Glacier National Park is one of the best hiking destinations in the United States. And the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park perfectly embodies its wild, natural beauty. In fact, 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 hike suitable for most fitness levels.
Only have a few days in Glacier National Park? Hiking the Highline Trail should be at the top of your Glacier National Park bucket list.
Table of Contents
Getting to Glacier National Park
Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Montana is the closest airport. From Kalispell, you’re only 30 minutes away from the entrance to Glacier National Park!
The best way to get around Glacier National Park is by car. Glacier Park airport has a few options for renting a car.
I don’t recommend driving your RV or van around Glacier National Park. The main road through the park, Going-to-the-Sun Road, does not allow vehicles longer than 21 feet. Consider leaving your RV or van at a nearby campsite and renting a car for day trips into the park instead.
Glacier National Park offers a free shuttle service along Going-to-the-Sun Road. This shuttle will come in handy as the Highline Trail is a one-way hike (more on that in a minute!), but I don’t recommend relying on it to get to the trailhead.
For more specifics on the Glacier National Park shuttle, check out the detailed guide to Glacier National Park.
Best Places to Stay in Glacier National Park Near the Highline Trail
Glacier National Park has it all: lodges, hike-in cabins, and campgrounds.
Staying at Glacier National Park’s In-Park Lodges
The in-park lodges are by far the most sought-after accommodations in Glacier National Park. To be closest to the trailhead, stay at either the rustic Rising Sun Motor Inn near St. Mary Lake or the swiss-style Lake McDonald Lodge.
To book a stay at one of the in-demand park lodges, aim to book a year in advance.
Staying at the Granite Park Chalet
The Granite Park Chalet is one of only two Glacier National Park backcountry cabins. If you want to spend the night along the Highline Trail, the Granite Park Chalet is the perfect option. The Granite Park Chalet is about midway between The Loop and Logan Pass along the Highline Trail.
Here you’ll find pit toiletries, freeze-dried food for sale, and bottled water. It’s perfect for hikers looking for a taste of the backcountry without having to haul a tent.
Reservations open at the beginning of January for the Summer. Reservations fill up in the first hour, so be sure to request as soon as they open.
Camping in Glacier National Park
Campgrounds are the best place to stay in Glacier National Park for budget travelers. Plus, staying at campgrounds gives you a huge advantage: you’re closer to the trailheads!
I recommend booking a spot at St. Mary campground, one of the few in the park that accepts reservations. Book a site when they are released, 6 months in advance.
Other nearby campgrounds are first-come, first-served. Use the Glacier National Park Campground Status Tracker to track historical fill times and find a spot. The closest first-come, first-served campgrounds are Sprague Creek, Avalanche, or Rising Sun.
What to Pack for Hiking the Highline Trail
- Layers – Mornings on the Highline Trail will be cool and foggy, but as you hike, the fog will burn off, leaving much of the trail hot and exposed. Pack moisture-wicking hiking shirts and warm fleece layers to keep you comfortable all day.
- Rain Jacket – In the summer, it rains an average of 17 days per month. While it might just be a light, quick shower, it’s best to be prepared and always carry a rain jacket or poncho.
- Hiking Boots – The Highline Trail is long. You’ll want sturdy, comfortable hiking boots with solid traction. Don’t forget to break in your shoes before bringing them to Glacier!
- Merino Wool Socks – Good hiking boots don’t mean anything if you have crappy socks. Always opt for merino wool socks. They might be a bit expensive, but they will last a long time, keep your feet dry, and protect you from blisters.
- Hiking Backpack and the 10 Essentials – It’s important to carry safety gear every time you hike. That’s particularly true for long trails like the Highline Trail. Be sure to pack the 10 hiking essentials and bring a hiking backpack with plenty of room for water and extra gear.
- Sun Hat and Sunscreen – Much of the Highline Trail is unshaded, so it’s important to protect yourself from the sun. Sunscreen is obviously essential, but a sun hat will go a long way towards protecting you from sunburn too.
- Camera – You’ll want to capture every view in Glacier National Park, but how you do that is up to you. Today, even an iPhone will do. If you do choose to travel with a DSLR camera, I highly recommend investing in a sturdy camera clip to secure your camera to your hiking backpack. Also, consider packing a telephoto lens to capture Glacier’s wildlife from a safe distance.
- Binoculars – Don’t miss any of Glacier’s wildlife – pack binoculars! They don’t have to be fancy, just any pair that will help you feel close to the creatures without actually having to be close.
- Bear spray – Bear Spray is an essential safety item for hiking in Glacier National Park. Similar to pepper spray, it’s used on bears in emergency situations. Bear spray can’t go on planes, even in your checked baggage. I recommend renting bear spray at the airport or checking with your lodging/host as they may provide it. It can also be purchased at any outdoor store in the area.
Hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park
Trailhead: Logan Pass Visitor Center
Distance: 13.6 miles (only 11.8 miles without Grinnell Glacier Overlook)
Elevation Gain: 1,700 feet (only 800 feet without Grinnell Glacier Overlook)
Highest Elevation: 7,550 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous (only moderate without Grinnell Glacier Overlook)
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.
Highline Trail Logistics
Hiking the Highline Trail as a one-way trail from Logan Pass to The Loop makes for a mostly flat or downhill hike. But this does require a bit more coordination. You have a couple of different options for transportation:
- Utilize the free Glacier National Park shuttle. The shuttle operates along Going-to-the-Sun Road and connects The Loop and Logan Pass. Park at the Logan Pass Visitor Center before 8 AM and start your hike here. When you end your hike at The Loop, you’ll take the shuttle back to Logan Pass. If you’re in a group, have one person take the shuttle to retrieve the car and come back to pick everyone else up at The Loop.
- Park one car at each end of the trail. This is easily done if you are in a group with two cars. You’ll want to park a car at The Loop first, then carpool to Logan Pass Visitor Center. Get started early though as you’ll want to make sure you get a spot at Logan Pass by 8 AM at the latest. The lot usually fills shortly after 8 AM.
- Arrange for family or friends to pick you up at The Loop. This is a great 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.
Logan Pass to Haystack Pass
As soon as you step across Going-to-the-Sun Road, you’ll begin the ascent. After a short distance, Going-to-the-Sun Road will seem like a tiny, winding line below you.
The first section of this hike is the most intimidating. 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.
This part of the trail sometimes deters hikers that are afraid of heights. But don’t let it! I am terrified of heights and powered through and tried not to look down. The rest of the hike is a cakewalk if you can conquer that!
As you continue along the Highline Trail, you’ll be greeted with expansive 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 stunning views of Mt. Oberlin, Mt. Cannon, and the U-shaped valley – the signature of glacially carved land.
This valley is one of the best places to spot marmots and mountain goats. Just remember to keep your distance from all wildlife in Glacier National Park! I recommend bringing binoculars if you want a closer look.
After passing through the valley, about 4 miles into your hike, you’ll make the climb up switchbacks to the other side of the valley atop Haystack Pass.
Grinnell Glacier Overlook (aka “The Garden Wall”)
For the next 2.5 miles, the Highline Trail closely hugs the side of the mountain range. This area is often referred to as The Garden Wall. You continue to see expansive views of the Lake McDonald Valley and the surrounding mountain peaks. You’ll even pass by a few small waterfalls!
About 6.5 miles into the Highline Trail, you’ll reach the optional trail to Grinnell Glacier Overlook. This trail 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. Will you be out of breath the entire time? YES. Is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY.
The viewpoint from the top overlooks Lake McDonald Valley to the west and Many Glacier to the east. Below, you’ll see not one, but TWO glaciers: Salamander and Grinnell. The hike to Grinnell Glacier starting at the Many Glacier Hotel ends at Upper Grinnell Lake, directly below this viewpoint.
From here you can see 6 lakes: Upper Grinnell, Lower Grinnell, Josephine, Swiftcurrent, Sherburne, and Lake McDonald. This is 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. This is the ridgeline along the Rocky Mountains where water flows in different directions. To the west, the water flows towards the Pacific Ocean. To the east, water flows to the Atlantic Ocean. Pretty cool right?
Granite Park Chalet
As you make your way down from Grinnell Glacier Overlook and continue along the Highline Trail, you’ll reach the Granite Park Chalet.
The Granite Park Chalet is one of only two hike-in, hike-out lodges in Glacier National Park. This lodge has guest cabins with basic amenities, like pit toilets, bottled water, and freeze-dried food for sale. This is the perfect place to break up the hike and spend a night for those who want a taste of the backcountry.
If you’re hiking the Highline Trail in one day, the Granite Park Chalet is a great spot to take a bathroom break and buy some water and snacks if you need them. From Granite Park Chalet, the rest of the trail to The Loop is downhill.
Descent to the Loop
The trail to The Loop is entirely downhill and relatively uneventful compared to the rest of the Highline Trail. You’ll pass through barren remains of a pine forest.
This area was heavily burned in the 2003 Trapper Creek Fire, which was ignited by a lightning strike. Although the area has undergrowth and wildflowers, the lack of trees makes for a hot, sunny hike. Be sure you have plenty of water before leaving Granite Park Chalet.
Due to the thick brush and undergrowth, you’ll want to make plenty of noise to alert bears of your presence along this portion of the trail. Talk loudly or sing – human voices carry! And always carry a canister of bear spray. For more on bear safety, read the wildlife safety section below.
As you descend towards The Loop, you’ll see the prominent Heavens Peak in the distance. This is the highest peak in Glacier National Park!
About 4 miles after leaving Granite Park Chalet, you’ll reach The Loop and Going-to-the-Sun Road. Depending on the transportation option you choose, you may need to wait for the shuttle at The Loop to take you back to Logan Pass.
Highline Trail Map
It’s incredibly important to take a physical trail map or download a digital map before hiking the Highline Trail. For digital maps, I recommend downloading offline via AllTrails Pro or on Google Maps.
To download a Google Map offline, simply go to your Google Maps app, then Account > Offline Maps > Select Your Own Map to download the region.
Heads up – this map does not include the side trail up to the Garden Wall. Plan to add another 2 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation to your hike with this trail add-on.
Important Tips for Hiking the Highline Trail
- The Highline Trail begins at Logan Pass Visitor Center. Arrive at the trailhead early, particularly at popular trailheads like this one. Plan to start your Highline Trail hike by 8 AM to guarantee a parking spot and avoid crowds. The lot usually fills shortly after 8 AM.
- The Highline Trail can only be hiked from late June to early September. Going-to-the-Sun Road around Logan Pass is closed Fall through Spring due to snowfall.
- Since this is a one-way hike, you’ll need to take the free Glacier National Park shuttle back from The Loop to Logan Pass Visitor Center. Shuttles tend to get crowded in the afternoon, so expect to wait to board a shuttle until there is room. Bring plenty of water and snacks to stay energized after your hike!
- Always check trail status before hiking in Glacier National Park. For the latest updates, refer to the Glacier National Park website.
- Glacier National Park requires visitors to purchase a pass to enter the park. The Glacier National Park 7-day pass allows for unlimited entries for a week for only $35. If you plan to visit more than one national park in a year, the America the Beautiful pass is a great investment. For only $80, you get unlimited access to any national park for a full year!
Glacier National Park Wildlife Safety
Glacier National Park is renowned for its wildlife. You’ll see so many different types of animals: grizzly bears, black bears, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, deer!
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 (don’t forget your binoculars!), be sure to 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.
- Most animals want to mind their own business. As you hike, make plenty of noise by loudly talking or singing to alert 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 actually spark a bear’s curiosity since they don’t always associate bells with humans.
- If you do find yourself face to face with wildlife in Glacier National Park, remain calm and slowly back away. Wait for the animal to pass before continuing along the trail and don’t make any sudden movements.
- Although it is unlikely that you will need it, keep your bear spray in an easily accessible location. If you do need to use it, you’ll need to have it ready in 1-2 seconds. Most bear spray canisters come with a sleeve that can be clipped to your hip or the front of your pack with a carabiner. And make sure you know how to use the bear spray!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The Highline Trail from Logan Pass Visitor Center to The Loop is an 11.8-mile hike. With the additional trail to Grinnell Glacier Overlook, the hike is 13.6 miles.
Hiking the Highline Trail one-way from Logan Pass Visitor Center to The Loop is a moderate hike. With little elevation gain, the difficulty comes from the sheer distance of the hike (roughly 12 miles).
If you add the Grinnell Glacier Overlook trail up to the Garden Wall, the hike becomes strenuous due to intense elevation gain.
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 hiking the Highline Trail.
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 check on the status of Going-to-the-Sun Road and the Highline Trail, check the Glacier National Park Current Conditions.
Granite Park Chalet sells packaged snacks, freeze-dried meals, and bottled beverages and water. Unlike other lodges or chalets in the park, Granite Park Chalet does not have a full kitchen or meal service.
The only potable water here is bottled water. If you choose to collect water from nearby streams, it will need to be treated before drinking.
Pets are allowed in developed areas of Glacier National Park, such as campgrounds, picnic areas, and parking lots. But pets are not allowed on any trail or inside any buildings, including visitor centers. For more information on pets in Glacier National Park, refer to the Glacier National Park pet webpage.
The two essential hikes in Glacier National Park are the Highline Trail from Logan Pass and Grinnell Glacier from Many Glacier. These two hikes take you to some of the best views in the park and allow you to see the park’s namesake glaciers up close.
If you’re only in Glacier National Park for a day, you must drive Going-to-the-Sun Road. With over 20 photo-worthy stops, it’s the perfect way to get a taste of the park without much time.
More Tips for Your Trip to Glacier
My goal at Well Planned Journey is to help you plan epic national park adventures with detailed guides and itineraries!
Check out some of my other resources to help you plan your trip to Glacier National Park!
>> More Ideas for Glacier National Park:
- Glacier National Park 3-Day Itinerary
- Glacier National Park 7-Day Itinerary
- Ultimate Guide to Glacier National Park
- Best Hikes in Glacier National Park
- The Complete Guide to Going-to-the-Sun Road
>> More National Park Inspiration:
>> Pack the Right gear: