Hiking Garden Wall from Logan Pass in Glacier National Park

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This was the day we’d been waiting for: hiking in Glacier National Park. To beat the crowds,  we planned on being at the park by 7 am. Around 5:30 am, I looked out from our cabin’s deck and was greeted with this wonderful view. 

Glacier National Park at morning
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Entering Glacier National Park

We drove into the park and, well, parked. Our plan was to leave the van at The Loop (which was confusing for someone from Chicago), take a shuttle up to the top of Logan Pass, and then walk back along the Garden Wall path.

On the shuttle, we had a great conversation with the driver. He informed us that, on our route, the National Park Service recommended we have two liters of water per person for the last four miles. The entire hike was 11 miles, but apparently those last four were killer. “They have to extract hikers about once a month because they don’t have enough water.”

We figured he was being cautious and that we’d be fine with our two liters per person we each had on us for the whole hike. 

Hiking Garden Wall

Logan Pass at Glacier National Park

Beginning at Logan Pass Visitor Center, we started hiking the path known as Garden Wall. It isn’t for those with vertigo issues. 

Garden Wall at Glacier National Park

From the beginning, it gave us great views of the park. On one side was the gaping valley and on the other were steep jagged mountain tops for which this park is famous. 

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Eventually the path widened out. While it was still narrow (and not ADA compliant) a slip wouldn’t have been rapidly fatal as it was before. Now, if you fell, you’d tumble a bit before dying slowly. 

Glacier National Park

Take a look at that last picture, and you’ll see the sky is beginning to blow out in my pictures. That’s because of smoke. This particular morning was very clear of smoke from the nearby wildfires, but the summer of 2017 was particularly bad for wildfires. Some days, it was clear, others had a dense fog that obscured the mountains entirely.

We Made A Buddy

I’ve never really traveled alone, at least not for pleasure. But we met someone who did just that. His name was Zach (spelling?). He was from the Bay area and worked in finance. He traveled alone to Montana and nicely asked if he could join our group. The entire time, he was friendly, pleasant, and engaging. He had more water than we did too, and shared when the going got rough. 

This is the only photo I have of him. When we finished the hike, he went on his merry way, and that was that. I wish that we’d learned a little more about him, but maybe it’s better this way. 

Hiking at Glacier National Park

My dad and I joked that it took a certain type of person to do a solo trip. If either one of us did it, it could easily be summarized as “I took a solo trip. I saw great things, but talked to no one for two weeks.”

Wherever you are, Zach, hope things are going well. 

Hiking at Glacier National Park

The Last Four Miles

We reached the Granite Park Chalet in the early afternoon. It could easily be mistaken for the Alps (as someone who has never been to the Alps). But notice that smoke. 

Granite Park Chalet at Glacier National Park

At this point, unfortunately my camera battery was dying. I didn’t take many photos, so I have to use my eloquent verse to paint you a picture. 

Supplies at the Granite Park Chalet are understandably expensive. It isn’t accessible by car at all meaning everything is ‘packed in’. I’m unsure if everything in the chalet was carried on someone’s back or by something like a pack mule, but the point remains that it’s labor intensive. 1 liter of water was $6. Gatorade was $3. 

By the time we left the chalet, the mountains across the valley (pictured above) were only about 50% visible and the campfire smell lingered in the air.

We only had four miles left in the hike and it was mostly downhill. The last third (give or take) had most of the downhill gradient which to most people sounds like a blessing. It sounds easy.

But it wasn’t.

Going downhill constantly an incredible quadricep workout, and after a while my legs began to shake. Also, this section of the path had been burned by previous forest fires in 2003. The trees had yet to grow back meaning it was all exposed with no shade. After about 15 minutes, we all began to remember the shuttle driver at the beginning of the day: two liters of water just for the last four miles, one extraction per month.

The hike dragged on as we ran low on water. We started off by joking about the people who had to be rescued from the forest, but we quickly stopped because it became apparent how easy it was to underestimate the risks.

But we made it back to The Loop without needing to be rescued though we were all pretty dehydrated. We said goodbye to Zach and made our way back to the cabins where there were gallons of water with our names on them.

Night Shot

I mentioned this was a family trip. My parents live in Montana. And every year, we go out into the wilderness to camp. I look up at the stars and am amazed. Usually, we’re about an hour away from Helena, so I can see thousands of stars that I can’t see in Chicago. And every time, I think to myself “I want to bring my tripod and take a long-exposure shot of these stars. People have gotta see this.”

Well, this time, I actually brought my tripod. My battery was on its last legs but I had enough to at least try this one time to get a shot of the starry sky. At 1:30 am, I went onto the balcony of the cabin, set up my tripod, set the shutter speed to 30 seconds, the ISO to 1600, and the aperture as wide as it’d go.

I was able to get one usable photo before my battery went completely flat (I took about five where the settings were wrong). In that one photo, you can’t see the stars. But you can see the glow from the fires in Glacier National Park that weren’t visible to the naked eye. 

Glacier National Park at night

The next morning, we went back to Helena. There were no beautiful mountains this time; the smoke was too thick to see anything. 

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  1. Oh yes, going downhill is often more of a pain than going uphill. However, since I am of the country with no hills and no mountains I think what you and your dad did was quite the accomplishment!!

  2. My parents did this hike years ago, and stopped at the chalet, ever since then, I’ve wanted to do it. Love seeing your photos and that path is not for the faint-hearted for sure. A friend who lives in MT told me the Sperry Chalet burned down with the latest round of the fires they had, so that means that Granite Chalet is the only one left in the park.

    1. Author

      I heard about Sperry Chalet! I didn’t know there was only two chalets left in the park though. That makes it even sadder.

      If you’re not up for harrowing heights, there are several other paths that don’t induce vertigo. Again, I wish I’d spent longer in the park. We barely scratched the surface.

  3. So great you got the night shot! I completely agree that many people underestimate the difficulty of downhill hiking…it’s very deceiving. Glad you made it back ok and didn’t have to be extracted – crazy that every month that happens. Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles

  4. Wow, looks like an amazing hike. I live at the outskirts of the Alps, and it seems from your photos, landscape looks rather different than landscape in the Alps – no less beautiful though. 🙂 #FarawayFiles

  5. Ok – so two things. Unfortunately, I’m fairly confident my vertigo is definitely going to prevent me from getting very far along on this amazing hike. That first pic after Logan Pass literally made my stomach drop. Second, we met a “Zach” while hiking in Switzerland in our 20’s. His name was John and he was from Maine and he made our exploring all the more colorful and entertaining. So if you’re out there John from Maine – cheers from Erin and Bo! Ha! Stunning pictures and what a special gift your family has given you exploring like this every year. Amazing memories for sure. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles

  6. I think I’d be a little bit freaked out by the path being so close to the edge of the cliff in some parts, but otherwise this looks like an amazing hike that I’d love to try! #WeeklyPostcard

    1. Author

      The path was a little nerve-racking at times, but the views were worth it!

  7. Hmm, it does look like a beautiful hike, but not sure its for me. You make it sound pretty scary and I agree I often have a hard time going down than up. Not only is it a quad workout but i am always more scared I will slip so I go slower. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    1. Author

      There are other paths that are a little less harrowing, but this path wasn’t for the faint of heart!

  8. I used to live 20 minutes away from GNP for 3 years! I loved it!! We used to go hiking a lot when we lived there! A great hike we did was to Victoria Falls which passes like 4-5 other falls along the way! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    1. Author

      Did you live in Kalispell? If you didn’t, then you lived in the middle of nowhere! It’s kind of hard to get to GNP, but definitely worth the drive.

  9. What a gorgeous place! I love National Parks, and I visited quite a few over time but didn’t make it to Glacier NP yet. You put it higher on my list of places to visit soon. Thanks for sharing your adventure on the trail. Last summer we had encounters with smoke from wildfires on our summer trip, in Canada. It was a bad year for them everywhere 🙁

    1. Author

      The fires were awful. About two weeks after I left Glacier, one of the Chalets (not the one I went to) was caught up in a fire. I didn’t get a lot of pictures of the previously burned areas, but you can still see the damage from the fires from 10 or 15 years ago.

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