Highline Trail

A trip along Going to the Sun Road in the heart of Glacier National Park usually means a stop at Logan Pass. Many visitors will wander around the visitor’s center, get back in their cars and continue driving. Most that decide on going for a hike will choose Hidden Lake. Those looking for another longer option will hike the always rewarding Highline Trail.

Many people use the Highline Trail in conjunction with the Loop Trail to create a circuitous day hike starting and stopping with the Going to the Sun Road. The big switchback on the road is called the Loop and is much lower in elevation than Logan Pass, so you can decide if you want the grunt of uphill or the “knee workout” of the downhill.

Part of the Continental Divide Trail, the Highline Trail lives up to its name and walks along the upper stretches of the Garden Wall. The very beginning of the hike is hewn from the rock and a cable is there to give you a handhold. The entire trip you are looking into huge glacial valleys that feel like they are million miles below. The Going to the Sun road hangs below you giving you even better views than the breathtaking vistas from the car.

The beginning of the trail is relatively level and goes in and out of beargrass carpeted ridges coming from the mountains above. All along the trail, you have chances to see numerous birds, marmots, ground squirrels, pikas, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and the area’s infamous star, the grizzly bear.

The first of two prominent stopping points is Haystack Butte. The Highline Trail starts climbing to get over the saddle between Haystack Butte and Mt. Gould. Those looking for a nice out and back day trip with nominal elevation gain will find a great trip to this spot for lunch, then back to Logan Pass. Look for mountain goats on the north cliffs and bighorn sheep in this area as well.

For those that are continuing on, the trail climbs a bit more and the view changes from looking into the Logan Creek drainage to the McDonald Creek Drainage. Eventually, you come to a trail junction that will take you up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. If you have the energy, it’s well worth it. You’ll get a bird’s eye view from above Upper Grinnell Lake, Grinnell Glacier and the rest of the Grinnell Valley into the Many Glacier area.

From this spot in the trail, you’ll be able to see Granite Park Chalet and the end to the uphill in your day. Keep your eyes peeled for grizzly bears. This area has many that move from the McDonald Creek valley to the Many Glacier area over Swiftcurrent Pass.

Granite Park Chalet is an old chalet from the days of the Great Northern Railroad. It is made of log and rock and is beautiful and perfectly matched for its locale. With intentional design cues from the old Swiss Alps, you get a little bit of a european feel in Montana. For some options, you can make reservations to stay at either the chalet itself or the campground to break your trip up. From there, you can follow the Northern Highline for a more extended trip, drop into the Swiftcurrent valley or continue down to the Loop. We’ll do the latter.

The trip down to the Loop is a lot of downhill, so be ready for it. After a lot of walking, your knees may not be happy with you on tired legs. This area was the site of a forest fire, so you have views all around… albeit through silver stands of trees. Because of this, there are an abundance of berries in the fall and the bears love to munch on them in their quest to fatten up for the long winter.

Eventually, you get to the bottom and to your car. If you had good weather, you had a great day. I can’t emphasize enough what an amazing trail this is. If you have the chance… hike it.

Highline Trail

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20 Responses to “Highline Trail”

  1. Mike KinsellaMay 9, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    We were lucky enough to stay at Granite Park three different years when it was still full service. In the evenings you could sit outside and scope the grizzlies in what the rangers called “Bear Valley.” Granite Park no longer serves meals but you can cook your own inside the chalet. They still sell snacks and water ($5 a pint!). There is no longer potable water at the chalet although there are restrooms.

    I think the optimum Highline non-backpacking hike is from Logan Pass to Granite Park, then over Swiftcurrent Pass and down to Many Glacier. About 15 miles but a minimum of uphill so it can be done in one day. A gorgeous backpacking hike is to take the whole Highline- Logan Pass to Granite Park the first night, Granite to Fifty Mountain campground the second night, and Fifty Mountain to Goat Haunt the third day. Almost no uphill at all, about 30 miles total.

    A hike I don’t recommend (we did it) is up from the loop to Granite and over Swiftcurrent to Many Glacier. 12 miles, but the first part is brutal. I don’t think the new free shuttle system goes all the way to Many Glacier.

    • hike734May 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

      I’d take your optimum non-backpacking hike a little further and turn it into a two night overnighter where you stay at Granite Park Chalet and down at either the inn or hotel in Many Glacier, then back out the Piegan Pass route for a three day trip without having a “backpacking getup”!

      I would agree with you to not go up the loop, but I always seem to pass people I know who don’t want to do all the downhill. I usually hand them my key and have them drive my car down to the loop. :D

      • Mike KinsellaMay 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

        The last time we did the Logan Pass to the Loop hike (2 years ago), we took the free shuttle from Apgar to Logan Pass, then caught the shuttle from the Loop back to Apgar (with a transfer at Avalanche junction). The shuttles run every 15 to 20 minutes so there’s never a long wait and it saves a lot of gas. This would also work great on the Jackson Overlook to Gunsight Pass to Lake McDonald hike. But I guess the shuttles had stopped by the time you did many of your Sept. and Oct. hikes?

        • hike734May 10, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

          I DO love the shuttles as well. They can be a bit slow to get all the way around and you have to take that into account of your day. I did use the shuttle for the Gunsight Pass trip for sure. Such a good way to go. In regards to using the shuttles with Many Glacier and such, you can go along the eastern front using the Glacier Park Inc van shuttle for a fee. The cost is $10 per segment and the segments are Chief Mountain to Many Glacier, Many Glacier to St. Mary, St. Mary to Cutbank, Cutbank to Two Medicine, and Two Medicine to East Glacier. While not the cheapest way in the world, it can save you a bunch on gas and time if you had to drive all the way around to plant cars.

  2. Michele McAlisterMay 14, 2012 at 1:49 am #

    We hiked Logan to the Loop a couple of years ago and loved it! We parked at The Loop and caught the first shuttle of the morning to Logan from there. Worked out perfect for us since we knew the shuttles would have stopped for the evening before we hiked out.
    This summer we hope to hike from Logan to the chalet then out to Many Glacier. We have hiked from Many Glacier to the head of Bullhead lake so the only part of that trail that will be new to us will be from the chalet up and over Swiftcurrent Pass and down the other side. I’m so looking forward to this as I’ve seen photos and videos of the Swiftcurrent valley from the pass and if it looks that awesome in a photo, reality will be amazing!!
    We will be taking some Glacier novices with us so I can’t wait to hear their reactions to the Highline trail, the chalet, and the views from Swiftcurrent Pass!
    (Is it August yet??!!) :-)

    • hike734May 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

      Well I have to say that, while I hiked from Granite Park Chalet up to Swiftcurrent Lookout and down into the Swiftfcurrent valley, the weather was pretty bad, so you might have to use your imagination with my footage. It’s definitely on my list of things to do this summer so I can update that blog and show people what it “should” look like when you go. ;-)

  3. DanJune 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    Hey Jake, wondering if you have been up by Logan’s pass much this year? I see on the park services website it says the initial clearing of the Logan Pass to Granite Park Chalet section is scheduled for July 5th. Based on what you’ve seen when would you expect to be able to hike this trail? I know its tough to predict with weather but I figured you’d have as good a guess as anybody else.

    • hike734June 26, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      My goodness, I’m not sure. I’ve driven past it a couple of times now and am not sure what it looks like up above the road, but there is a LOT of snow up there… especially over by Haystack Butte. I’d venture to guess a little bit later, but I’ve never been part of the initial clearing. I’ve been invited to boot pack it with the over the hill gang and hopefully will be able to make it up there to do so! I’ll keep you in the know… of what I know!

      • DanJune 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

        Thanks for the info! Just thought I’d see what an educated guess had to offer. Hope you’re enjoying the park so far this year!

        • hike734June 26, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

          Just starting to get into it. Got all of this “desk work” with blogs and some other video work. Hiked Scenic Point with my wife on Sunday and that was super fantastic! Just knocking off some cobwebs, then hello Canada!

          • DanJune 26, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

            Very nice. Did you do Scenic Point as an out-and-back or all the way to East Glacier (if that is even open yet)?

            • hike734June 26, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

              Just an out and back. Day looked sketch, but the clouds parted and it was fantastic!

  4. jdrowerFebruary 12, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    Hi Jake – I always enjoy Glacier. I’m planning on visiting mid-August. My main hike would be to start at Logan, go up the Highline to Waterton Park (I always carry my Passport) and cut over to Chief Highway and come back over the border there. Then I’d hike past Many Glaciers and return to Logan. It appears to be 104-miles. Any dos or don’ts? Thanks JD, Raleigh, NC

    • Jake BramanteFebruary 16, 2013 at 10:09 am #

      That’s an epic hike! Were you planning on taking the trail along Waterton Lake to Waterton, then the shuttle back to the border, or taking the boat to Waterton, then the shuttle or walking? I love soooo much of the areas that you’re going. The big challenge you’ll have is getting permits. Do you have a specific timeframe that you have to be here or can you wiggle a few days earlier or later? If so, I’d wait until after the advanced reservation process is all finished up after April 16th, then plan your trip based upon availability of sites and get an advanced reservation then so that you know the sites you want are available. I see you staying at Granite Park, Fifty Mountain, Kootenai Lakes, Elizabeth Lake (that’ll be a big day with the hiking to Waterton, then the shuttle, then hiking into Elizabeth), then at the backcountry sites at Many Glacier, then Granite Park, then Logan. Is that what you were thinking?

      • jdrowerFebruary 18, 2013 at 8:05 am #

        Thanks for responding. I had hoped to spend the night at Waterton Park, take the ferry across to the east side and hitch out to the highway and re-enter the US at Big Chief. Your analysis of the route and camp sites is correct. Thanks for the tip on reservations. I’m flexible with time. Any other suggestions now that you know the plan?

        • Jake BramanteFebruary 25, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

          If you end up camping at Bertha Bay or potentially even Boundary Bay, you could get up to Waterton and take the shuttle or hitch to the border and drop back in and head on over to Elizabeth. Kootenai Lakes might be a nice place to stop if you want to see a bunch of moose, then bring some cash and float the boat one way to Waterton.

          I think the overlooks along the way are great. I’m not sure how you’ll be feeling, but Grinnell Overlook, Ahern Pass and Sue Lake are all really cool. If you’re feeling fresh at Granite Park and want an evening hike with a million switchbacks, the views from Swiftcurrent Lookout are ridiculous. I don’t know if I’d do that on the day you headed to Fifty as you have those other overlooks you may want to do and that day just kinda gets long, but the views keep you moving along for sure.

          Like I said, I’d wait until after they award the lottery winners and then jump on a schedule and get your itinerary in there in later April.

          • jdrowerFebruary 26, 2013 at 4:13 am #

            Thanks Jake

  5. Doug HoltFebruary 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    Amazing pictures Jake! I’m loving the site.

  6. Natalie H PastorMay 13, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

    Hello – I am planning a trip to Glacier at the end of August and would love to do this Logan Pass – Loop thru-hike. I am curious on how long of a day this hike is. How many hours should I plan to be on the trail? I will be parking a car at the Loop and taking the shuttle to Logan Pass to start the day on the Highline Trail. Thank you! Love the site : )

    • Jake BramanteMay 23, 2014 at 8:51 am #

      The trail is 11.4 miles long. On flat ground, many hikers can hike 3 miles an hour. My general idea is to take the length and divide it by 2 (for 2 miles per hour) to figure a time that would include breaks and hills. Then you can pad it for another hour if you’d like. So I’d give yourself 7 hours to do it, but you could do it in 4 if you were all business. ;-)

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