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Hiking the Continental Divide

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

The Highline Trail in Glacier National Park

This week’s story takes us to Northern Montana and the crown jewel of the National Park System, Glacier National Park. This park ranks among my favorite places I have visited and is a must for anyone who is interested in hiking. The trails offered within Glacier National Park are not only some of the best I have experienced but the number of trails available is staggering. One thing to note is that this park has one of the largest concentrations of Grizzly Bears within the continental United States and presents a very real danger that needs to be accounted for. These bears were a reason I had delayed traveling to this region for so long. I was concerned about hiking within Grizzley country on my own but luckily the park offered a solution, ranger led hiking options. Each day, rangers offer guided hikes for visitors and the top trails in the park all include this option. Once I discovered this option, I booked my trip within weeks. I flew into Calgary and drove 4 hours south to the Montana border. Once I crossed the border, Glacier National Park was only an additional 30 minutes away. I would spend the next 2 weeks camping within the park at night while spending my days hiking the plethora of the park’s trails.

Although there were several hikes that I was looking forward too; the primary one that I had on my bucket list at the time was the Highline Trail. This 12-mile trail loops along the continental divide and offers a combination of mountain valley views and an abundance of wildflowers in the right season. In fact, during their peak seasonal bloom; the wildflowers are so plentiful, it has earned portions of this trail the name: the Garden Wall. Luckily for me, I was there during peak season. The best way to access this trail is to drive over to Logan Pass on the Going to the Sun Road and access the trail from here. I got on the road early that morning and began the drive to Logan Pass before dawn. By the time I was nearing Logan Pass, the morning sun was lighting up incredible views of the mountains and valleys that make the Going to the Sun Road one of the most scenic drives in the country. I parked my bar in a nearby lot and set off towards the Logan Pass visitor center. A few steps away from my car, I was greeted with a family of 3 big horn sheep resting and enjoying the morning on a cliff face, 20 feet above the road. A great start to the day. By 8 am, I had met the ranger as well as the other visitors who would be joining on this trail; a group totaling 15 other hikers. We set off shortly afterwards to begin what would be an all-day hiking experience.

The views are serene from the very start of the hike. Shortly past the Logan Pass parking lot, the trail goes through a portion of mountain cliff with the trail carved into its side. A 2-foot-wide path which is not recommended for those with any fear of heights. The view to the left of the trail at this point, overlooks a mountain valley 1000’s of feet below which is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Eventually, the path exits the portion that is carved into the cliff and is instead a dirt path with steep mountain sides rising to the right and descending into the valley to the left. This marks the beginning of the Garden Wall. Wildflowers surround the trail past this point and dot the mountain sides. All colors of the rainbow are represented here from orange and red to blue and purple. Wildflowers in the foreground with majestic mountains in the background leads to incredible views. This same view continues for the next 7 miles of trail. Around lunch, the group arrived at a rockslide field that provided many large boulders to sit on, replenish energy, enjoy a quick meal; all while taking in the site of being surrounded my mountains on all sides.

Near the halfway mark of the hike, there is a side-hike option for those with the energy to do so. A 2-mile round trip trail climbs to the top of a mountain and overlooks Grinnell Glacier 1000s of the feet below. Although 2 miles is not too long a length, the trail can pose a substantial challenge due to how steep it is. The views at the top are well worth the effort required to reach the overlook. There are so many incredible sites from the top of this mountain: Grinnell Glacier directly below and Many Glacier Valley stretching to the horizon ahead are the top two attractions. The edge of the overlook featured a completely vertical cliff with a shear drop off the glacier below; once again, not a view for anyone who has a phobia of heights.

After taking in this incredible view and enjoying the crisp mountain air, I began my decent back down the mountain and back to the main Highline Trail. The next 3-mile section of trail continues the mountain valley views before arrived at a chalet; one of the few remaining functioning chalets within the park. These are Swiss style mountain cabins located at the top of mountains and available to hikers who are interested in staying there overnight. Each chalet in the park is strategically positioned in an area that offers some of the best views the park has to offer with this chalet being no exception. The chalet overlooks a valley and row of snow-capped mountains stretching to the left and right as far as you can see. The food choices at the chalets are limited but they do provide a good place to fill up on more water and purchase trail mix if needed. This specific chalet also marks the final place to rest before the home stretch of the Highline Trail begins. From here, there are only 2-miles left before the trail’s end. These final two miles take place within an old growth forest. Although the dense trees block out the mountain views; it provides a pleasant and relax change of scenery to enjoy with several small waterfalls adding points of interest along the way. The hike ends at a shuttle bus stop that will take you back to Logan Pass and then end of the day.

Luckily for me, I happened to catch the last shuttle for the day. The sun was beginning to set as I arrived back at Logan Pass, and I was able to enjoy watching it set behind the mountains as the sky turned from blue to purple. By the time I had arrived back at my camp site, the stars were beginning to come out and I was able to enjoy a well-earned rest after a full day of hiking. I spent the next hour laying my hammock, enjoying a few sandwiches, and watching the milky way spread across the night sky. The complete seclusion of this park makes it a top tier location to see the stars and I intended to enjoy this luxury. This one my first night in Glacier National Park and I would still have 13 more days to enjoy the many trails and sites this incredible location had to offer. But those are stories for another day…

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