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Belly River Trail Detailed Description

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Belly River Trail
Detailed Description
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Helen Lake and Elizabeth Lake, Belly River Trail, Glacier National Park
Helen Lake and Elizabeth Lake along the Belly River Trail, Glacier National Park
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Belly River Trail
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Belly River Trail
Helen Lake Trail
Belly River Ranger Station
Cosley Lake Cutoff Trail
Ptarmigan-Red Gap Pass Trail
Elizabeth Lake
Helen Lake













































































Home Page     About Us
>
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Belly River Trail
Helen Lake Trail
Belly River Ranger Station
Cosley Lake Cutoff Trail
Ptarmigan-Red Gap Pass Trail
Elizabeth Lake
Helen Lake











































































Home Page     About Us
>
Glacier National Park
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>
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Belly River Trail
Helen Lake Trail
Belly River Ranger Station
Cosley Lake Cutoff Trail
Ptarmigan-Red Gap Pass Trail
Elizabeth Lake
Helen Lake









































































 >
Belly River Trail
DETAILED DESCRIPTION
(photos at bottom of page)

BELLY RIVER TRAIL (From Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead To Helen Lake)
Trailhead: Chief Mountain Customs on Montana Highway 17
Total Distance to the Head of Belly River Valley:  13.8 miles. 
Total Distance of Backtrack to Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead: 27.6 miles
Elevation Gain:  749 feet (to the head of valley)
Elevation Loss:  496 feet (to the head of valley)
Maximum Elevation: 5,331 feet
Mountain Passes:  None
Backcountry Campgrounds:  
Gable Creek (GAB, mile 6.1), Elizabeth Lake Foot (ELF, mile 9.5), Elizabeth Lake Head (ELH, mile 11.1), Helen Lake (HEL, mile 13.8)

POPULAR OPTIONAL RETURN ROUTE:

Once hikers return back to the foot of Elizabeth Lake, they can hike the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail through Ptarmigan Tunnel, ending up at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in the Many Glacier Area.  The distance from the foot of Elizabeth Lake to Swiftcurrent Motor Inn is 10.5 miles with an elevation gain of 2,482 feet and an elevation loss of 2,521 feet.  The total distance, starting at the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead and ending at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn is 28.6 miles.

Overview
The Belly River Trail takes you up the remarkably scenic Belly River Valley, where you'll see not only towering peaks on each side of this iconic valley including Mount Merritt, but also Dawn Mist Falls, Elizabeth Lake and Helen Lake.  Beginning at Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead, this 13.8 mile trail is a one way hike that ends near the shore of Helen Lake.  Helen Lake rests at the bottom of a massive cirque, with Ahern Peak and the Ptarmigan Wall looming high above this pristine mountain lake.  Hikers must then backtrack to get back to the foot of Elizabeth Lake.  From there they can choose to either keep backtracking to their car at Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead, OR from Lake Elizabeth Foot, take the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail up through Ptarmigan Tunnel and end up at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn parking lot at Many Glacier.

BELLY RIVER TRAIL DESCRIPTION

Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead (mile 0.0)
From the parking lot just before the Chief Mountain Customs Border Crossing on Highway 17, your hike will begin.  The trail will drop approximately 700 vertical feet as it works its way down to the Belly River Valley floor in less than 2 miles.

Gable Creek Campground (GAB), mile 6.1
At mile 6.1 you will encounter the Gable Creek Campground. 

Stoney Indian Pass Trail Junction (mile 6.2)
Just beyond the Gable Creek Campground, at mile 6.2, you will reach the Stoney Indian Pass Trail Junction, which is the legendary trail that takes hikers up through the Mokowanis River Valley and then up and over Stoney Indian Pass before ending at Goat Haunt.  Stay left to stay on the trail through the Belly River Valley, which includes Elizabeth Lake and Helen Lake.

Popular Option:  A popular variation on the Belly River Trail adventure is to stay a night at the foot of Cosley Lake before continuing on the Belly River Trail towards Elizabeth Lake.  Cosley Lake is quite scenic and provides an iconic view of the Pyramid Peak Area.  It’s 2.6 miles from the junction to Cosley Lake Campground, and from their you can take the Cosley Lake Cutoff Trail back to the Belly River Trail, which is 2.0 miles in length.  In otherwords, by staying at Cosley Lake for the night, you are adding 4.6 miles to your hike, but the terrain is quite level and includes a fun Belly River crossing as you hold onto a cable.

Belly River Ranger Station/Gable Pass Trail Junction (mile 6.3)
At mile 6.3 along the Belly River Trail you will encounter the Belly River Ranger Station as well as the Gable Pass Trail junction as you hike through a gorgeous green meadow with towering mountains to the east and west.  The trail is now heading south into the heart of the Belly River Valley.

Cosley Lake Cutoff Trail Junction (mile 7.8)
At mile 7.8 the trail reaches the Cosley Lake Cutoff Trail Junction.  This cutoff creates basically a triangle of trails that lead in and out of the Stoney Indian Trail and Mokowanis River Valley.  This cutoff trail is used by hikers combining the hikes along the Stoney Indian Pass Trail and the Belly River Trail, or for those hikers wishing to spend the night at Cosley Lake before continuing onward to Elizabeth Lake. The Cosley Lake Cutoff Trail includes a fun crossing of the Belly River, where there is a cable strung across the river for you to hold onto as you cross this rather wide section of the river. If you simply want to keep heading for Elizabeth Lake along the Belly River Trail rather than head to Cosley Lake, stay left.

Dawn Mist Falls (mile 8.3)

Dawn Mist Falls is a gorgeous waterfall along the Belly River Trail that is a wonderful treat for hikers heading to and from Elizabeth Lake.  This is also a great place to stop and have a snack as you enjoy the amazing beauty of not only the waterfall but the mountains looming above the valley floor.

Elizabeth Lake Foot Campground (ELF) and Ptarmigan-Red Gap Pass Trail Junction, mile 9.5
At mile 9.5 you will reach Elizabeth Lake Foot Campground (ELF). This widely utilized backcountry campground has 5 total campsites, 3 of which can be reserved in advance.  Also found at this popular campground is the Ptarmigan-Red Gap Pass Trail junction, where hikers coming from either the Poia Lake/Red Gap Pass Trail, or the Ptarmigan Trail, enter the campground to stay the night. This means that the Elizabeth Lake Foot Campground is being utilized by hikers hiking on three different trail systems, which makes it difficult to snatch up a campsite here at times. Fortunately there is another campground located at the head of Elizabeth Lake, only 1.6 miles from this trail junction and ELF.

Elizabeth Lake Head Campground (HLF), mile 11.1
From the Elizabeth Lake Foot Campground, the trail then follows the west side of Elizabeth Lake for 1.6 miles before reaching Elizabeth Lake Head Campground (ELH). Directly above the campground is the famous Old Sun Glacier and the mighty Mount Merritt, which is one of the tallest peaks in Glacier Park.  However, because of the fact that you are hiking directly below the peak, you will not be able to appreciate the size of this mountain due to the angle of the slope.

Helen Lake Campground (HEL), mile 13.8
From Elizabeth Lake Head Campground (ELH), the Belly River Trail gradually climbs in elevation as it works its way toward Helen Lake.  Mountains tower above this scenic hike  to the east, west and south as you make your way into a deep, dead-end cirque where Helen Lake rests. There is a seasonal foot bridge that crosses the outlet before you eventually reach the Helen Lake Campground along the east side of the lake.  This marks the end of the Belly River Trail.  High above you looms Ahern Pass, Ahern Mountain and Ahern Glacier to the west, and the Ptarmigan Wall to the east.

The Hike Back: 5 Options
The Belly River Trail is a dead-end hike where you will have to back track to return to your car parked at Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead.  However, as mentioned earlier, a popular alternate route is hike from Elizabeth Lake Foot Campground along the Ptarmigan Trail through the Ptarmigan Tunnel to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn parking lot at Many Glacier.  You will need a second car to do this, or a lucky hitch hike. 

Another option is to head up to Red Gap Pass once you return to Elizabeth Lake Foot Campground, and then hike to Poia Lake before ending up at the Many Glacier Road.  Again, transportation back to your car parked at Chief Mountain Custom Trailhead becomes a logistical challenge.

Yet still another option is to leave the Belly River Trail at the Cosley Lake Cutoff Trail and join the Stoney Indian Pass Trail. This popular trail takes you up the Mokowanis River Valley and over the Stoney Indian Pass before ending at Goat Haunt.  Again, this presents a logistical challenge regarding transportation back to your car parked at Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead.


Belly River Trail, Glacier National Park
This is a view from the south slope of Bear Mountain of the trail system near the Belly River Ranger Station in Glacier National Park.

Belly River Ranger Station, Glacier National Park
Belly River Ranger Station in Glacier National Park.

Belly River Ranger Station, Glacier National Park
This is a view of the Belly River Ranger Station from the Stoney Indian Pass Trail in Glacier National Park.

Belly River Trail, Glacier National Park
Shannon hiking along the Belly River Trail in the wide open meadow near the Belly River Ranger Station in Glacier National Park.


Belly River Trail, Glacier National Park
This photo from the south slope of Bear Mountain shows you the Belly River Valley trail system, as well as the beginning of the trail into the Mokowanis River Valley (Stoney Indian Pass Trail).  Note the Cosley Lake Cutoff Trail junction along the Belly River Trail.

Belly River Trail, Glacier National Park
Belly River Valley, Glacier National Park.

Belly River Trail, Helen Lake Trail, Glacier National Park
This is a view of the Elizabeth Lake Area in the Belly River Valley of Glacier National Park.

Helen Lake Trail, Belly River Valley, Glacier National Park
A view of Helen Lake Trail from the Ptarmigan Tunnel in Glacier National Park.
Helen Lake and Helen Lake Trail, Belly River Valley, Glacier National Park
A view of the Helen Lake Trail and Helen Lake in the Belly River Valley of Glacier National Park.



Helen Lake, Belly River Valley, Glacier National Park
Helen Lake as viewed from Ahern Pass in Glacier National Park.


A view of Helen Lake from the summit of Ahern Peak in Glacier National Park.



Belly River Trail Map, Glacier National Park Map

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