11 routes · Hiking
Bowman Lake Trail to Brown Pass
Overnight hike in Glacier’s remote north region that combines some of the best scenery this national park has to offer.
- 21 km
- 840 m
- 162 m
- 5-6 hrs
- Low Point
- 1.2 km
- High Point
- 1.9 km
Beginning from Bowman Lake is the most common because it is the most direct route to Brown Pass. Start from Bowman Lake Campground, a developed NPS campground. The lake is stunning, with a backdrop of the high peaks that Brown Pass lies between. From the trailhead the lake looks huge, but you can actually see less than half of this 7-mile long pool of meltwater, as a slight bend blocks the rest from view. Only by hiking the trail can you discover the rest and approach the mountains at the other end.
The Bowman Lake Trail traverses the length of the lake’s west shore, reaching a backcountry campground in 7.1 miles. The terrain is mostly flat through shady conifer forest, with great views across the water to mountain slopes that become more and more grand as you go.
The backcountry campground is called Bowman Lake HD (head)--not to be confused with the frontcountry campground where the hike begins. Reserve a site here if you wish to rest up before tackling the climb to Brown Pass.
From the campsites, the trail continues 6.7 miles to Brown Pass and climbs more than 2,000 feet, most of which comes in a very steep few miles near the end. Much of the hike is a gradual incline through more forest along Bowman Creek, which the trail crosses a few times on footbridges. Only in the final two miles does it break free of the trees and begin sunny switchbacks aimed at the pass.
This is when the views get truly spectacular. The vertical walls of Thunderbird Mountain and its perched glacier loom overhead to the south, while the 800-foot Hole in the Wall Waterfall plummets over multiple cliff bands to the north. Wildflowers bloom all around the trail in summer. As you huff it up to the pass, be sure to stop frequently to catch your breath and take in the sights around you. These are some of the most amazing views in the entire park.
At mile 13.5, just short of the top of the pass, is Brown Pass Campground. These grassy sites among sparse trees are a high-elevation alternative to the Bowman Lake sites, or the place to spend your second night depending on your pace. The pass proper, on the Continental Divide, is at mile 13.8. From here you can see across the other side to more huge mountains in the distance, including the highest peak in Glacier National Park, Mt. Cleveland.
This pass is the junction with Boulder Pass Trail, which continues both west and east from here. You can take day hikes in either direction if camping at the pass, or forge onward if your itinerary includes more distant destinations. Going west on this trail for another 2 miles takes you through the Hole in the Wall area, above the huge waterfall and beneath the towering face of Mt. Chapman. Many more miles of the trail continue through Boulder Pass and down to the Kintla Lakes, where you can again reach a road at Kintla Lake Campground.
Traveling east a short distance from Brown Pass opens up even better views down the valley on the other side: of a sheer escarpment called The Hawskbill, a shore of Lake Francis visible just below, the Citadel Peaks rising beyond, and Mt. Cleveland dominating the horizon. This is the Olson Creek Valley, through which the Boulder Pass Trail continues toward Goat Haunt.
Adding more backcountry stays to your trip will allow you to explore further in either direction, or you can return the way you came to Bowman Lake. All campsites must be reserved as part of your backcountry permit with Glacier National Park, so plan your route carefully in advance and have alternatives in mind in case preferred sites are unavailable.
Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.
Best time to visit
- Wild flowers
- Water features
- Forestry or heavy vegetation