Hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park

A view of mountains in Logan Pass from Going-to-the-Sun-Road.

Are you planning a trip to Glacier National Park and looking for the ultimate bucket list experience?

Look no further than the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. This hike perfectly embodies the park’s wild, natural beauty. It’s often ranked as one of the best hikes in Glacier National Park!

From wildflowers to glacier views to wildlife sightings, the Highline Trail truly has it all. While the hike is long, there is little elevation gain, making it a trek suitable for most fitness levels.

This guide covers everything you need to know before hiking the Highline Trail, including getting to the trailhead, essential tips, what to pack, and all the must-know details.

Important Note
Glacier National Park requires all visitors to have a reservation to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road and enter the North Fork region from May 27 to September 11, 2022. Read this guide to the Going-to-the-Sun reservation system for more information.

Looking for more things to do in Glacier National Park? Check out these posts:

This post may contain affiliate links, where I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Read more in this disclosure policy.

Glacier National Park At-A-Glance

Before diving in, here are a few highlights to help you plan your trip:

  • Best Time to Visit: Summer is the best (and most popular) time to visit, thanks to warm weather and all park facilities being open. Visit in early to mid-September to avoid peak crowds.
  • Where to Stay: If you’re looking to stay in the park, I highly recommend the Many Glacier Hotel. If you’re looking to stay outside the park, look for accommodations in Babb or St. Mary, like St. Mary Village.
  • How to Get There: Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell, Montana, is the closest airport. Use Skyscanner to browse flights and find the best price.
  • How to Get Around: The best way to get around the park is by having your own car. Use Rentalcars.com to browse deals on rental cars or rent an RV or campervan with Outdoorsy!
  • Best Self-Guided Tour: My favorite way to learn more about the park is with GyPSy Guides, a narrated self-guided tour perfect for road trips and scenic drives. The Glacier Going-to-the-Sun Road Guide provides incredible commentary and detail about history and geology.
  • Don’t Forget: Be sure to get an America the Beautiful National Park Pass ahead of time. This $80 pass is valid for 12 months and gets you into all 400+ national park sites (including Glacier!).

Highline Trail At-A-Glance

There are many ways to hike the Highline Trail, but the most popular route is one way, starting at Logan Pass and ending at The Loop. Below are the stats for that hike.

  • Trailhead: Logan Pass Visitor Center (ends at The Loop)
  • Distance: 11.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,950 Feet
  • Trail Type: One-Way
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Time to Hike: 6 to 8 hours

Many visitors also choose to hike the Highline Trail out and back from Logan Pass Visitor Center, turning around about halfway through the trail between Haystack Pass and Granite Park Chalet.

The Highline Trail Glacier National Park Map

Below is a map of the most popular route of the Highline Trail, starting at Logan Pass Visitor Center and ending at the Loop. Those looking for a shorter hike can opt to turn around near Haystack Butte.

Map of the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park
Base map source: AllTrails

Best Time to Hike the Highline Trail

The best time to hike the Highline Trail is July through September. Summer is best because visitors must drive the high elevation Going-to-the-Sun Road to reach the trailhead, and the road is only open from late June or July until late September or October.

In the summer, particularly on weekends, it is best to arrive early to secure a parking space. The Logan Pass parking lot at Logan Pass Visitor Center fills up by 8 or 9 AM every morning.

Read More: Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park

How to Hike the Highline Trail

While the most popular Highline Trail route is the one-way path from Logan Pass to The Loop, hikers have several options:

  • A one-way hike starting at Logan Pass is the best option if you can get a parking spot at Logan Pass. The trail gradually climbs at the start, followed by primarily flat and downhill terrain to The Loop. (~11 miles)
  • A one-way hike starting at The Loop is an acceptable backup plan if parking at Logan Pass is full. However, this adds significant feet of elevation gain from The Loop to Granite Park Chalet. (~ 11 miles)
  • Out-and-back hike from Logan Pass to Haystack Butte is the best option for those looking for a shorter hike. There are great views in the first few miles of the trail from Logan Pass, so you can return when ready. (~3 to 7 miles)
  • Out-and-back hike from Logan Pass to Granite Park Chalet is the best option for those that want to get the whole Highline Trail experience but don’t want to deal with the transportation challenges of hiking the trail one way. Turn around upon reaching Granite Park Chalet and skip the descent to The Loop. (~ 15 miles)

The details in this blog post focus on the one-way route starting at Logan Pass. However, most of the pieces are the same regardless of which way you choose.

Don’t miss the best sights in Glacier on your upcoming trip! This free, printable guide to Going-to-the-Sun Road covers all the best points of interest, tips for avoiding crowds along Glacier’s best scenic drive, and an exclusive map!

Download your free Going-to-the-Sun Road guide here.

Low hanging fog fills the valley along the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park.

How to Get to Highline Trail in Glacier National Park

The Highline Trail is located inside Glacier National Park in northern Montana. The best way to get to the park is by flying into Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell. From Kalispell, you’re only 30 minutes away from the park entrance!

Once you arrive, the best way to get around Glacier National Park is by car. However,  I don’t recommend driving RVs or campervans into the park. 

The Highline Trail is located off Going-to-the-Sun Road. This windy narrow road through the mountains runs from Apgar Visitor Center near West Glacier to St. Mary on the park’s eastern side, with sections where vehicles longer than 21 feet are not permitted.

Glacier National Park also offers a free park shuttle service along Going-to-the-Sun Road, but it is notoriously slow and crowded. 

A shuttle is an excellent option for those returning to Logan Pass Visitor Center after hiking the Highline Trail, but I recommend driving your vehicle to the trailhead to get an early start.

I use Skyscanner to find the best flight prices and compare routes. Once you find your flight, Skyscanner redirects you to book with the airline directly, so you don’t miss out on frequent flyer points! Search flights on Skyscanner now.

If you need a rental car, I recommend using Rentalcars.com to find the best deals. It allows you to search across major retailers like Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Budget, and more. Search rental car prices with Rentalcars.com now.

Going to the Sun Road Permits

In 2022, Glacier National Park requires all visitors to get a reservation to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road until September 11. Since the Highline Trail is located off Going-to-the-Sun Road, everyone who wishes to hike the Highline Trail will need a reservation.

After September 11, reservations will no longer be required for the season. 

For more information on the Going-to-the-Sun Road reservation system, including a few ways to get into the park without a reservation, read my detailed guide on Going-to-the-Sun Road in 2022.

Tips for Hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier

  • Get a national park pass ahead of time. If you plan to visit more than one national park in the next 12 months, get the America the Beautiful pass. For only $80, you get unlimited access to all 400+ National Park Service sites, including Glacier National Park!
  • Arrive at the trailhead before 8 AM. Logan Pass Visitor Center is incredibly popular, as other hikes like Hidden Lake Overlook also start here. As a result, the lot often fills by 8 AM on summer weekends.
  • Visit between July and September. The Highline Trail is located off Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is only open in the summer, typically from late June or early July through late September or October.
  • Expect to wait for the shuttle at The Loop. If you take the free Glacier National Park shuttle from The Loop to Logan Pass Visitor Center, the shuttle will likely be crowded in the afternoon. Bring plenty of water and snacks to stay energized after your hike!
  • Cell service is limited inside the park. Be sure to screenshot your Going-to-the-Sun Road reservation, as well as any lodging reservations. In addition, I recommend downloading Google Maps and AllTrails maps offline.
  • Always check trail status before hiking. For the latest updates, refer to the Glacier National Park website.

Are you visiting multiple national parks in the next year? The America the Beautiful National Park Pass gets you into 400+ national park sites, including all 63 national parks, for 12 months!

Get your national park pass ahead of time for only $80.

An Overview of the Highline Trail Hike in Glacier

The Highline Trail starts at Logan Pass Visitor Center, the highest point along Going-to-the-Sun Road. This one-way hike is roughly 12 miles, ending at another point along Going-to-the-Sun Road: The Loop.

Doing this route one-way from Logan Pass to The Loop reduces the elevation, with much of the hike being flat or downhill. But a one-way hike requires a bit more coordination. 

You have several options for returning to Logan Pass Visitor Center after completing the hike:

  • Take the Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle. It connects The Loop and Logan Pass. Park at the Logan Pass Visitor Center before 8 AM and start your hike here. Then, take the shuttle back to Logan Pass. 
  • Park one car at each end of the trail. Caravanning is quickly done if you are in a group with two vehicles. You’ll want to park a car at The Loop first, then carpool to Logan Pass Visitor Center. Get started early in the day, as you’ll want to make sure you get a spot at Logan Pass by 8 AM.
  • Arrange for family or friends to pick you up at The Loop. Coordinating a pickup time is an excellent alternative if not everyone in your group is hiking the Highline Trail. Pre-determine a time to meet at The Loop and carry a way to communicate, like walkie-talkies with a few mile range. 

Important Note
Glacier National Park requires all visitors to have a reservation to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road and enter the North Fork region from May 27 to September 11, 2022. Read this guide to the Going-to-the-Sun reservation system for more information.

Fog covers the valley along Going-to-the-Sun-Road in Glacier National Park.

Logan Pass Visitor Center to Haystack Pass

The Highline Trail starts across the road from Logan Pass Visitor Center. The first portion of the trail is a steady ascent parallel to Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The first section of trail is the most intimidating. Here you’ll climb along the rocky cliff with sharp drop-offs on your left side and a cable to keep you steady on the right. While it may rattle those scared of heights, the remainder of the hike is less problematic, so push on!

As you continue along the Highline Trail, you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of the Lake McDonald Valley. After about 2.5 miles, the Highline Trail breaks away from Going-to-the-Sun Road.

This stretch of the hike provides beautiful views of Mt. Oberlin, Mt. Cannon, and the U-shaped valley, the signature of glacially carved land.

A view of mountains in Logan Pass from Going-to-the-Sun-Road.

This valley, with its alpine meadows, is one of the best places to spot marmots and mountain goats. Don’t forget binoculars for a closer look!

After passing through the valley, about 4 miles into your hike, you’ll climb switchbacks to the other side of the valley atop Haystack Pass.

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Going-to-the-Sun Road

Highline Trail to Grinnell Glacier Overlook Spur Trail

For the next 2.5 miles, the Highline Trail closely hugs the side of the mountain range along the western side of the Continental Divide. This area is often referred to as “The Garden Wall Trail”.

You continue to see expansive views of Lake McDonald Valley and the surrounding mountain peaks on the west side of the park. You’ll even pass by a few small waterfalls!

Fog hands low above a rocky trail and pine trees in Glacier National Park.

About 6.5 miles into the Highline Trail, you’ll reach the optional side trail to Grinnell Glacier Overlook. This short hike is often referred to as The Garden Wall addition because it takes you to the top of The Garden Wall ridgeline.

The short but steep trail covers about 1,000 feet of elevation in just under a mile. To put that in perspective, that’s about 20% elevation on a treadmill.

It’s incredibly steep and brutally unshaded, but 100% worth the effort. The expansive viewpoint overlooks Lake McDonald Valley to the west and Many Glacier to the east. Below, you’ll see two glaciers: Salamander Glacier and Grinnell Glacier.

You can also see an impressive total of six pristine lakes from the overlook: Upper Grinnell Lake, Lower Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, Swiftcurrent Lake, Sherburne Lake, and Lake McDonald. 

The Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail has one of the absolute best views in the park! And if the views weren’t enough, this vantage point is atop the American Continental Divide. From this point, water flows westward to the Pacific Ocean and eastward to the Atlantic Ocean.

Granite Park Chalet in the distance along the Highline Trail

Granite Park Chalet

You’ll reach the historic Granite Park Chalet as you go down from Grinnell Glacier Overlook and continue along the Highline Trail.

The Granite Park Chalet is one of only two hike-in, hike-out lodges in the park, making for an incredibly unique place to stay in Glacier National Park. This lodge has guest cabins with basic amenities, like pit toilets, bottled water, and freeze-dried food for sale.

The Granite Park Chalet is a great place to take a bathroom break and buy some water and snacks if needed.

Read More: 35 Best Places to Stay in Glacier National Park

Descent to The Loop

The trail to The Loop is entirely downhill and relatively uneventful compared to the rest of the Highline Trail. This route between The Loop and Granite Park Chalet is also called the Granite Park Trail, as it is the most direct route to reach the chalet.

Brown grassy and distant mountains along the Highline Trail down to The Loop

This area was heavily burned in the 2003 Trapper Creek Fire, ignited by a lightning strike. Although the space has undergrowth and wildflowers, the lack of trees makes for a hot, sunny hike.

As you descend towards The Loop, you’ll see the prominent Heavens Peak in the distance, one of the highest peaks in Glacier National Park! Finally, about 4 miles after leaving Granite Park Chalet, you’ll reach The Loop and Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Be sure you have plenty of water before leaving Granite Park Chalet.

Due to the thick brush, you’ll want to make plenty of noise to alert bears of your presence. So talk loudly or sing – human voices carry! And always have a canister of bear spray.

For more on bear safety, read the wildlife section below.

Backpacking the Highline Trail

If you want to split the Highline Trail into a multi-day hike, you have a few options for spending the night in the backcountry:

  • Stay the night at Granite Park Chalet. This hike-in lodge is perfect for those who don’t want to hike with camping gear. The lodge has pit toilets and beds, as well as freeze-dried food for sale. While not luxurious, it’s an excellent option for many hikers. Read more about booking a room at the Granite Park Chalet.
  • Stay at Granite Park Backcountry Campground. This campground has four sites that open around mid-July. You must spend at least two nights in the backcountry to stay here. Camping in Glacier’s backcountry requires a permit. Read more about backcountry permits in Glacier here.
A hiker walks along the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park.

What to Pack for the Highline Trail in Montana

  • Layers – Mornings are cool and foggy, but afternoons are hot on this exposed trail. Pack moisture-wicking hiking shirts and warm fleece layers to keep you comfortable.
  • Rain Jacket – Over half the summer days get some light rain, so it’s best to be prepared and carry a rain jacket or poncho.
  • Hiking Boots & Merino Wool Socks – You’ll want sturdy, comfortable hiking boots with solid traction. Always opt for merino wool socks. They will last a long time, keep your feet dry, and protect you from blisters.
  • Hiking Backpack & Safety Essentials – Be sure to pack the ten hiking essentials and bring a backpack with plenty of room for water and extra gear.
  • Sun Hat and Sunscreen – Much of the Highline Trail is unshaded, so protecting yourself from the sun is essential. Sunscreen and a sun hat are highly recommended.
  • Binoculars – You should always keep at least 25 yards away from wildlife, so pack binoculars to look closer! I highly recommend the Vortex Diamondback 10×32.
  • Bear sprayBear Spray is an essential safety item for hiking in Glacier National Park. Similar to pepper spray, it’s used on bears in emergencies. Unfortunately, bear spray can’t go on planes, even in your checked baggage. So unless you are driving, I recommend renting bear spray at the airport or purchasing it at a local outdoor store.

Looking for more tips on what to pack for your trip? Check out my guides on the best hiking gear, what to pack for a road trip, and essential camping gear for all my favorite gear picks and tips to make packing for your trip a breeze!

Wildlife on the Glacier National Park Highline Trail

The Highline Trail is one of the best routes for spotting wildlife in Glacier National Park. This popular trail is best known for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, and deer

You’ll have a better chance of seeing grizzly bears, black bears, and moose in the Many Glacier area. However, it’s still essential to carry bear spray when hiking the Highline Trail.

A marmot sits on a rock in Glacier National Park.
A bighorn sheep stands on the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park.

To help you be prepared for any animal encounters you may have on the Highline Trail, here are a few tips:

  • While animals are fun to photograph and look at, keep your distance. You should stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards away from all other wildlife. Bring binoculars instead to get a closer look. 
  • Make plenty of noise by loudly talking or singing in areas of dense brush or trees. Making noise alerts nearby animals of your presence. Over the years, animals have learned to recognize human voices and steer clear.
  • Leave the bear bells at home. Multiple Glacier National Park rangers told us that these don’t work. They don’t carry as far as the human voice and can spark a bear’s curiosity since they don’t always associate bells with humans.
  • Remain calm and slowly back away during an animal encounter. Wait for the animal to pass before continuing along the trail, and don’t make sudden movements.
  • Keep your bear spray in an easily accessible location. While it’s unlikely you’ll need to use it, you always want to have your bear spray accessible within 1-2 seconds. Most bear spray canisters come with a sleeve that clips to your hip or the front of your pack with a carabiner.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Glacier Highline Trail

Where is the High Line Trail?

The Highline Trail starts across Going-to-the-Sun Road from the Logan Pass Visitor Center, where you’ll park. Then, the trail continues one way, ending nearly 12 miles northwest at The Loop along Going-to-the-Sun Road.

How long does it take to hike the Highline Trail?

Hiking the Highline Trail takes roughly 6 to 7 hours when hiked one way from Logan Pass Visitor Center to The Loop. Plan to spend your entire day out on the Highline Trail.

How long is the Highline Trail round trip?

The Highline Trail is roughly 24 miles when hiked round trip in its entirety from Logan Pass to The Loop and back. However, most hikers who choose to hike the trail round trip instead of one-way only make it to Haystack Pass (~ 7 miles round trip) or Granite Park Chalet (~ 15 miles round trip).

Is the Highline Trail worth it?

The Highline Trail is a popular hike in Glacier National Park for those looking for an all-day adventure. It offers excellent viewpoints, opportunities to see wildlife, and stunning scenery. If you’re looking for a sampler of all Glacier National Park offers, don’t miss the Highline Trail!

Is the Highline Trail scary?

While some steep sections with sheer drop-offs at the start of the trail may worry those with a fear of heights, the Highline Trail is not scary. This single section of the Highline Trail near the Logan Pass trailhead is a bit narrow but provides a hand cable for hikers to hold on to, making it safe to hike. 

When does the Highline Trail open?

The Highline Trail is only accessible when Going-to-the-Sun Road is open at Logan Pass, typically from late June to early September. To see the latest Highline Trail status and Highline Trail opening dates, check the Glacier National Park Current Conditions.

Final Thoughts on the Highline Trail Glacier National Park

The Highline Trail is the perfect sampler of Glacier National Park and a hike that belongs on every national park lover’s bucket list.

Looking for more things to do in Glacier National Park? Check out these posts:

Don’t miss the best sights in Glacier on your upcoming trip! This free, printable guide to Going-to-the-Sun Road covers all the best points of interest, tips for avoiding crowds along Glacier’s best scenic drive, and an exclusive map!

Download your free Going-to-the-Sun Road guide here.

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