Mt. Helen, located in the seldom-visited southeast region of Glacier National Park, is relatively easy hike/climb through some of the most beautiful lakeside and mountainous regions in the area. It can easily be climbed as a day hike or spend a night at the stunning No Name Lake. Wildlife abounds! Visits from local residents such moose and wild mountain goats are common. This is a trip to be enjoyed for the journey, not just the destination.
Here is some interesting information about the Two Medicine area from "saintgrizzly
" (placed here by permission):
The Blackfeet Indians considered the Two Medicine area “the Backbone of the World,” and in addition to the normal usage for sustenance, used this portion of what would eventually become Glacier National Park for vision quests. The story of how the area came about its name is taken from the writings of James Willard Schultz, who was adopted into the Blackfeet tribe and had an Indian wife: The Blackfeet Confederacy was divided into three tribes: the Pikuni, the Bloods, and the Blackfeet. In the spring each tribe held an Okan'--a religious ceremony--and it just so happened that one year two of the tribes, the Pikunis and Bloods, happened to hold theirs at the same time and in the same place. After that the river was called Two Medicine Lodges, or Two Visions Lodges River--later shortened to Two Medicine. The combination of forested lakes, seemingly endless combinations of cliffs, walls, spires, and towering peaks, make it easy to see in this place a special significance! Sinopah, meaning "kit fox" in Blackfeet, was the Indian wife of Hugh Monroe (Rising Wolf), and daughter of Lone Walker, a powerful Blackfeet chief.
The Blackfeet Indian Reservation
is immediately east of Glacier National Park. Their official website is a great source of information on trip planning and the cultural history of the region.
While far from unknown, and certainly not void of people, this place is more subdued than the Lake McDonald or Logan Pass areas, Saint Mary’s, or Many Glacier; it’s just that it lies a bit outside the main traffic flow, yet there are good trails throughout (you can even take a ferry from one end of the lake to the other, which, depending on your destination and route, will shorten the distance spent walking from one to three miles each way—the ferry is $5 one way, $10 round trip), giving many choices for doing as much or little legwork as desired, from easy day hikes to major multi-day treks into other sections of the park. Or you can stay right in the Two Medicine area and climb mountains.
The easiest and quickest way to reach Mt. Helen is to begin at the Two Medicine trailhead. This is located near the Two Medicine entrance to Glacier National Park. To reach the Two Medicine entrance from the main entrance and West Glacier, travel southeast on Route 2 around the south tip of the park and then head northeast, still on Route 2, until you reach East Glacier. (There are a couple of small hotels and restaurants in East Glacier if that interests you.) Once you're in East Glacier take Route 49 to the north until you reach Two Medicine Road. Follow this road around the north east side of Lower Two Medicine Lake and you will reach the Two Medicine park entrance. Continue on this road until you come to the only fork in the road and go right, through the campground. Continue on the main road (avoiding campground spurs) to the end of the road. Here lies a small parking area where you can leave your car; there is also a restroom with flush toilets and a bear box if you need to store food while you are gone. The trailhead, easily spotted, is on the west side of the parking area and starts out over a small bridge.
Another way to reach the Two Medicine area from the main entrance at West Glacier is to travel east over Going-to-the-Sun Road. While this will take a bit more time, the vistas from Going-to-the-Sun Road are spectacular and worth it if you've not traveled this road before. To go this way, head east on Going-to-the-Sun road and then go south on Route 2. Once you reach a junction for Hwy 49, take it (to the right) and continue south. Turn right (northwest) when you reach Two Medicine Road. Then simply follow the directions above.
If you are planning on going in the spring or fall it may be wise to check the Current Glacier National Park Road Status
It may also be helpful to reference a Map of Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park
As this mountain lies within Glacier National Park, you will need a pass to enter the park. Information about the costs for entering the park is as follows:
The current park entrance fees
Single Person Entry - $10.00 for a 7-day pass
Single Vehicle Entry - $20.00 for a 7-day pass
Glacier National Park Pass - $25.00 for a one-year pass
National Parks Pass - $50.00 for a one-year pass
Golden Age Passport - $10.00 for a lifetime pass
Golden Access Passport - No fee for a lifetime pass
For 2006: (The fee increase is due to road construction)
Single Vehicle Beginning May 1, 2006: $25
Single Visitor (Walker, Biker, or Motorcyclist) Beginning May 1, 2006: $12
Winter Fee, 7-Day Entrance:
Single Vehicle Beginning December 1, 2006: $15
Single Visitor (Walker, Biker, or Motorcyclist): $10
Glacier National Park Pass:
Beginning January 1, 2006: $25
No permits are necessary for a day hike.
If you wish to spend the night at No Name Lake (highly recommended), you will need a backcountry permit. The main backcountry permit office is near the main entrance in West Glacier/Apgar. Because this area is not as popular as other areas in the park, permits will probably be more available. We had no trouble getting one for the day of our hike in. (See below, under "Camping", for more information on backcountry permits.)
When To Climb
Mt. Helen is most easily climbed during the Spring - Fall seasons. A winter ascent is most certainly possible but I have no information about it. We climbed it in August.
There is a traditional campground located at the trailhead. The Two Medicine Campground ($15 per day--no reservations, first come first served basis) is located here. We spent one night at No Name Lake, approximately 4-5 miles from the trailhead. (Highly recommended) If you choose to spend the night at No Name, you will need a backcountry permit and gear to hang food (or a bear canister). Ropes and places to hang food are provided at all backcountry campsites within Glacier National Park. The fee for a backcountry permit was US $4/night/person as of August 2005. Because of considerable Grizzly Bear activity, bivying outside of backcountry campsites is discouraged.
If you are interested in traditional car camping, you may wish to look up some information about campgrounds in Glacier National Park.
In addition, there is information about backcountry camping as well.
Glacier National Park maintains a web page with several live webcams. These can be used to obtain information about the weather.