Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 48.87917°N / 114.09611°W
Additional Information County: Flathead
Activities Activities: Hiking, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer, Fall
Additional Information Elevation: 9891 ft / 3015 m
Sign the Climber's Log

Overview of Rainbow Peak

Rising over a vertical mile from the surface of Bowman lake in the Northfork district of Glacier National Park, Rainbow Peak is a dramatic mountain featured in many a panoramic photo. Thousands of leisurely auto tourists make their way along the dusty Northfork road to one of its popular terminus' - Bowman Lake - from where Rainbow Peak rises 5500 some odd feet above the surface of the lake. As one stands on the lake shore they are presented with a view of Numa ridge to the Northwest and Quartz Ridge to the Southeast. Dominating the Southeast of this panorama is the formidable Rainbow Peak.

Parentage of Rainbow Peak

Numa Ridge, Bowman Lake and Rainbow PeakRainbow Peak as seen from the foot of Bowman Lake
Rainbow Peak's Parentage:
Rocky Mountains > Central Montana Rocky Mountains > Glacier National Park Ranges > Livingston Range

Rainbow Peak's Drainage Flow:
Pend Oreille > Columbia > Pacific Ocean

Topographic Information:
Mount Carter 48114-H1 1:24,000

3636 ft/1108 m

5.62 mi to nearest higher peak, Kintla Peak

Getting to Rainbow Peak

Rainbow Peak, Liz on the approachApproach via watercraft.
A photo of Rainbow Peak may be easy to capture but a summit is not. No trails will lead a climber to its base and the 5,000+ vertical feet facing a summit bid ranges from gametrails to bushwhacking to steep slogging over scree.

Climbers will have no difficulty getting to within six miles of the summit by car as a road from the National Park Boundary at Polebridge, MT winds its way to the foot of Bowman Lake. From here access to the base of the peak is via two methods.

Canoes, kayaks and low horsepower motorized watercraft are allowed on the waters of Bowman Lake. Take note that Glacier National Park has a strict policy that all boaters must wear life jackets. Climbers can follow the Southeast shoreline of of the lake to the semi-prominent point in the lake where an audibly noticeable creek empties. It is here that climbers can stash their boats and make their way by land.

The second obvious approach is via land and significantly more difficult than a water approach. A trail from the foot of the lake extends to the head of the lake where Bowman Lake backcountry campground is located. From here it is possible to bushwhack the approximately 1.5 miles to the same creek outlet described in the water approach.

Climbing Rainbow Peak

An approach by watercraft provides the best access for a summit bid on Rainbow Peak. Glacier National Park regulations allow non-motorized and low-horsepower watercraft to put into Bowman Lake at the foot Bowman Lake where there is a car campground and boat launch.

Once in the water make your way to the right (Southeast) and follow the shoreline until you reach a small bit of land that juts out where a stream empties into the lake. This piece of land is distinctly marked on topographic maps. To avoid confusing another stream with this one note where you are in relation to the peak itself for the stream you're looking for is located in a drainage sided by Rainbow.

Game trails are reportedly follow-able on both sides of the creek bed. Shared route beta from various parties tells of the existence of a prominent game trail on the climber's-right side of the creek whereas a fellow Summit Post member said, "...went up and down on the left side on some decent game trails," in route notes provided via a private message.

As your party makes it's way up the creek a fork will be encountered. The author suggests continuing straight ahead as opposed to veering left. This will lead you out of the vegetation and to the foot of the peak's East-Southeast scree-covered face.

Climb the boulder-strewn creek bed and adjacent terrain eventually gaining the talus and scree-covered upper, treeless section of the peak. From here begin the vertical slog up the scree finding your way through class 3 and 4 terrain.

A member of Summit Post is quoted in reference to his parties route as follows, "...I seem to remember a distinct "X" type crack system midway up the SW face above some small snow patches that we climbed up to and followed bottom left to top right. This part of our route could be seen from the lake as we headed back to the foot of Bowman lake."

Upon reaching the top of the scree slopes the summit is obvious. There may or may not be a summit register located amongst the loose rock but snow prevented the author from determining this one way or the other.

If conditions are right another summit can be bagged from Rainbow. Mount Carter is a short ridge walk to the North-Northeast. The relative remoteness of these mountains makes an enchainment worthwhile for those interested in collecting summits in the Northfork ecosystem.

Descent from the summit to the lake is completed by retracing the path taken on the ascent. Take care not to get into some of the steep and tall cliff bands - the location of which should be noted on your approach and ascent.

An 8 min. summit video from jimegan, 1996.

Rainbow Peak - L.P. on the summit Rejoicing atop the summit

Climbing Informational Resources

Rainbow Peak - mid-point viewMidpoint, looking West.
J. Gordon Edwards (1919-2004), the defacto climbing guru of Glacier National Park wrote what is considered the definitive guide to Glacier's Peaks. His book, "A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park" is a good resource for anyone wishing to attempt summits in the park.

Another excellent resource for climbing information in and around Glacier National Park are the friendly folks at Rocky Mountain Outfitters in Kalispell, MT.

Finally, if you get the chance to get into a conversation with NPS backcountry rangers, trail crews, fire fighters or anyone else who spends time in the backcountry a wealth of information can be gathered. In Polebridge, look for these folks at the Northern Light Saloon and in West Glacier check out Frida's West Glacier Bar.

Climbing Considerations for Rainbow Peak

Rainbow Peak - Sam, summitStoic above the Bowman drainage
Climbing in Glacier National Park is typically done during the summer months, particularly late June through August. Outside these months one should expect snow in the high country. Rainbow Peak can be climbed and skiied in the winter but should only be attempted by skilled, well-equipped and extremely competent individuals with adequate knowledge of the locale, avalanche safety, cold-weather travel and first aid. Glacier National Park is generally considered inaccessable during the winter months, and avalanche danger is at an absolute maximum.

Another consideration to take into account is the overall instability of rock in the park. Because of this there is a special grading systems unique to the Park developed by both J. Gordon Edwards and the Glacier Mountaineering Society. Reading documentation on this grading system should be mandatory for anyone doing off-trail travel in the high country. Please educate yourself on the information put together by Fred and Moni Spicker: Glacier National Park Rock & Grading Systems.

Camping and Lodging Near Rainbow Peak

Glacier National Park MapGNP Map
Camping and Glacier National Park are truly synonymous with one another. Camping and climbing are often synonymous as well. Camping in Glacier is available in three forms. Backcountry campsites, undesignated campsites or car camping campsites.

For backcountry camping options visit with a National Park Service ranger at either the Northfork entrance (NW of Polebridge) or the backcountry permit office located in West Glacier. A backcountry camp accessible via the lake or trail is located at the NW corner of Bowman Lake. For undesignated camping somewhere along your route to the summit a special permit must be aquired. Inquire at the above locations.

Car camping is available at the Bowman Lake campground located at the foot of the lake. In the unlikely event this campground is full or closed there are also informal camping options along the North Fork of the Flathead River locatd on USFS land outside the village of Polebridge.

Polebridge proper also has lodging opportunities. There is an inexpensive hostel located there as well as good eats at the Polebridge Mercantile and Northern Lights Saloon.

Bear Habitat near Rainbow Peak

[img:425263:alignleft:small:GNP Map]Refer to the main Glacier National Park page for red tape and restriction information. However special attention should be paid to the bear habitat that Rainbow Peak and nearby campgrounds are located in. Grizzly and black bear population is high in the Bowman Lake area and proper care should be taken in the consumption and storage of food. Follow official Glacier National Park strategies for the safety of yourself and the wildlife.

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