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.