Sunday Hikes: Highline and Swiftcurrent Trails

In late August 2017 Dad and I traveled to Glacier National Park for our “Epic Hike” of the year. We decided to hike about sixteen and a half miles from 6,647 foot Logan Pass along the Highline Trail and then cutting down to 4,500 foot Many Glacier as our ending point. Dad has already written his version of this hike (Dad’s Blog) but just like our Grand Canyon hike, we figured this hike is epic enough for two blogs.

We woke up early at 4:30AM in our Lake McDonald campground, packed up camp, looked at the stars, and headed off on our hour drive up to Logan Pass.


I snapped this blurry picture of the stars while dad put his contacts in.

On the drive up the mountains there was a lot of smoke from the nearby wildfires that consumed the mountains last fall. They had to evacuate the Lake McDonald Lodge a couple weeks after our visit thanks to these fires. The whole drive up I was keeping an eye out for deer, bighorns, and mountain goats but they eluded us in the dark forest. Once at Logan pass we double checked our packs and brewed some coffee before setting out on the Highline Trail.

logan pass


We started off on our hike as the sun was rising over the mountains in awe of the beauty the trail offered already. One of the first things I noticed was the clouds on the horizon that looked like wavy brush strokes of a painting in the sky.



Even in the first mile of the trail the views are insane, snow capped peaks, high granite cliffs, a sky that goes on forever, and valleys that sink down thousands of feet. Our eyes were peeled taking in the views and looking out for elusive mountain goats and bighorn sheep (both of which are notoriously seen on this trail, probably because the views are so great). In the first couple miles we saw so many signs of mountain goats (fur, tracks, and scat) that I was convinced we would run across one any second.




We crested a steep hill with many switchbacks and rested here for a moment to eat some breakfast. At the bottom of the hill we spotted a man hiking at a speedy rate and likened him to charlie the robot (from Scooby Doo Where Are You) because of the way he walked and how he kept a constant pace without stopping to take breath even once (like a robot). He passed us while we sat there eating peanut butter on a rock. We turned the corner to a whole new set of views, a pine forest directly below, some large creek or river flowing thousands of feet below, the snowy mountains looked bigger than ever. I wondered how many people had ever reached the peaks of these high mountains that seemed so inaccessible (although the garden wall we were on looks so high and lofty from below it was hard to imagine ourselves up there when looking up at the mountains later in the day).



All this was a little over halfway through the trail. Soon after we began to spot Ptarmigans all over the place. The high elevation chickens honestly don’t seem too impressive but they were the first Ptarmigans we had ever seen and the first wildlife of our trip (all the animals were playing a big prank and hiding from us I think). They hopped about and stared at us as we walked through the grassy hill that was their home.



This is where our first view of the Granite Park Chalet was (a backcountry primitive lodge, one of four chalets in Glacier NP). The Granite Park Chalet marked an unofficial halfway point for us as it was where we left the Highline Trail and began on the Swiftcurrent Trail through Swiftcurrent Pass, across the continental divide.


The Granite Park Chalet in the distance.


Big ol’ mountain across the valley.


A little critter that was hanging around the ptarmigan.

About a mile before the chalet there is a small spur trail that leads up to an overlook of Grinnell Glacier. Despite being a short .4 miles this was probably the most difficult section of trail because of how steep and gravelly the trail was. The trail ascended quickly giving way to more incredible views. Just before the end of the trail was Charlie the Robot sitting down and enjoying his lunch. He seemed much less robotesque now and was very friendly. He warned me that it was extremely windy atop the overlook and we chatted about our trips while waiting for dad to catch up. We hopped up to the top of the 7,510 foot garden wall and peeked down at the massive Grinnell Glacier and it’s iceberg lake. It was very windy but not as dramatic as Charlie had made it seem. This was the highest elevation we would reach that day. It was difficult to take pictures of the glacier because it was directly below us on the cliff.





We enjoyed the views and carried on down to the chalet. Just before reaching the chalet we spotted our first large animals of the trip! Deer! We took pictures of them and then continued on. The chalet was cool but didn’t have much to offer other than some more nice views from the front porch and a bathroom.





We left the chalet and hiked upwards through the Swiftcurrent Pass to the other side of the Garden Wall. I got a refill on water from some nice glacier fed ponds and we sat down on the trail to have a PB&J lunch. this is where we first heard the bear rumors. According to some hikers coming up from Many Glacier there was a large Grizzly on the trail. We thought “Oh cool it’d be great to see a bear!”. We kept hiking and we passed more hikers chatting about the bear. They said it had been chasing people up and down the trail. According to the man (I assume a bear scientist because of the authority and confidence in which he spoke about the bears motives) “You gotta get off the trail, the bear doesn’t want to eat you, it wants the trail!” I am not sure what a bear would want with a hiking trail or why it wouldn’t want a juicy human snack to go with it’s huckleberries but I wasn’t going to question the bear expert. We continued to hear bear rumors that kept getting a little bit more exciting each time. I think the last we heard there were two bears terrorizing hikers along the trail before getting on a plane for a bear retreat in Bali. We reached the end of Swiftcurrent Pass before the trail heads steeply downwards and opens up to the lakes below in the Many Glacier area. The view here was incredible and i immediately sat down to brew some coffee because a view this great needs some coffee to sip while you take it all in.


Grinnell Glacier.





Best cup of coffee ever.

After brewing and viewing we began the steep descent into the valley. There were very many switchbacks in the section that took us down quickly. The views of Grinnell Glacier were great and as we got lower than the glacier we saw waterfalls flowing from it down the cliffs. The view of the lakes in the valley stayed great until we reached the bottom and were in the trees and surrounded by huckleberry bushes.



Once we reached the bottom of our steep cliffside descent the trail was mostly flat and meandered alongside the lakes and through the huckleberry bushes. This is where the bears had supposedly been, but we missed them. The trail took us over a couple small bridges and past a cute little waterfall and the further we got, the more people we encountered. We reached the trailhead on the Many Glacier side and I couldn’t believe our hike was over already.




We carried our backpacks into the Many Glacier lodge where we waited on the shuttle that would take us back to our car. We looked around the gift shop and rested in the chairs in the lodge lobby. Dad decided to grab some ice cream from the gift shop and while he was gone I watched a tall man walk up to the counter to ask questions and then proceed to accidentally lean on his bear spray that for some reason the safety was off on and spray it all over the water fountain and not far from my face. After that he quickly snuck away and the entire lobby had to be emptied out for cleaning because of the bear spray. Dad and I took our ice cream and walked over to an area by the lakes and back before our shuttle finally arrived. We rode back up into the mountains aboard the shuttles and chatted with the bus driver who was very friendly and couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen any bighorn sheep and mountain goats on our hike because “they are always there”. We got back to our car and then went on to dinner and to find a campsite for the night.

Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and this hike is certainly one of my favorite hikes I have ever done! I look forward to the next time we get to visit Glacier and take in all the beauty it has to offer!

Thanks! – Josh

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