Dawson – Pitamakan

It doesn’t take very long to get out of the trees on the east side of Glacier National Park. The loop, known a Dawson-Pitamakan, that goes through two passes in the Two Medicine area rewards you with breathtaking views mile after mile. One access to the loop is by the Two Medicine entrance station known as the Dry Fork, however, most people will start at the campground over by Pray Lake and the foot of Two Medicine. Taking a right at the first junction will have you going towards Old Man Lake and Pitamakan Pass first, which is my preference. If you go this route, you have the opportunity to take a boat ride to shave off the last three or so miles (if you get to the dock by 5:20pm) or a level walk out on tired legs. If you choose to hike Dawson Pass first, you’ll hate the little climb up the ridge coming off of Rising Wolf at the end. We’ll pretend you are going the “right way”. ;-)

You work your way up Dry Fork and come to Old Man Lake which has old stands of silver trees giving it a cool and haunted feel. Grizzlies frequent the area, so be on the lookout. There area a couple of places to have lunch at the shores. From there, you’ll climb to Pitamakan Pass and see loads of wildflowers on switchbacks that gain elevation quickly. At Pitamakan Pass, you’ll have amazing views of Old Man Lake on one side and Pitamakan Lake (with a couple of other small lakes) on the other. On this north slope of Mt. Morgan, keep a lookout for bighorn sheep. I don’t think I’ve ever been hiking there and not seen them. The trail forks to Cutbank Pass which we’ll leave for another time and head on up to Pitamakan Overlook.

When you reach Pitamakan Overlook, you start to run out of adjectives and realize that you can still be impressed… even after what you’ve already witnessed. Before you lies the beautiful wooded valleys of the Nyack with hanging lakes in Martha’s Basin saying hello. Lifting up your eyes, you see a sea of peaks that silently states your insignificance. You’ll also want to have a jacket on as well, as the wind frequently blows so hard, it will try and knock you off your feet… literally.

The traverse over to Dawson Pass makes you feel like a Mountain goat and gets interrupted by the flat saddle between Mt. Morgan and Flinsch Peak that gives you an eagle’s view of Old Man Lake and the west face of Rising Wolf. Continue over to Dawson Pass, take one last look at the Nyack region and head on down into the Two Medicine area.

As you turn the corner, keep an eye out for more bighorn sheep as you head on down to No Name Lake. You can stop in at No Name Lake and look up at the cliffs off the side of Pumpelly Pillar and Mt. Helen to see if you can spot some Mountain Goats. From there, head on down to Two Medicine Lake. If you’re arriving before 5:20, you can take the boat, otherwise, you can enjoy the walk along the north shore of the lake and back to your car. You will be tired and satisfied.

note: There are campsites at both No Name Lake and Old Man Lake if you wish to break up this almost 19 mile long journey.

Dawson - Pitamakan

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  • Mike Kinsella

    This is one of our top three hikes in Glacier. We did it the “right way,” i.e. counterclockwise, and most of us made the boat, making it a fairly strenuous 15-mile one-day hike. The middle leg from Pitamakin to Dawson was not for the faint of heart, but had unbelievable views. The last 3 miles was relentlessly downhill and hard on the knees and toes. You didn’t mention that there aren’t any water sources most of the way so it’s important to carry lots of water.

    Thanks for bringing back a great memory!

    • hike734

      Gaaa!! Good point. So many things to remember! I almost always tend to get a late start hiking, so I’ve never actually ridden on the boat. Needless to say, I’ve hiked that north shoreline a few times. ;-)

  • Ryan Rixen

    Hey Jake,
    Great video! I had a really quick question about the Dawson-Pitamakan loop. Is there a lot of exposure on the loop? My wife and have done several trails in glacier but usually shy away from exposure if possible. We’ve done the Highline from Logan to the Loop and Siyeh Pass without any real problems but Mikes comment above kind of made us nervous about the trails exposure.
    Thanks!
    Ryan

    • hike734

      There is some exposure, but it won’t seize up those that are afraid of heights. It’s more goat trail and pay attention, but not “edge of cliff” if that makes any sense at all. What I mean is for a little bit after Pitamakan Overlook, you’re traversing a slope on a trail and it would be best not to step off as you’d be sliding, not falling. Worse case scenario is that you get to that point and decide that it’s too much for you, then you turn around and head back the way you came in…. but I think you got it. :D

      • Ryan

        Thanks for the response! I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to handle that so we’ll add it to our trip itinerary.

        Thanks again!

        • hike734

          Sweet!! I would love to have you check back in and let us know if you were good with it. I’m really good with exposure, so my tolerances aren’t always everyone else’s and I LOVE getting other perspectives!

  • Beth

    Hello. We have a group planning to do this loop next year first week of September. I’ve never done 19 miles in one day and am a little nervous about the distance and deciding which direction to take seeing some of our group of 10 has some knee issues but think leaving at 9:30 is too late if we take the first boat taking Dawson route first. Trying to decide whether to leave at daylight up Dawson up to the last pass and returning the same direction and catching a boat back or up Pitamakan early and catching the 5:20 boat. Any info would be appreciated.

    Thanks!

    Beth

    • hike734

      I shot you a message!

  • Connor

    Incredible video and article! You have inspired me to do this hike one day! Unfortunately the only time I can make it to Glacier this summer is a little early in the season (June 20-24). Is there any chance this hike will be passable by then?

    Thanks!

    • http://www.hike734.com/ Jake Bramante

      Hmmm, not sure how feasible. I might try and make it up there later on to see. I would keep a lookout at the trail status page to see when they get to it and what the conditions are. http://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/trailstatusreports.htm
      Either way, you’ll have a great trip. There are still amazing places to go!

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  • Stephen Foster

    Hey Jake, my wife and I are headed to Glacier (Two Medicine area) next week. We are thinking of taking the boat across the lake and then either hike to Upper Two Medicine Lake or up to Dawson Pass. We will be carrying our two daughters (1 and 3 yrs). How difficult is the trail from Two Medicine Lake up to Dawson Pass? We did Grinnell Glacier trail 3 years ago and thought it was very manageable, but we left the kids at home. Thanks for your thoughts. By the way, your site is amazing!

    • http://www.hike734.com/ Jake Bramante

      Well sorry for not getting to you sooner. This will probably be more of a “what did you end up doing?” kind of thing. Upper Two Medicine will probably be your better bet as a three year old gets wicked heavy and that Dawson Pass trail will make you sweat a little. ;-)

      • Stephen Foster

        Thanks for the info. We hiked in Two Medicine on Monday. We ended up doing the Twin Falls hikes with the little ones, and then I did the Dawson Pass hike by myself. I added the quick traverse between Dawson Pass and Pitamakan in order to see Old Man Lake. The views up there are unbelievable.

        • http://www.hike734.com/ Jake Bramante

          Yes they are! Nice work!

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