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Category: Plan

Glacier N.P.: Belly River & Highline Trail Loop

A few friends have asked my process for planning larger backpacking routes successfully, so I figured i’d do a write up of my process. The trail plan below is for an extended, no-refill backpacking trip in Glacier National Park. I’ll go over gear, food, and general preparation in another post.

For now, let’s walk through our route! The whole trip outlined below (with a few modifications, thanks Google Maps) can be seen here.

The Route

  1. Park at Apikunny Falls Trailhead and head East to Poia Lake Campground, totalling 6.2 Miles for day one.
  2. Enjoy the stars that night and sleep soundly at Poia, then the following morning, trek around the lake and over Red Gap Pass to Foot Elizabeth Lake Campground, making day two ~10.1 Miles all in, and +/- of 4,400 feet of elevation.
  3. Next up, we have a casual 3.2 mile, yet incredibly scenic day hiking past Dawn Mist Falls and over a bridge (or ford the river!) to Gable Creek Campground.
  4. Hike along the lake basin for 7.4 miles to Mokowanis Lakes Campground, set up camp and take a quick hike up to Margaret Lake.
  5. Note: Unfortunately, Google Maps didnt play nice for this section, a connector trail appears to be missing. “Mokowanis” and “Lakes Campground” above are different routes with a connector between them. Links (1) here and (2) here as well.

  6. Uphill, through the basin, and to the saddle above Stoney Indian Lake, enjoy the view and take a quick descent to Stoney Indian Campground. This is a tough climb up over ~6.5 miles, pace yourself and take breaks!
  7. Downhill today for 4.8 miles bearing to the right to end up at Kootenai Lake Campground.
  8. Back uphill you go! Head due south along the cliff side and switchbacks over the next ~8 miles to Fifty Mountain Campground.
  9. Next, you’ll get to see one of the most iconic trails in the park, the 11.5 mile long Highline Trail on your way towards Granite Park Campground.
  10. Lastly, the 7.8 miles from Granite Park towards Many Glacier through Swiftcurrent Pass will give you high winds, cold rains and incredible views. Descend slowly and enjoy the rolling hills towards Many Glacer Campground, the final night of your trip!

Submitting the Request

Unfortunately, we can’t just send over the novel above to the NPS to get our permit, there’s a little more legwork involved here. Once you’re comfortable with the itinerary, you’ll want to sign up for a account and open up the Glacier Advanced Reservation form.

Fill out the basic information, being careful about the number of campers that you specify, since the quotas for most sites are very strict. Additionally, before picking your dates, check that all campsites along your route will be open on the requested date on the Backcountry Campsite Map.

On the itinerary page, the more flexible you can be the more likely it is you’ll be granted the permit you want. For the trip above, your “First Choice” should look like this:

If you have a secondary itinerary you have in mind, list it here. If the primary itinerary isn’t allowable, the NPS will attempt to fill the secondary through fourth in order.

The next page is one of the most important ones for determining a flexible itinerary. The firs two checkboxes: “Campground Substitutions” and “Route Reversal” are common and shouldn’t impact your route too intensely. You can specify certain substitutions in the Comments section as well, for example:

“For night 3 of my itinerary, any of the following campgrounds are acceptable: GAB, COS, GLF”

Specify any other requirements such as “Max Mileage per day”, “Max elevation change per day”, “Avoid this campground”, etc.

Lastly, if you’re filling this out prior to March 15, 2018 at 8AM PDT, hit save and then come back to submit it on that date!

Do you have any other parks or permit processes you’d like me to break down like this? Let me know in the comments!

Permits and Preparation

Backpacking and dayhiking have blown up. Seeing so many people exploring the outdoors is fantastic! However, the huge popularity of a few specific locations or trails makes visiting them a challenge. I’ve gathered a bunch of information on some big name parks and trails below to hopefully make visiting a possibility for anyone interested! This post got way longer than I intended, so i’ve added the following table of contents.

Zion NP Wonderland Trail Half Dome Mt. Saint Helens
Havasupai Rae Lakes Loop Teton Crest Trail John Muir Trail
The Enchantments Mt. Whitney Coyote Buttes Kalalau

Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah requires a permit for any overnight trips, as well as any hikes through The Narrows, The Subway, and Left Fork. Permits must be picked up at a ranger station in person no earlier than the day before the hike.

The fees associated with Zion vary based on group size (Prices in USD):

  • 1-2 People: $15
  • 3-7 People: $20
  • 8-12 People: $25

There are a few ways to secure permits for Zion:

3 Months in Advance
Lottery Reservations
Last Minute Reservations (2-7 days in advance)
Walk Up Permits
Zion Express Membership

Wonderland Trail

Mount Rainier NP is home to the Wonderland Trail, a 93 mile long trail encircling the massive mountain.
Unfortunately, due to the massive number of requests received for full circuit Wonderland Trail permits, the NPS has stopped accepting advanced reservations, opting to only accept walkups for this trail. This is new as of 2016, so if you’ve been before, or are planning to visit, get there at least a day or two early!

Half Dome

Half Dome is a name that most outdoorsfolk will know. Located in Yosemite, Half Dome is one of the most popular outdoors activities in the park. Generally, the “cable route” is available from late May through October/early November. The park issues 300 permits per day, 75% of which (225) are reservable in advance in the preason lottery, March 1-31. Your maximum group size is 6 for these permits.

Alternatively, pick up one of the remaining 75 Wilderness Permits and include a route on Half Dome in your reservation.

Mount Saint Helens

Mount Saint Helens, located in Southern Washington State, requires a permit from the USDA. Permits can be purchased online with a minimum of 24hr advance – don’t wait until the day of to purchase!

Permits are limited for Mount Saint Helens depending on peak season or not with the following limits:
April 1st – May 14th: 500 persons/day
May 15th – October 31st: 100 persons/day

For both, permits are required and go on sale on February 1st at 9am.

Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney is on the eastern boundary of Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP. Permits are required, including day hikes.

Permits for Mt. Whitney are initially distributed via lottery, held February 1 – March 15. After April 1st, any permit times that haven’t already been reserved/permitted are available for sale online, first come, first served.

The last chance to snag a permit for the year takes place on May 1, when any unclaimed permits from the first round and cancelled and made available for purchase.

Get more information on the Mt. Whitney lottery and processes on the Forest Service’s website.


The Enchantments are another beautiful area in the Pacific Northwest. High alpine lakes, incredible fishing opportunities and scenic hikes draw thousands of people every year. Permits are required for all overnight trips. Meaning, if you’d like to day hike through the area, you can do so without worry!

As of 2016, the permit season in The Enchantments has been extended by 6 weeks. Now, in order to stay the night, you’ll need a permit from May 15th – October 31st.

The permit lottery opens on February 15th and runs through March 2nd and takes place on Check out the Forest Service’s Website for more information.


Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation within the Grand Canyon, there are are many beautiful waterfalls. and good hiking!

You must have a permit to hike, even for day hikes. The total cost for a single person is $85 (+tax) for one night. Permits go on sale on February 1 each year, you’ll need one at least a week in advance, and they must be reserved via phone (9am – 5pm) during the week.

More information can be found on the Havasupai tribe’s website and reservations can be requested at 928-448-2121.

Rae Lakes Loop

Another hard-to-get permit in the Sierras, Rae Lakes loop is 41.4 miles long, and gains 5035′ of elevation from the trailhead to Glen Pass. In late spring to early summer, there may be unavoidable high water fords required. There are a few unique restrictions on this particular loop:

  • Bear cannisters must be carried by all hikers
  • Camping only at designated campsites
  • Two night maximum in Paradise Valley
  • Two night maximum at Charlotte Lake
  • Two night maximum at Kearsarge Lakes
  • One night per lake in Rae Lakes
  • No camping at Bullfrog Lake
  • No fires over 10,000′
  • No pets allowed

If you’re looking to hike during the quota season of May 25th – September 22, you’ll need to acquire your permit at least two weeks in advance using this PDF.

More information is available on the NPS website.

Teton Crest Trail

Located, as one would expect, within Grand Teton National Park, the Teton Crest Trail permits are available for reservation between early January through mid-May.

Sending in an application via Fax will typically yield the fastest results, as only one third of available permits are available for early reservation. After those permits have been reserved, the remainder are available for walk-ups up to a day early.

John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail is, unsurprisingly, challenging to get a permit for. Totaling 210 miles in length, the popularity of the trail has exploded since 2002, tripling in usage.

Permits headed southbound from Happy Isles and Lyell Canyon need to be applied for 24 weeks in advance. Sending in your permit via fax is recommended. Apply early, as the NPS reports that the vast majority of these permits are declined.

Alternatively, you can request a different trailhead along the route, such as Glacier Point or Tuolumne Meadow, which helps ease the daily quota limitations.

Lastly, you can try for a walkup — these permits are open for the taking at 11am the day before you intend to hit the trail.

Coyote Buttes

Coyote Buttes is one of the hardest day hike permits to obtain.

The buttes are in the southwestern sandstone hills of northern Arizona and southern Utah, within the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness. No overnight hiking is allowed in either the northern or southern portions of the buttes, due to lack of water and supplies.

Daily, only 10 permits are available via lottery, four months in advance. The other 10 permits are walk-up only, the day prior to your day hikes, at the Staircase-Escalante Visitors Center.


The Kalalau Trail totals 11 miles along the Na Pali Coastline on Kauai island in Hawaii.

Camping is only allowed at Hanakoa and Kalalau, and permits are absolutely required – not having one will get you cited, followed by a mandatory court appearance!

Permits run $20 per person, per day and can be sold out as early as a year in advance. They can be applied for through the DLNR website.

Additional details can be found on the Kalalau Trail website.

Trail Meals – Ingredients

Trail Cooking is a unique skill. Finding the perfect balance of calories to weight, ease of preparation, and most of all – deliciousness, is not easy. To complicate matters more, extended backpacking trips require a lot of food. Livestrong estimates that on average, 200 calories are burnt per hour of hiking.

Let’s look at some quick and easily mixable ingredients! Many of these can be eaten exactly as they are, or mixed together to get some calorie packed meals.

Food Calories/Ounce
Almonds 160
Peanuts 170
Walnuts 183
Sunflower Seeds 173
Peanut Butter 165
Almond Butter 165
Flour Tortillas 90
Muesli 100
Powdered Milk 150
Olive Oil 240
Peanut M&M’s 140
Salmon Packets 70/packet
Powdered Hummus 100
Banana Chips 160
Dark Chocolate 180
Pre-cooked Bacon 150
Powdered Potatoes 110
Pitted Dates 100
Macadamia Nuts 215
Pine Nuts 210
Dried Cranberries 100
Dried Apricots 75
Dried Prunes 72
White Chocolate Chips 140
Summer Sausage 100
Beef Jerky 80

I’ll be updating this list often, adding to it as I come across more backcountry cooking staples and meal ideas. My next post will focus on taking some of the ingredients listed above and creating meals with them.

I’d love it if you left a comment if you have ideas on how to use these ingredients or others, or shared your backcountry meals!