Panoramic views from the Grinnell Glacier Hike in Glacier National Park, Montana

Grinnell Glacier Trail

Glacier National Park
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Grinnell Glacier Trail

Distance: 16.1km
Elevation: 625m
Time: 5-6h

Difficulty Rating:

User Ratings:
9.8 Overall Rating
Technical Difficulty
Physical Difficulty

Grinnell Glacier is a spectacular hike in Glacier National Park on a remarkable trail past lakes, across vertical rock faces and through waterfalls (early in the season), culminating in a spectacular lake and waterfall. On Grinnell Glacier Trail, you will often see wildlife. All of these experiences combined make the Grinnell Glacier hike one of the best hikes in the USA.

Grinnell Glacier Trail hike Map

Getting there

Go to the Many Glacier Area, and park at the Grinnell Glacier Parking Lot, approximately 0.6mi after the turn-off for the Many Glacier Hotel. If the parking lot is full, there is some parking on the street and, in the worst case, park at The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn about 600m down the road.

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About

When to do

June through September

Backcountry Campsites

No

Toilets

Trailhead

Family friendly

No

Route Signage

Average

Crowd Levels

Moderate

Route Type

Out and back


Grinnell Glacier Trail
Elevation Graph


Route Description for Grinnell Glacier Trail

We love the Grinnell Glacier trail! What a view, what a hike, what a day. In good weather, this route is a wonderful day trip. However, there are some challenging bits, some narrow pathways and early in the season a dangerous walk on stones through a waterfall – yes, you get wet. We don’t recommend taking young children or people who have strong aversions to exposure on this hike. To be clear, there is no need to use your hands and the trail is wide, however, we found ourselves walking close to the rock wall to be on the safe side.

Some people suggest taking the boats across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine to save time. Frankly, we’re not so convinced – mostly due to the hassle of coordinating a ticket, getting to the boat on time, the transfer between boats and the hike up the other side to rejoin the trail. With that said, we’ve met people who swear by the boats.

For walkers, start at the Grinnell Glacier parking lot in between Many Glacier Hotel and Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. If you’re lucky, you stayed in one of these hotels the night before and got to soak up the atmosphere of this incredible area at dawn and dusk. The parking lot gets full, like almost all parking lots in Glacier, between 9am and 4pm each day. In Many Glacier there are options to park on the road near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn or in their parking lot.

You start off on a fine path in the trees, soon coming to a bridge across Swiftcurrent Creek after only 400m. There is a beautiful view here up the river to the Flanks and peak of Mt. Wilbur. Another 250m and you are down by the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, looking back at the beautiful Many Glacier Hotel. At 1.0km, you’ll pass the Boat Dock and come to a crumbling paved section. Here, some tourists who are on the boat tour may join you – they’ll have to walk 984ft over a hump to catch the next boat on Lake Josephine.

The trail hugs Lake Josephine for the next 1.5km, and you get wonderful views across this stunning lake up to Allen Mountain. At roughly 3.1km from the start, you connect with a trail down to the boat dock. Note that the boat dock is down and across on the other side of the lake – a lengthy commute. From here the trail starts to climb, and the higher you get, the better the views back across the valleys, with mixtures of blues, greens and greys. It is especially stunning in early or late-day light!

As you rise, the scenery continues to open up ahead, with parts of the glacier visible. . This is merely an amuse bouche, however, as the main course that will be served once you’re at the viewpoint is why you’ve taken this hike in the first place. The trail going forward will often have some late season snow. The last time we hiked this trail it was closed partway up due to lingering snow, but thankfully the tireless Glacier staff were out with ice axes cutting paths for us, and we were able to get to the top. You’ll notice the trail gets rougher as it rises, with some points feeling decidedly airy!

At this point, you may be wondering where the trail went, as it looks like a rock wall is blocking the trail. Your route is carved out of the ledges – and it is exhilarating – but can make those with vertigo nervous. Have a look at the photos to get a feel for the path. At approximately 5.8km from the start you may be confronted with a waterfall discharging right onto the path. You’re going to get wet if it is, so be safe and be prepared. Put away valuables and watch your step. Be very careful if you have kids, we don’t suggest taking any youngsters through this if it is flowing.

The path across the ledges is stunning, but please don’t lose focus of your feet. Stop to take it all in! On your left is Mt Grinnell; straight ahead is the Garden Wall; and above is the Salamander Glacier – which you can get to from a spur on the Highline Trail. Below you on your left, Grinnell Lake is fed by Grinnell Creek and Angel Wing rising above the Lake. But from here, you need to keep on going forward and rising.

Eventually, you’ll arrive at a final few switchbacks and come up to a viewpoint looking at the Cirque surrounding Upper Grinnell Lake. It is incredible, with the lake often full of ice in early summer, the peaks and glaciers looming above. We were in awe here, and had several bighorn sheep to keep us company as dinnertime approached.

The way down is the same way as you came up, but please, please take plenty of care on the waterfall. It is more slippery and challenging descending, and you will get wetter!

Congratulations, you have just completed one of our favorite hikes in America!

Hiking Trail Highlights

Grinnell Glacier

Grinnell Glacier is in the heart of Glacier National Park in the U.S. state of Montana. The glacier is in the Many Glacier region of the park and it lies in the Lewis Range and sits on the northern slope of Mt Gould. Its average altitude is 2100m.

Due to the popularity of the Grinnell Glacier hike, it is one of the most photographed glaciers in the world and the first documented photos date back to the 19th Century.

The Grinnell Glacier was named after George Bird Grinnell, an explorer who was a strong advocate of the creation of Glacier National Park. Unfortunately, the glacier is retreating, as are many in the Rockies, and the Salamander is now a separate glacier from the Grinnell. Grinnell Glacier has reduced in size by more than 40% in just over 50 years. So, get there soon!

Wildlife spotting on the Grinnell Glacier Trail

The Grinnell Glacier trail is a perfect hike for nature enthusiasts. Glacier National Park is a habitat for many great animals that you would not be able to spot elsewhere. And hiking the Grinnell Glacier is a perfect opportunity to get right into the wild, as you walk through the dense forests, lakeshores and rough mountain slopes, following the trails that so many animals walked before you.

Hikers on Grinnell Glacier trail often see moose, deer, coyotes, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and different birds of prey. The lucky ones (just an expression) might have the chance to spot grizzly bears and wolverines. And although there isn’t a high chance of seeing them, the area is also home to lynx, wolves and mountain lions.

Seeing these animals in the wild is exhilarating, but be aware of safety as well. Never feed wildlife and be very careful not to leave any food or food packaging behind. If you pack it in, pack it out, including compostable trash such as apple cores. Hikers in Glacier National Park are encouraged to learn about bear safety before hitting the trail. Hike in groups, if possible, and carry bear spray. Cans of bear spray can easily be purchased in the park, or even in grocery or convenience stores in nearby towns such as White Fish or Kalispell. If you only plan to hike for a day or two, renting bear spray may be a more convenient and cost-effective option. Bear spray can be rented at several locations within the park and also from local outfitters. For more on bear safety, please read about bear safety before hitting the trail.

Do you like this hike? Check out more amazing hikes in Glacier National Park, like the classic Piegan Pass or Ptarmigan Tunnel.

Insider Hints

  • If you can, stay at Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge and spend the weekend in this wonderful location!

  • Camping is also a great option! The Many Glacier campground is within walking distance of the trailhead, so if you camp here, you can start your hike from your campsite without needing to drive or find parking. It’s a great way to hit the trail early. Make reservations ahead of time if you can, but half of the sites are first-come, first-served.

  • The store at Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge sells a wide variety of treats, and after this hike you probably deserve some ice cream!

  • For more discerning hikers, stop by The Ptarmigan Dining Room in Many Glacier Hotel (after a shower of course) for a fine meal.

  • Be careful on your drive out of Many Glacier. Evening is prime-time for wildlife to be out and about, especially moose and bears!

Comments

Dave Heinze 7 months ago

I did this hike a couple days ago. I'm an old giuy, 62 but in decent shape. The best hike I have ever done. I took the ranger hike, so it was crowded, but Jamie gave great info along the hike. It was definitely worth it, but the boat ride was not necessary. We skipped it on the way back and managed to see a Griz. I also saw a long distance moose and a lot of Bighorn sheep. Take a beer to chill on the glacier.

10.0 Overall Rating
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7h 00m Time Taken
Krista Lucas 8 months ago

Amazing hike! Gets tough as you approach the top as you are feeling quite gassed fr the stairs. Stunning views along the way! Possibly my fav in glacier!

9.0 Overall Rating
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6h 00m Time Taken
Kristina Norm 10 months ago

I was told it's a classic. I have done it and can see why people are drawn. The places you go through are paradise-like

10.0 Overall Rating
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Giedre 11 months ago

This is our favorite hike of the Glacier. We chose to walk on foot and skipped the boat. The shorter path to the trailhead along the right side of the lake Josephine was closed due to the bear activity so we took the longer one on the left side and my god was it scary. Lots of dense bushes and berries, you can't see very far and it's terrifying if you are in bear county. We making noises as crazy and if someone would've heard that might think that we are nuts. One of the highlights - we saw a moose with a calf drinking from the lake! Then we've reached the trailhead. And my god the views were the best ones I've seen. I think that the Grinnell hike is the only hike in the world that I would love to do again. On our return, we took the boat back to Many Glacier because we felt too tired to be dragging ourselves back all the way around the lake. The boat was overcrowded (more people than allowed) and I don't think they care about safety too much.

10.0 Overall Rating
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Physical Difficulty
6h 00m Time Taken
MaggieRoy 11 months ago

An Iconic hike, a must do if you are in the Glacier national park

10.0 Overall Rating
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Wicked T 11 months ago

Grinnell is a true beauty. I saw a moose on this hike. Will never forget it.

10.0 Overall Rating
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stocRob 11 months ago

One of the iconic hikes of Glacier national park. Would do it again and again if I could. The views are amazing I couldn't ask for anything more from a hike. Arrive early as the carpark gets full

10.0 Overall Rating
Technical Difficulty
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6h 00m Time Taken
Ronny 11 months ago

It was a very nice hike indeed. Plenty of people. Maybe safer this way as there are bears in the area. The ice mountain part wasn't as nice as the lakes on the bottom.

9.0 Overall Rating
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5h 30m Time Taken
Burokai 11 months ago

My absolutely favourite hike! It's quite crowded but the views are absolutely worth it. Part of the trail was closed due to the bears so we had to take the long walk around the lake but at the end of the hike reaching the glacier was very rewarding. The hike was not too hard but might be tough with children

10.0 Overall Rating
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8h 00m Time Taken
9 Comments

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