The profusion of color, shape, and texture I saw in the flowers of Highline Loop Trail at Logan Pass, left me awestruck. My daughter likes to do this hike in Glacier National Park several times each season and claims it took us twice the normal time because I had to take photos of everything I saw. Seeing as much as my eyes could hold turned this hike into an all-day jaunt! On the off-chance that my camera-eye will enchant you in some small way similar to how I felt when I saw the flowers blooming in nature, I will simply present what I saw from the beginning of Highline Loop trail down to the parking lot at the bottom.
Highline Loop Trail begins
We entered clouds heavy with moisture as we began the hike, which gradually thinned to a mist as the trail wove through valleys. Then the sun would burst through the clouds to shine over the meadows of flowers below us, but just until the trail wound around the next mountain base. My photos were taken in early August after a deep-snow winter, so keep in mind that the flowers you will see at any particular time depends as much on area precipitation levels as on the month you go. If you’d like to know the names of the flowers, here’s a site to help you.
To a hiker, the term “loop” usually means that a trail begins and ends in the same place. In the case of Highline Loop, though, it has to do with a big bend at the bottom before the ascent. But there’s no reason I can think of for any Boomer hiker to make that ascent. Why hike straight up for nearly 12 miles with a 1950-foot elevation gain when you can ride to the top and hike down?
This has nothing to do with laziness; it has everything to do with the view. If you’re climbing up a trail, it’s easy to miss the gorgeous scenery above you because your head is aimed down. If you’re hiking down, well, everything is spread out in wonderful panoramas before you.
Take the free shuttle up and hike down
Here’s the drill: Leave your car at The Loop parking lot below, then board a free park shuttle for the death-defying ride up the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass at the top. After a half hour of peering over the edge of thousand-foot-plus drop-offs a few inches to the right of your window in the lumbering maxi shuttle, you’ll love getting out at the Visitor’s Center at the top of the mountain (elevation 6646 feet at the parking lot). There you can calm yourself, or warm up . . . depending.
In peak visitor days the Visitor’s Center can be a humming, busy place, but that doesn’t mean the hiking trails will be congested. Most visitors mill around a bit taking a dozen selfies with rugged mountain peaks for a backdrop, then they eat their chocolate bars and go back down the mountain.
If you truly have a death wish and insist on driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road in your own vehicle, ONLY DRIVE NORTH TO SOUTH starting on the east side of the park at the Canadian border. This puts you on the inside lane through the mountains. Very Important information!
You be the judge
The Hiking Glacier web site gives very specific information as to the trail and mountain peaks, which is highly useful. But I strongly disagree with the authors on two points. When they say, “If you’re looking for solitude . . . you won’t find it on this trail,” they must be referring to its popularity. I didn’t find it that way at all. Maybe if you go on a holiday weekend you’d have that impression, but I’ve never experienced it.
Secondly, the site posts a bleak photo of barren rocks and a sheer drop-off to the left of the trail that comes with this caution:
“At roughly one-quarter of a mile from the trailhead hikers will arrive at the famous ledge with the reputation for terrifying those with a fear of heights. In most places the ledge, hanging like a shelf along the Garden Wall, is only six to eight feet in width, and has drop-offs of roughly one hundred feet or more down to the Going-to-the-Sun Road below. This segment lasts for only three-tenths of a mile, but may seem forever if you have a fear of heights. Fortunately, the National Park Service has installed a hand cable along this stretch of the trail. My advice is to not let this deter you, as this is one of the most scenic trails in America.”
I agree about not letting it deter you, but I suspect the photo isn’t very recent. It’s hard to date Internet information, but I remember that segment of the trail quite differently. I believe it has been improved and widened significantly with a firm rock footing underneath. I felt no fear whatsoever even though I have some involuntary fear responses to heights (as you can tell from my description of the shuttle ride above). Instead, what I recall of that three-tenths of a mile is the beauty of the Garden Wall, which was weeping water and verdant with plant growth.
Cautions for hiking the Highline Loop
I have two cautionary notes for hiking the Highline Loop:
- The weather at The Loop parking lot is not necessarily the weather at the top of Logan Pass. Be ready for sun, wind, rain, and wildly varying temperatures according to your altitude and all in the same day no matter what time of the year. On the other hand, when I hiked Highline Loop in early August, the weather was a perfect temperature with enough misting to refresh us every once in a while. But don’t count on it.
- Make sure you drink a lot of water. That means you’re going to have to pee. This is a problem. It’s a long way down to any kind of toilets. Which means, if you want any privacy, you’ve got to find cover somehow, despite miles of rolling mountain meadows full of flowers.
The option I took was not to drink the water I was carrying. Hours later when I got to the bottom of the mountain, I felt fine. Took a big drink of cool water, which felt so good! Swigged down another. And five minutes later I was too nauseated to stand, and retching at the side of the road. Took a few hours for my body to recover the electrolyte imbalance. Miserable and a little scary.
Therefore: Drink water and pee. It’s your only healthy choice.
Did you know that Bear Grass blooms once every seven years?