Garden Wall Trail to Glacier Overlook, in Glacier NP

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Seeing an actual glacier up-close in Glacier National Park requires some effort.  If you’re hiking the popular Highline Trail, you do have a good opportunity to see a glacier and enjoy a stunning view of the park — but it will require some extra effort.  The Garden Wall Trail is a short spur off the Highline Trail, but it’s very steep.

Location

The Garden Wall Trail is roughly a mile away from the Granite Park Chalet, and roughly 6.5 miles away from Logan Pass, along the Highline Trail.  As an alternative to hiking from Logan Pass, you could park at The Loop and hike up The Loop Trail to Granite Park Chalet, then take the Highline Trail to the Garden Wall Trail – making the trailhead about 5 miles from your car.  However, the Loop Trail is a steep, uphill climb.  Hiking out and back on the Highline Trail would be longer, but easier.  I’ve covered parking and transportation options on a separate page.

My Visit

Hours after leaving Logan Pass, and with a while to go before arriving at Granite Park Chalet, you’re faced with a sign that creates a dilemma.  You’ve come all this way, and you may never be here again.  Wouldn’t it be a shame to pass up on a great viewpoint that’s only a half-mile away?

Yes, it would be.  It seems like a no-brainer to hike up the Garden Wall Trail.  But then…

… you pause for a moment and look at this trail.  The photo doesn’t fully convey the daunting path that lies ahead.  The sign mentions the length of the trail (6/10 of a mile, though I suspect the actual distance is longer), but the real number to worry about is the elevation gain.  A topographical map suggests it’s about 1,200 feet.  That makes it about a 38% grade – in other words, for every two and a half feet you walk forward, you go up a foot.

Thanks to that steep pitch, you’ll probably stop — a lot — to enjoy the scenery.  The view was great from the Highline Trail, but now you’re above the Highline, and backtracking.  The extra elevation makes the views even better.

Once you’re near the top, you can look back towards Granite Park Chalet.  At this point, it’s slightly around the corner, so you can’t see it, or the trailhead.

Your destination is that notch between two fins of rock atop the Garden Wall.  Even when this close, I had to stop for another break.  I’m telling you, that climb was brutal.

At the notch, you’re standing atop the Continental Divide, and it feels like you’re standing at the top of the continent.  Now you have a view down the other side…

… at a series of small lakes left behind by a retreating glacier.  These are called Paternoster Lakes, due to their resemblance to a series of Rosary beads.

Around the corner just slightly, you can also see Grinnell Glacier.

It’s also very likely that you’ll spot a hoary marmot posed on a rock, overlooking an endless landscape of mountains.

I would have loved to have followed this little guy around for a while, and taken some even better pictures.  But I was tired.  So tired.  And the wind was howling through that notch. And I still had another mile and a half to hike to Granite Park Chalet, followed by another four miles downhill, back to my car at the Loop.  The hike up the Garden Wall Trail had taken more time than I had expected.  I didn’t have time, and I wasn’t in the mood to properly enjoy this amazing place.   So, I headed back down the trail, to finish my long day of hiking.

You can read all about my hike on the Highline-Loop Trail here.
You can make a hike on the Highline-Loop Trail much easier by spending a night or two at Granite Park Chalet. The accommodations will be very rustic, but the extra day will allow you to leisurely tackle trails like this one and/or the Swiftcurrent Mountain Trail.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive over Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road:

The Bottom Line

The Garden Wall Trail is short but incredibly steep.  The view is fantastic at the end, but it will take a lot out of you to get there.  Make sure you have the time and the willpower to tackle this trail before you attempt it.

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