Chief Mountain is one of the most dramatic features of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains. This unique feature, like other peaks within Glacier National Park, is made of sedimentary rock that is approximately 600 million years old.
Chief Mountain sits partially in Glacier National Park, and partially within the Blackfeet Reservation. The peak is also just five miles from the International Peace Park that straddles the Montana-Canada border.
The Blackfeet name for the peak is “Ninaistako”. For the native peoples, this peak is sacred, and it is believed that the mountain holds immense knowledge and power. Chief Mountain is still used by the Blackfeet for ceremonial purposes.
Chief Mountain offers visitors to Glacier National Park a unique view and some limited recreational opportunities. Visitors to Chief Mountain should remember that daily entrance fees are required for the National Park, and recreation on the Blackfeet Reservation is accessible with a recreation permit from the tribe.
Chief Mountain Statistics
- Elevation (ft/m) – 9,085 feet (2,769 meters)
- Nearest Town – Mary, Montana
- Season (when can it be accessed) – Year-round, but April through October are best.
Chief Mountain Recreation Activities
Recreational activities around Chief Mountain are slightly limited due to its location half in the National Park and half on the Blackfeet Reservation.
However, there are recreational opportunities that can still be enjoyed around Chief Mountain.
The northeastern part of Glacier National Park is fairly remote, with few access roads, so hiking is limited.
However, there are some great trails that are located near Chief Mountain that provide great views and opportunities to explore the National Park, and with the proper permits, the Reservation.
Some of the best fishing in Montana can be found in Glacier National Park. There are numerous small lakes in the area of Chief Mountain, within the Park that are accessible for fishing. Fishing is allowed in some parts of the park, but visitors should check the National Park website for specific fishing regulations.
Also, all visitors to Montana need to have a current Montana Fishing license. Montana fishing regulations and fishing licenses can be found on the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks website.
Rock climbing is quite popular on the National Park side of Chief Mountain. There are four established routes up the monolith.
Reaching the routes will require a substantial hike. There is also a limited opportunity for rock climbing on Chief Mountain within the Blackfeet Reservation. Details regarding recreation activities and permits can be found on the Tribe website.
There are a few camping areas near Chief Mountain. Many of the campsites available to visitors to this area of the Park are accessible only by trail and require backcountry camping permits from the National Park Service. These permits can be acquired at any ranger station in the park.
The closest, developed campground to Chief Mountain is the Many Glacier Campground. This campground tends to be very busy, so advanced reservations are encouraged. Reservations can be made on the Recreation.gov website.
Chief Mountain Trail Routes
The northeastern part of Glacier National Park, particularly in the area of Chief Mountain, is fairly remote, with plenty of trails, but many that are not well used.
Visitors to this part of the park will find that trails are challenging and require a certain amount of route finding.
Chief Mountain Trail
The trail to the summit of Chief Mountain is a fairly difficult trail that requires hikers to path find and scramble over scree fields.
The trail is 6.3 miles out and back, with 2,880 feet of elevation gain. Much of the elevation gain is located right at the end of the trail as you are reaching the summit.
This is also the part of the trail that is most difficult to maneuver. For the tenacious, this trail offers amazing views of the plains east of the Rocky Mountains and some of the other, majestic peaks within Glacier National Park.
Continental Divide National Scenic Trail
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is a trail system that runs along the Continental Divide from Mexico to Canada. The northernmost portion of the trail has two branches that pass through Glacier National Park near Chief Mountain.
The best way to explore this trail in the northern part of the park is to utilize the Ptarmigan Tunnel and Belly River Trails.
The Ptarmigan Tunnel trail leads to Cosley Lake, where you will pick up the Belly River Trail which will take you to the end of the trail at the US/Canada border.
The total length of this section of the Continental Divide Trail is 27.2 miles, point to point. This is a very strenuous hike and is recommended only for experienced hikers.
Otatso Creek Trail to Gable Pass
This 30-mile loop trail starts at highway 17 in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and leads you to Cosley Lake. There are a number of small camping sites along this trail. Most of them are used frequently by individuals hiking the Continental Divide Trail.
The section of the trail on the east side of Gable Pass follows along the shores of Slide Lake. There is a very pretty campsite on Slide Lake. The views along this trail are some of the most beautiful in Glacier National Park.