We hiked the Highline Trail in August 2011 during our camping road trip through Jasper, Banff, and Kootenay National Parks in Canada, followed by Glacier National Park in Montana.
The Highline Trail seems to be the best bet for a view-filled day hike through Glacier National Park. Our trek took us along the main trail's 7.6 miles of relatively easy trail, followed by a 2 mile round-trip spur trail to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook (more on this later) and then a 4 mile descent down the Loop Trail to catch our shuttle back to the Logan Pass parking lot. All in all, it's was full days hike of about 13.6 miles of completely jaw dropping gorgeousness along the Continental Divide.
There are a couple of ways to get to the trail head, we chose to drive up early (crucial if you want to find a spot) and park in the lot at Logan Pass. There is also a shuttle you can catch from several different spots along the valley floor that will take you up to the pass. When setting your start time, consider how long it may take to you to complete the hike. With the route I described above it took us about 9 1/2 hours and we had to run the last 3 miles or so to catch the last shuttle back to the Logan Pass parking lot. Keep in mind that we stopped to take a bunch of pictures and took a short lunch break.
The trail takes you across the the Garden Wall which offers just ridiculously amazing views and it follows a pretty even path without much up or down hill.
Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. We were lucky enough to encounter a marmot and big horned sheep. Although I have to admit that big horned sheep was HUGE and being so close to it completely terrified me. Most of the trail simply cuts into the Garden Wall with a steep incline up trail and a steep decline down trail. So when you see a big horned sheep on the uphill portion, walking below it is rather unnerving.
There are lots of beautiful spots to stop and have a snack on the trail, but just make sure not to dawdle too long or you might end up running the last bit of the trail like we did.
See that big rock down on the left there, amazing place for lunch, totally recommend it.
At about 6.8 miles down the trail you'll see a sign for a spur trail that leads to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. TAKE IT! It's a little under 2 miles round trip and it's going to be a bit painful. It's quite steep, rather rocky, and unprotected from the sun and wind. See that little snaking pathway in the bottom photo, that's what you're walking up.
This is what you get to see at the end of the spur trail, I know, SO WORTH IT! It's a gorgeous view down the valley in both directions looking over the Continental Divide. You see those little heads on the right side of the picture, me and my hubby, seriously priceless photo.
While the spur trail was painful but worth it there are more gorgeous views to behold as you continue towards the Granite Park Chalet. So keep on walking!
See what I mean! Totally amazing views. The bottom photo was taken just before reaching the Chalet. If you plan ahead and book early, you can spend the night at the Chalet. It's got a beautiful deck area and looked like it would be such a dreamy place to stay. It also opens up your options for what route you might take back to the valley floor. Since we were aiming for a day hike, we opted to take the Loop Trail down to a shuttle bus stop along the Going To The Sun Road. The first part of the trail goes through a forested area, which my over active imagination thought would be filled with bears. (We had a bear bell on my pack and a can of bear spray for the hike. I can also admit that in addition to big horned sheep, I might be rather terrified of encountering a bear on a trail.)
The very last portion of the Loop Trail is a seemingly never ending downhill through an area that had begun to recover from a wildfire. There were lots of beautiful wildflowers and very interesting colored rocks down this route. But like I mentioned before, we had to run for the last bit of this trail in order to catch the last shuttle back to the Logan Pass parking lot. We did make it and it felt mighty good to have accomplished this hike.
- Make sure to budget your time well on the trail if you're planning to catch a shuttle back to your destination. Otherwise you might end up hitch hiking a ride back.
- Just in case and because there are bears in the area, carry a bear bell and some bear spray.
- If you're going to do this entire trail, I highly recommend taking the spur trail to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. You might hate me for suggesting it when you're actually hiking it, but it's totally worth it. Make sure you take a picture.
- If you plan to drive yourself to the Logan Pass parking lot, get there by at least 8AM. We got there around 8:30 and had to circle for a parking spot.
- Don't forget your camera. You'll really want to use it on this hike.
- Sunblock. Wear it and don't forget to reapply. Most of this walk is unsheltered and you won't encouter much shade. I got some wicked burns on the backs of my legs.