Hiking the Highline Trail – Glacier NP

St. Mary, MT

On our final day in St. Mary, outside the east entrance to Glacier NP, the sun finally came out!  We had to extend our stay here two days to take advantage of this day so we could do one of the best hikes in the park, the Highline Trail.  For this hike we drove up the Going- to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass, the highest point on the road.  We parked the Jeep there to begin our hike.  The trail follows along the Continental Divide, also known as the Garden Wall, for almost eight miles to the Granite Park Chalet, then goes steeply down hill for four miles, where it ends at “The Loop” on the Going to the Sun Road.  There we hopped on a park shuttle for a ride back up the mountain to Logan Pass.

Sunshine at last as we entered the park at St. Mary

As soon as you begin the hike the views are awesome.

These two mountain goats were enjoying breakfast near the trailhead

The trail quickly becomes a bit narrow as it runs along a steep cliff.  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 a hundred feet or so down to the Going-to-the-Sun Road below.  Fortunately the National Park has installed a hand cable along this stretch of the trail.

Small waterfalls frequently crossed the trail in this section.

From here the trail continues to hug the cliffs and slopes of the Garden Wall.  This is a very popular hike and we met many hikers along the way, some in groups with a guide.  The picture below shows one of these groups but . . .

. . . a full zoom shot is needed to see them.

The first part of the hike was in areas shaded from the sun, so it was a bit cool.  But finally we broke out of the shade to experience our first bit of sunshine on the trail in the last four days!

This is what George sang about (first cut on side two of  The Beatles Abbey Road album)

As we stopped for a brief rest the guy below put on a little show for us.

He found a nice site on a rocky ledge for a little nap, but the site needed a little landscaping.

Once that was complete he settled in to watch the hikers below.

Hey, goats need wifi, too!

Lunch with a view

A marmot enjoys some sunshine

Mama keeps watch . . .

. . . while junior takes a rest

The view west to Lake Macdonald

Finally, as we scanned the horizon, the Granite Park Chalet came into view.

Granite Park Chalet on the right

Zoom of the chalet

Approaching the chalet

The Granite Park Chalet was built in 1914 and 1915 by the Great Northern Railway 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.  The Chalet 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.  Reservations are necessary for an overnight stay.

Granite Park Chalet

Front entrance to the chalet. Oops, how did that picture get in here?  Sorry!

View looking west from the chalet

Looking to the south

After enjoying lunch and a rest outside the chalet, we began the hike down the mountain.

Deer along the trail are not bothered by passing hikers

A field of wild flowers

We finally made it down the trail to The Loop where, fortunately, a shuttle van was waiting, so we were able to quickly return up to the Jeep at Logan Pass.

After a long 12 mile hike, a good meal was just what we needed.  A few days earlier we met with Rick and JoAnne, who are camp hosting in the Apgar Campground.  They suggested we stop at a quirky little place just north of St. Mary called “Two Sisters.”  We thank them for the tip as we had passed the place earlier and it didn’t look too inviting.  But we found it to be a neat, off-beat place to eat and the food was very good!

While waiting for our food we enjoyed looking at all the “stuff” on the walls, particularly a display of all types of bumper stickers next to us.

We were pleasantly surprised to spot a Wake Forest sticker in the middle (we have an alumnus in our immediate family).  Go Deacs ! ! !

The Highline Trail is definitely a “must do” hike if you visit Glacier NP.  It is a long one but since you start the hike at a high altitude, it is fairly level, and the views are fantastic!

That’s it for our stop at Glacier NP.  Next up is a trip to an exotic foreign country!

More on that later . . .



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43 Responses to Hiking the Highline Trail – Glacier NP

  1. Ingrid says:

    Stunning scenery and what an amazing hike. My feet hurt just reading about it 🙂

  2. Laurel says:

    How cool that you saw mountain goats!! Wonderful photos of an amazing hike — although the part with the 4-foot wide path and sheer drop-off looked a bit sketchy. I’m assuming neither of you has any fear of heights? And how fortuitous that your favorite coffee shop happened to be on the trail (haha!). I’ve often thought it would be perfect to come upon a little coffee shop at the mid-point of some of our long hikes….

    • placestheygo says:

      So glad you appreciated John’s humor with the Starbucks:) We really were wishing for a coffee shop at the top of the Grinnell hike since we were a little chilled from the drizzle. On warm days John is looking for a beer station!!

      Luckily, we aren’t afraid of heights. But it is amazing how even four feet seems like a lot of room if it is flat.

      I was thrilled that we saw so many goats. Only s few made the blog.

  3. Oh the wildlife! the stunning sceneries! a wonderful hike! The wrights are definitely in hiker heaven as I do by just reading the hikes with pictures.

  4. Love the mountain goats! Another great hike for you! When we stayed in St. Mary several years ago we enjoyed a meal at Two Sisters. I’m glad to see that it is still there.

  5. pmbweaver says:

    The park does looks so different with the sun shinning. Gorgeous!

    Thanks goodness for the hand railing. My knees are shaking just looking at the photo.

    Love the goat photos. Another wonderful experience.

    Fabulous photos and fabulous hike.

    Now listen…there can’t be a Starbucks everywhere on this earth.

    I see a Virginia Tech sticker…Go Hokies.

    • placestheygo says:

      Marsha, there most certainly can be a Starbucks everywhere. And if there is, we will find it:)

      Yes, the sunshine made things much nicer:)

      Glad you caught the VT sticker!

  6. Sue says:

    Now that was just about a perfect post in my eyes. Stunning scenery, blue skies, plenty of animals, a little humor, feet and back shots of dear friends and even a few flower views. Thanks guys!

  7. Gay says:

    Except to say its on the list…maybe one day!

  8. WOW, you saw lots of mountain goats, very cool! We only saw one in the far, far distance when we hiked this trail. I wonder if you saw this story about a grizzly on the trail in August: http://missoulian.com/news/local/glacier-national-park-close-encounters-of-a-grizzly-kind-on/article_73d8b38a-18f4-11e4-8c8f-0019bb2963f4.html

    That would be one scary encounter!!!!

    • placestheygo says:

      We didn’t see that story, Lisa. That is one frightening photo with the guy down behind the boulder. Thank goodness everything worked out. Thanks for sharing!

      We only saw black bears this trip. But there were so many mountain goats on the Highline Trail. I was pleased that they were close enough that you could see them without binoculars.

    • heyduke50 says:

      that happened a few days after we did that trail… wow…

  9. Holly Ritger says:

    I feel at peace just from reading through your wonderful post about an amazing and unattainable hike (for me.). We haven’t been to Glacier NP since 2005, when we spent 5 weeks in and around the park, trying many different campgrounds in our Pop-Up and just exploring the park for the first time.
    I enjoyed your trail descriptions, photos of animals, wildflowers, stunning vistas, waterfalls, and dear friends. I agree… It is a perfect post! Thank you.

  10. Holly Ritger says:

    Reblogged this on Ritger RV Travels and commented:
    A wonderful post about a favorite National Park… From a fellow blogger.

  11. Holly Ritger says:

    A big change I noticed in the evergreen trees along the trail in your post is the number of dead or dying trees… So sad to see but I know that decades from now, young trees will take their place in the landscape. It’s just sad to witness a large tree die off, resulting from the invasion by boring beetles, disease, or any number of Asian or Eurasian insects that make their way into our country.

    • placestheygo says:

      Holly, so glad you were able to join us in spirit on our hikes. We, also, noticed the number of died and dying trees from the beetles. The park is trying to maintain things the best they can by planting young disease resistant trees. Some of the areas you saw in the photos were the result of a wildfire in 2006.

      Thank you so much for passing along our blog to your followers:) We appreciate your enthusiasm:)

  12. jcgc50 says:

    The Highline Trail was still closed when we visited Glacier in June 2009. In fact the Going to the Sun Road had just opened 2 days before we got there. Looks like a great hike!

    • placestheygo says:

      Gayle, we ran into that the first time we visited the park on a motorcycle trip. The road near Logan Pass had washed down hill over the winter. The entire road didn’t open til the end of July. We had to drive in one way and out and then drive all the way around Rte 2 and in the other side. You couldn’t get anywhere near Logan Pass without hiking in over a mile.

  13. heyduke50 says:

    yep the descent was the worst… I remember when we first saw the Granite Park Chalet it looked so close… wrong! Glad you extended to get this must do hike in…

  14. LuAnn says:

    You two are definitely in your element and your photos are wonderful. We loved watching the mountain goats when we were in Yellowstone. This is going to be one of those must-do hikes when we are in Glacier. Thanks! 🙂

  15. Jodee Gravel says:

    Maybe it’s the angle of the shot, but I’m not sure I could get past the Garden Wall section :-(. I would certainly want to as the hike is beautiful – all the pics are great, especially the goats. That collar doesn’t look very accommodating but he also doesn’t look too concerned with it. If Starbucks really applied themselves they could get a kiosk up there – slackers!! So glad you hung around for the sunshine :-).

    • placestheygo says:

      Haha! I totally agree, Jodee. How difficult would it be to backpack the equipment in to please many of us!! Slackers for sure:)

      When you get to these narrow areas, you just have to look ahead and not down. If you aren’t afraid of heights, it really isn’t too bad. I didn’t need to use the rope at all. The ledge was plenty wide enough. You would be fine:)

  16. Liz says:

    I LOVE Two Sisters! You are probably out of the area, but along Hwy 2 if you are travelling from West Glacier to Columbia Falls…on the right, before you make the turn into C.Falls is Phyggs Deli (Phyggs = “figs” ). It looks like a hut… a hut that might fall down at any moment.. They have extraordinary soups and sandwiches!!

    I learned long ago from my truck driving grandfather that some of the worst looking spots have the best food and friendliest people!

    Also, in Kalispell: Cowgirl Coffee – I LOVE the cowgirl spicy mocha. But, then I am not a Starbuck’s fan…still, if you are on Hwy 40 between C.Falls and Kalispell, Cowgirl Coffee (kiosk) is in a parking lot with easy access to pull in and out even with your tow. On the right (west) about 2 miles south of the airport.

    Happy Trails!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Liz, for the suggestions. We went up the east side of Glacier this time since we were arriving from the east and heading north from there. However, we may come back from Alberta on the west side of Glacier so we will keep these spots in mind. I agree with your grandfather:)

  17. Oh how gorgeous! This is on my bucket list for sure!

  18. This hike looks amazing! I hope to spend a big chunk of time in Glacier one of these years! Thanks for sharing.

  19. Oh you make me tired! 12 miles? Thanks for sharing the stunning views.

  20. Amanda says:

    Oh! We loved that hike. Did a portion of it one year, and the entire loop the second year. Both times we saw mountain goat, but somehow missed the Starbucks 🙂

  21. Dave Burns says:

    My wife and I did that hike a few years ago – it’s likely one of my favorites ever. Great summary and fabulous pictures.

  22. Goats are such comical creatures! Looks like a grand walk, I’m from New Zealand so I’m completely spoiled by the most beautiful scenery on the planet. I’ve been all over the States and there are some beautiful hikes. Nice to be reminded of my time there.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Mia:) The hiking in the western part of the US is fabulous. We are very excited to be back after a year east. There will be many more beautiful hikes coming very soon:)

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