I’ve decided to make it a point to celebrate my birthdays in beautiful places. Thankfully, my birthday falls on Labor Day weekend, and small excursions are a little more feasible. Last year I woke up in the Redwood Forest, this year I made my first trip to Glacier National Park. I had heard that it is one of the most beautiful of the U.S. National Parks, and the proximity allowed. As I enjoy being a tumbleweed, I didn’t really read up on the park beforehand, and I let the wind take me where it may.
This doesn’t always pan out well when it comes to camping. When I arrived at the east entrance to the park, I asked advice on where to camp and what was available, and I was directed to Rising Sun campground. Located across the street from St. Mary Lake, it is a great location to hop on one of the shuttle busses and traverse the Going-to-the-Sun-Road. Though when it comes to seclusion, well, it is easy to become friends with your neighbors. With my park map in hand, thanks to the east entrance guide, I noted that there were only four sites left at Rising Sun and the next “possibly available” site at a different campground was somewhere over the mountains. All-in-all, it was a decent campground with modern restrooms, I had a great view of a mountain, and it put me in a great spot to hop on a bus and find a good trail somewhere in the park. I staked my claim, pitched my tent and prepared for hiking.
Having since toured a few of the other campgrounds, I would recommend Sprague Creek, Apgar, or Fish Creek. Perched a little closer to the West Entrance, these three are more wooded, closer to water, and feel less like campers camping on top of other campers.
I stumbled upon the Highline Trail almost by accident. Again, I’m like a tumbleweed in that I don’t always plan hikes, but I’ll ask rangers, camp hosts, and other park employees their advice on which trail to follow. Usually, I am pleasantly surprised. It seemed on this go-around, all three people I asked had an idea of where I should go, but really couldn’t provide me with a precise map or direction. This is not to say that all GNP employees are like this… I chalk it up to asking the wrong people. I stood at the bus stop at Logan’s Pass, looking confusedly at a vague map until I noticed a few people making their way across the street, and it stoked my curiosity. I followed.
My first impression of the Highline Trail was that it is most certainly not for everyone. I kept thinking how much my sister would have hated it. The trail etches the curvature of the mountains. The vast majority is a small footpath between a steep hill leading up to the clouds and an even steeper drop-off, hundreds of feet above the Going-to-the-Sun road and even farther from the base of the mountain. The beginning, however, is the most treacherous, walking on the edge of a cliff alongside a ninety-degree rock wall. The park has attached ropes to the rock wall, making it easier for those experiencing a bit of vertigo to grab a hold of something.
Don’t worry, though, this portion is just over a quarter of a mile in length. After that, the trail weaves along the mountainside, still between two steep inclines on the slopes of the Garden Wall, but not as severe.
The views are what make this hike one of my all-time favorites. Around every curve, more panoramas! I found myself stopping frequently just to breathe deep and really embrace where I was: in the midst of beautiful, incredible nature. This, old, perfect, natural landscape is real. You can touch it. You can breathe it in. These eternal mountains just can’t be ignored.
Another thing I love about this trail is that though the majority of it is completely exposed to the elements, there are a few tree-surrounded areas that offer just a bit of shade on a hot day.
In addition, there a few portions that take hikers right through water, though nothing too extreme on a nice day–just a trickle.
At just under four miles, the trail drives up one large switchback towards Haystack Pass. If you are unable to do the entire 11 miles of the trail, this is a great place to stop, take a breather and turn back around. If you can finish the 11 miles, the west trailhead doubles as a bus stop and weary hikers can take a ride back to Logan’s Pass.
I continued about a mile past Haystack until inclement weather evaded and I made the choice to turn around. Why go so far and not finish the trail? I stumbled onto this trail, and though I had an idea of where it ended, at the time I was unsure of how far I had gone and how much trail lay ahead of me before finding shelter. As a solo-hiker, I went with my instincts and turned around with the rain. When I make it back to Glacier in the future–and you can bet that I will–finishing this trail is my number one mission. For now I will just dream about it.
Even if this trail isn’t your kind of thing, if you are a nature junkie (as I would assume you are, since you’re reading Tripleblaze), Glacier National Park will not disappoint. Out of all the National Parks I’ve visited, it ranks as number two, second only to Redwood because, well, I just love trees. In GNP, Glaciers sparkle amidst mountain peaks, the lakes are large and deep, and the fresh air is the sweetest I have encountered in my 29 years of life. I fell in love with this place. Go there. I bet you will fall, too.