By getting a last-minute reservation at the back-country Granite Park Chalet in Glacier National Park, we were able to make this wonderful hike the first part of a two-day spectacular combination hike using the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail on the second day. The scenery and some wildlife encounters made this one of our favorite hikes.
Getting To The Trailhead
We were up early and had everything ready to leave the RV park at 6:45 this morning. We were going to park our Jeep at the trailhead parking in the Many Glacier area, take a shuttle to the St. Mary Visitors Center, and take another shuttle up to Logan Pass.
The plan was to hike the popular Highline Trail from Logan Pass seven and a half miles to the Granite Park Chalet, stay the night there (got a last minute reservation due to a cancellation), and then hike down the seven and a half mile Swiftcurrent Pass trail to the Many Glacier area and our waiting Jeep.
We arrived around 7:20 to board the 7:30 Hiker Shuttle ($10 per person) that picked up at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and the Many Glacier Hotel. Unfortunately, the 7:30 shuttle was a 10-passenger van and there were twelve people waiting. Though I'm not sure we were the last to arrive, we got bumped and had to wait for the next shuttle at 9:00.
And all of the people that were waiting at the hotel for the Hiker Shuttle were left behind, too. There is no reservation system or sign-up for the Hiker Shuttle, and they don't have a back-up plan if the shuttle is full.
We were quite disappointed because the later start would likely mean less chance to see wildlife, less recovery time at the chalet, and the possibility of having to deal with afternoon mountain storms. By our calculations, we would be lucky to be on the trail by noon.
So, while we waited, we went into the Inn and had breakfast. At least we'd have a good protein start and would be able to save some of the food we packed in our backpacks. One of the Red Bus tour vehicles came in, but the tour wasn't until 9:00, so getting a ride on that wouldn't do us any good.
We asked a couple of folks for a ride to the St. Mary Visitors Center, but they weren't going any sooner than the next shuttle.
Maggie, the shuttle driver did return at 9:00, and we finally got going in the right direction. She dropped us off at the St. Mary Visitors Center, but we were ten minutes late for the 9:30 free park shuttle up to Logan Pass. The next scheduled shuttle was 10:30, but they say the shuttles on the east side run every 40 to 60 minutes and could come anytime.
I took a couple of pictures from the shuttle stop at the east entrance (St. Mary).
After waiting a few minutes, Maggie pulled up. She had a cancellation on the shuttle of an employee, so she waved us into the van. She was feeling bad about leaving us behind early this morning, and she did us a huge favor by taking us up the mountain.
I snapped a quick shot out the window as we got moving.
After a somewhat short stop for road construction, we made our way to Logan Pass. At 10:34 the 10:30 shuttle passed us going to St. Mary. It still had a good 45-minutes to an hour to get to the shuttle stop. Had Maggie not picked us up, it would have been somewhere around 1:00 before we got on the trail. As it turned out, she dropped us off, we tipped her, and we were on the trail before 11:00.
It wasn't exactly the start we were hoping for, but we were glad to finally be hiking.
The Highline Trail
We walked by the Logan Pass/Continental Divide sign, ....
crossed the road, and joined all the other people on the Highline Trail.
Because there isn't a lot of elevation change on the Highline Trail and because the views are awesome, the trail gets a lot of use.
Some hike out as far as they want and come back. Others make a day hike to the Granite Park Chalet and then make the return trip (15 miles total) or take one of the two other trails out of Granite Park. Some just hike about half-way to Granite Park (to Haystack Butte) and then return.
The Highline Trail is like walking the Going To The Sun Road (GTSR), only doing it several hundred feet higher.
The first part of the trail is along a rock wall with a somewhat narrow ledge and a cable to hold onto.
It's not really all that narrow, but someone did fall off the ledge earlier this year before the trail officially opened.
Here's a view of the valley to the west.
The line on the side of the mountain on the right is our trail. Nice.
Linda almost walked right by these goats above her head.
I thought that was as close as we could possibly get to a baby goat, a kid, ...
but I was wrong (as you'll see shortly). Linda got some video.
Here's a look back along the wall to Clements Mountain on Logan Pass. Note the cable along the wall which is run through a bunch of garden hoses connected together.
I let Linda get ahead a little to get another shot of the trail.
A waterfall or two always seem to be in view anywhere in Glacier National Park.
A little farther down the trail, there was a "goat jam". We waited as mama and baby squeezed by us.
I could have pet both of them.
Talk about a cute "kid".
For the rest of the way, our primary wildlife companions were Columbian Ground Squirrels.
They are cute, and they'll be your best friend every time they hear a backpack zipper open.
What gorgeous scenery!
Linda was videoing in the photo above, so we might as well show you the video. :)
Linda walks through a slanted field of Beargrass.
Another narrow section of trail along a rock wall.
And Linda shot another snippet of video.
About half way, there is one long switchback that climbs about 275 feet up to Haystack Butte. The trail goes up and down quite a bit, but that's the biggest elevation gain all at once.
Several folks make Haystack Butte their goal and then return to Logan Pass. Once we were past there, the number of hikers on the trail decreased quite a bit. Here's a look back at the Haystack on the right.
And here's a look going forward, with the GTSR far below.
We were getting tired, but the spectacular views kept us inspired.
As we rounded this corner, we got our first view of the Granite Park Chalet.
Of course it was still a couple miles away.
Here's a look south out toward the Lake McDonald Valley.
Getting closer to the chalet and its gorgeous setting.
Linda shot some video of the distant chalet, .....
and then some more as we got closer.
We were huffing and puffing up that last hill, but we made good time overall and checked in around 3:15.
Granite Park Chalet
The Granite Park Chalet is one of two backcountry, hike-in only chalets in Glacier. Reservations are taken and they fill up months in advance. However, because reservations are made so far in advance, there are often cancellations. When I checked this past Monday, there were four spots available for tonight (Thursday). So I booked two spots immediately.
There are 12 rooms total in the chalet and its "annex". The rooms hold between two and six people and each reservation has its own "private" room. There is no "dorm" situation.
Here's a quick tour of the chalet. It's hard to get a look at the front, 'cause it sits right on the edge of the hill.
Here's one look from the balcony.
Inside, there are several tables and chairs which are used both by overnight guests and day hikers that often take a break here.
Cold drinks and freeze-dried meals can be purchased. Overnight guests can sign up for kitchen times to cook meals in the evening.
Each room has a numbered food bin, and we were all asked to store our food in the bin in the kitchen to help keep rodents out of the rooms.
There is no potable water in the chalet, but there is about a quarter-mile down a rough trail. Water is run into a couple of storage tanks and filtered. Jugs are supplied to go get water if you need one (but while the water is good, they recommend boiling anything hauled in the jugs - they can't vouch for what others do with those).
They also have two jugs of boiled water for brushing teeth. :)
Now our "room" wasn't in the main chalet, but in the "annex".
It was more like half a room, but all we needed was a place to sleep.
We opted for the optional linen/blanket/pillow package - a bit pricey at $20 per person, but it beat having to carry that stuff in.
And though the wood looks solid, there is no insulation and you can hear the conversations in the surrounding rooms just as if you were all in there together. The chalet provides ear plugs for sleeping, but they just muffle the noise. You just have to hope everyone goes to sleep at the same time and are quiet about getting there.
After getting settled, we sat at a picnic table and enjoyed the view.
We met some college students from the University of Iowa and had a nice conversation.
The only decision left was whether or not I was going to do the "bonus" hike on this steep trail ....
to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. Everything I read said the view was worth the effort, but it was a 900 foot climb in a little more than a half a mile. Linda looked at the trail and said "no way", and I debated giving it a shot.
Grinnell Glacier Overlook
After a couple hours rest, I decided to go for it. It would be an extra three miles roundtrip, and I wasn't looking forward to that very steep climb. But everyone we talked to that had made the trek said it was worth it.
I dumped everything out of my backpack except water, a little food, and a headlamp to make the load as light as possible. I left the binoculars with Linda so she could keep track of me.
It was a quick, easy walk to the trail junction. Then it was just one step in front of the other up the mountain. I tried to keep my head down and not check my progress - that seemed to help.
Linda timed me and said I reached the top in about an hour. Here was the first view from the "saddle".
The clouds had built by then, and I couldn't get the entire view lit up by the sunshine. I moved up the rocks a ways to expand the view down into the valley.
That's Upper Grinnell Lake in the lower center of the above photo, and then Lower Grinnell Lake in the left center, a bit of Lake Josephine, and a portion of Lake Sherburne in the upper left corner.
Here's a closer look at the glacier blue Upper Grinnell Lake which is still mostly frozen.
I stayed up at the overlook for about forty-five minutes by myself waiting for the sun to evade the clouds long enough to illuminate the blue waters of the Grinnell Lakes.
After my alone time with nature, I started the steep hike back down the trail. With the assistance of my hiking poles, I stayed upright and took a little pressure off my knees.
I was all by myself out there, but wasn't really concerned about bears. It did, however, look like good mountain lion habitat. So I stopped a few times just to do a quick scan for stalking big cats.
At the trail junction, a Hoary Marmot ducked into a small rocky wash before stopping and giving me a good look.
I talked softly to the furry critter, it came closer, and we had a moment.
With only a half mile back to the chalet, I was feeling pretty good. But I was still watching closely for any and all movements. In an area with trees on both sides of the trail a Mule Deer crossed the path about fifteen feet in front of me.
I certainly wasn't expecting anything that large, and "deer" wasn't my first thought. Startled would be an understatement.
After I gathered myself, I made it the rest of the way up the hill to the chalet. Linda had seen me coming and started cooking the freeze-dried meals we purchased upon arrival. It was about 7:45, and everyone else had eaten.
We learned that one freeze-dried dinner would have sufficed for the two of us. We ate at a table with Howard & Robbie, a couple from Seattle that Linda bonded with while I was doing the "bonus" hike. What a nice pair.
At 8:00, there was a free coffee/tea and ranger talk hour. Pretty much all of the overnight guests attended and listened about the park's geology.
After 9:00, most folks were out taking pictures and enjoying the quiet.
Once the sun sank below the mountains in the west, ....
we called it a night. What a wondrous, memorable day!