Grinnell Glacier hike
Grinnell Glacier is a spectacular hike in Glacier Park on a remarkable trail past lakes, across vertical rock faces and through waterfalls (in early season), culminating in a spectacular lake and waterfall. You will often see game on this trail.
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 1969ft farther on.
|When to do|
June through September
Out and back
Route Description for Grinnell Glacier hike
We love this hike! What a view, what a trail, 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 on this hike or people who have strong aversions to exposure on a route. 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 1312ft. There is a beautiful view up the river to the Flanks and peak of Mt. Wilbur here. Another 820ft and you are down by the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, looking back at the beautiful Many Glacier Hotel. At the 0.6mi, 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 0.9mi, and you get wonderful views across this stunning lake up to Allen Mountain. At roughly 1.9mi from the start, you connect with a trail down to the boat dock. Note the boat dock is down and across on the other side of the lake – a lengthy commute. From here the trail starts to climb, the higher you get offering stunning views back across the valleys, with mixtures of blues, greens and greys stunning in early or late-day light!
As you rise, the scenery continues to open up ahead, with parts of the glacier viewable. This is merely an amuse bouche, however, the main course 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 did 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 is, as it looks like a rock wall is blocking the trail. However, your route is carved out of the ledges – and is exhilarating – but can make those with vertigo nervous. Have a look at the photos to get a feel for the path. At approximately 3.6mi 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 and 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, 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 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. So, get there soon!
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!
If you can, stay at Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge and spend the weekend in this wonderful location!
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. We see major game each drive after dinner, often moose or bears!
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