The Hermit Trail in Glacier National Park is one of those places that I’ve probably driven past hundreds of times in my life. And considering I grew up in Golden, which is only 45 minutes away, it’s surprising that I had never once hiked the trail. So on a road trip last September, I decided to knock this one off of the list and headed on my way to the park on a wet and dreary late summer day. Needless to say, I found the parking lot empty when I arrived in the pouring rain and for a few moments I questioned my decision to hike up into the alpine.
The Hermit Trail is a steep hike and right from the start there is significant elevation gain. For the first few kilometers, the trail winds its way up through the forest with occasional breaks in the trees through which you can see the surrounding peaks. Unfortunately for me on the way up, I could see nothing but clouds. It didn’t do much for my motivation but I carried on up the trail.
Luckily I soon found myself getting above the clouds so the view began to open up. The rain even decided to relent at this time and I soon found myself looking at blue sky here and there once I got above the treeline.
As I approached the Hermit Camp, the sky cleared even more and I started to see the many peaks in the area as the clouds swirled intermittently around me. Sometimes I could see across the valley and sometimes I could only see the fog around me. The clear evidence of glaciers that have long receded were very obvious by the many scoured rock surfaces along the trail.
Spotting the Hermit Camp was obvious since the first sign I saw was a bright green toilet perched in a rock slide. What it lacked in privacy, it made up for with the view but anyone using it was in full-on view to any hikers coming up the trail.
After a quick snack break, I decided to carry on since the weather had improved a bit. I could see several tracks leading in different directions from the camp and just decided to follow one that went up a nearby rock slide to see if I could do a loop of the area and return to camp from a different direction.
This is rugged country and the trail I followed up was more or less a rock garden. Sturdy boots are a must! Fortunately the rocks were not slippery even while wet and I was able get to a little plateau above the camp where a little pond was located. I stopped for a bit and contemplated my next course of action.
It was here that I first spotted mountain goats on a ridge above me. I tried for a picture but they were quite far away and keep pulling back from the edge so I decided to head for the ridge and see if I could get closer for a photo or two. Now I went from rocks to boulders and found myself scrambling quite a bit more as I headed higher.
Eventually I reached the ridge which I could see was leading to Mount Sifton. While there was no clear trail, there were plenty of tracks showing that others before me had scrambled up the ridge. I think at this point, I was in class 4 scrambling country so I made it a point to make sure I didn’t climb up anything I couldn’t climb down.
After a short time, I was startled by a head peeking over a rock less than 10 meters above me! The goats were still on the ridge so I was confident I was going to get a shot.
After getting further up to where I saw the goats, I saw that they had moved on over the rocks with a sureness I couldn’t hope to follow. This is one of the times in which I was very glad I had my big camera with its great zoom lens since they were now about 100 meters away from me. Once I had a clear view of the goats, I was able to stabilize my camera on a rock and started to take pictures. The result was definitely worth it!
Exhilarated with getting a bunch of pictures, I started carefully on my way down. Some snow had started to swirl around me and the last place I wanted to be was stranded on an exposed rock face for a night.
I worked my way back down to the camp just in time to meet a group that was coming up for a few nights. We shared some news and chatted for a bit and then I continued my way on back down to the trailhead. The clouds were kind enough to clear at this point so I was able to finally grab some pictures looking towards Rogers Pass.
I made good time going down and even met another group of backpackers on their way up. They looked a bit haggard and tired but were glad to hear they were getting close to the camp.
It was late afternoon when I finished and found myself back at my truck, a little foot sore but happy that I managed to get such a great hike in. It was satisfying to get the trail that has the reputation of being the steepest trail, in a park famous for its steep trails!
The next time you’re driving by the Hermit Trail parking lot and you’re wondering if it’s worth it, do it! It’s worth the hike.
Hermit Trail Track
Max elevation: 2454 m
Min elevation: 1297 m
I am one of the founders of campingcanucks.com. I was lucky enough to grow up in Golden, British Columbia and have been camping, backpacking, and skiing pretty well all my life. I started climbing a few years ago which has opened up even more backcountry and alpine opportunities.
These days, I’m a systems administrator by day and a SAR volunteer operating as a ground search team leader, rope rescue member, swiftwater rescue member, and avalanche response team leader with Kamloops Search and Rescue.