Three Passes

Missoula, Montana 59807

Three Passes

Three Passes Professional Guide

Detailed Trail Description from our Guidebook

"A long day hike or moderate backpacking trip through outstanding mountain scenery, mostly above timberline. With three mountain passes, it’s definitely one of the most scenic and popular hikes in Glacier National Park. The name Two Medicine comes from the Blackfeet history that refers to two medicine lodges built in the area for performing the sun dance. The exact site of the lodges has not been discovered.

From the Pray Lake Trailhead parking lot, cross the bridge below Pray Lake and turn right toward Oldman Lake, 6.4 miles down the trail. In the first 2.4 miles, you hike around the base of a towering mastiff called Rising Wolf Mountain (shortened version of a Blackfeet term for “the way the wolf rises”) and across the bridge over Dry Fork Creek to a marked trail junction with Dry Fork Trail, where you turn left (west). From here you face a steady climb up an open valley."

Three Passes Trip Reports

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The trail started from Two Medicine Campground in Glacier National Park. It was in excellent condition, unlike other trails I have been on. The first day we hiked to Oldman Lake. The trail went up and down small hills and was a steady incline along Pitamakan Pass Trail to Oldman Lake. The campsite at Oldman Lake was a good size with 4 tent spots equally spread out and not far from the Lake. We weren't allowed campfires so we slept once it got dark.

On day 2 we left Oldman Lake and started out on the trail which turned into a switchback leading up to Pitamakan Pass. Looking down at Oldman Lake while going up to Pitamakan Pass was amazing. Once we got up on Pitamakan Pass, the wind became really strong. The Park Ranger warned us that if the wind was too strong we would have to come down and try again later. We considered this, but went forward anyway, very slowly. We encountered snow and ice on the way up to the Continental Divide which also made traveling slow. The Continental Divide section provided great scenery and was like walking along a shelf with over a thousand foot drops. After Dawson Pass, the trail descended down the mountains and we hiked to our campsite at No Name Lake. The site had 4 tent spots and a small stream flowed nearby into the Lake. We weren't allowed campfires at this site either and were in the tent at dark.

Crawling out of the tent at sunrise provided a nice picture of the Lake. After breakfast we were about to finish the last section of trail when we heard a bear growl. We froze instantly and wondered what we’d do if the bear decided to enter camp. We sounded off air horns a few times and then left camp. We never saw the bear, but a group behind us told us they saw a big black bear and estimated it to be around 600 pounds. The last section of Dawson Pass Trail continued to go downhill and eventually leveled off around 2 miles out from the trailhead.
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Do it as a loop backpack - as a day hike it's long and rugged and doesn't leave time for scenic wonders once you've reached the Sapphire Lake plateau. Light traffic once you climb above Upper Holland Lake. Splendid views of Carmine and Little Carmine Peaks and countless others, an idyllic lake where the only other angler was a merganser, plenty of deer. Great day hikes from Sapphire. On the way out, the view across to the Missions across the valley are worth the jarring set of switchback descents (32 according to an outfitter, it seemed like at least 100). Well, almost. See my review of the Upper Holland Lake Loop.

Three Passes Photos

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Trail Information

Nearby City
Trail Type
Skill Level
July through September
Glacier National Park
Local Contacts
USGS Cut Bank Pass, Mount Rockwell, and Dancing Lady Mountain (formerly Squaw Mountain)
Local Maps