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Glacier’s Quintessential Hike: the Highline Trail

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Map of the Highline Trail by National Geographic Trails Illustrated

A canvas of impossibly deep valleys and sheer, striated peaks, Glacier National Park is a masterpiece of the Ice Age. Considered by Native Americans to be the “backbone of the world,” this northern section of America’s Continental Divide sheds water to the Pacific, the Atlantic, and Hudson Bay, a varied reach that has nurtured a rare diversity in plant and animal life.

Boasting nearly 70 resident mammal species and over 270 species of birds, the park is one of North America’s premier places to view wildlife, and with over 740 miles of maintained trails, it’s also home to some of the best hiking on the planet.

No trail captures more grandeur in Glacier than the Highline Trail, a 7.6-mile point-to-point track that travels through a highlight reel of varied landscapes and terrain and offers panoramic views at nearly every turn. The hike is not, however, for the faint of heart: The Highline sometimes narrows precariously at teetering heights (hence the name), and it is very possible along these stretches for hikers to have to lean back along the trail to let mountain goats pass. Other creatures that might be sighted include marmots, bighorn sheep and bears—both black and grizzly.

Most hikers typically start at the southern and higher point of the trail, Logan Pass, and make their way north along the base of the Garden Wall, a steep arete that comes alive with wildflowers in the summer months. The trail descends only slightly as it winds its way towards its other endpoint, the Granite Park Chalet, an historic structure dating back to 1914 that is only accessible by foot or horseback.

Those who walk the Highline can opt to finish their day with a stay at the Chalet or the Granite Park campground, but most just continue down the Granite Park trail to The Loop (a stretch that drops over 2000 feet in about four miles), where one can catch a free shuttle back to the parking lot at Logan Pass.

If the Highline isn’t already on your bucket list, it should be. As far as day-hikes go, the world can do no better.