View across St Mary Lake
Red Eagle Mountain is situated south of St Mary Lake and is part of a large ridge system that continues westward over Mahtotopa and on to Little Chief Mountain. Unless you can use a boat to access it, there are a lot of miles of hiking required before any climbing begins. It can be reached starting at the St Mary trailhead and hiking about 7 ½ miles to the Red Eagle Lake area or turning at the 5.1 mile junction and taking the trail that winds around St Mary Lake for another 1 – 2 miles if approaching from the east. I used this approach to climb the three summits on my first trip to Red Eagle on 9/18/94. See my trip report from the east
Alternatively, you can approach from the west starting at the trailhead for St Mary Falls located on the east side of the Going to the Sun Highway, passing Virginia Falls and continuing east along the trail that parallels the lake for about 6 miles. This approach is simpler to use if you are taking advantage of the shuttle bus system.
If you are fast and strong enough to do all three peaks, you could approach from the west and climb Little Chief first continuing over Mahtotopa to Red Eagle, but this would be anticlimactic in my opinion.
Climbing Red Eagle from the northern slopes is limited to only a few locations where the cliffs, the bushwhack, or both, are not very challenging. Once you are above treeline, past the troublesome cliff band, and have attained the ridgeline, it can be followed for miles over the 3 peaks in either direction with no difficulty.
Red Eagle has at least 3 summits worth climbing enroute to its true highpoint which is somewhat anticlimactic compared to the false summits. The lesser peaks have often had the most impressive summit cairns. The views north and south are extremely rewarding all along the ridge.
In visiting with folks at the boat docks on St Mary Lake near Rising Sun campground, it would appear possible, with a bit of advance planning, to arrange to be dropped off from a small boat after a 10 – 15 minute trip across the lake. Some negotiation would be involved as to date and time and perhaps a 12 pack of compensation might be decided upon. My assumption would be that this would be a one way trip with a hike back to civilization (1 ½ miles if finishing from Little Chief near Virginia Falls) after the climb saving 6 or 7 miles of hiking at the start.
Glacier National Park is located in the NW part of the state and extends up to the Canadian border which it shares with Waterton National Park of Canada. The nearest airport is Kalispell. Amtrac stations are in Whitefish, W Glacier and E Glacier. Depending on your travel plans, it may be worthwhile to fly to Spokane, WA and pick up a rental vehicle. Some rentals there may be more user friendly on multiple state use and mileage allowances as well as price.
Registration for day climbs in Glacier National Park is recommended, but not mandatory.
National Park entrance fees apply in Glacier National Park. See Entrance Fees
There are many camping sites available at Glacier Park; backcountry, as well as car camping. Due to the large number of grizzly and even larger number of black bears who inhabit the area, there are strict guidelines for storage of food. Most of the backcountry campgrounds have facilities for hanging your food from cables or bear proof poles, but you need adequate lines to hoist your packs, etc 15 or 20 feet off the ground. If you are seeking an “undesignated area” camping permit, the rangers may require you to use a bear barrel to protect your food. When we backpacked in to Buffalo Woman Lake, they loaned us a bear barrel since they did not think we could find adequate tree limbs for hanging our food, etc. Hanging your packs is a good idea, since I have seen damaged packs from chewing by rodents. The GNP rangers require you to view an informational video annually before you can purchase your first backcountry permit.
GNP Campground Status and Info
Backcountry Camping Info
Backcountry Camping Sites
Guidebook: A Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park
Trail guide: Hiking Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks
Glacier Mountaineers Society
Start of climb
The route I am describing assumes no boat assistance and the least hiking distance from the most easily reached trailhead:
Start at the St Mary Falls trailhead on GTS highway and hike past said falls going about 1 ½ miles to Virginia Falls. Cross the bridge and turn left onto the St Mary Lake trail continuing for about 4 ½ miles. For an idea of how far this is, it takes about 30 minutes at a steady pace to reach Virginia Falls and about 1 ½ hours more to reach the point where you start climbing. The GPS coordinates are 48.67916 N, 113.54018W and this is the point where you see talus extending from above the trail down to the lake on the third of three spots closely spaced. The difference in this third location is that there is a long thin strip of scree that arcs up and slightly to the right under and passing through a cliff face. It is located before you pass Silver Dollar Bay.
Top of initial scree slope (just west of silver dollar bay)
Having passed the cliff band on the steep narrow scree slope, head up and then left while ascending into a broad gully that extends to the top of the ridge. From there you can climb up and over several false summits finally arriving at the true summit. After a break it is time to decide whether to continue on to Mahtotopa or return. Having made the former choice on my first trip, I reached Mahtotopa and then concluded that continuing on over Little Chief would be easier and quicker than turning back. If you do so, be sure to have a strong grasp of the descent route off of Little Chief!!
Midway up view of lake