Photo of the Month: Springtime Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

Photo of the Month: Springtime Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Glacier Day Seven: Hiking to Gunsight Lake and Florence Falls

Our trip to Glacier was definitely winding down, but we still had to great adventures. Thankfully, the best was saved for last although not intentionally. The next to last day was pretty good also. 

When we had first started planning this trip, my good friend Roger told me about an epic day hike he had done in Glacier National Park. The Gunsight Pass Trail is around 20 miles from end to end and connects the east and west side of the park. That sounded like a worthwhile goal to aim for while we were there, but then COVID hit. With the shuttle system shut down, we needed to stick to the same or at least close trailheads. Thus, we chose to do Sperry Glacier which followed part of that original route from the west end. Late in our trip, we decided to head up to Gunsight Lake to do part of the other end. Sometime, eventually, we want to do the rest of this hike. I have some fishing I want to do right about in the middle.

The early start routine got us to the trailhead at a good time, but then I needed to take a pitstop. We headed down the hill to find a convenient place for my much needed "break," then quickly drove back up. Thankfully, there were still a few parking spots even with the detour. We were in luck. The plan was to hike out to Gunsight Lake, take a quick detour to Florence Falls, and back. The trail elevation profile looked manageable, and if we did everything, would be over 14 miles for the day. In other words, we had a good solid day of hiking ahead of us. At 14 miles, I figured there might be some time to fish. My Tenkara rod was stashed in my pack along with camera and a couple of lenses. Lunches were packed as well as water and a filter.

Starting Our Hike to Gunsight Lake

Even with the extra events and longer drive, we were still hiking well before 8:00 am. Soon, our pace slowed down significantly. Wildflowers were blooming everywhere. I wanted to document as many as possible although I wasn't taking the time to try and identify them on the spot for the most part. Cellphone pictures sufficed since we were still trying to move along at least a little. 

Streambank Globemallow on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Streambank Globemallow ©2020 David Knapp

Cow Parsnip on Gunsight Pass Trail
Cow Parsnip ©2020 David Knapp

Thimbleberry flowers on Gunsight Pass Trail
Thimbleberry ©2020 David Knapp


Down at the lowest elevation of the trail, we had to cross Reynolds Creek. Shortly before the crossing, Deadwood Falls provided our first real stop. We hadn't made it very far, but the scene was beautiful. Both my wife and myself wanted to document things with our "good" cameras instead of just cellphone pictures. 

Deadwood Falls on Gunsight Pass Trail
Deadwood Falls ©2020 David Knapp

Selfie at Deadwood Falls
Yep, we were there! ©2020 David Knapp

Deadwood Falls Panorama on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Cellphone Panorama of Deadwood Falls ©2020 David Knapp

Closer look at Deadwood Falls
Closeup of the falls ©2020 David Knapp

Finally, after a little water to drink and more pictures than necessary, we hit the trail again. Shortly after the falls, we crossed Reynolds Creek itself. This was a really nice suspension style swinging bridge that was super stable. It was one of the nicest bridges like this I've been on in fact. 

Reynolds Creek Bridge on Gunsight Pass Trail
The Bridge ©2020 David Knapp

Crossing Reynolds Creek on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Crossing Over ©2020 David Knapp

In the early morning sunlight, we found some other interesting details. Often, the details are what makes things interesting. When light is added, you get magic. Unless you have arachnophobia that is...

Spider Web on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Spider web on Gunsight Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp

Scenery on the Gunsight Pass Trail

After crossing the creek, the trail wound through the woods but started trending slowly uphill. The keyword here is slowly. This trail is a long slow climb for the first few miles. In fact, you barely even notice that you are climbing. It really isn't much work. Occasional meadow views give glimpses of the high country ahead. The trail parallels the Saint Mary River. One particularly stunning view is at Mirror Pond, but great views become more and more prevalent as you trek ever higher. 

Mountain views on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Mountain and Meadow Views ©2020 David Knapp

Gunsight Mountain and Mount Jackson
Reflection of Gunsight Mountain and Mount Jackson ©2020 David Knapp

By this point in the hike, a theme began to develop. We weren't spending very long on breaks because the mosquitoes and biting flies found us. Up until this point on our trip, the bugs had been present but generally manageable and bearable. This hike would seriously put us to the test, however.

Florence Falls Trail

Not too much farther up the valley, we came to a trail junction by a small bridge over a creek. The trail sign said Florence Falls. After a quick discussion, we agreed it made sense to run up there quickly. It really wasn't too far out of the way, but the thick growth almost made us turn back. This was an extremely lush area, and we were talking loudly and making plenty of noise. Thankfully, no bears surprised us nor we them, and we soon found ourselves enjoying a beautiful waterfall. 

Thick growth on the trail to Florence Falls
A brushy section of trail! ©2020 David Knapp


Florence Falls was larger than I expected and difficult to photograph completely from the rather close overlook. Finally, I resorted to taking a series of pictures that could later be stitched together in Photoshop. I think it turned out well!

Florence Falls Overlook
Florence Falls ©2020 David Knap


Back on the Gunsight Pass Trail to Gunsight Lake

We soon headed back down the trail and continued towards our main goal, Gunsight Lake. The trail began ascending through increasingly open terrain. Fire had burned much of the forest through this hike and the warm summer sun had us wishing for shade. We both had hats on by this point to protect our heads a little.  The views were getting better and better. This trip was just whetting our appetite for more Glacier National Park trips sometime in the future. Seriously, this was some of the best hiking I've ever enjoyed. The scenery and wildflowers were spectacular. I could have spent a lot more time on just the wildflowers, but at some point you have to keep walking. 

Red berries and Mount Jackson
Red Berries, Fireweed and Mount Jackson ©2020 David Knapp

Hiking the Gunsight Pass Trail
Hiking the Gunsight Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp

Fireweed and Mount Jackson
Fireweed ©2020 David Knapp

Larkspur on Gunsight Pass Trail
Larkspur, but which one? ©2020 David Knapp

The trail really began to climb, finally. We were making good headway towards the lake but this last ascent up to Gunsight Lake was narrow. The terrain was steep and brush both above and below. In other words, this was yet another good area to keep up the noise and let the bears know you were around. Finally, things began to open up and level off and we figured the lake was just over the next rise. That was more or less accurate. 
Taking Pictures on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Enjoying the Views ©2020 David Knapp

Wildflowers were all around, but at this point I was beginning to have a problem that kept me from going too crazy with the camera. Bugs. You see, the bugs were about as bad as anything on our trip. Okay, they actually were the worst of our whole trip, easily. The original plan was to enjoy our lunch on the shores of Gunsight Lake before adventuring around a little more, taking some pictures, and otherwise enjoying our time in this beautiful place. Unfortunately, the biting flies in particular as well as mosquitoes had other plans for us. We decided to basically look at the lake and turn around. I only shot a handful of pictures of this gorgeous scene. This is definitely one we'll be back to. I might actually take a bug head net with me though. 

Gunsight Lake Outlet Stream
Gunsight Lake Outlet ©2020 David Knapp


Gunsight Lake
Cellphone Picture of Gunsight Lake Outlet ©2020 David Knapp

On the last short approach to the lake, there had been some flowers that I found interesting. Clintonia uniflora or bride's bonnet was a new one for me, but I recognized it as Clintonia. We have Clintonia borealis here in the Smokies and the similarities were strong. 

Clintonia uniflora or bride's bonnet near Gunsight Lake

Heading Back to the Trailhead

After a quick picture, we hit the downhill trail hard. I was getting really hungry, but neither of us wanted to sit down long enough to eat our sandwiches in this fly infested environment. On the way back down the steep section, we met a pair of backpackers. It appeared to be a boy and his grandmother. The boy innocently asked if the bugs were bad at the campsite. I honestly replied that I didn't know because we hadn't gone there. However, I hate to think of how miserable it was at that campsite because it was close enough to the lake that it almost had to be bad. I would have been spending the afternoon, evening, night, and early morning all in my tent or kept on hiking. Seriously, it was some of the worst bugs I've ever experienced. Ah the price we pay for outdoor adventures.

Finally, well back down the trail, we stopped just long enough for a quick lunch. Huckleberries were blooming alongside the small stream we stopped at. I ate more than I probably should have and washed it down with freshly filtered cold water. It was one of the most satisfying lunches I've ever enjoyed. 

We continued on down the trail, looking forward to finishing yet another great hike. However, there were still a couple of highlights to enjoy. The birds had been fairly quiet on our way in that morning. Now, in the warmth of the afternoon, we saw and heard quite a few. I even got a picture of one that I had been trying to photograph for several days of our trip. The western tanager was an extremely beautiful bird. Unfortunately, the closest I ever got wasn't close enough, even with my nice zoom lens. This is the best I got. 

Western Tanager on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Western Tanager ©2020 David Knapp

Gray Jay on the Gunsight Pass Trail
Canada Jay ©2020 David Knapp

After the tanager, I decided to just carry my big camera and zoom lens. The best opportunity on the tanager had been missed because I wasn't ready. While I was glad for my consolation prize of a picture, I intended to be ready when the next moment struck. That is how I happened to be ready when this Canada jay happened by in a family group. This was the best of the few pictures I snapped before they were moving on. We were almost back at the car at this point, and the sun was still high in the sky. I started to relax a little, knowing we wouldn't be pushing daylight to get back. Looking around, I noticed a western red cedar. Again, the details were what intrigued me...

Western Red Cedar along the Gunsight Pass Trail
Western Red Cedar ©2020 David Knapp

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