Centennial Series: A Historical Look at Glacier's Horse Trails

Centennial Series: A Historical Look at Glacier's Horse Trails

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Activities Activities: Hiking


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In 2010 Glacier National Park will be celebrating its 100 year anniversary. I believe it is fitting to take a look back and celebrate the work of those who have made Glacier National Park the "Crown of the Continent".

So you are asking what do horse trails have to do with Glacier National Park? Great question! The most simple answer is: quite a bit actually as they were a key component in showing off what was to become Glacier National Park to the world.

The first two installments of the Centennial Series A History of Glacier National Park’s Passes covered the history of the passes for Native Americans as well as the Early Exploration by White Man. Many of the passes have a significant historical place in Glacier’s past. This article examines the incredible network of trails that were used by horsemen to tour Glacier National Park before the construction of The Going-to-the-Sun Highway. These trails were also used after the highway was constructed and they are still in use today.
The early 1900’s saw an increase in tourism as well as a push to designate this pristine area as a National Park. Tourism helped increase public awareness of the incredible mountains and lakes and this helped to push the government to establish the area as a forest preserve in 1900. Along with George Bird Grinnell and others important people the Great Northern Railroad’s leadership was a key player in encouraging the government to further protect the area. On May 11, 1910, United States President William Howard Taft signed a bill establishing Glacier National Park as the 10th park in the United States of America.

One way that exposure to the park was accomplished was to a decision to conduct multi-day trail rides throughout the park for tourists. This meant building or improving trails, constructing buildings such as the grand lodges in Glacier and semi-permanent camps along the routes. It meant purchasing a lot of horses, finding guides, hiring enough wranglers to manage the horses as well as hotel employees that were asked to cater to the customers need. It meant establishing an effective marketing plan and above all it meant getting the customer to commit to “See America First” which was a theme that The Great Northern Railroad used to market their product, the railroad and all of her assets.

The park’s main concessionaire was the Park Horse Saddle Company with the brand Bar X 6 at its peak was the "largest saddle horse operation in the world ... [with] guides who knew the trails thoroughly and were lavish with their home spun yarns around the evening campfires". (Historic form)

Three trail routes were established and visitors were shown incredible vistas throughout the park.

Four years after passage of the Glacier National Park enabling legislation (1910), the Glacier Park Hotel Company (GPHC; a subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway) had constructed an elaborate European style hotel-trail chalet network. Park facilities and attractions were designed to appeal to traveling America's new-found interest in the West and long standing interest in Europe.

Placement of facilities along a rail, road, and trail network was appropriate to Glacier's topography and lack of transportation infrastructure and was also a conscious attempt to emulate European culture and to cultivate a uniquely western culture.

Locomotive bells were located at the summits of Swiftcurrent and at Logan, Piegan, Gunsight, Cut Bank and Stoney Indian passes, as well as at Grinnell Glacier. Their presence conformed "to an old Swiss custom." Tourists traveled by horseback, with cowboy guides.

Chalets at Two Medicine, Cut Bank, St. Mary, Going-to-the-Sun (also known as Sun Camp), Many Glacier, Gunsight, Granite Park, and Sperry Glacier were constructed in the Swiss style at locations deemed "the most beautiful and convenient" in the park. Source

By the 1930’s this trail system was so effective that the National Park Service established the Glacier National Park Tourist Trails Historic District on the National Registry of Historic Places. This designation was significant as it spans 56 years from the establishment of the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail in 1889 to the ceasing of large scale horse concessions by the Park Horse Saddle Company in 1945. At its peak the Park Horse Saddle Company had over 1,000 horses and took over 10,000 visitors per year on the trail systems.

But before we examine the three incredible routes, The North, South and Inside Trail Trips, that were established around the mountains in Glacier National Park it is important to understand the beginning. Another route, The Triangle Trail Trip, is included in this article and it became obsolete with the completion of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway.

The Great Northern Railroad Company:

Glacier s Horse TrailsGreat Northern Logo

The founder of the Great Northern Railroad, James Hill was a leading authority on farming and growing stock animals such as cattle. He was also an entrepreneur who funded not only a railroad but schools and endowments and a visionary who helped present Glacier National Park to the 20th century United States. In 1889, Hill took two railway companies and formed The Great Northern Railroad.

Hill was known as “The Empire Builder” and by using progressive marketing techniques his company was able to market their services to prospective settlers from Scandinavia to settle in the rich farmland areas of Minnesota and North Dakota. The Great Northern Railroad also worked to develop towns which would demand increasing freight and passenger services from the railroad.

Glacier s Horse TrailsEarly Era Mountaineers

Perhaps it was Louis Warren Hill, James’ son, who when he became president of the railroad in 1907 put Glacier National Park on the map. His work helped encourage legislators to establish the park. The Great Northern Railroad under Louis’ direction aggressively marketed tourism in Glacier National Park bringing not only income to the railroad but also help encourage the establishment of Glacier National Park in 1910.

James resigned from his leadership of the Great Northern railroad in 1911 so he could devote all of his energies to developing Glacier National Park. He stated, "The work is so important," he declared, "that I am loath to entrust the development to anyone but myself."

Beginning in 1914, the Great Northern Railroad funded construction of a series of lodges in Glacier National Park to promote tourism and bring revenue to the railroad. Connecting these lodges was a series of trails and thus enters the women and men who toured Glacier backcountry on horseback.

Louis Warren Hill was recognized as one of Montana’s Top 100 Most Influential Montanans of the Century.

The Glacier Park Circle Trails:

Glacier s Horse TrailsGlacier Tourists circa 1920's
Glacier s Horse TrailsInspecting the Trails
Glacier s Horse TrailsGlacier Tourists circa 1920's

In 1996 the Glacier Park Circle Trails were entered into the National Historic Register. The reason for its designation is quoted below.

“The Tourist Trails Historic District is composed of three distinct historic trail loops, constructed by the Glacier Park Hotel Company as a component of their European-style hotel/chalet/trail network and redesigned in the 1930s by the NPS in accordance with evolving landscape principles. This trail system criss-crosses the Continental Divide, accesses the park's most publicized scenic vistas, and links visitor centers at Two Medicine, Cut Bank, St. Mary, Many Glacier, Goat Haunt/Waterton, and Lake McDonald much as it did during the historic period. The 163 miles of trail incorporate all manners of trail construction techniques and characteristics of trail tread. Associated buildings and structures include the Gunsight Pass trail shelter, Packer's Roost, Pass Creek and Granite Park trail cabins, and the spectacular Ptarmigan Wall tunnel and associated stone parapet.”

The passes crossed featured in Glacier’s Passes Part I were: Stoney Indian Pass, Gunsight Pass, Piegan Pass, Pitamakan Pass and Triple Divide Pass.

Two routes also crossed over Swiftcurrent Pass which was featured in Glacier’s Passes Part II.

The last pass, Red Gap Pass, was not covered in the previous articles and was used until the Ptarmigan Tunnel was constructed in 1931.

The trail system used “Swiss-style” Chalets in the Many Glacier Motel, Granite Park Chalet on the Highline, the Lake McDonald Lodge and Sperry Chalet. These chalets are still in use today and it is possible to make reservations to stay in them. They are currently managed by Glacier Park Incorporated.

Four additional chalets were built and no longer exist. The Two Medicine Chalet was no longer used after World War II and was intentionally burned in 1956. The Cut Bank Chalet was destroyed in 1949, after decaying from disuse after World War II began. The Sun Point Chalet (also known as the Going-to-the-Sun Chalet) was also destroyed after World War II. Another lodge at Gunsight Pass was destroyed by an avalanche after its first year of use. It was never rebuilt.

The system also utilized tent camps modeled after tepee villages at Goat Haunt, Red Eagle, Cosley Lake, and Fifty Mountain.

Chalets at Belton and East Glacier were also built and used but were not part of the trail riding system. Travelers might spend their first or last nights there.

The North Circle Trail Trip:

The North Circle connected Many Glacier with Cosley Lake; Cosley Lake with Goat Haunt; Goat Haunt with Fifty Mountain; Fifty Mountain with Granite Park; Granite Park with Many Glacier. It could also be done in the reverse order and I have found documentation presenting the route in each direction.

This route typically was five days in time and covered 65 miles and included stops at tent camps at Cosley Lake, Goat Haunt, Fifty Mountain Camp and stays at Many Glacier Hotel and Granite Park Chalets.

"The largest structure of the entire group (of Glacier Chalets and Lodges)is the Many Glacier Hotel on the edge of Swiftcurrent Lake in the northeastern quadrant of Glacier National Park. The enormous building with its multiple wings and additions stretches a great distance along the lakeshore. The building is up to four stories in height and designed as a series of chalets....The principal moldings and window frames are painted white with additional yellow jigsawn detailing. Considerable variation appears in the rooflines. The gable roofs often have clipped-gable ends. Multiple dormers and hip roofs add further interest to the rooflines. The roofs are all finished with wood shingles. Each wing of the hotel has balconies, many of which now serve as fire escapes. The balcony railings are wood, sawn in jigsawn patterns found in chalet architecture.

The original wing of the hotel--now the center of the hotel--was constructed during 1914 and 1915. Annex Number 1 to the north containing more guest rooms and the dining room and kitchen was constructed shortly afterwards. Annex Number 2 was constructed in 1917 south of the original section and connected to it by a spire-topped enclosed breezeway.

The interior of the building continues the Swiss alpine theme established on the exterior. The lobby, the most impressive space of the building, has four stories of balconies surrounding its rectangular edges. The balcony railings again are patterned after Swiss designs. Enormous logs supporting the balconies and portions of the roof structure extend from the floor of the lobby to the ceiling. The peeled logs are topped with capitals that give the building a formal, classical air. A round copper fireplace with a painted metal chimney stack is at the north end of the lobby, suspended by cables from the wood structural system. The south end of the lobby space contains the gift shop, of new construction. Most of the interior walls in the public spaces have a board-and-batten wainscotting with a painted wall finish battened in rectangles above. Doors to guest rooms have exposed reinforcing of X-patterned wood slats, with one "X" above the other like dutch doors. Small red and white painted crosses similar to the Swiss flag have been tacked on each door.

The building's Swiss feeling remains in the architectural elements and is reinforced by the decor. Placemats on the tables in the large dining room still promote this " . . .Alpine hostelry. . .in the Switzerland of North America. . .The hotel boasts a true Swiss atmosphere from the Alpine beauty which surrounds the building to the decor of the striking lobby."

The above information is from The National Park Website and is quoted as written. Portions have been omitted to maintain context related to this article.

After the construction of the Ptarmigan Tunnel, The North Circle Trail Trip was re-routed through the Upper Many Glacier Valley across Ptarmigan Falls beside Ptarmigan Lake and through the tunnel. After passing through the tunnel the trails clings to the north side of the Ptarmigan Wall and then down to Elizabeth Lake and finally along the Belly River to Cosley Lake the travelers spent the first evening was spent relaxing and catching trout. The camps were rustic yet comfortable.

A locomotive bell was installed at Stoney Indian Pass and the tourists could ring the bell if they desired.

Here is the actual route description from the 1939 Great Northern Railway promotional booklet: "Glacier National Park, Waterton Lakes Park...for a Worth While Summer Vacation."

The names of places mentioned in this advertisement have changed or been adapted. They are not typos I have quoted the article as it appeared in 1939.

For the traveler who has a little more time, for the fisherman and the mountain lover, the Saddle Horse Company has planned a wonderful five-day tour known as the North Circle Trip. No one who visits Glacier Park can long escape hearing of the wonderful fishing in the Belly River Country; of sublime Mt. Cleveland, highest peak in the Park; of stunning Indian Pass, and the camp at Cosley Lake.

The trip is usually made in five days from Many-Glacier Hotel. (It can also be made from Going-to-the Sun Chalets or from the Lake McDonald Hotel.) In either case the first day's journey is up to Granite Park Chalets.

Starting from Many-Glacier Hotel the first day is an easy start of nine miles to Granite Park Chalets.

The second morning we follow a sky-line trail paralleling the timber line on the west slopes of the Continental Divide, with an optional short side trip en route, that takes us up to Ahern Pass and its marvelous vistas of the south fork of the Belly River. Late afternoon we swing over onto the slopes of West Flattop Mountain, where we spend the night at Fifty Mountain Camp, close under the pinnacles of Mt. Kipp.

After a hearty breakfast we are on our way again. Still northward and once more down mountain slopes. This time it is the valley of Waterton River we follow down to Goathaunt Camp on Waterton Lake. We jog along in sight of the ragged Porcupine Ridge and high snow peaks to the westward. Waterton Lake is about 500 feet lower in elevation than Swiftcurrent Lake and the mountains run up considerably over 1,000 feet higher than in the Many-Glacier region, culminating in the magnificent cliffs of Mt. Cleveland, just behind the camp. Here fishing may be had at the mouth of the Waterton River, while a trip up toward Browns Pass to Lakes Janet or Francis will give the fisherman a series of real battles with the big rainbow trout of this region.

The fourth day takes us back over our old trail for about five miles and then up a steep ascent to beautiful Indian Pass. Up past the deep blue Indian Lake, and the switchbacks to the bare summit of the Pass, where a view unfolds that once seen will never be forgotten. In front of us are the cliffs of Mt. Kipp with a wonderful series of cascades dropping down from the glacier above.

Below and to the east opens up the wonderful valley of the Belly River, with Glenn's Lake and Crossley Lake filling the middle distance. And as the trail winds down into the valley we are almost under the spray from the many lovely waterfalls that fling their way down the rugged slopes. The last few miles of our trail lead through the forest with glimpses of mountain peaks and blue water. Cosley Lake Camp looks southwestward to the Pass over which we have just come, with Mt. Cleveland to the right and Mt. Merritt to the left, framing a glorious picture.

This camp opens up the Belly River, famed for fighting rainbow and big cutthroat trout. There are enough lakes and streams here to fish a different one every day for a month.

Our last day in the saddle, the trail crosses Belly River several times; leads past Dawn Mist Falls and Lake Elizabeth, set in green firs; up the steep wind-swept side of Ptarmigan Wall, with its thrilling retrospect of Mt. Merritt, and through the new Ptarmigan Trail Tunnel to emerge above Ptarmigan Lake. Then down the Ptarmigan Lake trail to Swiftcurrent Valley and Many - Glacier Hotel in the mellow mountain twilight - these are memories of that last day's trip.

North Circle Route From: To: Distance
Day One Many Glacier Cosley Lake 14 miles
Day Two Cosley Lake Goat Haunt 19 miles
Day Three Goat Haunt Fifty Mountain Camp 10 miles
Day Four Fifty Mountain Camp Granite Park 13 miles
Day Five Granite Park Many Glacier 9 miles

The North Circle Trail Route navigates below the following mountains featured in SummitPost. To investigate each mountain please click on the linked text to go to the mountain page. To see the photo please click on the photo.

The South Circle Trail Trip:

The most significant section of this route is the trail through Swiftcurrent Pass which was used by the Native Americans as they went to hunt buffalo and later by the trappers and ranchers. Sections of the trail were modified and re-routed between 1910 and the 1930s to make the grades easier as well as avoid the frequent wash outs during heavy run-off periods.

This route was also five days in length and covered a total of 69 miles and went through the following passes that are featured in the History of Glacier’s Passes parts I and II, Piegan, Swiftcurrent and Gunsight. It also passed over Lincoln Pass which lies between Gunsight Pass and Sperry Chalet.

Here is the actual route description from the 1939 Great Northern Railway promotional booklet: "Glacier National Park, Waterton Lakes Park...for a Worth While Summer Vacation."

The names of places mentioned in this advertisement have changed or been adapted. They are not typos I have quoted the article as it appeared in 1939.
This is a five-day ride, by easy stages, starting from any one of three places Going-to-the-Sun Chalets, Many-Glacier Hotel or Lake McDonald Hotel. The trip covers 69 miles, and penetrates four principal mountain passes, namely, Piegan, Swiftcurrent, Lincoln and Gunsight.

Starting from Going-to-the-Sun Chalets the first day's ride is 18 miles over Piegan Pass and down to the Many-Glacier Hotel. Piegan Pass is noted for its wild flower meadows, magnificent vistas and the unforgetable thrill of passing alongside the Garden Wall which rises 4,000 feet above the trail.

Because the second day's ride to Granite Park Chalets via Swiftcurrent Pass is only 9 miles, we may start in a leisurely mood from Many-Glacier Hotel. But if we leave by 8 a. m. we can arrive at the chalets in time for lunch, with a whole afternoon free to enjoy marvelous views of the Garden Wall, Heaven's Peak, Logan Pass and other "embattled summits" too numerous to mention here. It is well worth an hour's walk to the top of Swiftcurrent Mountain, or the two hours' hike up 1,800 feet from the chalets to a notch in the narrow rim of the Garden Wall above Grinnell Glacier - a vantage point which opens up landscapes of indescribable and bewildering splendor.

On the third morning we leave Granite Park Chalets at about 8 a.m. with box lunches strapped to our saddles. We will ride 19 miles to Lake McDonald Hotel where we should arrive about 5 p. m. A most enjoyable part of this ride is along the recurring rapids of McDonald Creek, and the shore of Lake McDonald. Here are stately forest trees, rich and green, considerably larger, because of more moisture, than the trees on the eastern slope of the Continental Divide.

To Sperry Chalets we ride on the fourth morning another short trip of 7 miles in the saddle. But such miles! After eating breakfast at an elevation of 3,100 feet, we climb to lunch at Sperry Chalets at an elevation of 6,500 feet. In the afternoon we are free to visit the Sperry Glacier which offers unobstructed vistas in all directions. We see deer and whistle back to whistling marmot. We breathe deep of sweet-smelling mountain ozone. We sleep that night in the realm of the mountain goat.

On the fifth morning - if we wake early - we may see mountain goats on the rocks that rim our stronghold. We should leave by 8:30 a. m., with box lunch, for we have a long day's ride through truly stupendous country. First up through Lincoln Pass, then down to skirt Lake Ellen Wilson, then up again to pause in Gunsight Pass - climax of the South Circle Trail Trip. From the Pass the trail descends "on beetling cliffs and over slanting snow fields," in plain view of Blackfoot Glacier. The last 9 of the 16 miles are down the valley of St. Mary River and along the shore of the lake to the Chalets nestling at the foot of Going-to-the-Sun Mountain. Here where we started, we end the South Circle Trail Trip.

South Circle Route From: To: Distance
Day One Lake McDonald Sperry Chalets 6.5 miles
Day Two Sperry Chalet Sun Point 18 miles
Day Three Sun Point Many Glacier 16 miles
Day Four Many Glacier Granite Park 9 miles
Day Five Granite Park Packer's Roost 8 miles

The South Circle Trail Route meanders below the following mountains featured in SummitPost. To investigate each mountain please click on the linked text to go to the mountain page. To see the photo please click on the photo.

The two buildings of the Sperry Chalet complex are the dormitory and the dining hall. The chalet development is reached only by trail, just as Granite Park is. The complex sits in a glacial cirque, surrounded by enormous peaks where the geology is readily exposed by the lack of vegetation in the steep, sub-alpine region.

The largest and most architecturally impressive structure of the two is the dormitory, covered by a large gable roof pierced by two dormers on each side of the gable that shelter small log- framed balconies. The roofs are finished with wood shingles. The random rubble masonry of the walls have some stones that extend up to a foot out from the rest of the wall in distorted shapes in the way that clinker bricks extend out from brick walls. On the corners of the structure the quoins alternate in their extensions out from the walls in the way that log ends extend. This use of materials adds a textural ruggedness. Window and door openings again have arched lintels, reminiscent of the other Great Northern buildings. One of the gable ends of this structure has the letters "G.N.Ry."--standing for Great Northern Railway--laid out in light-colored stone that contrasts with the redder stone of the rest of the structure.

The building contains 23 guest rooms, reached by a first floor lobby access and interior staircases. Interior partition walls are cedar tongue-and-groove boards set in between the structural log framing. Ceilings are the same material. Floors are wide boards, painted grey. The rustic railings of the interior staircases and exterior balconies are peeled logs. The existing balconies and the deck along the west side of the structure are not original. The original balconies deteriorated badly and were removed and replaced with the present balconies in 1978-79. The building was designed by Cutter and Malmgren and constructed in 1914. The stonework, arched fenestration, and the log detailing in the brackets and balconies give the building a quality of design and character unique to a backcountry structure.

The kitchen building for the Sperry Chalet development is a simpler stone structure that is rectangular in plan. The rubble masonry has stones of considerably smaller sizes than those used in the dormitory and lacks the exceptionally fine design quality, but it does serve its purpose in its simplicity. The gable roof of the low, rectangular structure is finished with wood shingles. A small deck of recent construction wraps around the south and west exterior walls, overlooking beautiful views toward Lake McDonald, about seven miles to the west. The window and door openings again have the gentle segmental arches which immediately identify the structure as a Great Northern building. Some of the kitchen windows are covered with "bearproofing" grates of long wood strips with the three exposed sides covered with the business ends of large nails to discourage the local grizzlies.

The interior of the building, like its exterior, is of simple design. The stone walls remain exposed on the interior, as are the simple roof trusses. The original roofing system was of peeled lodgepole pine, but it was replaced in recent years. The floors are varnished wood. Partitions for the kitchen space are of beaded tongue-and-groove siding on wood frame walls. The east wall of the building contains a fireplace. The building was constructed in 1913.

The above information is from The National Park Website and is quoted as written. Portions have been omitted to maintain context related to this article.

The Inside Trail Trip:

The Inside Trail connected the Two Medicine Valley with The Saint Mary’s Valley. It passed over Pitamakan Pass and then followed the Continental Divide to Triple Divide Pass and then down the Red Eagle Valley to Saint Mary’s Lake and either ended at St. Mary’s or the Going-to-the-Sun Chalet.

The following text is from the National Register of Historic Places document that established the Glacier Horse Trails and the associated lodges as Historic Places.

“The historic Inside Trail, named in contrast to the "Boundary Trail" that provided a faster yet less scenic route between Two Medicine and St. Mary, ran from Two Medicine Chalets to Cut Bank chalets, via Pitamakan Pass; Cut Bank Chalets to Red Eagle Camp via Triple Divide Pass; and Red Eagle Camp to St. Mary Chalet or Going-to-the-Sun Chalet. While all three of the trail sections were constructed between 1912 and 1916, the route did not become an important feature of the chalet/camp concessionaire network until 1926 when the Park Saddle Horse Company established a tent camp at Red Eagle Lake, thereby breaking up the long journey from Cut Bank to St. Mary Chalet or Going-to-the-Sun Chalet.

Great Northern crews constructed and improved the trail system connecting Two Medicine/Cut Bank/St. Mary Chalets and tent camp sites between 1911 and 1913, work for which they were reimbursed by the federal government. The trails from Cut Bank camp to the foot of Pitamakan Pass and the trail from St. Mary to the head of Red Eagle Lake were "located as to eventually become roads." A new trail connecting Cut Bank and St. Mary via Triple Divide Pass was proposed in 1913, "poorly located" ca. 1914, and reconstructed in 1916 and again in ca. 1923. In 1927, the two mile southern approach to Triple Divide Pass was relocated.”

This trail was a total of 40.5 miles and last three days in duration.

The last of the remaining chalet developments within the boundary of Glacier National Park is the Two Medicine store, formerly the dining hall for the Two Medicine Chalet complex. Unlike the other stone chalet buildings, Two Medicine was of log construction--and is the only one remaining of a series of log chalet buildings.

The enormous log structure is generally rectangular in plan. The main roof is a gable with clipped ends and shed roofs of varying angles projecting directly out of the roof ridge. The roof is finished with wood shingles. The symmetrical front elevation at the south gable end had a two-story log porch. The second story of the porch is reached only from the interior of the building. The structure's log walls are stained a deep brown. Moldings around the multi-light wood frame windows are painted white.

On the interior the building retains its original configurations and most of its original finishes. The log roof structure is exposed and the log walls retain their original light-colored cement chinking. The large open room, formerly the main dining hall, hall, still has one original set of table and chairs, while the other furnishings for the new snack bar are of recent origin. The small balcony overlooking the main room and with its staircase providing access to the upstairs employee rooms has a peeled log railing. The original kitchen area is used for storage and as part of the kitchen area for the new snackbar. The original wood floor is covered with linoleum tile. The building was designed by architect Samuel Bartlett and has changed very little since its construction in 1914.

The above information is from The National Park Website and is quoted as written. Portions have been omitted to maintain context related to this article.

Once a waystop on the “Inside Trail” horse route from East Glacier to St. Mary Lake, Cut Bank used to have its own chalet. Bridget Moylan’s “Glacier’s Grandest” pictorial history has a 1912 photo of a two-story log lodge with a peaked roof and a big balcony. The chalet was destroyed in 1949, after decaying from disuse after World War II.

Inside Trail Route From: To: Distance
Day One Two Medicine Cut Bank 17 miles
Day Two Cut Bank Red Eagle 16 miles
Day Three Red Eagle St. Mary's 7.5 miles

Mountains featured in SummitPost that are along this route are featured in the following photos. To investigate each mountain please click on the linked text to go to the mountain page. To see the photo please click on the photo.

Here is the actual route description from the 1939 Great Northern Railway promotional booklet: "Glacier National Park, Waterton Lakes Park...for a Worth While Summer Vacation."

The names of places mentioned in this advertisement have changed or been adapted. They are not typos I have quoted the article as it appeared in 1939.

This Trail Trip-northbound-begins at Two Medicine Chalets and the first day's ride is 18 miles over spectacular Cut Bank Pass and via Lake of the Seven Winds and Jonah's Bowl to Cut Bank Chalets, for an overnight stop.

The second day's ride covers 15 miles from Cut Bank to Red Eagle. The trail leads up through the northern cirque of Cut Bank Valley to Triple Divide Pass, near Triple Divide Peak from whose snow-clad shoulders the summer melt streams three ways: to the Gulf of Mexico by Cut Bank Creek and the Missouri River; to Hudson Bay by St. Mary River, and to the Pacific Ocean by Flathead River. Descending through forested valleys, we reach Red Eagle tent camp on the shores of a beautiful mountain lake in time for supper. After supper we may catch some trout for breakfast.

The third day's ride is 13 miles to Going-to-the-Sun Chalets on St. Mary Lake. The view west from these chalets is one of the most sublime in all the world. But long before we reach Sun Chalets we encounter gorgeous views, for every mile of this day's ride is an open sesame to grandeur.

On the fourth day we ride to Many-Glacier Hotel. The trail distance by way of Piegan Pass is 18 miles and the descent into Swiftcurrent Valley reveals sensational views of mountains, glaciers and lakes. Many-Glacier Hotel is the center of activity in the northern part of Glacier Park. It is the largest hotel in the Park, accommodating 500 guests. After four days riding the open trails the comforts and conveniences of steam heat, electricity, hot and cold water, and room telephones will seem luxurious indeed.

The Inside Trail Trip can be made in either direction, starting at Two Medicine and riding north, or starting at Many-Glacier Hotel or at Going-to-the-Sun Chalets and riding south to Two Medicine Chalets.

The Triangle Trail Trip:

The Triangle Trail Trip was NOT included in the National Historic designation and its usage diminished after the completion of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway. However, this must have been a spectacular trip. Imagine riding up Swiftcurrent Pass and spending a night watching a brilliant Montana sunset over Heaven’s Peak. The next day the group would travel along the Highline Trail to Logan Pass under the Garden Wall. Lunch at Logan Pass would have been pretty sweet as well. After spending the night at Going-to-the-Sun Chalet the last day was spent riding up Piegan Pass and then down into the Many Glacier Valley and to the Chalet.

This route circles a major portion of the Garden Wall. It includes crossing the Continental Divide at Swiftcurrent Pass as well as Logan Pass. After dropping down Reynolds Creek it then navigates along Siyeh Creek and over Piegan Pass which leads once again to its beginning at Many Glacier Hotel.

A bell was placed at Piegan Pass and it could be heard ringing throughout the valleys.

Mountains featured in SummitPost that are along this route are featured in the following photos. To investigate each mountain please click on the linked text to go to the mountain page. To see the photo please click on the photo.

Here is the actual route description from the 1939 Great Northern Railway promotional booklet: "Glacier National Park, Waterton Lakes Park...for a Worth While Summer Vacation."

The names of places mentioned in this advertisement have changed or been adapted. They are not typos I have quoted the article as it appeared in 1939.

This is an excellent trail trip of three days' duration Leaving from Many-Glacier Hotel, the first morning is spent in ascending the Swiftcurrent Valley to Swiftcurrent Pass. Here are the mountains at their best.
The trail from Many Glacier winds along the Swiftcurrent River through forests of fir, pine and spruce, past Bullhead Lake and Red Rock Falls, to the foot of Swiftcurrent Mountain.

Here it zigzags a thousand feet up the eastern face of the mountain to Nine-Lake Point, a sharp, projecting shoulder of the mountain. From this point, about two-thirds of the distance to the summit of the Pass, an impressive view is obtained. Looking down the Swiftcurrent Valley, nine blue lakes can be counted. Another short climb brings us to the summit of the pass at an elevation of 7,156 feet. Here snowbanks that resist the sun's rays throughout the summer are encountered, and, a short distance beyond, the trail drops down off the Continental Divide to a plateau overlooking McDonald valley.

Granite Park Chalets are reached in time for lunch. The chalets are perched on the steep sides of the Continental Divide and the view to the west is superb, with Heaven's Peak dominating the landscape and a score of other peaks piling up on the western horizon. If one is a walker the trail to the top of the Garden Wall should be taken in the afternoon. Grinnell Glacier lies at your feet, with a far - stretching view toward Many Glacier and beyond. By turning about to face west the whole panorama of peaks from Mt. Oberlin on the south to Swiftcurrent on the north rolls below us.

Morning finds us on the trail again, this time headed southward along the Garden Wall to Logan Pass. This trail hangs on the western slopes of the Continental Divide with a view far out over the picturesque valley of Logan Creek. Lunch and coffee are had just over the summit of the Divide, with the Hanging Gardens and the peaks around Hidden Lake in full view. Then down into the St. Mary Valley, past the falls of Reynolds Creek and into the timber to the shore of St. Mary Lake, from whence a short ride brings us to the hospitable Going-to-the-Sun Chalets for our evening meal.

Next day the trail leads up Reynolds Creek along the west side of Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, which rises nearly 5,000 feet vertically above us, and then swings over to the slopes of Mt. Siyeh for the climb into Piegan Pass. The summit of this pass is wild and open; look out for mountain sheep and goats, for you are quite likely to see some there. Then the sharp descent toward Many Glacier, lovely Morning Eagle Falls, deep shadows of the conifers, Lake Josephine and all the glories of a setting sun, turquoise Swiftcurrent and Many-Glacier Hotel again, seeming like home.

Granite Park Chalet development, constructed in 1914, consists of a dormitory and a "chalet" used as dining hall, resident living quarters, and guest rooms. Both the dormitory and the chalet are included in this nomination. The complex is below Swiftcurrent Pass at the edge of a sub-alpine meadow with scenic views of the McDonald Valley, the Livingstone Range, and the southern areas of the park.

The chalet is the largest of the two structures and is a two-story building with a gable roof. The chalet was designed by architect Samuel L. Bartlett. The building is rectangular in plan, with two additions--one of stone and one of log construction added on the back. Other additions at the rear of the building that were constructed in 1924 have been removed. The gable roof is built of pole rafters and 1" decking exposed on the interior and finished on the exterior with wood shingles. The native stone walls of the building are of random rubble masonry bonded with cement mortar. Window and door openings have keystoned lintels with slight arches. The front elevation of the building is symmetrical and overlooks the most scenic vistas. The two-story porch of log construction on the front elevation provides a shaded spot for hikers to rest on the ground floor, and access to guest rooms above. At the rear of the building another two-story porch between the two additions is used as a service porch for the kitchen while the staircase provides access to additional guest rooms above. All of the logs used in the building are of local origin. Doors into the building are tongue-and-groove set in herringbone patterns. Most of the windows are multi-light casements.

The first floor of the building houses the dining room, kitchen, bedroom, storeroom, and small bathroom. The second story contains simple guest rooms and employee quarters. Interior floors are flagstone on the first floor and wood above, and interior partition walls are vertically placed half logs. The flagstone used in the floors retains sedimentary ripple marks from the natural formation. The log joists of the second story extend through the stone walls and serve as the joists for the front and rear porches.

The dormitory is a smaller one-story structure of stone construction, built in 1913 and designed by architect Thomas D. McMahon. The rubble masonry of the walls has the same rough texture as that of the chalet. The roof is finished with wood shingles. The dormitory is divided into a series of six separate bedrooms, partitioned by interior log walls. The floors are flagstone. The ceiling is plank decking. The door and window openings have slightly arched lintels, harking back to the character of the stonework in the adjacent chalet, in the Many Glacier Hotel and in Sperry chalet. The building has a humble, yet identifiable character.

Two changes to the historic scene are the stone-veneered comfort station (1965, 1975 addition) and a small composting pit toilet, both of more recent construction.

The above information is from The National Park Website and is quoted as written. Portions have been omitted to maintain context related to this article.


The remnants of this incredible trail system mostly survive intact. Some of the trails have been moved or rerouted to avoid difficulties or enhance views of modern day travelers. Evidence of the bell towers can be found on some of the passes and summits. The three or five day trips on horseback would certainly equate to a long day by hiking standards but it is achievable in modern day Glacier. Start planning a trip in Glacier’s backcountry by navigating to Back Country permits.

Be safe out there. There are a lot of ways to have a great day in Glacier and a few ways that can ruin a great trip as well. Carry that bear deterrent spray and take the most important ingredient to any successful trip Common Sense!


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