Hiking the Highline Trail is surely on any avid hikers bucket list when visiting Glacier National Park. This rigorous trek will take visitors from Logan's Pass, along the Garden Wall and up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook all before reaching the Granite Park Chalet.
From the Granite Park Chalet outdoor enthusiasts can either double back on the path they came, covering the Continental Divide in the opposite direction, or continue on towards the Loop where the park shuttle system can return them to their vehicles.
Well regarded as one of the most spectacular hikes in the United States National Park system, hiking the Highline Trail isn't for the faint of heart!
The Highline Trail has been popularized by its iconic hand rail section near the trailhead. At times the trail is no more than three feet (1 meter) wide as winds high above Going to the Sun Road.
In this post I'm going to cover everything you should know before attempting this bucket list worthy adventure in the place known as the Crown of the Continent!
You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!
Where is the Highline Trail located?
Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana near the border with Canada. The Highline Trail is accessed from Logan's Pass which is situated near the heart of the park.
If you're staying in the town of Whitefish which sits to the west, it can take over 90 minutes to reach Logan's Pass while it takes about 1 hour to get there from the Many Glacier which sits to the east.
The Highline Trailhead is easily accessed from the Logan's Pass Parking lot. Once you've parked simply head across the street and you'll be on your way to enjoying one of the most impressive day hikes Glacier has to offer.
What to expect when hiking the Highline Trail
There are a number of reasons for tackling the Highline Trail first thing in the morning. The first of which is to secure parking at Logan's Pass which can fill up by 7:00am on the busiest mornings. This parking lot also serves the extremely popular hike to Hidden Lake.
Be sure to time out how long it takes to get to Logan's Pass from your lodging accommodations. It can take nearly two hours to get from Whitefish to Logan's Pass which means a very early wakeup call if you want to arrive by 7:00am.
When we attempted this hike we arrived at 6:30am on a week day and cars had already started trickling in.
Take an opportunity to use the restroom facilities at Logan's Pass since you won't encounter another proper bathroom until the Granite Park Chalet. The trail will get busy later in the morning and there aren't many great spots to utilize Mother Nature along the way.
Once you're ready the trailhead is located directly across Going to the Sun Road so you'll cross the street and start working towards the handrail portion of the hike.
Much has been published about this section of the trail as it's considered one of the steepest and narrowest sections of the hike. But here's a little secret.. significant sections of this hike aren't much better than this first stretch.
If you aren't great with heights this section will serve as a good litmus test on whether or not attempting the Highline Trail is a good idea. In some parts the trail is no wider than a few feet (1 meter) with an unguarded vertical drop to one side.
Now that you've been properly warned - as someone who has been iffy with heights - this really served as a fantastic opportunity for me to completely squash my remaining fears. Well, really, less a fear of heights.. and more a fear of 100+ feet vertical drops! The amount of time you'll spend with heights and steep drop offs on this day will make you much more comfortable around them going forward.
Your reward for enduring the narrow trail and steep drops will be some of the most spectacular views in all of Glacier National Park. About two miles in (3 km) the trail opens up into some flat, wide, rocky terrain that makes for a great spot to take a break and have a snack.
As you hike in the early morning hours be sure to look back at Logan's Pass and Mt. Oberlin. The views from these vistas as the sun starts to illuminate Mt. Oberlin's peak were some of my favorite across my two visits to GNP.
After a quick break we continued on, despite the vertical drops along the trail this hike doesn't have too much elevation gain.. Until you reach the Grinnell Glacier Overlook spur that is!
At around 7 miles into your trek (11 km) you'll encounter a spur that seemingly shoots straight up the side of the mountain ridge line. This is the Grinnell Glacier Overlook spur. If you've come all this way I'd recommend giving it a shot, but just know that this portion of the trail is grueling and will test your endurance.
Even though this section of the trail is only about 1 mile (1.6 km) in length, you'll quickly gain about 1,000 feet (300 meters) of elevation during this ascent. The trail gets steeper and narrower the closer you get to the peak, but there isn't anything technical about the climb.
Once you reach the saddle you'll be rewarded with views of Upper Grinnell Lake and the Grinnell Glacier itself. If you continue up a bit further past the saddle, the views are even better and you can see multiple alpine lakes in the distance. When you're done here - be sure to check out my post about hiking to Lower Grinnell Lake if you're looking for things to do in Many Glacier during your visit.
Despite the difficulty of getting up here, many park visitors look to make this climb and it can be crowded in the saddle. The earlier you can get here the fewer crowds you'll have to contend with!
After taking some photos and enjoying the view we worked our way back down the spur, which was a bit of a pain because by now there was much heavier foot traffic coming up the trail which meant we constantly had to stop to let people pass along the narrow trail. Again, starting earlier is better!
From the base of the spur you'll continue back along the main trail towards the Granite Park Chalet which is your next point of interest along this trek. Fortunately the chalet is only about 1 mile (1.6 km) down the trail and it presents a great opportunity to rest and use a proper bathroom.
The flat terrain here was lined with wildflowers and the views looking back at the saddle we had just climbed made for a peaceful follow up to the most grueling portion of our day.
Once you reach the chalet you'll have the opportunity to reload on light snacks and water if necessary, but be sure to check the Granite Park Chalet's operating schedule before relying on this resource. You cannot risk running out of food and water on this trek!
The chalet is only accessible by foot and you can actually stay here if you book far enough in advance. If that's of interest to you be sure to check out the link above.
After having a packed lunch on one of the picnic tables and taking in some more beautiful mountain views we were ready to continue on. At this point hikers have two options.
The first is to double back on the trail you came on, which will take you to Logan's Pass and presumably your vehicle.
Option two is to continue onward along the trail which will eventually drop you at the Loop. This area is serviced by the Glacier National Park shuttle service so you can catch a ride on that back to Logan's Pass (make sure it's running first at the NPS website)!
We went with option two which is shorter, has less elevation gain, different views and is significantly less crowded than marching back directly to Logan's Pass. If you're doing option two I highly recommend packing your trekking poles since it's a steady, and at times steep descent towards the loop. Your knees will likely be tired from hiking the overlook so poles are a must.
A mile or so past the chalet we stopped for one more photo op at a small overlook area. By this time we were pretty tired and the sun had really started beating down, so after stopping here we decided to pick up our pace a bit.
Shortly after this overlook we turned a corner and had our second bear encounter at Glacier National Park. We turned a corner on the trail and an adolescent grizzly was sitting smack in the middle of the trail.
This is why you should ALWAYS hike with bear spray on hand in Glacier National Park and it needs to be readily accessible. Luckily this bear was quickly scared off when it saw us, but it was only 20 feet (6 meters) away by the time we turned a blind corner.
Further down in this post I link to some bear safety content you should check out before visiting. It's always smart to make noise when you're hiking, but on this day it was pretty windy and I don't think it could hear us over the loud rustling of vegetation in the breeze.
After this brief wildlife encounter we had an extra boost of adrenaline to power through the remainder of the hike. Like most of the trek this portion is exposed to the sun and by now I had completely drank my 3L water reservoir. Let this serve as a reminder to pack plenty of water!
Eventually you'll come across a stream and small bridge which is a sign that you're near the end of your journey. After this landmark you'll pop out near the Loop parking lot and you can make your way over to some bathrooms near the shuttle stop.
There's a good chance the shuttle will be busy so you might have to wait for 15-30 minutes to catch one with available seats.
At this point you should give yourself a huge pat on the back for completing one of the most difficult and beautiful treks in not only Glacier National Park, but the entire US National Park system!
What is the best time of year to attempt the Highline Trail?
The ideal window for hiking the Highline Trail is relatively short each year. To access the trailhead you'll need to reach Logan's Pass via Going to the Sun Road.
Going to the Sun Road usually opens each year by mid-July but the exact timing can vary as it is subject to weather conditions.
Even if you're able to access the trailhead in early July you run the risk of snow and ice still being on the trail. This can present issues for hikers as much of the trail is narrow with exposed steep drops.
To give yourself the best chance of hiking the Highline Trail I'd recommend timing your visit to Glacier National Park for late July or August. September is usually another good month for hiking in the park as the crowds begin to thin out.
However, the weather also starts to turn this time of year and it's not uncommon for wildfire activity here or in other parts of the United States to create hazy conditions during late August or early September.
If you're seeking an additional challenge hike to put on your list, or need something to do outside of peak summer season, consider reading my post on the Mount Brown Lookout hike.
How long is the Highline Trail hike?
There are a few different variations depending on where you start, whether you take the Grinnell Overlook spur and where you ultimately finish.
The route I cover here involves beginning at Logan's Pass, hiking up to the Grinnell Overlook, past the Granite Park Chalet and finishing at the Loop.
This option is about 14 miles (22 km) in length, has about 2,600 ft (800 meters) of elevation gain and will take most visitors 7-8 hours to complete with some stops along the way.
Some hikers prefer to double back at the Granite Park Chalet towards Logan's Pass. This is a good option if for some reason the shuttle isn't running. However, the views will largely be the same and you'll have to pass by a lot of oncoming hikers.
The option we preferred was to continue on past Granite Park Chalet and head down towards the Loop. From here you can catch a shuttle back up to Logan's Pass. This is the shortest duration and elevation gain option. However, the trail grades downhill for this portion and I'd recommend bringing hiking poles to save your knees.
The Grinnell Overlook spur is not long before you reach the Granite Park Chalet. This portion of the hike is EXTREMELY rigorous. You'll ascend nearly 1,000 feet (300 meters) in less than 1 mile (1.5 km).
You can significantly reduce the difficulty of this hike if you elect to skip the overlook.
The trail becomes very steep and narrow, but if you can endure the views from the overlook are incredible.
When we hiked here, it was a particularly busy and VERY windy afternoon. I do okay with heights, but there must've been 40 mph wind gusts near the saddle up top which made it uncomfortable to hang out for too long and take pictures.
For the best views, continue on a little bit further to the second view point near the top!
Are there bears or other wildlife along the Highline Trail?
Be sure to bring bear spray as bear activity is not uncommon in this area. During our trek we encountered a bear as we descended from the Granite Park Chalet down towards the Loop. We also encountered a bear when hiking to Iceberg Lake on the eastern side of the park.
Fortunately these encounters are usually harmless and we were able to scare it off without incident.
The National Park Service has a guide on bear safety which I would recommend reading before venturing out into Glacier National Park's vast wilderness.
If you're flying into the region from out of town the most cost effective way to acquire bear spray is by renting it from the airport. There's a shop near the baggage claim area that will rent you some, you can't miss it.
Make sure your bear spray is attached somewhere on you that allows for quick access. If you need to use it, you probably won't have very long to get it out!
Should you hike the Highline Trail if you have a fear of heights?
The Highline Trail is not very suitable for people susceptible to vertigo or who have a fear of heights.
If you're unsure of whether you should attempt this trek during your visit to Glacier National Park here's how I would advise gauging your ability.
Plan a different hike from Logan's Pass (such as Hidden Lake, or nearby Avalanche Lake both of which are very mild) for your first day in the park. Secure parking at Logan's Pass, cross the street and start down the Highline Trail. The handrail section is very close to the beginning of the trail so you can get a feel for how narrow the path will be and how steep the drops are.
If you can work this portion comfortably, then you should be able to complete the full hike without getting into trouble. Come back another day during your visit with the proper gear and supplies and enjoy this day trek to its fullest.
Personally, I knew this hike was bumping up against my comfort level with heights. The good news is that by the time you've completed over 14 miles (22 km) along this narrow path you should have completely squashed your uneasiness with heights.
How wide is the Highline Trail path?
Many sections of the Highline Trail are no wider than three or four feet (about 1 meter). The earliest section of the trail does have handrails for hikers to hold on to, but be warned that there are other narrow sections further along that won't offer this added layer of safety.
Not only is the trail narrow but many portions have a steep cliff drop to one side, which can make the trail feel a bit narrower than it actually is.
Just be extra careful around any wet or slick portions of the trail or when passing other hikers and wildlife along the way.
It's always advisable to check current trail conditions at NPS.gov before hiking in Glacier National Park.
Will I have cell phone service along the Highline Trail?
Cellular service throughout Glacier National Park is hard to come by. Like many other hikes in the park, the Highline Trail will span remote portions of the park with little to no cellular coverage. Be prepared to spend a full day without cell service for this one.
If you're an avid hiker I'd recommend purchasing AllTrails Pro which allows you to download offline maps. While the trail for this hike is pretty straightforward and difficult to get lost on, it can come in quite handy for tracking your location.
Not only does it ensure you stay on the right trail, but it's a great way to track and time your hiking activity!
Do I need a reservation for the Highline Trail?
While you don't need a reservation for the Highline Trail itself, you'll need a reservation to access Going to the Sun Road during peak season.
The entry reservation system works a little bit different for each National Park. You'll want to check directly with the National Park Service to ensure your reservation aligns with their current procedures.
If you haven't used this feature before I'd recommend reading my guide on the time entry reservation system beforehand.
While you don't need a reservation to hike the trail, as a heads up many of the campgrounds throughout Glacier require a permit and advanced registration.
If for someone reason you were unable to secure a timed entry reservation for Going to the Sun Road, you can usually slip into the park before the ranger stations are staffed without one. Just be prepared to get up super early to utilize this work around!
Pets aren’t allowed along the Highline Trail
While pets are technically permitted inside Glacier National Park, they're not allowed on any of the trails or backcountry. This means pets aren't welcome along the Highline Trail.
Your furry friend will mostly be confined to your vehicle, parking lots or other developed areas of the park.
Are there bathrooms along the Highline Trail?
There are really only two proper restroom options when hiking the Highline Trail. The first is at the Logan's Pass visitor center before you set out on the trail.
Your second opportunity to use a restroom is pretty far into the hike, at the Granite Park Chalet. It will take you 6-8 miles (9-13 km) to reach the chalet and there aren't many great opportunities to utilize the outdoors beforehand since much of the trail is narrow, steep, crowded and exposed.
What should I pack for the Highline Trail?
Not only is the Highline Trail difficult, but depending on the exact route it can take you most of the day to complete.
This means you'll need to pack more food and water than usual. Dehydration is a real risk on a hike of this length so I'd err on the side of overpacking water and salty snacks. I tend to drink a lot of water when I hike, and my 3 liter water reservoir was just barely enough for our 14 mile / 22 km route.
Even if you start early you'll probably be exposed to the midday sun for at least a few hours. Bring sunscreen at minimum and seriously consider wearing pants and a light moisture wicking top layer to cut down exposure. Don't forget a hat and sunglasses while you're at it.
Weather can change quickly in the mountains and you'll be gone for most of the day. This is a situation where I'd recommend bringing a small first aid kit, rain jacket and some type of map with you just in case. AllTrails Pro is a great resource to track your location and progress. Just be sure to download the map beforehand and charge your phone since the GPS can drain your battery quickly.
Bear spray is an absolute requirement for this trail. We encountered a grizzly during our descent towards the Loop after the Granite Park Chalet. Even though the bear was easily spooked off, it's better to have spray and not need it than the other way around!
The steepness of the Grinnell Glacier Overlook and descent towards the Loop near the end make this hike one where I'd strongly recommend bringing trekking poles. Your knees will greatly appreciate you doing this.
If you're a novice hiker and just getting into longer day hikes I'd recommend reading my post on day hike essentials. It's a comprehensive packing list that should cover everything you'd need for this hike and more.
When is the best time of day to hike the Highline Trail?
There are several reasons you'll want to arrive extremely early in the morning when attempting the Highline Trail.
First, the parking lot at Logan Pass can fill up very early in the morning. During the busy season it's not uncommon for this area to fill up by 7:00am. Since many of the hikes originating from this area are lengthy and that means the parking spots might not start to turn over for a couple of hours.
If you fail to secure a spot you'll either have to park down the road, adding length to this already long trek, or you'll have to sit and camp out for a spot. Neither is a good outcome.
The second reason to arrive super early is to avoid sun exposure and midday heat as much as possible. When we did this hike in early August the highs were in the mid 80s and it was HOT. The earlier you start, the better your chances of finishing without spending too much time in the midday sun.
Despite it's difficulty this is an extremely popular hike in Glacier National Park. An early start means you'll avoid hiking during the busiest part of the day. Some hikers will go out for a portion of the trail and then turn back for Logan's Pass. This can create a lot of congestion on a very narrow trail. Constantly having to pass other hikers with steep drop-offs along the skinny trail will negatively affect your experience!
Is hiking the Highline Trail dangerous?
While this hike doesn't have any technical climbing portions, it should be considered dangerous since a considerable amount of the trail is exposed to steep drops.
Some of the narrowest sections of the trail are no more than three feet (1 meter) wide.
If you aren't comfortable with heights this trail might not be suitable for you. While the handrail section at the start of the trail garners the most attention, there are other sections of the trail that are of similar width WITHOUT anything to hold on to.
Don't be fooled into thinking that this is the most difficult part of the trail!
Given the above risk factors this hike is generally not suitable for small children unless they already have experience with this type of terrain and hiking.
Much of the trek is exposed to sun so it's best to get an early start and pack plenty of sunscreen. Given the duration (up to 14 miles / 22 km depending on your route) you're going to have a lot of exposure to the elements. Consider wearing long sleeves and a hat in addition to sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
If you're looking for a nice relaxing wind down hike to finish your day after completing the Highline, be sure to check out my post covering Trail of the Cedars which is located just to the west of Logan's Pass.
Looking for suggestions on what to pack for hiking?
Chances are if you're visiting Glacier National Park you'll be doing some hiking. If you're doing some hiking you'll want to have the right gear handy in order to have the best experience possible.
For your convenience I've put together an extremely thorough hiking checklist to make sure you don't overlook anything.
That guide is geared towards longer day hikes, like the Highline Trail. Which makes it the perfect resource for making sure you embark on this trek with all of the proper gear!
Check out my Timed Entry Reservation Guide
There's one mistake you cannot afford to make when visiting US National Parks. Showing up without a timed entry reservation is a surefire way to blow up what should be an otherwise stress free day exploring some of Americas most beautiful destinations.
If the park you're visiting requires timed entry be sure to check out this guide.
Fortunately - I've put together a guide walking you through that process. I also provide useful tips on how to get the best time slots and what to do if you find yourself without a reservation.
You can access our Timed Entry Reservation Guide here.
I hope you found this guide to hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park helpful!