Adventurers flock to Glacier National Park from around the world to see the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. The Highline Trail is one of the park’s iconic hikes, offering jaw-dropping mountain vistas, a view of one of the park’s glaciers, and a chance to see a variety of wildlife. We set out one rainy morning to hike this famous trail to the Grinnell Glacier overlook and quickly concluded that this was one of our favorite Montana hikes so far!
Getting to the Highline Trail Trailhead
The Highline Trail is accessible off Going-to-the-Sun Road. Most commonly, visitors park and start the hike at Logan Pass. Here, there is a large parking area, visitor’s center, and restrooms. Cross the road from the parking lot to begin down the Highline Trail. We started and ended at this point.
The Highline Trail can also be reached from The Loop Trailhead. This is a smaller parking area just off Going-to-the-Sun Road further down the pass towards West Glacier. There are restrooms here too. Lastly, there are shuttles that run along Going-to-the-Sun Road. They stop at both The Loop and Logan Pass. For more information on the shuttle, click here.
Having these multiple options is great if you can’t find parking, don’t want to deal with parking or driving the pass, can’t reach the top of the pass due to snow, or if you want to park a car at both The Loop and Logan Pass to hike a single way. Even in September on a rainy day, the Logan Pass parking lot was full when we returned from our hike, so we recommend arriving early to secure a spot.
A pass is required to visit Glacier National Park. For a private vehicle, a seven-day pass costs USD$35 in the summer and $25 in the off season (November through April). You can purchase the various Glacier passes at the toll stations or self-registration booths at the park or beforehand online.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors at the national parks, monuments, recreation areas, etc., you may find it worth it to purchase an America the Beautiful annual parks pass. It costs $80 for a year. This pass covers the entrance to Glacier National Park.
Note that in addition to a parks pass, visitors are required to have a vehicle reservation to access Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor between May 27th and September 11th between the hours of 6a.m. and 4p.m. For more info on the reservation system, click here.
Hiking the Highline Trail to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook
Hike Type: Challenging trail. This can be done as an out-and-back or a one-way hike.
Distance: 15 miles roundtrip from Logan Pass, 13.6 miles roundtrip from The Loop, 14.3 miles from Logan Pass to the overlook and down to The Loop.
Duration: 5.5-8.5 hours depending on your route and fitness level
Regulations: A pass is required to hike the Highline Trail. Pets and drones are not permitted.
The Highline Trail Hike
We left our VRBO in West Glacier in the dark and made our way up Going-to-the-Sun Road with Lia’s parents. By the time we parked, the sun had just come up and beams pierced through the dark rainclouds, hitting the surrounding peaks. The views from the start of the Highline Trail were instantly stunning with views of rugged cliffs and Going-to-the-Sun Road winding into the valley below.
Even this early in the morning in the off-season, there were quite a few people out on the trail. However, the number of people thinned out as we went further along. Many people go just a ways down the trail to see the views, and then turn back.
Fog rolled in and out of the area as we hiked. We had sweeping views of the peaks around us with waterfalls visible when the clouds cleared. Signs of fall were beginning to show with bold orange and red vegetation around us. Additionally, we were lucky to see mountain goats, marmots, tons of different birds, and big horn sheep. There was even a grizzly in a valley below the trail! It rained and hailed on and off, but we were still thrilled with how incredibly beautiful this hike was.
Much of the hike had mild ups and downs as we wound our way along the face of the peaks. Despite the distance, it was fairly easy-going until we reached the junction where we turned to make our way to the Grinnell Glacier overlook. This Garden Wall section is less than a mile, but it was very steep and rocky. Plus, the rain made the rocks slick in spots. We saw many backpacks left at the base of this section, which we don’t recommend doing if you don’t want chipmunks trying to chew into your bag.
The Grinnell Glacier Overlook
The steep ascent to the overlook is absolutely worth it. The views of the glacier, rugged peaks, and lakes below are amazing. The wind was howling when we made it up to the top, so we crouched near a boulder to take in the views. It was chilly!
We felt some raindrops and decided it would be a good time to head back. We walked around the viewpoint a bit to take in all the views before making our way down. Use caution as you navigate the viewpoint because there are some steep drops and loose rock.
When you get back to the junction, you can continue down the trail to the Granite Park Chalet and finish at The Loop. We didn’t have an extra car and shuttles were not running at this point, so we returned the way we came.
What to Bring
Water: A hike essential.
Passes: You’ll need to present your parks pass and your reservation to access Going-to-the-Sun Road if it is required at the time of your visit.
Snacks: In case you want to refuel along the trail. We packed a lunch to enjoy along the way. Make sure to pack out all your trash!
Sturdy Walking Shoes: The trail is steep and rocky in some sections. It can also get muddy and icy during some parts of the year. Wear hiking shoes with good tread.
Mini First Aid Kit: An item we always like to have just in case.
Camera: To capture the views and the wildlife you may see.
Bear Spray: Bears frequent the area, so bring along your bear spray and know how to use it.
Layers: Even in the summer it can be chilly. We recommend bringing light layers and/or a wind breaker.
Sun Protection: Much of the trail has little shade. Bring sunglasses, a hat, and/or sunscreen to protect your skin while outdoors.