Overview and Route Description
View of Mount Wilbur from the traverse
The Garden Wall, a part of the Continental Divide, is a knife-edge ridge in Glacier National Park that runs from Swiftcurrent Pass to Logan Pass. The name comes from the abundant greenery and wildflowers on display in the summer. Spectacular in its own right, the Garden Wall also gives rise to notable summits such as Bishops Cap
and Mount Gould
(the highpoint). Starting from Lake McDonald, travelers on Going-to-the-Sun Road get views of the Garden Wall, but the best road views are the ones along the last few miles to Logan Pass (from the west) and from Logan Pass itself. Each summer, thousands of hikers travel parts of the Highline Trail from Logan Pass and gape at the Garden Wall rising directly above them as they scan its cliffs for mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Climbers may ascend the Garden Wall on routes to Gould, Bishops Cap, Mount Grinnell
, and just to the crest of the ridge itself.
Traverse Between Grinnell Glacier Overlook and Swiftcurrent Pass
This traverse can be completed from the Loop on GTS Road as a long day hike (very similar to the route description for Mount Grinnell) or as a very long day hike from Logan Pass. I suggest doing it from the campground or chalet at Granite Park, though, which will allow you to get up on the ridge earlier for better lighting and more solitude (though you're almost certain to be alone for much of this traverse no matter when you do it) and enjoy a night out in Glacier's wonderful backcountry. The chalet isn't cheap, but it means a bed and a roof in backpacking country.
Scenery is spectacular the entire way, and the Swiftcurrent Glacier is just a few yards below you most of the way.
Starting from the chalet just before dawn, I took the trail up to Grinnell Glacier Overlook. The trail is southeast of the chalet and splits from the Highline Trail about 5-10 minutes from the chalet; the overlook is about a trail mile from the chalet. Despite its short length, the trail does climb steeply in places, making it moderately difficult for most people.
Traverse views...Iceberg Peak
The view from the overlook was fantastic, and I stayed there as the sun rose and the smoke-filled valleys revealed themselves. The sun, the smoke, the colorful and dramatic rock, and the glistening glaciers made for some scenery that seemed more dream-like than real, like something a graphics wizard might create for a fantasy movie.
As often happens to me when I reach a trail's highpoint, I found myself wanting more, an unobstructed 360-degree view at the very least. And so up I went, north on the Continental Divide until I reached the ridge leading to Mount Grinnell (steep and a little loose but no harder than Class 3), and then I strolled up to Point 8479 to gasp at the scenery and do some work with my camera, and it was then, looking west at the Swiftcurrent Glacier, that I got it into my head that I could travel the crest of the Garden Wall to Swiftcurrent Pass and then take the trail back down to Granite Park Chalet. After a few more minutes of shaking my head at scenery I still couldn't believe and wishing I could send some instant images of it to friends and family back home and also somehow share with them what I was feeling, I headed back to the Garden Wall proper and began the traverse northwest.
At times, I stuck to the crest of the ridge, but at other times it seemed easier to descend a bit and traverse just above the upper edge of Swiftcurrent Glacier, which was proudly showing off its crevasses that morning. Nothing was difficult, and I couldn't have gotten lost, so the ramble to Swiftcurrent Pass was almost the perfect outing in that it was challenging enough to be interesting, incredibly scenic every step of the way, and wonderfully quiet. Just above the pass were some outcrops that did require a little careful route-finding for the safest way, but the difficulties still did not exceed Class 3 and ended pretty quickly. From the pass, I hiked over to an open area looking back at the glacier and out at silvery wisps of unnamed waterfalls spilling from the glacier and running down the nearly fully vertical cliffs. It was a wild, magical place, and it felt like my own little secret since I saw not one other person from the time I left Granite Park Chalet until the time I returned about three hours later. The ridgetop views, especially of Mount Gould and the Grinnell Glacier area, made me feel as though I was atop all of Glacier and had that entire magnificent mountain kingdom all to myself. It was neither my first nor my last outing in Glacier, but it was the one that pulled me past admiring and raving about the park's incredible beauty and into true intimacy with this crown jewel of the American (U.S.) Rockies.
Upper Grinnell Lake
This route is best done as an overnighter with a stay at Granite Park, so the primary access is described with that in mind.
From either the west or east (St. Mary) entrance to Glacier National Park, drive Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass. Across the road from the entry to the large parking area at the pass, there is a smaller parking area. This is where the Highline Trail begins, and it is about 8 miles of easy-to-moderate up-and-down hiking to the chalet and campground at Granite Park. The Highline Trail, while often crowded, frequently rewards hikers with great views, wildflowers, and wildlife such as mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and grizzly bears.
A second way to Granite Park is to hike the trail from the Loop (a sharp bend west of and considerably lower than Logan Pass). This way, it is about 4.5 miles to Granite Park, but there is much more elevation gain.
Yet a third way to access this route is by hiking the trail to Swiftcurrent Pass from Many Glacier Valley. It is about 6.5 miles and around 3000' of elevation gain to the pass; Granite Park is about another mile away, all downhill.
View from Granite Park, and reason enough to stay
Camp at Granite Park or stay in the Chalet there, where there are beds and generator-provided electricity (which means cold beer in the evenings). Both places will most likely require reservations. Although first-come, first-served campsites are available, it is unwise to count on getting one.
Backcountry camping Info
View from Granite Park Chalet-- by FlatheadNative
It now costs $25 for a week's entry to the park.
This is prime grizzly country, so exercise due caution.
Link to NPS Glacier N.P. SiteLink