Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

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Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby llholmes1948 » Fri Jul 13, 2018 1:26 pm

I have never done any hiking in the Belly River area. I know it is considered to be a great area to start or finish some backpacking trips but I would like to know what the possibilities are for day hikes in the area for those with average hiking ability . So here are some questions:

1. Does Chief Mountain customs to Belly River Ranger Station and return make a good day hike? I know it is supposed to be a steep climb at the end on the way back to Chief Mountain. About a twelve mile round trip I guess.

2. How about a loop - hiking out the Lee Ridge trail to its intersection with the Gable Pass trail and then on that trail to the Belly River Ranger Station and then to Chief Mountain customs? I recall hearing that the descent on the Gable Pass trail to the Ranger Station is a bit steep. Looks to be about 16 miles.

3. Does a hike on the Lee Ridge trail and Gable Pass trail (or is that trail east of the intersection actually the Otatso Creek Trail?) to Gable Pass and/or Slide Lake and return make a good day hike? Looks to be about 16 -17 miles round trip.

Any other day hiking suggestions in that area? How would a hike on the Lee Ridge trail just to the intersection with the Gable Pass trail and return be?

Thanks,
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby orin » Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:37 pm

1. Does Chief Mountain customs to Belly River Ranger Station and return make a good day hike? I know it is supposed to be a steep climb at the end on the way back to Chief Mountain. About a twelve mile round trip I guess.


I like it lot. It is a river valley hike but quite open and with great views and meadows. The ranger station has wonderful views and if the ranger is around will often invite you in for a look around. You can wander down to the Gable creek campground or over over to the suspension bridge over the river with slight extra effort. You visit the horses/mules for a bit if they are around and that interests you. The climb at the end is a nuisance but not all that bad.

2. How about a loop - hiking out the Lee Ridge trail to its intersection with the Gable Pass trail and then on that trail to the Belly River Ranger Station and then to Chief Mountain customs? I recall hearing that the descent on the Gable Pass trail to the Ranger Station is a bit steep. Looks to be about 16 miles.


Even better. The first few miles out the Lee Ridge trail are in the trees but then you break out into the best views of the whole area. You can see way up into the Belly River and way out onto the prairie. The trail down to the ranger station is a knee pounder all right but just take it slow. Or if you prefer a steep climb to a steep downhill do it in reverse.

3. Does a hike on the Lee Ridge trail and Gable Pass trail (or is that trail east of the intersection actually the Otatso Creek Trail?) to Gable Pass and/or Slide Lake and return make a good day hike? Looks to be about 16 -17 miles round trip.


The Lee Ridge trail to the Lee Ridge/Gable Pass trail junction is spectacular in its last miles and well worth a day hike. I would say the the trip from the junction over to Gable Pass and down to Slide Lake, while nice, doesn’t have quite the scenic/effort ratio as the other options. The trail down to Slide is steep and rocky and in the trees for a large part of the distance. It is all nice enough but I probably wouldn’t go past the junction on a Lee Ridge day hike unless I was headed to the ranger station.
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby wnysteve » Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:40 pm

I think the Lee Ridge Trail to the intersection of the Gable Pass Trail is one of the best day hikes in Glacier. And, if you are so inclined, continuing on to Slide Lake brings you to an area that doesn't seem to get a lot of use. That side trip will have you cross Gable Pass, with views of Papoose Mountain (I think I remember the name).

The trail from Chief Mt. Customs into the Belly River not only has a steep return, but the trail itself is in forest for a good portion of the way. It would not be my first choice for a hike in the area.
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby PeteE » Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:49 pm

How far is it out to the Gable Pass junction?

I think I'd rather do an out and back instead of going down to Gable Creek and back out CHF.
Not only uphill but poop and flies from horses and mule travel.

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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby paul » Fri Jul 13, 2018 3:16 pm

An out and back to Gable Pass would be really nice and in fact you don't have to go all the way to the pass to get really nice views. I think this might be a better option than doing the loop at least for some people. The loop is significantly longer and the trail down to the ranger station is steep and hard on the knees.
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby llholmes1948 » Fri Jul 13, 2018 3:29 pm

PeteE wrote:How far is it out to the Gable Pass junction?

I think I'd rather do an out and back instead of going down to Gable Creek and back out CHF.
Not only uphill but poop and flies from horses and mule travel.

pete :wink:


According to the Park's trail status page, Chief Mountain Road to the Gable Pass Trail Jct. via Lee Ridge Trail is 6.0 miles.

Gable Jct. to the Ranger Station is 3.8 miles.

Chief Mountain Customs to the Ranger Station is 6.1 miles.

Slide Lake Campground to Lee Ridge Trail Jct. via Gable Pass is 2.5 miles.

From my National Geographic Trails Illustrated map, it looks like it would be about a mile from the Lee Ridge/Gable trail junction to Gable Pass. There doesn't appear to be much change in elevation between the junction and Gable Pass until the last quarter mile when it appears the trail drops down and goes through the pass. Is that correct? Is this trail open or is it in the forest?

Thanks,
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby orin » Fri Jul 13, 2018 3:49 pm

Your description sounds about right. The trail from the junction to Gable Pass losses a little elevation and is rather upsy downsy. It is in the open mostly and rather rocky.
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby al_in_al » Fri Jul 13, 2018 3:55 pm

llholmes1948 wrote:From my National Geographic Trails Illustrated map, it looks like it would be about a mile from the Lee Ridge/Gable trail junction to Gable Pass. There doesn't appear to be much change in elevation between the junction and Gable Pass until the last quarter mile when it appears the trail drops down and goes through the pass. Is that correct? Is this trail open or is it in the forest?

I did an out-and-back on the Lee Ridge trail last year - 13.5 miles according to my GPS. The first 1/2 mile from the junction towards Gable Pass is nice (rocky, open views). After that, it enters the trees - and I don't believe there are any views from the actual pass - we turned around when we saw the steep drop. It's a nice hike - we saw no one on the trail until we were on our way back in the afternoon when we crossed paths with some backpackers.
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby llholmes1948 » Sat Jul 14, 2018 9:44 am

Thanks to everyone who responded to my questions and I appreciate all of those great suggestions. This is an area of the Park that we don't seem to hear much about.

I think I would be tempted to try a round trip hike on the Lee Ridge Trail to the Gable Pass Trail junction, and perhaps continuing a ways toward Gable Pass. If I were younger and in better shape, the circular route down the Lee Ridge Trail and the Gable Pass Trail to the Belly River Ranger Station and then to Chief Mountain Customs would be tempting but I think I will save my knees. It sounds like a round trip to the Ranger Station from Customs would be another possibility for us.

I had previously thought that the Lee Ridge trail did not have much of an elevation gain but in studying the map further, there appears to be an elevation gain of about 1,000 to 1,200 feet toward the junction but it appears to be gradual.

Any additional comments would certainly be welcome. We will add these hikes to our list of possibilities for our next trip.

Thanks again,
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby al_in_al » Sat Jul 14, 2018 10:05 am

llholmes1948 wrote:I had previously thought that the Lee Ridge trail did not have much of an elevation gain but in studying the map further, there appears to be an elevation gain of about 1,000 to 1,200 feet toward the junction but it appears to be gradual.


My GPS watch says we racked up 2,800 ft of elevation gain for the day (looks like a 2,000 ft difference from trailhead to high point at the Gable Pass junction). The first 2.5 miles was pretty gradual (~100 ft/mi). The second 2.5 miles was moderate (<500 ft/mi). And the final mile was pretty steep (>500 ft/mi).
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby Sue Z » Sat Jul 14, 2018 11:42 am

I'm also hoping to hike the Lee Ridge Trail this summer. Has anyone hiked all the way to Slide Lake from Lee Ridge, then out the Slide Lake Trail to Highway 17? I realize that's a lot of mileage, but is the second half a pleasant and interesting hike? (I'll have a second car to spot at the trailhead, and I know you need a permit to cross the Blackfeet Reservation land.) Thanks.
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby orin » Sat Jul 14, 2018 12:25 pm

Sue, I did it starting at highway 17 and going clockwise. I really enjoyed the scenery as I hiked out of the foothills and deeper into the mountains. The Blackfeet graze cattle on their land. Near 17 there were lots of cows and cowpies and the trail is more of a road than anything. These gradually improved the closer I got to the park. Slide Lake is a nice spot for lunch or a break. The trail from Slide to a bit beyond Gable Pass is steep and mostly in the trees. So I enjoyed doing it but prefer starting at 17 both for the way the scenery plays out and also because I prefer experiencing the cow issues decrease as I go rather than peaking at the end of the hike.
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby llholmes1948 » Sat Jul 14, 2018 1:59 pm

I don't know what Orin's experience was when he was at Lake McDonald (perhaps they got more than one day off a week when he worked there) but during the three years that I worked at Lake McDonald in the early 1970s, I never heard of any of the employees from Lake McDonald hiking in the Belly River area. I guess it was just a bridge too far. I assume some Many Glacier employees made it there as it was not that far from their hotel.

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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby Selkie » Wed Jul 18, 2018 7:02 pm

The Lee Ridge Trail to Gable Pass Trail junction and return would make a spectacular day hike.
At the junction you are well into the open (the earlier part of Lee Ridge Trail rises modestly in pleasant woods but buggy) in a bowl of mountains, with magnificent views, enough to warrant spending some time taking photos and enjoying Mrs Chief and the Papoose.

I did the circular - Lee Ridge Trail to junction, down to ranger station, and out Belly River Trail - with a GMS group. It was a long day, and the last 6 miles were endless. I've timed the uphill at the end, back to parking lot, from where the trail seems to definitively start the uphill climb, and it has taken me 59 minutes. There is a cool, swift-flowing stream to one side of the ranger station.

An out-and-back along the Belly River Trail to the ranger station is also a pleasant way to spend the day. The trail is used by horse groups, so one would want to beat them onto the trail in the morning. The soft stuff dries out during the day, so the return is OK. Beautiful clumps of aspen clones in broad meadows, the river is right there, the mountains rise serenely, and I believe an older, now unused trail runs along the river.

All in all, the area is a visual pleasure and gets significantly less human traffic than other areas in GNP.
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Re: Day hikes - Belly River, Lee Ridge

Postby Jay w » Fri Jul 20, 2018 10:16 am

At some point, I'll get a trip report up, but I hiked the loop in the end of June. I.e. up Lee Ridge and back through the normal Belly River trail. It was buggy at the beginning, so I had to put on some bug dope. The climb is gentle and constant. I had the place to myself and didn't see anyone until I hit the ranger station. I think I have GPS data on this one (rare this trip) so I can check, but my fading memory seems to remember 17 miles. The trip down to the ranger station is not difficult if your pack is light, but it's easy to slide on a rock and land on your acsii. It's definitely steep. I love all the deadwoods in there and the view on top of course. The hike to Chief Mt was interesting because the thimbleberry was in bloom. I'm hoping my photos captured that, but probably not.

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