The Lewis Range is probably one of the most dramatic and unique mountain ranges in the United States. Though it only stretches about 160 north to south, this range is home to some spectacular sites, and some of the most pristine mountain ecosystems in the world.
The Lewis Range is the result of an ancient geological event called the Lewis Overthrust. This geological event is signified by an older, large slab of rock from the belt series that was pushed over younger Cretaceous Era rock formations. The result of this formation are mountain peaks that are especially rugged and have different mineral make-up than other ranges with the Rocky Mountains.
Besides its unique geological history, the Lewis Range, which stretches from Northern Montana into the southern reaches of Alberta, Canada on the east side of the Rocky Mountains is home to Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.
These two areas have some of the most pristine mountain ecosystems, anywhere in the world. As a matter of fact, Glacier National Park still has all of its originally documented native plant and animal species within the park boundaries.
Visitors to the Lewis Range can enjoy a wide range of activities. But most people come here to experience the beautiful views and dramatic mountain peaks that have been carved over millions of years by glacial ice. Hiking, snowshoeing, camping, and fishing are some of the most popular recreational activities in the area.
The Lewis Range Statistics
- Highest Elevation: 10,466 feet (3,190 meters)
- Most Recognizable Peak: Mount Cleveland
- Season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Recreation Activities at The Lewis Range
The Lewis Range has two federally designated areas, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Both provide plenty of recreational activities for visitors, but both also limit the types of recreation that can be enjoyed within their boundaries.
In general, neither area allows for motorized recreation like off-road driving, snowmobiling, or the use of motorcycles or ATVs on trails. Additionally, biking is not allowed in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Visitors to the area are encouraged to visit the websites for Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex for more detailed information on recreational activities.
Hiking is the most popular recreational activity within the Lewis Range. With over 1,000 miles of trails within the mountain range, there are plenty of opportunities for every skill level to enjoy hiking during the non-winter months.
One of the most important things for visitors to the Lewis Range to keep in mind when hiking, especially in more remote areas, is that this range is home to a large population of grizzly bears. Hikers should be bear aware and understand safe practices for hiking in bear country before heading out on longer hikes.
Many of the shorter hikes in Glacier National Park are wheelchair accessible, so a larger number of visitors with a range of hiking abilities can enjoy the splendor of the park.
One of the most interesting hiking experiences within the Lewis Range is the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Loop. This loop takes you through Glacier National Park and into Canada’s Waterton National Park. It is one of the few International Peace Parks that are located along the US-Canada border.
The National Park Service provides detailed information about international hiking through this area that visitors should be familiar with before hiking across the US-Canada border.
Second to hiking, camping is another very popular recreation activity in the Lewis Range. Within Glacier National Park there are 13 designated campgrounds.
Eight of these campgrounds are well developed with services such as restrooms, water and electricity. Five are primitive and have only basic amenities like picnic tables or fire rings.
Camping within the Bob Marshall Wilderness is more restrictive, and visitors are expected to utilize only designated camping areas within the Wilderness area to protect the area’s ecosystems. While discrete camping is generally available within National Forest areas, it is not allowed within the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
In general, many of the trails that are popular for hikers in the non-winter months can be accessed by snowshoe or cross-country skiing in the winter months.
Horse riding and horse camping are two of the most popular activities within the Lewis Range. Many visitors to the Bob Marshall Wilderness use horses or other pack animals for easier access to backcountry camping areas. Before you head into the backcountry with your horse, make sure you are familiar with the weed-seed free hay requirements.
Horse riding is also a popular way for visitors to see parts of Glacier National Park. Visitors wishing to horseback ride in Glacier will need to use an approved outfitter that is familiar with the National Park regulations for horseback riding. Information on Glacier National Park outfitters can be found on the park website.
Trail Routes at The Lewis Range
Within the Lewis Range, there are over 1,000 miles of designated trails and hundreds of individual trails. Since it would take pages and pages to cover each of the hundred-plus trails, we have provided a listing of the most popular trails within the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park Routes
Highline Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Glacier National Park, and where many visitors get to experience postcard views of the Lewis Range. This 7.6-mile trail starts at Logan Pass and travels to the Granite Park Chalet. The trail is relatively flat and follows along the Continental Divide.
From the trail, you’ll get amazing views of glaciers, valleys, and enormous mountain peaks. There are two ways back from the Granite Park Chalet, you can take the 7.6 miles back to Logan Pass for a total day hike of 15 miles or, take the steep, but the shorter 4.2-mile hike back to the Going-to-the-Sun Road on the Loop Trail.
For an up-close view of one of the 25 remaining glaciers in the park, one of the easiest hike options is the trail to Grinnell Glacier. This 5.3-mile, one-way hike takes visitors to the Grinnell Glacier viewpoint. Along the way, you’ll pass Lake Josephine, Lower Grinnell Lake, and end at Upper Grinnell Lake. Upper Grinnell Lake is filled with huge icebergs and is framed by vertical mountain walls named the Garden Wall.
If you just want a nice, short hike with great views, the Avalanche Lake trail is one of the best short hikes in the Park. Just under 5 miles out and back, this follows along Avalanche Creek to Avalanche Lake. At the end of the trail, hikers will find an iconic picture opportunity with the Little Matterhorn, one of the more famous peaks within the park.
Another simple, but the spectacular hike is the Hidden Lake Nature Trail. This short 3-mile hike takes visitors past fields of wildflowers is also known as the Hanging Gardens area. From the trail, you’ll enjoy views of Mount Clements and Hidden Lake. This area is pretty busy, but it’s one of the best trails in the park for wildlife viewing.
A 9-mile out and back hike, with just over 1,200 feet in elevation gain gets you to Iceberg Lake. The lake sits in a deep glacial bowl with steep and imposing mountain walls. This trail is known for frequent wildlife sightings and because it is so well maintained, this trail is pretty popular, especially in the summer months.
Starting at the Jackson Glacier Overlook along the Going-to-the-Sun Road the Gunsight Lake trail is a 13-mile out and back trail that is a bit more challenging than many of the popular trails within the Park. This route is a favorite of backpackers as it is one of the lakes where backcountry camping permits are available.
The trail is undulating, so you’ll not notice any serious changes in elevation. This trail also passes through some of the prime moose and bear habitats, so hikers should be aware and be prepared.
A surprisingly moderate high-elevation trail, the Piegan Pass Trail is a nice 9-mile out and back day hike. This trail starts at the Siyeh Bend Trailhead just east of Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. From this trail hikers will enjoy views of majestic mountains and a few glaciers.
Another trail that takes you to amazing, iconic Glacier National Park views is the trail to Cracker Lake. This hike is a full day adventure but is worth the time. Along the 13-mile out and back trail, you’ll get a great view of the Lewis Range and the Lewis Overthrust geological formations.
Cracker Lake is also quite the view thanks to stunning blue water. Hikers on this trail should bring plenty of water, snacks, and extra layers of clothes, as this area is one of the windiest in the Park, temperatures can be chilly even in the summer.
A favorite of backpackers that are working their way deep into the wilds of Glacier National Park, the Ptarmigan Tunnel trail takes you to the Ptarmigan Tunnel which was constructed in the 1930s.
The tunnel connects two glacial valleys, but the 10.6-mile day hike to the tunnel is perfect for most visitors. This hike does have a good amount of elevation change to reach the tunnel, so it is better for experienced hikers.
For experienced hikers, this 14-mile out and back is a great hike that is best done over two days, thanks to a substantial amount of elevation gain. For most of the year, parts of this trail are covered in snow, so July and August are the best times to take this trail if you are not experienced in snow hiking.
This trail is less crowded than many others in the park so it’s a great place to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature and to view wildlife such as moose and deer.
Bob Marshall Wilderness Routes
The Chinese Wall is the prominent geological feature within the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The Chinese Wall Trail is a point-to-point trail that stretches 53.3 miles. This trail is lightly used, and many people elect to only hike portions of the trail. There are some substantial climbs on this trail and there is almost 8,000 feet of elevation gain along the 53 miles.
Popular with backcountry campers, the George Lake Trail is a bit on the difficult side. The trail is lightly used and can be difficult to see at times. The total distance for this hike is 12.6-miles.
Thanks to spectacular views from the Morrell Fire Lookout, this trail is more popular than some others within the Wilderness. The out and back distance for the trail is around 17-miles. This trail is heavily used for winter activities as it is easily accessible year-round.
Great for backcountry camping the Sun River West Fork trail provides nice views of the Lewis Range as well as the West Fork of the Sun River. Unlike many of the trails in this area, you’ll not find a glacial lake to enjoy. However, in the summer the trail is a great place to check out native wildflowers.
The total distance for this out and back trail is 20.5-miles.
One of the easier trails within the Bob Marshall Wilderness is the South Fork Sun Trail. This short 13.3-mile point-to-point trail follows the South Fork of the Sun River. The trail is horse-friendly and with minimal elevation gain is perfect for hikers of all skill levels.
Mud Lake Mountain Trail is a bit deceiving. While it is one of the shorter out and back trails in the Wilderness area, it also has one of the most substantial elevation climbs. While not technical, hikers should be prepared for a strenuous 1,893 feet of elevation gain. The end of the trail has a restored fire lookout station which is a nice reward.
Patrol Mountain trail is a 10.3-mile out and back trail that takes you to the summit of Patrol Mountain. From here, you’ll enjoy some of the most spectacular views of the Lewis Range. This trail is rated as hard, due to the elevation gain. However, it is also one of the best trails for viewing wildflowers in the spring.