|Trail Features:||Outstanding views, Alpine Meadows, Lakes|
|Trail Location:||Swiftcurrent Pass Trailhead|
|Roundtrip Length:||14.2 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||2400 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||338 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||7185 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||19.0 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||48.79763|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-113.67854|
The hike to Swiftcurrent Pass begins from the Swiftcurrent Pass Trailhead in Many Glacier. The trailhead is located at the far end of the parking area for the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn at the end of Many Glacier Road.
Roughly one-third of a mile from the normally crowded parking lot hikers will reach the side trail that leads to Fishercap Lake, the first destination on this hike. It's a very short walk of less than a hundred yards to reach the shore. Although some might bypass this gem, it's well worth the short side trip, as the views of the lake and the surrounding mountains are simply stunning. Fishercap Lake is also a good place to spot a moose, especially in the mornings and early evenings. The lake's name is a reference to George Bird Grinnell, whom the Blackfeet Indians called "Fishercap".
At roughly 0.8 miles the trail passes through a long stretch of aspens growing alongside the path, making this an excellent choice for a fall hike when their leaves change to golden yellow and orange.
For the most part the trail travels under the canopy of the forest as it makes its way towards Bullhead Lake, however, there will be several open areas along the way that provide outstanding views of the surrounding mountains. You'll also pass through several patches of thimbleberries and huckleberries that can make for some tasty snacks when in season. Although this is a very popular trail, hikers should still make plenty of noise to warn any bears that might be around that you're passing through their territory. It's also a good idea to carry bear spray as well.
At 1.7 miles hikers will reach Redrock Lake, the second destination on this hike. The views from this lake are also quite beautiful. You'll have commanding views of 8851-foot Mt. Grinnell and Swiftcurrent Glacier towards the southwest, and 8436-foot Swiftcurrent Mountain almost directly towards the west. If you look closely you may be able to spot the fire tower atop Swiftcurrent Mountain.
On the opposite side of the lake, sitting below Mt. Grinnell, is Redrock Falls.
From this point the trail proceeds along the northern shore of the lake. As you make your way around to the far western shore you'll pass some of the red rock formations that provided the inspiration for the naming of the lake and the falls.
At just over 2 miles hikers will reach an unmarked split in the trail. Walking a short distance along the left fork will lead you down to the lower falls. Redrock Falls is actually a series of cascades, and in my opinion, one of the more impressive waterfalls in Glacier National Park. Upon arrival at the lower falls you'll notice several small side trails, or social trails, that lead to various vantage points that offer views of the lower and upper falls.
After returning back to the main trail you'll continue for a very short distance before reaching a viewpoint of the highest falls in the series, with Swiftcurrent Mountain providing the perfect scenic backdrop.
Once beyond the falls hikers will pass through several more open areas that offer outstanding views of the surrounding mountains, including Mt. Grinnell on your left, Swiftcurrent Mountain straight ahead, and Mt. Wilbur on your right. You'll also be able to see Swiftcurrent Glacier just off to the left of Swiftcurrent Mountain.
Due to the lakes, stream and an abundance of willows, the entire Swiftcurrent Valley is excellent habitat for moose. You'll have a great chance of spotting one almost anywhere on this hike, including right alongside the trail.
At roughly 3.4 miles the trail crosses over a swinging footbridge. Soon afterwards hikers will reach a side trail that leads down to Bullhead Lake. Hikers will have the option of walking down this social path for about a tenth-of-a-mile, or staying on the main trail and continuing on for another tenth-of-a-mile to reach the shore of the lake. In my opinion I thought the views from the social trail were much better.
From the northeastern shore of Bullhead Lake you'll have some great views of Swiftcurrent Mountain, Swiftcurrent Glacier, as well as the headwall above the lake.
At this point you might be asking yourself in which direction does the trail go, and exactly how you're going to be able to get up to the pass. It definitely looks pretty daunting from this vantage point!
Above the lake the trail travels through another long stretch of willows thickets, which means that this area is also excellent habitat for moose. In fact, we saw four in this vicinity on our most recent hike.
At roughly 4.1 miles the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail crosses the second of two footbridges. This marks the spot where the real fun begins, as you will almost immediately begin the steep climb up the headwall. As you ascend along the first couple of switchbacks you'll pass through several long stretches of thimbleberry and huckleberry patches. This is another good place to make a lot of noise to alert any bears that might be around.
A little over 5 miles from the trailhead the trail begins to climb above the scrub pines where you'll also begin to have some unobstructed views of the Swiftcurrent Valley. The trail also becomes progressively steeper, and over the course of the next mile or so you'll be exposed to some very long drop-offs. If you're uncomfortable with heights, or if you're just running out of gas, this point isn't a bad place to end your hike. Even here the views of the Swiftcurrent Valley are quite spectacular.
As you continue to climb the trail passes near a waterfall that drops several hundred feet off a permanent snowfield, before eventually spilling into Bullhead Lake. From here the trail makes a sharp turn towards the northeast. All of the lakes in the valley will be visible along this section, including Bullhead, Red Rock, Fishercap and Swiftcurrent, as well as Lake Sherburne in the far-off distance. Looking towards the north Windmaker Lake will soon be visible as well. Looking back towards the south you'll have an outstanding view of Swiftcurrent Glacier.
During this stretch of trail the path becomes fairly narrow, and will have some very steep drop-offs. Soon you'll pass around a bend in the cliff known as the Devil's Elbow. This is a fairly long stretch of trail where you'll have to exercise caution and pay close attention to your footing. If you have vertigo, or if you have a fear of heights, you may want to consider another hike.
At roughly the 6.1-mile mark the trail finally levels-out, and for the next four-tenths of a mile follows along fairly moderate terrain before making one final push to the top of the pass.
At just over 7 miles, and an elevation of roughly 7185 feet, hikers will finally reach the top of Swiftcurrent Pass. You'll definitely want to continue down the trail for another 100 yards to reach the side trail that leads to the fire lookout atop Swiftcurrent Mountain. From this junction you'll have an outstanding view of 8987-foot Heavens Peak towards the southwest. The Highline Trail will be 0.6 miles away, while the Granite Park Chalet is still another 0.9 miles away. The 1.4-mile side trail that leads to the Swiftcurrent Fire Lookout climbs roughly 1250 feet, and is the highest maintained trail in Glacier National Park.
If you still have the energy I highly recommend continuing for another quarter-mile along the main trail to a rocky outcropping that provides some spectacular views of Granite Park, Heavens Peak, Mt. Cannon and Mt. Oberlin, as well as the area around Logan Pass.