Chief Lodgepole and Painted Tepee, there were winds so strong that they would have knocked me over or pushed me off the trail had I not bent into them as I went along.
It is possible to cut some distance from the trip by taking the boat across Two Medicine Lake. This option has some drawbacks, though. First, it does not save much hiking. The ride across the lake covers two miles, but it is a 1.25-mile hike from the landing to the Two Medicine Pass Trail. Since it is 2.35 miles to that junction via the South Shore Trail, the boat ride only saves about 2 miles round-trip. Second, and more importantly, the first “cruise” across the lake isn’t until 9 A.M. This means you will be in the alpine areas around the time thunderstorms typically become a concern. Also, the boats stop running around 5 or 5:30, so you might miss out on a ride back. Finally, the trail from the boat landing involves some elevation gain and loss that the South Shore Trail does not. Consider all that, plus the fact that the ride costs some money, before you decide to go.
The entrance to the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park is off MT 49; it is 4 miles north of East Glacier Park, 8 miles south of the U.S. 89/MT 49 junction (Kiowa), and 28 miles south of St. Mary, the Eastern terminus of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Drive 7 miles to the road’s end at Two Medicine Lake.
From the lake, you get a good view of Painted Tepee Peak. Right of that peak, a long, flat ridge is visible. That ridge leads to Two Medicine Pass; Chief Lodgepole is behind Painted Tepee and is not visible from this point.
There is an entrance fee of $25, good for a week at all park entrance stations.
This is grizzly country. Be alert and know how to behave. Leave your I-Pod in the car, and remember that it’s easier to avoid bear encounters than it is to get out of them.
Camping and Lodging
The Two Medicine Campground has almost 100 sites, and all are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The nightly fee is $20 (2008). There is a store nearby. The campground usually fills late in the day or not at all.
Cobalt Lake is about 5 miles up the trail and has a backcountry campground.
Backcountry camping Info
East Glacier Park has several motels, and it is the site of the famous but expensive (and overrated, in my opinion) Glacier Park Lodge. At Kiowa, there is a nice little place called the Kiowa Resort that has small but clean rooms, quiet that East Glacier Park lacks, and very reasonable rates.
GNP lodging information