4 Lenses, 4 Weeks, 4 Trips: Highline Trail

How to capture the beauty of traveling through Glacier National Park


I can spend hours along the Highline Trail during the middle of the summer. Considered one of the premiere trails in the National Park System, once it opens, the Highline Trail is a mecca for visitors who love panoramic views and an overflowing alpine garden of wildflowers. Just a short hike in is the Garden Wall, where colors burst and hang from the precipice to a stomach-clenching valley below.

For this trip you’ll need your macro lens and, with luck, a windless day. I use the Nikon AF-S micro Nikkor 60mm Bring plenty of water, as it is easy to get dehydrated at these high altitudes, and a wildflower ID book. If you don’t have a book, there is a great seasonal wildflower display in the Visitor Center at Logan Pass.

I don’t photograph wildflowers for identification; I photograph wildflowers for their art. I ask myself, how would I paint this? How do I accentuate its character? I look at the sensual curves of their petals, the different-lined texture of their veins, and how the background helps tell their story.

Mimulus lewisii
The flower is named in honor of explorer Meriwether Lewis. It’s found in the dripping cracks along the wall and near the edge of the small pools. It is super vibrant, so be cautious when photographing to not blow out your colors. Play around with smaller apertures.


Castilleja rhexifolia
This is one of the more ubiquitous flowers of any Alpine Tundra (I have seen them anywhere from the Sierra Nevada in California on up to the Interior of Alaska). Look for the small yellow tubular blossoms, which are the true flower, just poking out of the brilliantly colored leaves. How many colors can you find?


Xerophyllum tenax
Beargrass is one of the iconic wildflowers of Glacier National Park. It has a varied bloom cycle of 5 to10 years. I had the pleasure my first season at the park of watching the entire Logan Pass carpeted with this flower. Some say it smells like air-popped popcorn; I think it smells like fresh laundry. Because the flower can be busy in print, pay attention to your background to help bring out the intricate details of the flower. Beargrass has really neat spirals to its design; play around with the focus until you find the effect you like.


Zigadenus elegans
This beauty is one of my favorites, as it is exquisite to photograph. I usually look for a dark background to contrast the bright white of the flower. I feel it gives it an elegant edge.




Near the first portion of the hike is a section of the trail that hugs the rock wall while you grip a steel rope. When you catch your breath, look in and up the rocks. You’ll find bright orange and green lichen mapping out the surface and crusting out the cracks. Try and get a feel for an abstract landscape you can create using the shapes formed by the lichen. It’s akin to looking for shapes in the clouds, one of my favorite activities as a photographer. Title your photographs with this intention in mind!

Categories: Artists & Artisans