Hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park is a mesmerizing experience offering long range views, wildlife, and abundant wildflowers.
Chris & Mac
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Length: 11.8 Miles (7.6 Miles to Granite Park Chalet From Logan Pass; 4.2 Miles From Granite Park Chalet to The Loop Trailhead)
Trailhead(s): Logan Pass or The Loop
Elevation Gain: 800’ from Logan Pass; 2,200′ from The Loop
Trail Type: Point to Point or Out and Back
Dogs: Not Allowed
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Permit Required? A Going-to-the-Sun Road Vehicle Reservation is required for each vehicle accessing the Going-to-the-Sun Road from May 27 through September 11, 2022, from 6 am to 4 pm. This is for all points between the West Glacier, Camas, and St. Mary entrances. The reservation is valid for 3 days and the cost is $2. Online reservations begin March 2,2022. Follow this link to obtain reservation: Recreation.Gov
Visitors with lodging, camping, transportation, or commercial reservations within these areas may use their service reservation receipt and do not need a vehicle reservation. Valid only for date(s) of service reservation.
ST MARY ENTRANCE: A vehicle reservation is not required at the St. Mary Entrance prior to the Going-to-the-Sun Road being fully open, typically around June. Once snow removal and road preparations are complete, vehicle reservations are required at the Rising Sun area.
Considerations: National Park Entry Fee $35 / Snow / Bears
Season: Summer (July/August)
Hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park is a must do. With its tantalizing long range views, chance encounters with wildlife, and abundant wildflowers to dazzle the senses, we think this trail has something to offer for everyone.
EPIC HIKE IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK – THE HIGHLINE TRAIL
The Highline Trail to Haystack Pass
The Highline Trail bisects the Going to the Sun Road at two different trailheads, but is especially popular near the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Many hikers venture forth a mile or less on the trail to check out impressive views of Glacier National Park so foot traffic here moves in both directions. Adding to the intrigue and excitement, hikers must navigate a narrow ledge which has safety cables installed. For those who fear heights and steep drop offs, this ledge can be intimidating. If this is you, know that is 4-6 feet wide, not too long, and is easily passable.
After about three miles the Highline Trail begins a steeper ascent to Haystack Pass. What awaits at the pass are stunning views, wildflowers, and plenty of big rocks to sit on. Such are the rewards for those who make the climb to Haystack Pass. Whereas this is the destination for many who linger here to enjoy the views before returning to Logan Pass, the trail definitely beckons us to keep going.
Haystack Pass to Granite Park Chalet – Beautiful Scenery and Wildlife
The Highline trail generally flattens out between Haystack Pass and Granite Park Chalet. Along this stretch of trail, continuously delightful views of Glacier National Park keep coming. They are amazing, and our appreciation of them was never lacking. Nope, not once. The views along this stretch are striking, and so is the wildlife! For example, the second time we hiked this trail we had to step aside to make room for a goat traveling the trail in the opposite direction! It paid us no mind, and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Since this trail is excellent for wildlife sightings, however, keep your eyes open for more than mountain goats.
On our first hike of the Highline Trail we encountered a grizzly bear and her cub. Initially, they were well below the trail rooting around in old stumps for food. Although they were far below and not easy to see, every hiker in the vicinity stopped to watch. Before long they began climbing up the rocky wash. Although they were easier to see, they were unfortunately moving quickly and directly towards us. Not wanting to aggravate an adult female grizzly bear with a cub in tow, we all moved back to give them their space. In a matter of minutes they had crossed the trail and headed toward us, walking over the huge boulders which were only 10 or 15 feet above the trail. Thankfully, they moved quickly and paid us no heed.
It was incredible experience to see these bears in the wild and so close to us. The encounter was special, and it left everyone with a treasured memory and a wonderful story to tell.
Spur Trail to Grinnell Glacier Overlook
An obvious departure from the Highline Trail, hikers will encounter a spur which leads to a view of Grinnell Glacier. Well marked, this steep out and back trail climbs steadily for about a mile up a steep, rocky, scree slope. Those not well acclimated to hiking at elevation may find this optional spur trail strenuous. As such, some go up, some go part of the way and decide it’s too much, and others don’t bother with it at all. It is optional, so do what is right for you. Because it is not too much farther to the Granite Park Chalet, hikers in groups may split up with some going up and others continuing on to the chalet.
Granite Park Chalet
Granite Park Chalet is an open, easy place to meet up and hang out if your party does split up at the spur and wants to re-group. While it is possible to spend the night here, one must have a reservation. Otherwise, this is the place everyone stops (at least to our eye) for a bit to rest, re-fuel, and visit the pit toilets. It’s a well deserved break, and there is plenty of space to hang out and enjoy the rewarding views before finishing the hike. Once rested, get ready to roll downhill because from this point on the trail mostly descends.
Down to The Loop
The final leg of the hike is a descent to The Loop. Since the trail drops 2,200 feet over 4.2 miles, this part of the trail is tough on the knees. It is generally quite rocky, and although some areas are fairly steep, there are a number of switchbacks which do help with the grade. Whereas the top part of this descent starts out in the trees, it finishes up after passing through a previously burned area of forest.
Due to the fire the area is undergoing a rejuvination. In fact, the flora had increased substantially in the couple of years which had passed between our two hikes here. Whereas the first time we hiked the Highline Trail the vegetation was scrubby and relatively sparse. In contrast, on our second visit we saw a lovely array of wildflowers and noted that much of the ground and rock surrounding the trail was covered with beautiful, healthy plants. Take some time to note the amazing ability of nature to heal itself as you travel this final section of the Highline Trail.
TRAVEL & PARKING IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
The Highline Trail is at elevation and snow is an issue the park takes very seriously. Depending on how much snow fell during the winter, it can last well into summer in Glacier National Park. Consequently, avalanche hazards on the Going to the Sun Road and snow on the Highline Trail dictate when both get opened to the public. Similar to other areas of the park that have significant amounts of ice and snow, the rangers do not open them until they are deemed safely passable. We therefore recommend consulting the park’s website for current road and trail alerts before going.
Parking & Shuttles
Once the roads and trails are fully open competition for parking is fierce. This is especially true during the park’s busiest months of July and August. We observed numerous automobiles searching for parking anywhere there was a place to park because the lots fill up and stay full. For example, we witnessed the complete closure of the lot at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, with all vehicles attempting to enter getting waved away by the park rangers.
What to do? Use the shuttles. Glacier National Park has free shuttle buses which serve all of the trailheads and major points of interest. With a little planning and getting up and out EARLY, it is not difficult to secure parking in the lower lots before things get crazy busy. Once parked, simply use the shuttle service to get around. We know the lines for the shuttles can be frustrating, but they are far less so than trying to find a parking spot in Glacier National Park.
Scroll down to learn about the GEAR WE USE and OTHER OUTVENTURES in this area.
The Highline Trail Slideshow
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