The Highline Trail
Glacier National Park

by Linden B. (Lindy) Sisk

This file was originally written after a trip in 1999.

If you read my page on the Grinnell Glacier, you may recall in the pictures that behind the glacier was an immense, high, rock wall.  This wall is called the Garden Wall.  It is oriented roughly north to south, and rises around 3,000 feet above the glacier.  This made me curious as to what the other side of that wall looks like.  Looking at the map, I could see a trail, the Highline Trail, on the other side of the wall.

My hiking guide indicated that it was very scenic.  The trail runs from Logan Pass to Granite Park.  There is a campground at Granite Park, but it's reserved for people doing multi-day trips into the backcountry in the northern part of the park, which I didn't really want to do.

The Highline Trail intersects at Granite Park with the Loop Trail, and it is possible to do the Highline Trail, then ascend the Loop Trail to the Going-to-the-Sun Road as a dayhike, catching a shuttle bus back to Logan Pass.  But there turns out to be another option - the Granite Park Chalet, closed in 1996 for renovations, has re-opened.

The Chalet, two buildings (a third shown in the picture below is just used for storage), has rooms for rent at $60 per night per person.  There is no meal service, but there is a fully-equipped kitchen where one can cook food one has carried in, or they will sell you dehydrated backpacking meals to prepare yourself.  The kitchen has a restaurant-style propane stove with about 12 burners, so several people can use it simultaneously.  Propane and other supplies are brought in by mule train, and non-burnable trash is packed out.

This is the chalet.  It was built early in the century, and operated as a full-service hotel in the backcountry for many years.  In 1967, the campground near the chalet  was the site of a fatal bear attack in which a 19-year old girl was killed by a grizzly, one of two attacks featured in the book (and I think a movie) entitled The Night of the Grizzlies. The attack was facilitated by people at the chalet putting out garbage for bears to eat, a highly-popular spectator sport.  These incidents caused a radical revision of policies toward the bears.

(For the seriously decadent, there is the Sperry Chalet, on the Sprague Creek trail, which has also re-opened in 1999, but as a full-service hotel.  So, a backcountry stay is possible without carrying anything other than a light daypack.)

I called the company which managages the Chalet, and managed to get a reservation.  I parked the truck in the parking lot at the Logan Pass Visitor Center and started down the trail.  It is fantastic.

A short way down the trail, I encountered a mountain goat family.  They were coming down the trail toward me, so I quietly stepped out of the way, and they passed right by me.  This picture was taken after they passed, and were watching me to make sure I wasn't a threat.

That's the Garden Wall in the background.

The trail wanders northward at about the elevation of Logan Pass, until it gets near Haystack Butte.  The pass between the Garden Wall and Haystack Butte, shown here, rises nearly 1200 feet in elevation, to around 8000 feet.  Then it gradually descends back to the elevation of Logan Park, so you get a total elevation change of 2400 feet.  Nice aerobic workout, if you need one.  The trail is 11.8 miles from Logan Pass to Granite Park.  I took about 5 hours to make the trip carrying a daypack, but I wasn't in any hurry, and I took a long lunch break in sight of the chalet, because I wasn't in any hurry to get to the end of the trail, for reasons which should be intuitively obvious to the most casual observer.  I took me about 4 hours going the other way.

This is a hoary marmot, perched on a rock right by the trailside.  There was also a ptarmigan family near the trail in the first few miles.

Some of the hikers in this picture are not carrying anything other than the clothes on their backs.  This is a very bad idea.  They are miles from a road and any realistic shelter, with no rain gear, and a sudden storm could kill them from hypothermia.  However, the people who come in to evacuate their bodies will get to see pretty country.

The lake in the center rear of the picture above is Lake McDonald, about 10 miles away.

This fairy flat, grassy, forested area with streams and lakes is to the south of the chalet, and really does look like a park.

This is the Garden Wall.  The vertical wall just to the left of the center has Grinnell Glacier on the other side of it.  That's the moon rising in the center of the picture.


All during this trip, I had trouble going to bed when the sky was clear.  The sunsets, which occurred as late as after one in the morning in Alaska, were fantastic, and it was a treat to see the night sky.  The stars were amazing at Granite Park, and we even got to see a bit of the northern lights.  They were very faint - all that I really got to see was a faint, greenish tinted column in the northern sky.  I'd really love to see more.

Sunrise, looking to the west, from the porch of the chalet

Hiking out the next morning, I found the "hanging valley" to the south very interesting.  A "hanging valley" is one created by a glacier, which scooped out that semi-flat area with snow on it in the center of the picture, but there is no valley floor, as such.  Very faintly, because it's in the shadow, there is a waterfall barely visible in the center of the picture where the runoff from the melting snow goes down into the lower valley.  It's looks like a great place to go hang out and do some off-trail hiking.

The park discourages camping outside of designated campsites, and with good reason, to minimize wear and to control the number of people in the park.  Other places are probably better suited for that.

Hiking out, I came upon a couple who had spent the night in the chalet, chatting with a day hiker, and observing a young grizzly just above the trail we were walking down.  We watched him for a while, then decided to slowly walk down the trail, keeping our eye on the bear, and making a lot of noise.  As we approached the bear, he moved up above the trail, and we passed about 150 feet from him.  He was digging for food - most of the Glacier grizzly diet is vegetarian - and paid us not the slightest bit of attention, though he certainly knew we were there.

Most incidents with bears come from not making enough noise, surprising a bear on the trail or in heavy vegetation.  Bears, like people, don't like surprises, and may react badly to them.  But they don't really want to interact with people in most cases, and given enough warning, will usually move away.  Two caveats: never approach a sow with cubs, or a bear feeding from an animal carcass.  Both are quick tickets to the morgue.

And now for a little humor.  The sign below, at the exit to an RV park in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was obviously intended as a reminder for forgetful male RV drivers.

Copyright 1999, 2011 by Linden B. Sisk
All rights reserved