DISTANCE
14.7 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
3,507 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

backpacking

birding

camping

hiking

nature trips

walking

forest

views

wild flowers

wildlife

snow

no dogs

hiking
2 months ago

Parking available at Logan Pass. Highline Trail shares a parking lot with Hidden Lake Trailhead, so lot generally fills prior to 08:00.

Climbing up the Garden Wall was previously a bucket list item of mine. Almost a year ago, researching the Highline Trail prompted my father and I to spawn a trip to Montana. Twelve months and thousands of miles later, we clipped our packs and proceeded past the Highline Trailhead. The trail begins somewhat intimidatingly, carved into a mountainside with sheer cliffs to your left, metal handrail to your right. This marks the most unsettling portion of the trail. Gradually separating from Going to the Sun Road, the hike gradually increases in both serenity and enjoyability.

Arguably Glacier's most recognizable image- Reynolds Mountain behind Oberlin Bend- presents itself around 2.5 miles into the hike. The Highline Trail encounters dramatic scenery shortly thereafter. Haystack Butte sits behind a 180-degree view of Glacier National Park, a welcome backrest to the breathtaking vistas of Mount Cannon, Mount Gould, Reynolds Mountain, and Mount Oberlin bathed in sunlight. This vista could surely knock you off your feet. Presently, views of McDonald Creek Valley with sporadic forest occupy the mind until the Garden Wall junction.

Devoid of switchbacks, deceivingly steep, and rocky, the Garden Wall spur demands respect. This 0.6-mile cut shoots up over 800 feet in elevation over the western drainage basin. In return, however, this magnificent venture yields perhaps the greatest views in Montana. Indeed, even before the glacial overlook, the western views of Heavens Peak and waterfalls are- for lack of better term- unforgettable. Yet the climax of the Garden Wall is undoubtedly Glacial Overlook. A steep trail suddenly turns flat, dotted with four trees, and you emerge on a saddle between Peak 7980 and Peak 8479.

The view's reveal is unrivaled by anything I've ever done. Ralston Peak in Tahoe, Eagle Peak in Yosemite, Frigid Air Pass in Colorado; these falter in comparison to the dramatic uncovering of Upper Grinnell Lake. Three steps mark the difference between rock obstruction and complete vista. It's impossible to take in everything at once: indeed, the insurmountable slopes of Mount Gould giving way to Grinnell Glacier is stunning enough. Throw in the crystalline waters of Upper Grinnell Lake, the distant Lake Josephine, Allen Mountain, and you're overwhelmed by beauty.

Upon emerging at the Glacial Overlook, I thought the view couldn't possibly get better. Then, heeding the advice of fellow hikers, I trekked an additional 200 feet towards point 7980. The vista expanded. Almost the entirety of Grinnell Drainage Basin was visible, ranging from Salamander Glacier to Lake Sherburne. This additional trip, even after 800 feet of grueling ascent, marked the complete climax of this hike.

Everything thereafter is simply dispensable gravy. Admittedly, the descent down to The Loop is decent at best; surely my expectations were inflated by Heaven spilling onto the Garden Wall. Granite Chalet is little more than a historic tourist trap, the Granite Park Trail weaves through the remnants of a devastated forest, and the 3,500 feet of descent don't lift spirits. However, if we were to walk through a mosquito-infested hellhole laced with the occasional muddy leech, this hike still would've commanded five stars. The experience of the Garden Wall is simply that powerful.

My father and I begun hiking at 06:45, passed two groups of hikers, and escaped a swiftly-moving third. We had the Highline Trail to ourselves thereafter. I would recommend hiking by 06:15 if you desire serenity; even if you don't mind crowds, an early start is integral to sunrise views. Our two-man crew was the second group up the Garden Wall (summit 09:15). After a 25-minute experience of ripping winds and scintillating vistas, we passed some 25-35 people on the descent.

If you have a single day to spend in Glacier, this is your trail. Don't overthink it. This is perhaps Montana's most remarkable view, on Montana's most acclaimed trail, in Montana's renowned national park. Above all, it was worth waiting an entire year for.