|Trail Features:||Outstanding views|
|Trail Location:||Two Medicine Boat Dock|
|Roundtrip Length:||9.4 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||2450 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||521 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||7598 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||14.30 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||48.48381|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-113.36954|
The hike to Dawson Pass begins from the North Shore Trailhead located in the campground at Two Medicine Lake. However, you can shave roughly 4 miles off your roundtrip hike by taking the shuttle boat across Two Medicine Lake. The following describes the hike for those taking the boat to the west end of the lake. Please note that there is a fee for this boat ride.
After arriving at the boat landing your hike begins along a short section of boardwalk as it passes over a sensitive, boggy area. Although I've never seen one here, this might be a good place to spot a moose, especially during the morning hours. A short distance later you’ll reach the South Shore Trail junction which connects hikers with the Two Medicine Pass Trail. Continue going straight here.
The early portions of the hike passes through an area thick with ferns, thimbleberries and huckleberries. Although you won’t be able see your destination while hiking in the woods during this segment, you will have the opportunity to see it while aboard the boat. As you approach the dock, look for the saddle, or the low point in the mountains, towards the west.
The pass is named after Thomas Dawson, a Blackfoot descendent and a guide during the early days of Glacier National Park. Dawson's Blackfoot name was Little Chief, or Inuxina. The pass, therefore, is called Inuxina ozitamisohpi in the Blackfeet language. Thomas was the son of Andrew Dawson, an official of the American Fur Company at Fort Benton.
Roughly 0.75 miles from the boat landing the trail crosses a footbridge. A short distance later you’ll reach the North Shore Trail, which connects hikers to the Dawson Pass Trail. You should turn right at this junction. A left turn will take you to Twin Falls and on to Upper Two Medicine Lake. At 1.1 miles hikers finally reach the Dawson Pass Trail. Turn left at this junction.
Up to this point the trail has been relatively level, but now the climbing begins in earnest.
Just beyond the junction the impressive 7620-foot Pumpelly Pillar comes into view. This glacially carved, cone-shaped rock is named after Raphael Pumpelly, leader of the Northern Transcontinental Railway Survey party that crossed Pitamakan Pass in 1883.
As you proceed up the Dawson Pass Trail you’ll pass even more huckleberry patches. Although there aren’t as many grizzly bears in the Two Medicine area as compared to other parts of Glacier, the trail does pass through prime grizzly bear habitat, so you’ll still want to make a lot of noise and carry bear spray on this hike.
Roughly two miles from the boat dock, after climbing a series of switchbacks, the trail flattens out a bit, and remains relatively flat until reaching the side trail to No Name Lake. At roughly 2.7 miles hikers will reach the No Name Lake Trail junction. For those looking to visit the lake, it’s a short walk of only a tenth-of-a-mile down to the north shore. Additionally, for those backpacking in the area, there's a campground at the lake which contains 3 individual campsites.
Beyond the junction the trail resumes climbing again, up the south slopes of Flinsch Peak, while passing through an appropriately named area called Bighorn Basin. On our most recent hike we saw at least twenty bighorn sheep climbing along the slopes just above us as we made our way up to the pass.
Roughly 3.9 miles from the trailhead hikers will more or less emerge from the tree line. As you get closer to the pass, look towards your left for a birds-eye view of No Name Lake lying below you, as well as Two Medicine Lake further down the valley.
At 4.7 miles you’ll finally reach the top of the pass, and the Continental Divide. Dawson Pass, at an elevation just below 7600 feet, forms the saddle between 8538-foot Mt. Helen towards the south, and 9225-foot Flinsch Peak to the north.
One can be forgiven for intentionally, or inadvertently referring to this as “Awesome Pass”. Although incorrect, the nickname is quite appropriate. Dominating the view towards the west is 9494-foot Mt. Phillips. More than 3000 feet below its summit are the remnants of Lupfer Glacier. Due to considerable shrinkage in recent years, Lupfer is no longer considered a glacier.
Sitting in the lush green valley below the pass is Nyack Creek and Nyack Lakes. The U-shaped valley through which the creek flows was carved by glaciers during the most recent ice age.
Hikers should be properly prepared for the elements at Dawson Pass. The pass is famous for bone-chilling winds that frequent this area - even on warm summer days. Wind gusts in the Two Medicine area have been clocked at more than 100 miles per hour. Hikers should dress appropriately and consider using trekking poles to help maintain balance against strong winds.
A popular option for many hikers is to continue onto Pitamakan Pass, and return back down to the Two Medicine Campground through the Dry Fork Valley. In the photo above, Flinsch Peak is the mountain on the far right. After ascending Dawson Pass, the trail continues on the left side of the mountain, and then goes around Mt. Morgan just behind it, before reaching Pitamakan Pass. The total roundtrip length for this loop hike is 14.8 miles.