Key information: North Circle
- Also known as the Highline Trail/Ptarmigan Tunnel Loop, this is a varied six day walk in stunning wilderness.
- See mountain goats bounding over impossibly steep cliff faces, hear pikas and ground squirrels chattering in the undergrowth, and look out for wandering grizzlies.
- The North Circle varies from gentle hiking to strenuous ascents and, near Ahern Pass, some difficult sections requiring the use of an ice axe and crampons.
- Walkopedia rating87
- Natural interest17
- Human interest0
- Negative points0
- Total rating87
- Length: 80-100km
- 6 days
- Maximum Altitude: 2,267m
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
The North Circle is the best-known - and best - multi-day hike in Glacier NP. Sometimes known as the Highline Trail/Ptarmigan Tunnel Loop, this varied six day walk heads deep into the park's wonderful wilderness. Taking in stunning panoramas, it showcases the peaks, glaciers, waterfalls and lakes which make this such an outstanding area for hiking.
The trail passes over snow-capped mountains, across the Chaney glacier, past still blue lakes and the beautiful Dawn Mist Falls, and through meadows saturated with wildflowers. The Ptarmigan Wall is a highlight, with the 120ft Ptarmigan Tunnel blown into the mountain on its upper stretches.
Wildlife can be wonderful; mountain goats perched on impossibly steep slopes, the occasional bighorn sheep, pikas and ground squirrels chattering in the undergrowth, and marmots after your food. This does have a flip-side. Grizzly bears wander the park, and can pose a real danger so if you're hiking here, always come prepared.
The walk really begins at Granite Park. The trailhead here can be accessed from the popular hiking base of Many Glacier, on a short trek alongside Swiftcurrent Creek, or from Logan Pass, on a longer walk along the Continental Divide as it runs above Grimmell Glacier and the Salamander ice shelf. The latter may well be worthwhile if you are not planning on taking the day walk up to Grinnell.
From Granite Park the trail heads through subalpine fir and alpine meadows, with views of the stunning snow-capped Livingston Range unfolding to the west. A walk along a cliff face, frequently covered by snow drift, leads you to Ahern Creek, and the area around Ahern Pass, where Ahern glacier's waterfalls and tarns provide a dramatic backdrop. A side trail here provides some of the most challenging conditions of the hike - you are likely to need an ice axe and crampons.
Further along, the dramatic Sue Lake Overlook provides a stunning vista high above a glacial trough, before your drop again into wildflower meadows. From here, on the aptly-named slope of Fifty Mountain, you can allegedly see fifty mountains.
The trail turns almost back on itself as it circuits Cathedral Peak and Wahcheechee Mountain, and you can finish day three with a night beside Stoney Indian Lake on the eastern side of Wahcheechee. The following morning begins with a stirring ascent to Stoney Indian Pass, with great views of the Mokowanis valley before descending again into an alpine basin.
From here, you will largely be following lower contours: fording rivers, meandering around waterfalls and camping alongside still mountain lakes. The final day of the hike brings one of its most dramatic sections; a path cut into the cliff face of the Ptarmigan wall which leads through the blasted Ptarmigan tunnel and into the Swiftcurrent basin.
From here it is a steady descent back to the Many Glacier area.
Do consider the danger posed by grizzly bears on this walk. Come prepared and follow all official advice. A great source of information is the US National Parks Service site.
See our Glacier National Park page for detailed practical information and links to other nearby walks.
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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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