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.
47 responses to “Highline Trail”
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.
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. 😀
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?
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.
Does anyone know when the shuttles start operating for the season? We are going in mid-June and really would like to do the Highline Trail starting at Logan Pass and ending at the Loop.
Have you checked the snow plow forecast yet? They might not have the pass open by mid-June.
In addition to Sally’s comment about the pass not being open until later, even if they did, I don’t think that the trail would be open by then. Keep that in your back pocket, but you’ll want to plan on some other hikes. Snow likes to hang out in the high country. 😀
Going to Glacier NP @June 28, hope logan pass will be open by that time!
Or do I need to reschedule it few weeks later?
I would if I were you… if you want to hike the Highline and actually make it to Logan Pass. 😉 (There’s a decent chance you could drive to the pass. Hiking the Highline is more likely a few weeks later.)
How long does it take to go to Haystack Butte?
Hmmm, that’s a bit subjective depending upon your speed and how much flower sniffing you do, but if you were more hiking than stopping, you could get there in an hour I think.
Hoping to hike to at least as far as Haystack late August with my wife. She has a mild fear of heights Any issues with this route? Thanks.
The first part is the freakiest… thankfully it’s at the beginning. If she can get past it, anything else is easy along that route. If not, you’ve not invested much time and can explore somewhere else.
and the first part has a handrail
She will certainly notice she is up high. She will traversing a fairly steep slope much of the way but the trail is well maintained and if I could do it anyone can. Deep breaths and enjoy the scenery!
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??!!) 🙂
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. 😉
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.
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!
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!
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!
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)?
Just an out and back. Day looked sketch, but the clouds parted and it was fantastic!
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
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?
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?
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.
Amazing pictures Jake! I’m loving the site.
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 : )
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. 😉
If we wanted to start at Logan and do the side trail up to the Grinnell overlook and then take a quick peak at Granite park Chalet, is it feasible to turn around and head back to Logan Pass all in a day? Thus avoiding the downhill to the Loop? What would that be mile wise?
Alternatively, what times do the shuttles typically run in July? If we left our car at the Loop and shuttled up to the pass, what time would we want to get there?
You’d be looking at a 16.5 mile day. Seems very doable, but a big day! You can drive up to the Loop, but I would recommend getting to the Transit Center in Apgar and try and get on one of the first buses (I believe at 7am, but be there at 6:30am). Those first buses go all the way to the top and will get you started the earliest. At that point, you should easily make the shuttle back down. Keep in mind that snowpack plays a huge role in whether or not the road is open… or even if the Highline Trail is open!
We are staying in Babb, so driving all the way to Apgar seems silly. Will probably park at Logan (early) and then hike down to the Loop. How late in the day do the shuttles run?
In that case, you should schedule a shuttle from Many Glacier to St. Mary and then take the Park’s free shuttle to Logan Pass, then hike to Granite Park, then down to Many Glacier!
Thanks for the great info here!
So it seems that the hike length is 11 miles, is that one way or roundtrip?
If we do a full hike, how long does that take, assuming normal speed ?
Finally, you mentioned that we could do a hike till Haystack Butte and then back. Can you tell us how far that would be or how long of a hike to Haystack Butte and back to logan pass? Thank you
The 11 miles is from Logan Pass down to the Loop which is the typical way people do it with the shuttle system (well, even before the shuttles, that’s what most people did). I don’t have exact mileage, but you’re looking at around 3.5 miles to Haystack or 7ish miles round trip to Haystack and back.
anyone know the status of Ahern snowfield?
I don’t see any mention of it in the Trail Status Report on the park’s page. I would be surprised if it is not easily navigable. By this time, it’s either close to being gone or you can go around it or follow other’s steps through it. https://home.nps.gov/applications/glac/trail/trailstatus.cfm?t=MD
thanks for the comment. I saw somewhere that they were planning to do trail maintenance on that trail today but forget where I saw it.
Did the Highline Trail up to Granite Park this past Thursday. Overnighted at GPS and came back by the Swiftcurrent Trail on Friday. What a hike! I especially enjoyed the switchbacks on the way down, what a view of the falls. Saw maybe 2 dozen goats and one lone bighorn ram. No bears. The Loop trail was still closed due to the fire.
This is my favorite way to do it because I also LOVE that stretch down to Many Glacier…. it’s just shuttling around that’s a bugger. If you have that taken care of, you’ll have a day like you did!
We have access to a friends place in Baab. So we can overnight and get an early start, etc. Plus he can usually shuttle for us. Win/Win.
GPC…Granite Park CHALET. Sorry for the “GPS” typo.
Hi there, is it possible to make it a day hike from Logan Pass to Grinnell Glacier Overlook and back without going down to the Loop? I heard the downhill thru the Loop is brutal on the knees.
My friend and I are planning for a 7 day trip to Glacier national park for the july 1st week. We plan on being there on 29th June late evening and will be there until July 7th. I guess we are pretty late on getting advance reservations for backcountry campsites, we are planning to book some campsites outside of the national park.
We are planning to do St Mary and Virgina falls on the first day.
Next day we plan to do the Grinnell trail starting from Logan Pass Visitor’ center to granite park. We were hoping to get the campsite at Grinnell though through but the campsites open only late June, so we plan to get back via back to the loop.
3rd day, we plan to do the iceberg lake. Intial plan was to do the ptarmigan tunnel and back but I read in one of your blogs that it will open in late July. So probably will get back to the Many Glacier campsite.
4th day, we plan to do the Grinnell Glacier trail and back through the hidden falls.
We still have 3 more days left – thinking of covering the Avalanche trail, hidden lake and Siyeh pass and driving through the “Going to the sun road”.
We are not sure if we have to cover more of the west part of the park or the east or have a combination of both. It would be great if you can share some advice.
We have done a couple of hikes before in snow and at Grand Canyon but this is first time to Glacier.