Hiking Glacier National Park: The Highline Trail
December is one of the most popular months for booking camping and lodge reservations in National Parks. It may be chilly, but many travelers have already started making summer vacation plans. If Glacier National Park tops your road trip list in 2017, you’ll definitely want to add the Highline Trail to your list of must-do hikes.
The Highline Trail is one of the most famous hikes in Glacier National Park. And with good reason. The scenery is stunning. Wildlife wander the same route as the hikers. Best of all, it is fully customizable for whatever kind of hike interests you. The basic route has little elevation gain, but can easily be adapted to add distance, camping, or climbing for a challenging day or multi-day hiking trip. Hikers in all skill ranges have options on the Highline Trail. Below we cover the most popular route first and then some add-ons.
Planning Your Hike on the Highline Trail
The most popular Highline route departs from the Highline Trailhead at Logan Pass and ends farther down the Going-to-the-Sun Road at The Loop. Definitely the most publicized, most hikers park in the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center lot, hike the Highline Trail to The Loop and then take the free hiking shuttle back to their vehicle. This route descends in elevation for most of the way, still offers scenic views, and is easier on the legs. Just be sure to check shuttle operation times as they are limited in the off-season.
Along this route you’ll be traveling The Garden Wall, and part of the Continental Divide. The trail descends into an alpine meadow near the visitor’s center and then quickly transitions to what many consider the best of Glacier hiking. If you have a fear of heights, the first section of the trail includes a hand cable and what many consider a terrifying drop off. At just over three-tenths of a mile long, it is one of the most exciting and scenic stretches of trail in the National Park Service.
At 2.5 miles hikers reach Haystack Pass. The trail levels out here and travels through Glacier’s famous alpine meadows. The chances of seeing wildlife in this area are high. So are the chances of a snack break. It’s a popular area to relax and enjoy some sunshine.
As you leave Haystack Pass, the trail begins a slight incline to its highest point of 7280. Then hikers descend to roughly 6.9 miles and the Granite Park Chalet. Built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914, the chalet marks the break off point (and the true end of the Highline Trail).
Add-On Routes to the Highline Trail
From here, visitors with reservations can stay the night at the chalet or continue on one of three routes. Just past the chalet, the trail turns left and continues to descend to the Loop. This route evens the hike out at just over 10 miles. Some hikers choose the reverse route, parking at The Loop and hiking up to Logan Pass. While this is certainly an option, the 2,200 feet of elevation gain is strenuous and far less popular.
At the Granite Park Chalet, the trail also turns right towards Swiftcurrent Pass and the Many Glacier Campground. Adding roughly another 7.6 miles to the hike, this is definitely the route Park Chasers recommends. The distance may be challenging, but the scenery cannot be found anywhere else in Glacier and certainly no where else in the National Park Service.
Finally, for those looking for a multi-day camping trip, the Grante Park Chalet can also be used for a stop along another 12 mile hike to the Fifty Mountain Backcountry Campground or the Sperry Chalet.
- Sturdy, waterproof hiking shoes will be your best friend on the Highline Trail. Sections of the trail along the Garden Wall cross waterfalls and run-off streams. In the spring and after any snow/rain the trail can be quite wet.
- The Granite Park Chalet is only open late June to mid-September each year. Reservations must be made well in advance. The online reservation system opens in early January and many of the rooms will book on the first day. This is one part of your vacation you’ll need to plan months in advance and hope for good weather.
- The Highline Trail is prime grizzly bear habitat. Many bears use the trail for traveling over the Pass and Continental Divide since it’s a clear route. You MUST travel with bear spray on this trail! Hikers should travel in groups and make noise.
- Weather conditions can change rapidly near Logan Pass. Plan to wear layers and pack rain gear. Understanding the safety risks of hiking on icy trails or in thunderstorms is important.