In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before hiking the Highline Trail at Glacier National Park, including your route options, what to bring, our trail experience, and more!
A few years ago, when planning a possible trip to Glacier National Park we came across a trail called the Highline Trail. We read that it was not only one of the most beautiful trails in the park, but quite possibly one of the most beautiful trails in the United States. And we couldn’t agree more.
We finally made it to Glacier National Park in August 2020 and at the top of our list was to hike the Highline Trail. As we inched closer and closer to our trip, we kept seeing the trail’s status as “closed,” which had us a bit worried, but finally, just a week before we arrived, the trail was opened for the season and we were so pumped for the opportunity to finally hike it.
The morning of our hike, we arrived at Logan Pass around 5:30 AM, took a quick car nap, and hit the trail right at sunrise. And for the next 15 miles and 8 hours we were treated to some of the most magical views we have ever seen. Watch our experience!
While the hike was long and we were exhausted by the end, it quickly became our favorite hike that we have done in the United States. And we are so excited for you to experience this trail for yourself!
In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before hiking the Highline Trail, including the different route options you have, what you should bring with you, when to hike the trail, our experience, and more!
Important update about the Going-to-the-Sun Road
Between May 27-September 11, 2022 from the hours of 6 AM-4 PM MDT, you are required to have a reservation to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road. You can either reserve a pass to drive the road (valid for 3 days) or will have a pass included if you’re staying at certain lodging inside the park or have specific tours booked.
In normal years there would be a way around this by arriving before 6 AM (which we would recommend anyways to beat the crowds), but due to road construction happening on the road from 10 PM-6 AM every night, the road is closed during that time period. However, you can still enter the park after 4 PM without a reservation and still be able to drive the road and maybe do a short hike, but you likely wouldn’t have time for the entire Highline Trail.
You can find out more details on how to get your pass here. This new requirement heavily impacts this guide, as the Highline Trail begins on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Read more Glacier National Park Guides
Looking for where to stay, what to eat, and more things to do at Glacier National Park? Check out our 4 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary!
Do you want to drive one of the most epic roads ever?! Take a look at our Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road guide!
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
- About Glacier National Park
- Why hike the Highline Trail?
- Highline Trail Route Options
- Highline Trail Stats
- When to hike the Highline Trail
- What to bring on your hike
- Things to know before hiking the Highline Trail
- About the Highline Trail
- Hiking back via Granite Park Trail
- How long does the Highline Trail take?
- Where to eat after hiking the Highline Trail
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park became the United State’s 8th National Park in 1910 and is located in northwestern Montana, right on the border of Canada. In fact, the park, combined with Waterton Lakes, which is right across the border on the Canadian side, became the first international peace park in 1932.
Together, Glacier and Waterton Lakes are often referred to as the “Crown of the Continent” because they sit at the headwaters of streams that flow into the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay.
By itself, Glacier National Park encompasses over 1 million acres and is home to 762 lakes, most of which are unnamed, beautiful mountain views, waterfalls, and 26 named glaciers, all of which are shrinking in size.
Despite not being fully open the majority of the year, Glacier is the 10th most visited National Park in the United States, with 3 million visitors annually. The park is absolutely magnificent and there is no doubt as to why millions flock to it every year.
Note: it costs $35 per vehicle to enter Glacier National Park, which covers 7 days. However, we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass, which is $80 per year and will get you into any National Park, monument, or forest for free.
Why hike the Highline Trail?
Where do we start?! Epic views, icy blue glaciers, giant mountains, seeing wildlife up close, historic mountain chalets…the list goes on! If those are some of your favorite things, then the Highline Trail is what you’re looking for!
As we mentioned above, this is now hands down our favorite hike in the United States (so far!) and it is absolutely one of the most popular hikes in the park and with good reason. You have postcard views 100% of the time!
Even from the parking lot at Logan Pass, you’ll have to pick your jaw up from off the ground. There is honestly no part of the hike where you don’t have an incredible view of either the Going-to-the-Sun Road, mountain peaks, a glacier, meadows, wildflowers, and if you’re lucky, wildlife. While the hike is long, the views will absolutely take your mind off the strenuousness!
Highline Trail Route Options
When it comes to hiking the Highline Trail, you have quite a few options. You can either start and end in the same spot, or start and end in different spots. On top of where to start and end, you also have options of what to hike to.
When we were planning, we felt a bit overwhelmed and confused by the options. So to try to make it easy to understand, here are your options!
Where to start and end
Option #1: Take the Highline Trail from Logan Pass to either the Grinnell Glacier Overlook and/or Granite Park Chalet and take the Highline Trail back to Logan Pass.
Option #2: Take the Highline Trail from Logan Pass to either the Grinnell Glacier Overlook and/or Granite Park Chalet and take the Granite Park Trail back to the Loop.
If you do option #2 you’ll need to take the free park shuttle to Logan Pass after finishing the hike to get back to your car OR you’ll need to park a car at both trailheads. When we visited in August 2020, this was not an option for us due to the shuttle not running, so make sure to check the shuttle status and schedule in advance!
Because the shuttles were not running, we ended up hiking the Highline Trail both ways. However, we would’ve loved to hike the Granite Park trail back to the Loop if it had been easily possible, just so we could’ve seen different scenery on the way back!
Where to hike to
Note: You can hike further than these spots, but these are the most common turnaround points, especially for a day hike. You can also turn around well before these points and still see a lot of beauty!
Option #1: Grinnell Glacier Overlook. This spot overlooks the Grinnell Glacier, which is accessible from the east side of the park and has views of both upper and lower Grinnell Lake’s bright blue water, as well as views of Lake Josephine and Lake Sherburne. Hiking up here is strenuous, but as soon as you reach the top and look down to the view, you’ll instantly be glad you made the trek!
Option #2: Granite Park Chalet. This chalet was built in 1914 and 1915 by the Great Northern Railway and offers more comfortable lodging than tent camping up in the mountains! They also sell snacks, water, and have restrooms. The chalet reminds us of the refugios in Italy!
Option #3: Both!
During our trip, we hiked to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. We had intended to hike to the Granite Park Chalet as well, but ran out of time. If you only have time for one final destination, we highly recommend going to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook! The views from here are jaw dropping and while the chalet looks really neat, the Grinnell Glacier Overlook will make the long miles and hours totally worth it.
This guide’s focus
For this guide we’re going to focus on our experience hiking the Highline Trail both ways and include tips and stats for hiking to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook, the Granite Park Chalet, or both.
Since we didn’t hike the Granite Park trail to the Loop, we cannot speak to that trail, but we will try to provide as many tips as we can in case you decide to try that option. We hope to try that route next time!
Highline Trail Stats
Based on the different options we outlined above, here is the mileage and elevation changes for the different destination combinations you can choose from for your Highline Trail adventure!
Regardless of the option you choose, the mileage is pretty long for a day hike, but trust us, it is worth it! As we stated above, you can turn around at any point if it gets to be too long and you will have seen lots of beauty.
Note: These roundtrip miles are for taking the Highline Trail both directions. We will share some mileage for going back the Granite Park trail (to the Loop) at the end of this guide!
Hiking to the Granite Park Chalet (AllTrails map): 14.9 miles, 2,578 ft of elevation gain
Hiking to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook (AllTrails map): 15.2 miles (according to the park’s map, but 14.7 according to AllTrails), 3,507 ft of elevation gain
Hiking to both the Granite Park Chalet and Grinnell Glacier Overlook (AllTrails map): 16.5 miles, 3,491 ft of elevation gain
When to hike the Highline Trail
There are a couple major factors that determine when you can hike the Highline Trail. First, the Going-to-the-Sun Road needs to be open. And second, the Highline Trail itself needs to be open.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road, which you take up to Logan Pass, does not have set dates for opening for the season, but it’s typically open between late June or early July to late September or early October. You can see previous open and close dates here to get a better idea of when it typically opens and closes. Learn more about the Going-to-the-Sun Road!
The Highline Trail typically opens later than the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but the date varies every year. You can check the trail status here before your trip to make sure that it’ll be open for you. A safe bet is to expect it to open mid to late July and stay open through September. But early fall snow storms can occur, closing the trail.
With all of that said, we’d suggest planning a trip between late July-mid September to give you the best chance of being able to hike the trail. However, one thing to keep in mind is that in the summer, wildfire smoke can obscure views a bit, so if you visit in the late summer, you may experience some hazier skies.
What if you visit and the Highline Trail isn’t open yet? You still have options! You can instead hike the Granite Park Trail (from the Loop) to either of the end destinations and back. While you won’t get to experience the Highline Trail, you’ll still get to see some of the sights! Make sure to check trail conditions beforehand to ensure it’s safe to hike.
What to bring on your hike
As always, we recommend having the 10 essentials on you when doing any hike, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you during this hike!
It is pretty common to see either a black bear or a grizzly bear on the Highline Trail (we unfortunately/fortunately did not). It is crucial to carry bear spray in the park just in case you encounter a bear and it starts to get aggressive. You can rent this from Glacier Outfitters in West Glacier if you’re flying in.
We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map for the route you’re hiking before you go. There is no cell service in the park and it’s helpful to track your progress on the trail, as well as verify the route if needed. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to download maps, which is $30 a year and so worth it!
Our hike started off cool in the morning, warmer midway through, and then really cold and windy at the top of the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. It even got cloudy for a bit and we thought it may storm. Make sure you have a few different layers for different weather conditions!
This is a long hike and you will get hungry! Make sure you bring snacks and food to keep you fueled during the trek. But even more importantly, make sure you have bags to put your trash in so you can pack out what you brought.
The Highline Trail is very exposed, so if you go on a warm and sunny day, you’ll get lots of sun!
Lots of water
We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink while moving. The Granite Park Chalet sells water in case you’re running low and need more for the hike back.
Things to know before hiking the Highline Trail
Before we share a bit more about the actual trail and our experience, we have a few more tips for hiking the Highline Trail to help ensure you have a fun and safe time.
Get to the park early! We always recommend getting anywhere early, but if you want to enjoy some solitude, shoot for arriving by 7 AM at the latest. We started the hike right at sunrise and hardly encountered anyone until the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.
Visit during the week. Weekdays are a lot less busy at the park and can be more enjoyable.
Be bear (and wildlife) aware. As we mentioned above, both black and grizzly bears (the more aggressive of the two) both call Glacier National Park home. While attacks are very uncommon, there is a good chance you will see a bear at the park (we saw two black bears from the car), so please review what to do if you see a bear. Mountain lions, moose, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep also call the park home, so please keep your distance from them as well.
Be flexible! During our trip to Glacier we couldn’t hike two popular trails that we were excited about due to bear activity. It is pretty common for trails to close due to grizzlies, which is for everyone’s safety, so we appreciated it, so be prepared to have plans change and make sure to have back up options!
Dogs are not allowed! Just like the other National Parks, dogs are not allowed outside of parking areas and campgrounds at Glacier National Park. Traveling with your dog? Learn what we do with Kona if she cannot join us during our travels. For this trip, Kona stayed at Columbia Mountain Kennels.
About the Highline Trail
Now that we have shared info about the routes, when to hike the trail, what to bring, our top tips, and more, we’re going to dive into our experience on the trail! We hope this gives you a better idea of what to expect. You can also watch our experience!
Starting the trail
We hiked the Highline Trail on Thursday, August 6, 2020 and arrived at Logan Pass at around 5:30 AM to begin our adventure. It was still dark out and due to our fear of unexpectedly running into a grizzly in the dark, we took a quick power nap in the car, filled up our water at the visitor center, went to the restroom, and then hit the trail around 6 AM when it was starting to get light out.
We had visited Logan Pass the day before and knew that we’d be totally fine for parking this early, but we hear the parking lot starts to fill up by 8 AM. If you take away anything from this guide, besides carrying bear spray, please let it be to start early! This will not only give you plenty of time to enjoy the hike, but also give you much more solitude.
The trailhead is right across the street from the Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot and once you cross the street, your journey begins! You go through some meadowy areas to start off with and here is where we caught our first glimpse of wildlife here, a mountain goat! He was just chillin’ behind a rock without any concern about us.
Shortly after this area you come across a famous feature of the Highline Trail, a narrow rocky ledge that overlooks the Going-to-the-Sun road. We had seen photos of this spot beforehand and it looked scary, but it was a lot wider in real life. If you hate heights, you may not like it, but they did install some cables to hold onto if you’re nervous. Once you get past this section, the more standard trail begins!
Middle portion of the trail
After the exposed ledge, the trail has a bit more vegetation, while still being exposed. Once we saw what little tree coverage there was on the trail, we were so happy we started early and got a cloudier day because it would get hot very quickly. But the lack of coverage means you get tons of views of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, as well as further off in the distance. As we said before, the hike is like an endless postcard!
One thing we didn’t expect, but absolutely loved about this trail, especially the beginning portion, were all of the wildflowers! We saw so many different colors and types and it made the trail extra beautiful. We wish we had a nifty wildflower book with us so we could have identified them! You’ll also pass by some rockier walls on the trail with water dripping down them, which is pretty cool!
The first 3 miles or so of the trail are pretty easy and feel relatively flat, but then things start to get a bit steeper, as you climb up a rockier and exposed area, with the first big switchback of the hike. This is a great stop to take a break and grab a snack, as there are lots of rocks to sit on. We even saw 2 deer here!
After leaving this area, you start to get some different views of mountains off in the distance and even of Lake McDonald! The hike continues to feel pretty steady and not too challenging, with no huge inclines or declines in elevation. And you start to curve a bit more around the mountains, giving you different views around the corner.
For the first 6 miles or so, we hardly saw any other humans (perks of starting early!) and usually they were off in the distance, which was amazing! But we did see some furry friends! We had lots of cute marmots join us on the trail, a mountain goat or two, and even a couple more deer. While a lot of folks report seeing bears, we did not see any, which we were kind of thankful about. However, we did see one after finishing the trail, which was really cool!
Grinnell Glacier Overlook
After 6.4 miles of beauty and wildlife on the Highline Trail, you will reach a junction. To the left, you can go to the Granite Park Chalet and to the right you can take the Garden Wall trail to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. We highly recommend doing both, but suggest starting with the Grinnell Glacier Overlook just in case you later decide you only have the time or energy for one. The overlook is absolutely breathtaking and is a must do in our opinion!
However, the trek to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook is a doozy. While only 0.6 miles (AllTrails says 0.9 miles though), you gain about 1,000 feet in elevation. It is super steep and challenging. We had read that it was, but it was honestly one of the toughest stretches of trail we have ever hiked. But do not turn back, it WILL be worth it!
We slowly made our way up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook (it took us 35 minutes), making quite a few stops, cursing a little, and being convinced it was much longer than 0.6 miles, but when we finally reached the top, we were speechless!
You are greeted with gorgeous views of the Grinnell Glacier, gatorade blue glacial lakes, and a couple lakes off in the distance. “WOW!” is the best way to describe it! There are some spots to sit on rocks and enjoy the view at the official Grinnell Glacier Overlook, but we suggest hiking up a bit further to some other rocks to see an even better view of the lakes off in the distance.
No words we could write can do this view justice, so we hope these photos below can do the trick!
After spending some time soaking up the view, maybe enjoying a snack, and taking a million photos, you’ll begin your descent down the Garden Wall Trail. We will say, coming down from the Grinnell Glacier Overlook was a lot easier than going up! But since it was busier, it took us about the same time to descend.
After merging back with the Highline Trail we suggest making your way to the Granite Park Chalet, which adds a little under a mile each way. At the chalet there are snacks and water, plus restrooms. But the chalet itself is also pretty cool! It reminds us of the refugions we saw in the Italian Dolomites and you can actually stay here (learn more about reservations here).
But if you’re feeling tired, or are short on time like we were, you can head back to Logan Pass the same way you came on the Highline Trail. (Want to hike back a different way? We will cover that in a minute!)
We had to rush a bit on the hike back due to needing to return our rental car, so we didn’t make any stops or take any breaks, except to pull over to let others safely pass us.
And while we didn’t really see many people (most were just off in the distance) on the hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook, going down was definitely busier. We saw a lot more people, but to be honest, it still wasn’t that busy, until the last mile or two. Our theory was that a lot of people just do a couple miles and turn around, which is why the end of the trail on the way back feels busy.
One other area that felt busy was coming down from the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. At that point, the 7 or 8 AM starting time crowd started to arrive and we had to pull over a lot. But once we got back onto the Highline Trail until the last couple miles, we had long stretches where we didn’t see anyone.
Minus the Grinnell Glacier Overlook and the switchback area we mentioned earlier, the trail felt relatively steady in terms of elevation gain and loss. But for some reason, whether it was the warmer temperatures or our exhaustion, the way back felt a lot longer and harder to us. It felt like we were going uphill the whole way back, when it didn’t feel like we went downhill that much on the way there.
We don’t say that to scare or deter you, but rather to prepare you for feeling a bit tired on the way back. But the excitement of the scenery you saw at the overlook, and will continue to see, will keep you going!
Once you make it back to Logan Pass you’ll feel immense gratitude for what you just experienced and likely be on a bit of a “hikers high” the rest of the day. Give yourself a big high five because you just crushed 15+ miles in one day and saw some of the most epic scenery in the lower 48!
Hiking back via Granite Park Trail
As we mentioned at the beginning of this guide, you can hike back via the Granite Park Trail to the Loop. If you do this, you’ll need to have a second car parked at this trailhead OR take the free park shuttle back to Logan Pass to get your car. Make sure to keep this in mind and make sure the shuttle is still running when you finish!
While we cannot speak to the trail, we hear going this way back is nice because you not only get different views, the trail is shorter, and you get to go by the Granite Park Chalet (included in the mileage going back!)
If you go back this way, the total distance from Logan Pass to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook to the Loop will be 14.2 miles with 5,177 ft of elevation gain.
How long does the Highline Trail take?
This definitely varies depending on your hiking speed, how many stops you make, as well as how long your stops are, but for us, hiking the Highline Trail to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook and back took about 8 hours total.
AllTrails says closer to 8.5 hours, so we suggest planning for between 8-9 hours just to be safe. If you go back via the Granite Park Trail to the Loop, it says it takes 9-9.5 hours according to AllTrails.
We recommend making the Highline Trail your only activity of the day so you have plenty of time to enjoy the hike. You’ll likely be too tired afterwards for any other big adventures except…eating!
Where to eat after hiking the Highline Trail
After crushing 14+ miles on the Highline Trail, you deserve one heck of a post-hike treat! We highly recommend swinging by the Huckleberry Patch to get some huckleberry pie a la mode (where we celebrated) or Sweet Peaks for some delicious ice cream.
And for something savory, check out The Wich Haus, Backslope Brewing, Gunsight Saloon, or The DeSoto Grill!
We hope this guide helped paint a better picture of what to expect when hiking the Highline Trail. If you decide to give it a shot, let us know (and send us photos)!
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