Hiking Highline Trail: the Number One Trail in Glacier National Park

As you can see from the videos and the previous piece on Going-to-the-Sun-Road, Glacier National Park is a must-see national park. What an exquisite gem of a national treasure we have in this amazing park! Driving Going-to-the-Sun-Road was such an adventure, and you will not want to miss it if you travel to Glacier.

Another area you absolutely have to spend some time exploring is the Highline Trail, which is the number one rated hike in the whole entire park. Read on to learn more about hiking this trail and how we survived a thrilling encounter with some wildlife along the way.

Get There Early

Fortunately, the day we had ahead of us promised some wonderful weather. The morning started off a little cool and breezy, but we enjoyed 70-degree temperatures later on in the day.

Logan Pass Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Logan Pass Glacier National Park

The Logan Pass parking lot is essentially the trailhead for the Highline Trail. You will need to be here early to have any hope of getting a parking spot. For instance, we arrived at 7:05 that morning. They then closed the parking lot by 7:30 that morning because it was already so full.

A word to the wise: plan accordingly and make sure you get up early to get a spot to park. You will not want to miss out on this hike just because you can’t find a place to park your car!

A Difficult Hike

The Highline Trail is located by Logan Pass, which has an elevation of over 6,000 feet above sea level. The app from AllTrails told us this hike was just under 15 miles long, and it was rated as a difficult hike.

Spectacular Views Hiking Highline Trail Glacier National Park
Spectacular Views Hiking Highline Trail Glacier National Park

We did indeed discover that this trail is incredibly worthy of its difficult designation on AllTrails. Quite frankly, it kicked my butt!

Us lowlanders are not accustomed to the higher elevations of the mountains, so you will want to keep this in mind as you go hiking. Bring plenty of water and make sure you rest when you need to. You may want to take food along with you to keep your energy levels up as well.

Planning Your Hike

You may choose to hike the entire 14-plus miles of trail if you would like. However, we chose to hike for about five miles or so. We strategically picked this shorter length because it happens to be the highest point of the trail. Plus, we figured that we could reach our goal by lunchtime so it would fit nicely into the day we had planned.

Spectacular Views Hiking Highline Trail Glacier National Park
Spectacular Views Hiking Highline Trail Glacier National Park

All Trails

AllTrails notes that the Highline Trail is a trail that gets a lot of foot traffic, so you won’t be alone here. However, there is more than enough space and stunning views to go around. Generally speaking, the trail is best hiked starting in June and ending somewhere around October. The weather can be unpredictable here, especially outside of the “peak” season, so you want to factor this into the timing of your own visit.

Spectacular Views Hiking Highline Trail Glacier National Park
View of Going to the Sun Road from Highline Trail Glacier National Park

We had such an amazing time on this hike during our morning here. Our very first view as we stepped onto the trail was spectacular. The mountains were so majestic, adding such a glorious backdrop to the overall view of the landscape.

Hanging by a Cable

Now, you must know that if you go hiking on the Highline Trail you will have some interesting challenges besides the higher elevation and thinner air.

For instance, at one point we hung onto a cable that was attached to a rock wall. And I am not joking! Back when the place was being developed, the workers would use this cable to get across to where they needed to go. They would actually lower themselves down to work on building the road below this area.

How fantastic—a challenging hike mixed with some fascinating history! Imagine building that road; you would enjoy amazing views but there must have been plenty of occupational hazards here in those days.

Views for Days

Spectacular Views Hiking Highline Trail Glacier National Park
Breathtaking Views Hiking Highline Trail Glacier National Park

It is worth noting that you are not going to encounter a bad view on your hike no matter when you decide to visit Glacier, since you are surrounded by pine trees and mountains. Our trip during the month of September just so happened to coincide with the first flush of fall colors spreading through the trees.

If you are lucky, you will even find yourself up in the clouds. At one point, we looked around and the clouds were scattered about the mountains. And we were looking down on the clouds below us! This is definitely something we do not get to see every day, at least here in Minnesota.

Haystack Butte

Those magnificent clouds did cover up our mountain vistas for a bit at first, though it was still quite a sight to behold. We waited them out for a bit, giving the clouds time to pass. At one point, I just wanted to belt out singing “Climb every mountain!” Seriously, the views are that good. And just watching the clouds drift on by is so relaxing.

It finally started to clear out a bit more, so we continued on our hike. We were certainly finding the hike challenging, and we hadn’t even arrived at our five-mile mark yet—we were still at the more “medium” part of the hike.

To be completely honest with you, by this point, our hike really was kicking my butt. Though in my defense I was carrying about 30 pounds of photography gear. My wife on the other hand travels more like a gazelle, so she was doing okay. We were both breathing a little harder though, simply because of that elevation difference. Remember, go a little slower if you find it difficult to catch your breath. There is no need to run a marathon here.

Lunch Break

Haystack Butte Glacier National Park
Lunchtime View Near Haystack Butte Highline Trail Glacier National Park

We did successfully make our way about 5 miles or so up along the trail, to the Saddle. This is where we took a little break and enjoyed a glorious lunch with more of those incredible mountain views that are so plentiful in Glacier National Park.

Make sure you take some time to rest up as you arrive at the highest point of the trail. The views are a wonderful excuse to stop and catch your breath or have a little snack for sustenance. Then, you can continue on for the rest of the trail or you can turn back, like we decided to do.

Encounter with a Grizzly

One of the many things that draw people to this gorgeous area is the chance of spotting lots of great wildlife. For us, that included spotting a real, live grizzly bear as we hiked back down.

Mama and Baby Grizzlies Glacier National Park. Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Grizzly Bear Encounter Glacier National Park.

We were about halfway back from our hike and our restful lunch break when we suddenly noticed about 10 to 20 people running back up the trail at us. They were yelling something, too, which turned out to be “Bear!”

That small group soon turned into a bigger group of about 50 to 75 people, all yelling “bear!” as they ran toward us. They were running for good reason—because the bear was actually running after them!

As you might imagine, we moved very quickly once we realized this. We were able to hike almost all the way back up to the Saddle section where we eventually climbed up onto the rock. We had no idea what to do!

Fortunately, the bear finally passed us on the trail. The whole group had basically scattered, because there is only a single path and there was really nowhere to go, you just had to stay on the trail.

No one was attacked or died, and for that we were grateful. Eventually, some park rangers showed up and helped us understand what we should do in the case of another bear encounter.

Sadly, I did not get any photos. I was too busy running!

Conclusion Hiking the Highline Trail

Glacier National Park is certainly a fascinating place, full of beauty and wonder. You will surely have plenty of opportunities to view wildlife if you do set out on a hike here. Our grizzly encounter was rather memorable, but I hope you don’t have a similar experience of being chased by a bear on your own Glacier adventure!  And until next time, get out and capture the adventure!

Co Author: Brittany VanDerBill – www.bvanderbillconsulting.com

 

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Hiking Highline Trail: the Number One Trail in Glacier National Park

 

 

Written by Wayne Moran - Visit Website
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