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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34 Responses to Dawson – Pitamakan

  1. Mike Kinsella April 15, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    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 April 16, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

      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. 😉

  2. Ryan Rixen July 25, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    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.

    • hike734 July 26, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

      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. 😀

      • Ryan July 26, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

        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 July 26, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

          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!

  3. Beth November 8, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    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.



    • hike734 November 15, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      I shot you a message!

      • Saurabh June 25, 2015 at 8:48 am #

        Hi Jake!

        First off thank you for sharing your knowledge with everyone. You are doing a great job!!

        I have the same question as Beth. I plan to do this hike late August this year, preferably camping at Oldman Lake. I read that it’s great to do this hike counterclockwise if you are a photographer, which happens to be one of my interests. Could please share your thoughts on this?



        • hike734 June 25, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

          I would agree with counter-clockwise for two reasons. The first reason is the least important of the two for me and that is, it allows you to shave off some distance by catching the boat at the end of the trip when you’d want it. The bigger reason is that I like how it reveals itself. In this way, you are always looking at great scenery while you hike. The walk out from Old Man Lake isn’t particularly inspiring (and features a little shoulder you need to go up and over that feels like an insult). Going the other way, however has you looking up the drainage towards the mountains where a lake eventually reveals itself. When you finish counter-clockwise, you’re walking along the shores of Two Medicine. If you spend the night at Old Man Lake, please send me a sunrise photo as I’ve never seen one myself from that lake!

          • Saurabh June 26, 2015 at 7:29 am #


            Thanks for your feedback Jake. I will surely try to get you that picture. I just hope I get a backcountry permit to camp at Oldman Lake.

            Let’s see how it goes.


  4. Connor May 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    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?


  5. Stephen Foster July 31, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    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!

    • Jake Bramante August 7, 2013 at 10:38 pm #

      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 August 14, 2013 at 8:18 am #

        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.

  6. Timothy Dannenhoffer August 7, 2015 at 6:55 am #

    Hi Jake. Please tell me where you are at at 5:25 on the accompanied video – that looks incredible!


    • hike734 August 24, 2015 at 10:49 am #

      That’s the sweet goat traverse in between the Pitamakan Overlook and Dawson Pass. One of the reasons why this hike is in the top three!

      • Darlene June 23, 2016 at 6:18 pm #

        The section from Pitamakan to Dawson pass that is the trail along the sloping shale I think I could handle (with my fear of heights) but that section at 5:25 referenced above looks pretty scary for me. How long is that piece and does it get any worse than the bit in your video?

        and thank you so much for your great info.

        • hike734 June 25, 2016 at 7:24 am #

          Gosh, I can’t remember the length in distance. It’s not super long. I would say the hike up to Pitamakan Pass and the surrounding area to explore is worth the trip just in case you got up there and felt you couldn’t go any further. If that section was too much, you could turn around and call it a day… and it would have been an amazing one!

          • Kathy June 25, 2016 at 8:43 am #

            It is about three miles. It is not easy to turn around. Please see my comments from last year.

            • hike734 June 25, 2016 at 10:22 am #

              What I mean by “you can turn around” is that you get to the section where it is more exposed. If it looks like something you can handle, do it. If not, you can turn around before continuing on. There are a couple of more exposed sections on the Pitamakan side.

  7. Kathy October 9, 2015 at 8:25 pm #

    Hi, Jake. Thanks for the video. It helps me remember our wonderful hike this past July (with my husband). I wanted to add that the “goat trail” portion of the hike from Pitamakin Pass to Dawson Pass really did bother me. I have done quite a few day hikes in Glacier over the years (this was my fifth trip there), including Swiftcurrent Pass, Siyeh Pass, and Grinnell Glacier, and this was the only one that gave me a sense of vertigo. I couldn’t really look out and enjoy the views along that section, sad to say. I just wanted to make it safely across. It wasn’t even super windy. I had to concentrate hard to keep fear from overtaking me.

    A lot of the books and guides understate the information about this part of the trail. I think that it is important to know, so that one can make an informed decision. Other than that, it was a really fantastic hike. The views were stunning. For me, I would go up past Pitamakin Pass to Pitamakin overlook, and then come back the way I came.

    • hike734 October 27, 2015 at 10:47 am #

      Thanks for the great feedback! I need to reprint my map this year and I might see if I can fit some kind of language in there for that. It’s always nice to see something from someone else’s eyes. I’m glad you were able to overcome your fear and enjoy the other sections. 😀

  8. Ginger March 9, 2016 at 7:44 pm #

    Hi Jake, Wondering if you have gone or heard how this trail is after the closure last August due to fire? We were supposed to do this hike last year and are coming back in early Sept 2016. Thanks!

    • hike734 March 10, 2016 at 5:07 pm #

      I haven’t gone or heard, but looked at the incident map and I think you’ll be just fine. The stretch that goes near the fire is all rocks anyway. You’ll get a good view of last year’s damage though!

      • Ginger March 11, 2016 at 9:25 am #


  9. Sherry Simpson July 25, 2016 at 6:08 am #

    Hi Jake! Would you recommend taking the boat in the morning? I read something that discouraged Riding the boat in the morning since you would get a later start. Would it be better to forgo a ride in the boat in the morning and possibly take the boat on the way back? How many miles does taking the boat shave off? Is it 2 miles each way?

    • hike734 July 26, 2016 at 11:38 am #

      I prefer the route through Pitamakan first because I like the way the route opens up as you hike it and then you can take the boat on the way out (if you get there by 5:20pm) which will shave 2 miles off. If you don’t make it by the time the boat leaves, you have a level walk out to your car along the lovely Two Medicine Lake. The other direction, people like because you can take the boat (giving you a later start) and you get all of your elevation out of the way early. The bummer is that you have an uglier last few miles coming out of the Dry Fork drainage and you have a little climb over a ridge that comes off of Rising Wolf at the very end which feels like a punch in the gut. Either way, the boat can save you 2 miles for the whole day, but not “each way” as it’s a true loop.

  10. Sherry Simpson September 24, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

    We did the hike the way you suggested and we were glad we did! Got an early start and were able to catch the boat back. Awesome hike! Thanks for your suggestion to hike it this way. Definitely one of my favorites in GNP. Love your site and can’t wait to explore more!

  11. Mandy March 20, 2017 at 9:56 am #

    My cousin and I are planning this route (the “right way”) as a 3-day backpack at the end of July this summer, as long as our backcountry permit gets approved. Any additional tips about Oldman Lake and No Name Lake campgrounds? (ie: hard to find fuels, long hauls to water, etc.) We’ve both spent a lot of time in the park (she’s lived in MT all her life and I’ve spent summers there since forever), but this is the first time either of us is venturing into the Two Medicine area, and the first time either of us has backpacked in GNP. Thanks in advance for any extra info!

    • hike734 March 25, 2017 at 9:03 am #

      In regards to water, anything around there is at a lake, so no long hauls for water (bring a filter of course). No fires either, so finding sticks to burn doesn’t matter, (but make sure you have a backpacking stove obviously). Bring bug spray. Keep an eye up on the cliffs for mountain goats especially at No Name. 😉 (also have a great time!)


  1. Feature Friday - John Gendron | Hike 734 - June 7, 2013

    […] next morning, Tim Young and John Gendron headed out for the fantastic Dawson-Pitamakan Loop and had a great day. After they returned back to Oregon, John put some of his photos together in a […]

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