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Need help with GNP's camping dilemma!

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Need help with GNP's camping dilemma!

Postby MikeHolmes » Tue Oct 26, 2010 3:04 am

Planning a 6 day trip in GNP, yet have run into a tremendous hurdle with the camping regulations. The logistics of reserving sites (some of which can't be reserved until 8/1) are insane! Any words of wisdom on how to get in a multi-day trip, or can this park only be explored through mulitple shorter hikes?

ps- I'm interested in the 70-mile loop starting at Highline Trail and workig clockwise via CDT, Stoney Indian Pass Trail, Ptarmigan Trail, etc. Possible???
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Re: Need help with GNP's camping dilemma!

Postby peakhugger » Tue Oct 26, 2010 1:33 pm

Backcountry sites in GNP do present a challenge, perhaps the greatest you'll encounter unless you come face to face with a sow grizzly around a blind corner. If you can work it out with your dates of interest, I would highly recommend using the advanced reservation system and applying before the main lottery deadline (probably April 15 in 2011, as in past years). Allow your reservation to be as flexible as possible by selecting the following options on the application: different start/end dates, doing a trip in reverse, etc. Leave comments if applicable (e.g. if primary goal is to go through/to a specific site or trail, or any comments related to trip flexibility). The advanced reservation costs an addition $30 (if you get your reservation, otherwise there's no charge), but it's worth it, especially if you are traveling from afar.

However, the advanced reservation system is not the only way to work the system and many do not get a reservation. I haven't seen the numbers on success, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were around 25% based on anecdotal evidence from others I've met on the trail in GNP. You can get walk-in reservations, and many find success this way since 50% of the sites are set aside for walk-ins. You can make a walk-in reservation the day before you start on the trail. However, the rangers I spoke to this summer said there's typically a line at the backcountry reservation office (in Apgar anyway) long before it opens at 7:30am (I saw a line 3-4 parties deep at 6:30am on a Sunday in mid August this year). So get there early. The rangers are really good about figuring out the best trip with what sites are available, if your original plan is unavailable.

[side note: Have plans for a backup trip outside the park ready in case you're unable to find a suitable alternative as a walk-in. There are great backpacks in the Bob and Great Bear Wilderness just south of the park.]

My understanding is that some camps can't be reserved until 8/1 because the trails or camp sites are often not cleared from winter snow and debris before then. This coming year may be particularly bad with the La Nina predicted to drop extra moisture. So, if you're coming in July, expect snow in the high country. If sites are not open for advanced reservation, you may be able switch to them when you pick up your permit (if they're not booked), so consider selecting adjacent sites to those not yet open (so that the rest of your trip is reserved at least). An example of this would be reserving Kootenai Lake but switching to Stoney Indian when you arrive. If you can't get it, the trip will still work over Stoney Indian Pass, it just might entail a long day. If you get an advance reservation, you can switch things around just like a walk-in when you pick up your permit (at no additional cost).

You may have more success starting early in the week, say Monday or Tuesday. As for your specific question about the 70 mi loop along the Highline, it's certainly possible, but is quite popular. Advance reservations will be difficult to get.

IMO, this park is best explored in long trips, but they can be logistically challenging. This does keep some folks away, but the backcountry trails seem to be well traveled none-the-less.

Hope that helps.
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Re: Need help with GNP's camping dilemma!

Postby Saintgrizzly » Tue Oct 26, 2010 6:00 pm

Peakhugger's response is excellent! He's right about the occasional 8/1 reservation issue, too; it has to do with melt-out/clearing. One suggestion I have would be to call the Park Service, inquiring as to which are the most popular back country destinations. Stoney Indian Pass, for example, is quite popular, and reservations will be more difficult to obtain. Anything off the Highline Trail will also be quite popular. If you can work your trek so as to bypass the most popular sites, I'd think the odds of success would go up. It also would be beneficial to inquire next spring--say mid-to-late-June (you'll want to know about the status of the Sun Road anyway, although that is easy enough to check on the internet)--as to what the melt-out/snow pack is looking like. There are years when some of that back country almost doesn't free up (meaning axe and crampons are a definite necessity), and you need to know about it ahead of time. Also, don't forget bear spray.

A final note: as far as you are having to travel to reach GNP, you definitely want the odds in your favor, weather-wise. You don't mention dates, but for serious back country adventures I'd never recommend earlier than mid-July, and not later than September 1st, with the first three weeks of August probably being optimum (unfortunately and obviously, the busiest, most difficult, reservation time). This past year we really only had about six weeks of good trekking weather.

If you've been to GNP before, you know what to expect; if this is a first time trip: you have a real treat ahead...!
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Re: Need help with GNP's camping dilemma!

Postby EarMountain » Wed Oct 27, 2010 9:59 pm

Saintgrizzly and Peakhugger have both made good points. Not knowing how many time you have been to Glacier I'll just point out that many folks from warmer climes don't realize that the snow on many trails over passes and other obstacles don't melt out i normal years until well into July. Sometimes even later. There are several snow drifts that are very hazardous and until they melt out, are blasted away or have a tread cut into them, the trail is effectively closed to all except those with strong glacier travel type skills. One of these, called the Ahern Drift, is on the Highline Trail about 3 miles or so north of Granite Park. High country campsites also stay snow covered into July or later. A couple of years ago the Morning Star campground was still under 4-5 feet of snow the last week of July. These snow hazards are the norm not the exception so Glacier Park staff decided to limit reservations at those sites until August 1 to avoid having to cancel out reservations.

Your route is often referred to as the North Circle. It's a good one with lots of great scenery. But demand is high. To have the best chance of getting the campsites and route you want send in a reservation application with the beginning date the day after the first date you could arrive in the park, say August 1 and the ending date the latest day you could leave the park, say September 1. Once you get your backcountry reservation, make your travel plans. Keep in mind though that trails and campgrounds can be closed at any time due to bears frequenting those areas or some other unforeseen circumstance.
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Re: Need help with GNP's camping dilemma!

Postby peakhugger » Thu Oct 28, 2010 1:48 am

EarMountain wrote:Once you get your backcountry reservation...


For reference, if you apply prior to the April 15 deadline, I believe most reservations go out by email in late April or the first week of May. Shouldn't be too hard to plan with a few months advance notice, even with plane tickets, etc.
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Re: Need help with GNP's camping dilemma!

Postby EarMountain » Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:10 pm

peakhugger wrote:For reference, if you apply prior to the April 15 deadline, I believe most reservations go out by email in late April or the first week of May. Shouldn't be too hard to plan with a few months advance notice, even with plane tickets, etc.

That's correct. Applications can be sent in well before the April 15th deadline. That info is posted on the Glacier National Park website. All applications received prior to the set deadline, which will be April 15 unless that falls on a weekend perhaps, are randomized and filled in the random order. The BC staff does everything possible to accommodate the various requests for permit reservations. Notification by email usually comes before or during the first week in May. Applications received after the deadline will be worked on AFTER all of the previous applications have been dealt with. So don't miss the deadline! The BC desk accepts applications by mail and fax. A credit card or check for the reservation must accompany the application. The camping pernight fees are paid when you pick up the permit.
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Re: Need help with GNP's camping dilemma!

Postby rebelgrizz » Fri Oct 29, 2010 1:06 am

I would just add that if the backcountry thing doesn't work out for you, don't let that keep you from coming to visit the park. There are plenty of places to stay in and around the park, other than park campgrounds, and lots of day-trips and climbs that can be done in a day or half-a-day....trust me, you won't regret it...unless you like to climb on snow, I wouldn't come until early to mid-August. Just check out Saintgrizzly's GNP page for specific mountains....good luck!!
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Re: Need help with GNP's camping dilemma!

Postby MikeHolmes » Fri Oct 29, 2010 1:25 pm

I'm grateful for the awesome info! Thanks to each of you. MH
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