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 Pay.gov 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!