Historic Classification V

historic image of the Gunsight Chalets complex

Above, this 1912 era photo shows the dramatic setting of the Gunsight Chalets.

Gunsight Chalets • Glacier NP, 1911
Classification V
Gunsight Lake, below Mount Jackson, Montana
Theme: Log cabins with native stone chimneys and "Swiss chalet" accents; National Park Rustic "Parkitecture" with two structures, 1- single story dining hall/kitchen, 1- two-story dormitory.
Original Architect: Glacier Park Hotel Company, probably Thomas D. McMahon.
Construction: Glacier Park Hotel Company (later renamed Glacier Park Company), subsidiary of Great Northern Railway. Most aspects of design and construction were controlled by Louis Hill, president of GN Railway.
Known Timeline:
Gunsight Tent Camp 1910-1912
Construction circa 1910-1911
Recorded opening 1911
Major damage attributed to grizzly bear, off-season 1913-1914
Maximum occupancy 50 guests circa 1915
Structures destroyed by avalanche, March 1916


Gunsight Chalets was a welcome stop on the pack route, usually enjoyed after the soaring cliffs and switchbacks experienced on Gunsight Pass. The trail down the flank of Mt. Jackson, seen in the large vintage photo above, was a harrowing experience for many riders. The second director of the National Park Service, Horace Albright, is said to have shouted a victory cheer when the chalets finally came into view on the treacherous trail.

mount jackson above the historic location of gunsight chalets

above, Mt. Jackson continues to soar high above the historic location of Gunsight Chalets. Today this peak is a popular climbing destination; in 1915 it was an impediment that had to be skirted carefully by the pack trips bound for the camp. Photo by Distress.bark courtesy wikimedia commons.

The History & The Experience

The Short-Lived Chalet

During its brief tenure as a National Park Lodge, Gunsight was probably the most coveted of the Great Northern Railway Chalets. Records indicate that among the remote alpine chalets, Gunsight was the most popular, with Sperry second. To be fair, Gunsight did have a higher bed count when opened, but it is likely that the incredible setting played into its popularity.

By all indications the setting and the construction made Gunsight sort of a miniature Many Glacier Hotel. The buildings were described the same way; words like "rambling" were often used. It seems that construction was fast and loose; one of the buildings was nearly destroyed by a grizzly bear during one of the off-seasons. This was likely the dining room/kitchen lodge, where the combination of stored food and a hungry grizzly could spell trouble for a drafty cabin.

dormitory at Gunsight Lake

above, believed to be one of the few photos of the Swiss/log cabin dormitory at Gunsight Lake.

The Great Northern undertook a major repair and reconstruction effort on this structure through the 1915 season. The Chalets were then able to withstand grizzly attack, but not mountain attack. A rockslide obliterated Gunsight sometime during March 1916, and the Chalets were no more. Some accounts claim that Gunsight was rebuilt and destroyed again, but it seems that, based on the majority of evidence, those claims were the result of confusion regarding the reconstruction following the grizzly demolition. Based on a book, Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years by Horace M. Albright and Marian Albright Schenck, the timeline described here has been pieced together: Grizzly attack in 1914, ongoing repairs while open in 1915, and subsequent destruction in 1916.

Another account describes an attempt to hunt the guilty grizzly shortly after the incident, but this is somewhat suspect. Supposedly a sack of fish was set up as bait, and dogs were set on the bruin when he arrived. The bear is said to have killed the dogs, and retreated before the hunter could make a clean shot.

Unfortunately some of the confusion concerning Gunsight Chalets was created by guidebooks published after the lodge was destroyed. One of these, Glacier National Park: Its Trails and Treasures, written by Mathilde Edith Holtz and Katharine Isabel Bemis, provides an excellent sales pitch for Gunsight Chalets:

A more quiet and secluded spot one cannot find in the Park. A great peace prevails. No sounds rise out of the depths and across the chasms, but the air seems full of melody—that illusion peculiar to vast solitudes. Nowhere in the Park did we feel so far away from the outside world or the madding crowd.

...unfortunately this was printed in late 1917, more than a year after the camp had been destroyed. It does provide a well-written record of the authors' impression of Gunsight Chalets.


Historic Classification V

Gunsight Chalets played a brief but important role in the history of lodging at Glacier National Park. It is classified by the NPLAS because of its historic significance and popularity as a remote alpine lodge. Efforts should be made to gather information and data to better preserve the recorded history of the site.

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trail over gunsight pass

The trail over Gunsight Pass can be a harrowing experience for those unaccustomed to steep mountain travel. In the early years of the park, when packhorse was the most popular means of travel, many guests were petrified by this section of the trip. After the destruction of Gunsight Chalets, trekkers caught by storm had no haven between Sperry Chalets and St. Mary. In 1931 the Gunsight Pass Shelter (below) was constructed for emergency situations.

gunsight pass shelter

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