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Beargrass blooms along the Highline Trail

Beargrass blooms along the Highline Trail with Heavens Peak and the Livingston Range in the background.

Photo by JUSTIN GRIGG/Missoulian

The Highline Trail is one of the most popular routes in Glacier National Park, and it provides plenty of options from day hiking to weekend backpacking trips and longer.

The trail sets out north near the Continental Divide marker on the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Logan Pass.

The trail drops though a small meadow in a bend in the road, then crosses a narrow ledge - there's a cable for support - before traversing the Garden Wall to the northwest. Look for yellow columbine, beargrass and other flowers on the steep, green hillsides.

At about 2 1/4 miles, the path rises up and over a small pass between Haystack Butte and Mount Gould, then continues across the steep wall and arrives at Granite Park at about six miles.

At 7.6 miles, you arrive at Granite Park Chalet, where several options present themselves.

From the chalet, day hikers can retrace their steps back to Logan Pass at about 15.2 miles or follow the trail west down to the Loop on the Sun Road at about

11.6 miles, then take the park's free shuttle back up the Sun Road.

While these are both fine options and a full day of hiking, other trails make for longer trips if you plan ahead.

Bunks are available at Granite Park Chalet, but are hard to come by at this time of year - check www.granitepark

chalet.com. Nearby is a small tent campground with sites that are available to reserve in advance online or at one of Glacier's backcountry permit centers. Check www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm for more information.

One option is to simply spend the night and explore the area. Trails are available up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook high on the Garden Wall (about two miles up and down) or Swiftcurrent Lookout at 8,436 feet atop its namesake mountain (4.6 miles).

The longest option is to continue north to the Fifty Mountain area - 11.9 miles from the chalet - and beyond. From there, hikers can make their way out of the backcountry through the Belly River drainage or Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta.

In between is the route over Swiftcurrent Pass and down to the Many Glacier area, which my wife and I hiked a few years ago.

To do this, we parked at the Many Glacier Hotel our first morning and took Glacier Park Inc.'s hiker shuttle to the St. Mary Visitor Center. There, we boarded the park's free shuttle for Logan Pass. (Find information about the shuttles at www.glacierparkinc.com/tour_detail.php?id=1and or www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/shuttles.htm)

After reaching Granite Park Chalet, we stayed the night and spent the next day hiking up to Swiftcurrent Lookout and the Grinnell Overlook.

The third day of the trip, we hiked up to Swiftcurrent Pass, then east to the valley below.

The pass is almost a mile up from the chalet and has several small, wildflower-filled meadows. Descending the 2.7 miles to Bullhead Lake, the trail offers views of Swiftcurrent Glacier before rounding Devil's Elbow to and reaching a set of arid, gravelly switchbacks. The valley floor and lake are reached down a beargrass-covered slope.

From Bullhead, it's a 3.9-mile walk back to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, then on to your car. Be sure to check out Redrock Lake and Redrock Falls along the way, and beware of moose on the move to and from Fishercap Lake at mealtime.

News editor Justin Grigg can be reached at 523-5243 or at jgrigg@missoulian.com.

 

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