The Highline Loop Hike
|Trail Features:||Outstanding views, Alpine meadows, flowers|
|Trail Location:||Logan Pass|
|Roundtrip Length:||11.8 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||1950 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||331 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||7280 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||15.70 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||48.69657|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-113.71813|
The Highline Loop hike begins from the north side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Logan Pass. Although this hike includes the word “Loop” in its name, this is actually a one-way hike. The “Loop” refers to the bend in the road on the west side of the park where this hike ends. The best way to do this hike is to park at The Loop, located 13.1 miles east of the McDonald Lodge on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and then take the shuttle up to Logan Pass.
The Highline Trail is an extremely popular hike; and for good reason. At every step, and every turn, hikers will have absolutely spectacular scenery as the Highline follows along the Continental Divide, also known as the Garden Wall in this area. The exceptionally beautiful views, the excellent opportunities for spotting wildlife, and the wildflowers, all combine to make this a hike you'll remember the rest of your life. If you’re looking for solitude, however, you won’t find it on this trail.
Roughly one-quarter of a mile from the trailhead you’ll reach the famous ledge with the reputation for terrifying those with a fear of heights. In most places the ledge, hanging like a shelf on the Garden Wall, is only four to six feet in width, and has drop-offs of roughly a hundred feet or so down to the Going-to-the-Sun Road below. This segment lasts for only three-tenths of a mile, but may seem forever if you have a fear of heights. Fortunately the National Park Service has installed a hand cable along this stretch of the trail. My advice is to not let this deter you, as this is one of the most scenic trails in America.
From here the trail continues to hug the cliffs and slopes of the Garden Wall, and does so for most of its length to Granite Park. Throughout the early portions of the hike Mt. Cannon, Mt. Oberlin and Heavens Peak will dominate the views towards the west.
Roughly 2.5 miles from Logan Pass the slopes of the Garden Wall begin to shallow out. Soon you’ll begin the only major climb of the day, a short section of trail that takes hikers up to Haystack Pass.
At 3.6 miles, after climbing roughly 275 feet up one switchback, hikers will reach Haystack Pass at an elevation of 7024 feet. The pass forms the saddle between 7486-foot Haystack Butte and the Garden Wall, which at this point is technically the southeastern flank of Mt. Gould. With its outstanding panoramic views, Haystack Pass is also a popular spot for a snack or lunch break.
Beyond the pass the trail continues a gradual climb up along the Garden Wall. Soon you’ll reach the highest point on the hike at an elevation of 7280 feet. From here the trail begins its descent towards Granite Park, and 8436-foot Swiftcurrent Mountain will eventually come into view towards the north.
At 6.9 miles hikers will reach the Garden Wall Trail. This side trail climbs roughly 900 feet - in just 0.6 miles - to the top of the Continental Divide, and provides hikers with commanding views of The Salamander and Grinnell Glacier on the opposite side.
At 7.6 miles hikers will reach the Granite Park Trail junction. Towards the right the Highline Trail continues on towards the Fifty Mountain Backcountry Campground, roughly 12 miles away. A turn to the left takes you down to The Loop on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. To visit the Granite Park Chalet, hikers should continue going straight at this junction.
The Granite Park Chalet was built in 1914 and 1915 by the Great Northern Railway in order to provide comfortable backcountry accommodations inside Glacier National Park. The rustic lodge was the last of the nine chalets built by the railroad, and today is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Compared to Sperry Chalet, the Granite Park Chalet is much more basic, and is essentially a simple hiker's hostel, with virtually no amenities. It has 12 guest rooms, each with 2 to 6 bunks. There’s no electricity, but the common-area kitchen does have a propane stove where you can cook a warm lunch or dinner.
The chalet sells packaged foods, beverages, snacks, and bottled water to hikers. If not interested in buying water, there’s a stream about a quarter-mile away along a rough and rugged trail. You will have to treat this water first. For more information and to make a reservation, please click here.
To continue on the Loop, hikers will now follow the Granite Park Trail as they begin making their way down to the Going-to-the-Sun Road. A little more than a half-mile from the chalet you’ll reach the spur trail that leads to the Granite Park Backcountry Campground, which includes 4 individual campsites.
As you proceed down the Granite Park Trail, also known as the Loop Trail, you’ll pass through a couple sections of pine forest. Once beyond this forested area, just below the chalet, the terrain begins to open up again. The massive 8987-foot Heavens Peak will dominate the views across the valley. Below the mountain is the McDonald Creek Valley. In this same area, roughly 9 miles from Logan Pass, you’ll also begin to notice the devastation inflicted by the 2003 Trapper Creek Fire. In many places, alongside the trail and across the valley, are the ghostly remains of thousands of dead trees.
Prior to 2003 the Granite Park Trail was heavily wooded, but the lightning ignited wildfire, which burned more than 19,000 acres, swept through and opened up vistas of the surrounding mountains. The forest, however, is already in the process of regeneration. Today you'll find extensive undergrowth, including thousands of wildflowers.
At 11.2 miles hikers will finally reach the bottom of the descent at the Packers Roost Trail junction. To continue on towards The Loop trailhead, take the left fork and walk another half-mile where you’ll reach a footbridge. From here the trailhead is only a tenth-of-a-mile away.