Glacier National Park – Highline Trail & the Garden Wall

Roundtrip Length: 14.1 mi
Elevation Gain: 2750 ft
Time Required: 7-8 hours
Forest Friends Found: 3 Mountain Goats
4 Bighorn Sheep
5 Ptarmigans

Peeking around Oberlin reveals the cirque and Mount Cannon

A view toward Haystack Butte from the trailhead

Highline Trail is one of the most popular all-day hikes in Glacier National Park. It starts from the perpetually crowded Logan Pass Visitor Center, smack in the middle of the picturesque Going-To-The-Sun Road.

Unfortunately, RVs are prohibited on this stretch due to the sharp corners and steep grade, but the park offers a free shuttle service that can take you to Logan Pass from either side of the park. We would have ridden the bike up, but Jackie can’t bend her knee far enough to ride without being in total agony. 

Our plan was to take the express service to Logan Pass that runs from 7am-8am, but when we arrived at 7:15 there were already too many people in line so we were forced to wait for the regular (and much slower) bus route. Your mileage may vary, but we finally started our hike around 10am. If you’re looking for the quickest way to Logan, this isn’t it.

If it looks like I am carrying a pack that is twice as large as you need for a day hike, it’s because I am

From Logan Pass, you head almost due north along the Garden Wall Divide, and the while the trail itself is flat, a sharp drop quickly develops along the left side of the trail. The main feature of the first section is Mount Oberlin, which dominates your view to the west for several miles past the trailhead.

Being well above the treeline, you are constantly treated to panoramic views of the pass as well as the surrounding peaks. The saddle between Haystack Butte and Mount Gould is periodically visible, representing the 3.5 mile marker and the high point of the hike. 

When you curl around Bishops Cap to your right you’ll start to see around Mount Oberlin for the first time, treating you to a spectacular view of the previously obscured Mount Cannon and the glacial cirque between them.

The climb to the saddle beneath Haystack Butte is the only uphill section of the Highline Trail. At the top there’s a couple large rocks that can act as decent shade while you eat a quick snack.

Eat quickly, though, there are dozens of little marmots living up here and they’re all hungry. Instead of enjoying lunch and pointing out the distance mountains on the map we spent most of our time fending off the horde with our hiking poles.

As morning turns into afternoon, the cool shade that covered most of the previous three miles has gone. On the bright side, the crowd thins out noticeably after the saddle so you’ll have the trail a bit more to yourself. Tour bus groups seem turn around at the top, for the most part. The first few miles after, the alpine meadows are teeming with life, a testament to the thinner crowds.

Another 3.5 miles past the saddle (7.0 miles from the trailhead) you’ll reach the Garden Wall Trail. On the map, it is listed as a short 0.6 mile jaunt up to a low point between Mount Grinnell and Mount Gould, overlooking Grinnell Glacier and The Salamander.   

Please do not believe everything you read. This is an unmaintained fully vertical mile of loose gravel straight from hell. After going 7 miles with a double pack, this was probably the hardest section of any trail I’ve ever done.

It was hot, steep, and incredibly worth it.  Jackie stayed at the bottom but when I got to the top I considered turning around and carrying her up to look. For me, this was the highlight of the entire hike and one of the best views I’ve seen all trip.

It’s a very long and downhill 4 miles to the end of the hike, the Loop parking area. It hit 90° F during this stretch so we were pretty tired by the end. It’s interesting to see how devastated the forest here is even almost 15 years since the fire burned most of the Granite Park area.

Smoke from the fires to the south creeping up the valley

Remnants of the 2003 forest fire

Jackie’s Trail Tip:

Don’t do this hike without two working knees, if you can help it. But if you can’t, do it anyway.

Brandon’s Trail Tip:

Climb to the top of the Garden Wall even if you really really don’t feel like it. 

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