The Garden Wall / Highline Trail

Distance: 4.0 - 11.6 miles (round trip)

Glacier National Park, near St Mary in Glacier Natl Park, MT

Introduction

Looking back at Clements Mountain (8,760-ft.) towering above the Logan Pass area

Stunning views of the Livingston and Lewis Ranges, amazing wildflower displays and an excellent opportunity to see wildlife are the hallmarks of this popular hike traversing the steep slopes beneath the Garden Wall on the Continental Divide. You do not need to do the entire loop to enjoy the views. Simply walk out as far as time and energy permit.

The trail and the views start at the Logan Pass Visitor Center (6,646-ft.) on the Continental Divide. At the pass enjoy fine views of Reynolds Mountain (9,125-ft.) to the south, Clements Mountain (8,760-ft.) and Oberlin Mountain (8,180-ft.) to the west and Pollack Mountain (9,190-ft.) to the northeast.

From the trailhead, located across the road to the north of the visitor center, the trail heads north along the western flanks of the Divide, staying for the most part above the timberline. Along the way the trail passes beneath the rugged peaks of Pollack Mountain, the Bishops Cap (9,127-ft.) and Mount Gould (9,553-ft.), connected by a series of serrated ridges. Progress will be slow as you stop often to take in the jaw-dropping views.

This section of the Divide is aptly known as the Garden Wall. Small streams and melt water cascading down the sheer slopes above the trail support a profusion of wildflowers growing amid the cliffs, rock piles and alpine meadows along the trail. Mountain goats and big horn sheep are often seen climbing the cliffs above the trail and grazing in the alpine meadows around the trail. Marmots and pikes scurry around boulder fields and rockslides. Occasionally bears are sighted grazing along the open slopes.

At 7.6 miles the trail reaches the Granite Park Chalet where a network of trails offers hikers and backpacks an array of options. Day hikers typically head down the Granite Park trail, which drops 2,000-ft. to the Loop, a hairpin curve on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The trail travels through forest, meadows and a burn area devastated by the Trapper Creek Fire of 2003. At the Loop hikers can catch a shuttle bus back to Logan Pass or the Apgar Visitor Center on the west side of the park.

Lucky parties with overnight reservations at the Chalet or nearby campground can continue north along the Highline trail to Fifty Mountain campground and beyond. Other options include a hike up to Swiftcurrent Pass and the fire lookout atop Swiftcurrent Mountain. One popular option is to overnight at the Chalet or campground and the next day head over Swiftcurrent Pass, descending to the Swiftcurrent Valley to Many Glacier.

Be forewarned that the weather along the Highline can change quickly. Be sure to carry warm clothing and rain gear.

This is an extremely popular route and the initial section of the trail near Logan Pass can get quite crowded. As you walk further along the trail the crowds abate. Do not let the trail’s popularity deter you. Pick a day full of promise and get an early start. Whether you walk a few miles or do the entire loop you will not be disappointed.

Garden Wall Loop

Closeup of Heavens Peak and Mc Partland Mountain

Elevation Gain to Granite Park Junction with the Highline Trail: +684-ft.
Elevation Loss from the Granite Park Junction to the Loop: -3,070-ft.

Note: This is a terrific trail with wonderful views. It is great for a short hike -- simply walking out as far as time and energy permit – or for a long loop hike, as described below. No matter how far you go you will not be sorry you took the time to hike the trail.

The Garden Wall/ Highline trailhead is located on the north side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, across from the entrance to the Logan Pass Visitor Center (6,646-ft.). From the trailhead enjoy fine views of Reynolds Mountain (9,125-ft.) to the south, Clements Mountain (8,760-ft.) and Oberlin Mountain (8,180-ft.) rise the west and Pollack (9,190-ft.) to the northeast.

The trail descends on gentle grades through meadows sprinkled with stands of subalpine Engelmann Spruce and firs and then winds around cliff on a rock ledge at 0.3 miles. Fixed cables along the cliff wall provide a degree of security during slippery and windy conditions. Below the trail the Going-to-the-Sun Road is seen climbing a steep switchback to Logan Pass.

At 0.7 miles the descent ends. The trial now traverses on easy grades along the western slopes of Pollack Mountain and the Bishops Cap (9,127-ft.). The jagged ridge and peaks along this section of the trail are known as the Garden Wall. Here snow melt from the sheer ridge support a profusion of wildflowers growing in the alpine tundra. Mountain goats and Big Horn Sheep are often seen climbing on the cliffs above the trail and grazing in the alpine meadows around the trail. An occasional bear may also be spotted slopes near the trail.

Soon views open to Heavens Peak, McPartland Mountain and the Glacier Wall towering above the McDonald Creek Valley to the west. Be sure to turn around to enjoy nice views of Bird Woman Falls tumbling down a steep cliff between Mt. Oberlin and Mt. Cannon (8,952-ft.) to the south.

At 3.0 miles the trail curves to the west beneath Mount Gould and climbs switchbacks to Haystack Pass, the saddle to the east of Haystack Butte (7,486-ft.). Panoramic views from the top of the saddle encompass the peaks rising above the Logan Pass area, the sheer cliffs and peaks along the Garden Wall and the Livingston Range to the northwest.

Beyond the saddle the trail continues ascending on moderate grades through alpine meadows and scree covered slopes to the high point on the trail (~7,300-ft.) at 4.1 miles. This is a very scenic section of the trail with terrific views of the surrounding peaks.

From the high point the trail descends on moderately steep grades through pretty meadows. Soon scattered stands of subalpine firs begin to appear. At 5.1 miles the grade abates as the trail traverses the western slopes of the Garden Wall on easy grades. Fine views open to Swiftcurrent Mountain, rising to the north.

Reach the junction with the Grinnell Glacier Overlook trail at 6.7 miles. The steep trail, branching to the right (east), climbs almost 1,000-ft in 0.8 miles to a view point on the ridge looking down upon the Salamander and Grinnell Glaciers, Upper Grinnell Lake and Mount Gould.

Past the junction with the overlook the trail traverses through meadows sprinkled with stunts firs on easy grades. The Granite Park Chalet is now visible on a low ridge to the northwest.

At 7.6 miles arrive at junction. Here you will find the continuation of the Highline heading north, the Granite Park (aka the Loop) trail and the spur trail to the Granite Park Chalet. If time permits its worth visiting the Chalet, a National Historic Landmark. The stone and log structure, built by the Great Northern Railway Company in 1913 and 1914, offers rustic overnight accommodations in 12 rooms with two-six bunks each. Meals can be ordered ahead of time or parties can prepare their own meals in a basic shared kitchen.

After you are done exploring the area around the Chalet, return to the junction and turn left (southeast) on the Granite Park (Loop) trail. Follow the trail as it descends on moderately-steep grades through meadows and stands of stunted firs. At 7.8 miles the grade abates and soon passes a trail to the right (north) toward the Granite Park backcountry campground. A short distance past the junction the trail resumes its moderately-steep descent through a forest of spruce, firs and pines with intermittent views of the Garden Wall and surrounding peaks.

At 8.6 miles the trees give way to open slopes. Heavens Peak towers above the McDonald Valley to the southwest. Soon the trail hits the area burnt by the Trapper Creek Fire of 2003, which scorched 19,000 acres. For the remainder of the descent the trail passes through a ghost forest of burnt trees. Thankfully the regeneration of the burn area is well underway. A profusion of wildflowers and low vegetation now covers the slopes beneath the remnants of dead trees.

Reach the junction with the Packer’s Roost trail, branching to the right, at 10.9 miles. Beyond the junction the trail climbs briefly and then descends to a bridge crossing a creek draining Granite Park. The trail ends at the Loop, a hairpin curve on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, at 11.6 miles. Here you can catch a shuttle bus heading east toward Logan Pass or the bus heading west to the Apgar Visitor Center at the foot of Lake McDonald on the west side of the park.

Hike Facts

 

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile - Garden Wall / Highline Trail

 

 

Driving Directions

From St. Mary, MT: Head west on the Going to the Sun from for 18 miles to Logan Pass. The pass is an extremely popular area with limited parking. Consider riding the shuttle bus to avoid wasting time waiting for a parking spot to open.

From West Glacier, MT: – Head north/northeast on the Going to the Sun Road for 32 miles to Logan Pass. The pass is an extremely popular area with limited parking. Consider riding the shuttle bus to avoid wasting time waiting for a parking spot to open.

Glacier National Park Shuttle Bus: The Glacier National Park Shuttle bus, which operates from the beginning of July through the first week of September (check current schedule on the park’s website: http://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/shuttles.htm), runs in two sections. On the west side of the Park shuttle buses run from Apgar Visitor Center to Logan Pass. The east side of the Park the shuttle runs from the St. Mary Visitor Center to Logan Pass.

 

Trail Resources

Trail Photo Gallery / Trail Map

Basecamp(s) Information:
St Mary / Lake McDonald

Region Information:
Glacier Natl Park, MT

Other Hiking Regions in:
Montana