Rarely does a trail deliver as many breathtaking views as Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. This is one of the most incredible day hikes in Glacier (and therefore anywhere on the planet). Highline Trail begins on the Continental Divide, delivering lofty views right from the start. Things are pretty level for the first three miles, making it easy for less ambitious hikers to still snag some great views.
There are a several options when hiking Highline Trail. One popular choice is a 7-mile out and back trek to a scenic rest known as the Haystack. It is 7.6-miles one way from Logan Pass to the Granite Park Chalet, a backcountry retreat that is another good destination for hikers. The long gradual trail only climbs about 500 feet above Logan Pass. A steep mile-long detour near the chalet brings hikers up to Glacier Overlook, an incredible viewpoint at the top of the divide. From the chalet, in addition to trails heading deeper into Glacier’s backcountry, you will find Granite Park Trail, which descends four miles to The Loop, an alternate trailhead on Going-to-the-Sun Road. A free park shuttle between the trailheads makes it easy to through-hike on Highline Trail and Granite Park Trail without a second vehicle. Hiking to Granite Park Chalet, up to Glacier Overlook, and down to The Loop is an enthralling but arduous 13.5-mile hike starting at 6,646 feet, topping out around 7,700 feet at the overlook, and finishing at 4,300 feet at The Loop. It is a trek that you will not soon forget.
Looking down the verdant canyon west of the Garden Wall
Find the trailhead at Logan Pass, just across Going-to-the-Sun Road from the park visitor center, Highline Trail shoots north along a cliff on the western side of the Continental Divide. The trail is carved into a sheer rock face known as the Garden Wall. Below the trail there is a vertical drop to Going-to-the-Sun Road, which progresses down the mountain from Logan Pass to Lake McDonald. The trail is wide enough for hikers to pass in both directions, and there is a chain to hold on to through a precarious stretch near the start of the hike. Highline Trail is not recommended for small children and those with a fear of heights. Keep and eye out for wildlife. The Garden Wall is a favorite environment for mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
A bighorn sheep along the trail
Cross seasonal waterfalls fueled by snowpack runoff, and enjoy constant westward views toward impressive summits like Mount Oberlin. The level rocky trail allows steady progress for the first three miles leading to the base of a rise protruding from the Garden Wall named the Haystack. Even late in the summer, it is common to find a snowfield at the base of Haystack. The steep rounded rise presents the first real climb of the hike. A switchback gains 250 feet in a third of a mile to a grassy landing. Take a break and look back over the trail toward Logan Pass and the epic mountains that have surrounded the trail thus far. Many hikers picnic on the Haystack and then head back to the pass for a manageable 7-mile day hike with 400 feet of elevation gain.
Hiking Highline Trail
For those pressing on, the trail continues north beneath the intimidating sawtooth pinnacles along the Garden Wall. Lake McDonald comes into view, cradled in a mountain valley to the west. Signs of Going-to-the-Sun Road disappear and hikers will start to really feel “out there.” After a few more creek crossings and dramatic bends, the trail gradually reaches its top altitude around 7,175 feet.
Highline Trail above McDonald Creek Valley
Highline Trail begins a steady descent and Granite Park Chalet eventually comes into view. The pitched-roof stone shelter provides backcountry accommodations and even sells water and snacks. About 3/4 of a mile before the chalet, you will come to a junction on the right with Garden Wall Trail. This is the first marked junction on the hike, a steep spur that tackles a thousand-foot climb in one mile to reach Glacier Overlook. The rocky track is unapologetically strenuous, but it rewards the effort with a view unlike anything on Highline Trail, an eastward vantage over Grinnell Glacier, which spills into Grinnell Lake and a string of turquoise lakes in the Many Glacier region of Glacier National Park. Are you up for it?
Granite Park Chalet
After Garden Wall Trail, another junction comes just before Granite Park Chalet. If you’re staying the night or need a snack, continue straight toward the chalet. Otherwise, turn left and begin the 4-mile descent on Granite Park Trail to a sharp horseshoe bend in Going-to-the-Sun road known as The Loop.
Granite Park Trail drops 2,000 feet and is downhill almost the entire way (before a cruel bit of uphill at the very end). The steady trail takes an elongated course down the side of the mountain, dropping in and out of a ravine through a forest of burnt snags ravaged by a 2003 wildfire. This leg of the through-hike does not compete with the Highline Trail for views, but it can offer more solitude and is a pleasant way to close out the epic trek. With just over half a mile to go, turn left at a well-marked junction, heading uphill toward Going-to-the-Sun Road at The Loop. Once you cross a wooden bridge, your tired feet will be happy to know that there is only another tenth of a mile to go. What an amazing hike!
Hiking down Granite Park Trail
Highline Trail offers stunning access to the great outdoors. While strenuous, the addition of Glacier Overlook is highly recommended. Visitors to Glacier National Park who attempt Highline Trail will likely find it to be the highlight of their trip. When attempting the through-hike from Logan Pass to The Loop, start early in the day so that you are sure to complete the hike before dusk and while the shuttle is operating. No permit is required to day hike along these trails, but there is an entrance fee for Glacier National Park.
To get to the trailhead: Highline Trail starts at Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road at the Continental Divide. The Loop is located 7.75 miles down the same road west side of the divide. The free park shuttle stops at both locations.
Trailhead address: Going-To-The-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Browning, MT 59417
Trailhead coordinates: 48.696343, -113.717601 (48° 41′ 46.83″N 113° 43′ 03.36″W)
Use the map below to view the trail and get directions:
|Garden Wall Trail to Glacier Overlook|
This extension off Highline Trail climbs a thousand feet in a mile to extraordinary views over Grinnell Glacier and a trio of subalpine lakes.
|Johns Lake Loop|
This 2-mile loop visits a small lake in a mossy fores and then follows McDonald Creek past McDonald Falls to return to the trailhead.
|Saint Mary Falls and Virginia Falls|
This 3-mile hike visits two waterfalls in the forest above Saint Mary Lake on the east side of Glacier National Park.
|Grinnell Lake Trail|
This long but level 7.5-mile hike passes a triplet of beautiful turquoise glacier-fed lakes in the Many Glacier region of the park.
|Crypt Lake Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada|
This adventurous 10.8-mile hike is considered one of Canada’s best, passing waterfalls, a natural tunnel, and a cable traverse to reach a pristine lake on the US border.
|Glacier National Park Campgrounds|
There are 13 campgrounds with over 1,000 total sites spread throughout the park in picturesque locations.