Hiking Glacier National Park
The Loop Trail

Mt. Gould in Glacier Park

The Loop Trail

Photo Use Guidelines

The Loop Trail in Glacier National Park is a popular trail due to being a “cut off” of sorts for people doing a day hike on the Highline Trail. Generally, hikers hike the Highline Trail (beginning at Logan Pass) to the Granite Park Chalet. From there, the Loop Trail is used to access the “Loop”, which is a hairpin turn on the Going to the Sun Road and where a small parking lot is located.

The Loop Trail is 3.8 miles in length and has a vertical gain (from the Going to the Sun Road up to the Granite Park Chalet) of a little over 2000 feet. As such, it is not the easiest of hiking trails for hikers who begin their hike at the “Loop.” However, since most hikers generally are heading “downhill” on the Loop Trail having just completed the trip down the Highline Trail, the vertical rise isn’t a huge issue.

The Loop Trail has never been the most scenic of trails, as up until recently the bulk of the trail passed through thick forests. The view, truthfully, hasn’t improved recently, either, as the majority of the terrain the trail passes through was completely burned over by the Trapper Creek Fire in 2003. While the canopy has been opened up allowing for some nice views of the mountains, all the dead trees do take a way from the view a bit.

Yet, although the area was completely burned over, it is still an enjoyable hike – especially if you are heading downhill and want to learn more about fires and the growth that occurs soon after. Despite the burn in 2003, a good portion of the Loop Trail has extensive undergrowth – and many areas that were once thick brush are beautiful open meadows full of flowers. While hikers who enjoy “green forests” obviously will not care much for the Loop Trail, if you are interested in flowers and forest regeneration following a major fire, a hike down the Loop Trail is most definitely worthwhile.

Loop Trail : Hiking Detail

Photo Use Guidelines

As mentioned, the Loop Trail begins at the “Loop”, which is a sharp switchback on the Going to the Sun Road. The “Loop” itself is located on the west side of the park, and has an elevation of 4400 feet. In addition to having a parking lot (where hikers can drop their car off), the parking lot also serves as a shuttle bus pickup point during the summer.

The hiking gear you will want take when hiking the Loop Trail is pretty straight-forward. As water is not available on the trail (and not available for free at the Granite Park Chalet), you will want at least 2 quarts of water, carried either in canteens or preferably in your pack via the newer hydration systems. A good pair of hiking boots, sunglasses, sunscreen and bear spray round out the equipment a hiker will want to have on the trail. A wind jacket that can double as a rain jacket also isn’t a bad idea, as things can get a bit windy, and cool, as you approach the Granite Park Chalet.

Beginning at the “Loop”, the trail passes through thick, burned over forests. The trail for the first ¾ of a mile or so is a mix of flat walking and gradual ascents and descents. After the first ¾ of a mile, though, the Loop Trail begins a steady, moderately steep climb up towards the Granite Park Chalet. While there are a few gentler parts, by and large, the climb up the Loop Trail could best be characterized as moderately steep for most of the trails length.

At first, the trail passes through thick, burned over forests. However, as the trail gains elevation, the forests were not as thick, and as such, did not burn as “hot” as was found further down the trail. Because of this, the undergrowth has made a remarkably recovery following the fire. Instead of skimpy grass and lots of burned trees, the hiker passes through areas full of flowers, tall grass and low underbrush.

The Loop Trail finally levels off a bit after about 3 miles. For the hiker heading uphill, take heart when you finally leave the fire damaged area behind, as the top of the most grueling part of the climb is behind you. From here, it is just a short .8 mile walk up to Granite Park Chalet, through a mix of forests and open area. The trail itself generally has a gradual climb up to the Chalet from this point, with the exception being a sharp climb uphill right below the Chalet.

Conclusion

Overall, the Loop Trail is not a “destination hike” like the Highline Trail or other scenic trails in the park are. However, it does serve one very important purpose – allowing hikers on the Highline Trail to reach the Going to the Sun Road relatively easy without having to turn around and go back the way they came. Thus, if you want to hike the Highline Trail to Granite Park Chalet and don’t want to retrace your steps back to Logan Pass, the Loop Trail makes for an appealing “shortcut” down to the Going to the Sun Road.

Also View the Loop Trail Photo Gallery


Hiking Gear & Equipment Guide for Glacier National Park

Fleece Jackets : The best way to stay warm in Glacier Park
Hiking Pants : The best type of pants for hiking...period
Rain Jackets : Get the right type of rain gear for Glacier Park

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