If you can tread only one Glacier’s trail, then it surely has to be the Grinnell Glacier Overlook (unofficial) hike in Many Glacier.
Grinnell Glacier Overlook/Viewpoint Trail – An Epic Hike in the Many Glacier Section of Glacier National Park
Long trails rarely sneak into our itineraries when we travel as a whole family. How far can you hike with a small kid before he refuses to make a step forward? Carrying him for miles on end is not an option either. In Glacier National Park, however, we made an exception and embarked on the picture-perfect Grinnell Glacier Overlook hike.
The trail, located in Many Glacier, is known as one of the most gorgeous areas in the park. Smitten with its outstanding surroundings, hordes of travelers hike to the phenomenal Grinnell Glacier Overlook every year. Neither the long distance nor the steady uphill hike keeps them away from the popular trail.
If they can do it, so can we. Easier to say than to do. The hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook took us several hours. It tested our stamina and exhausted every one of us. For not very active hikers, it took a toll on our feet that felt wobbly and heavy for the rest of the day.
Yet despite all of these, the Grinnell Glacier Overlook hike was worth it. Interestingly, the higher you climb, the more you realize it. At some point you even want to pinch yourself: Is this natural splendidness I look at real? Yes it is.
And trust me when I say that the views become better and better the higher you hike. Get ready for an adventure of a lifetime and do the scenic Grinnell Glacier Overlook hike yourself.
GRINNELL GLACIER OVERLOOK HIKE
Grinnell Glacier Overlook: Hike Stats
- Distance: 10.6-mile, round-trip trail
- Trailhead: Grinnell Glacier trailhead or Many Glacier Hotel
- Location: Many Glacier
- Elevation Gain: 1,600 feet
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Time: 5-6 hours
Grinnell Glacier Overlook Hike: Grinnell Glacier Trailhead vs. Many Glacier Hotel
Many Glacier offers two starts of the hike to the favorite Grinnell Glacier Overlook. The first, the most popular of them, starts at the Many Glacier Hotel. Given the convenience of the location and the fact that many visitors stay at the hotel, this choice of the trailhead doesn’t raise a question.
The second trailhead, the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead, sits about a mile away. Apart from a parking lot and restroom, nothing else signifies the area. Yet we chose this place as the start of our hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.
Swiftcurrent Nature Trail
The Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail shares a section of the route with the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail. Starting as a paved path, it slowly turns into well-trodden dirt trail winding through old-growth forest.
This part of the the Grinnell Glacier Overlook hike is easy. Festooned with a good number of signages along the trail, it can be even considered quite educational. Before you realize it, you’re pretty aware of bears, elk, and other wild animals that dwell in this part of Glacier. Several warning signs remind you to stay closer to your group during the entire hike.
About 0.5 mile into the hike, the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail swirls to the left, leading the hikers around Swiftcurrent Lake and eventually to the Many Glacier Hotel. The Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail turns slightly to the right and begins to ascend.
But before the trail sprints up the mountainside, it runs along the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake, one of the most remarkable places in Glacier. Famous for the Many Glacier Hotel, nestled on the eastern shore, the place allures with its impeccable surroundings, consisting of towering mountains, dense forest, and sweeping vistas.
Only a portion of the lake is visible from the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail. Yet it’s enough to persuade you to get closer to the water and admire a row of trees reflected in the calm water.
The Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail continues on along the Swiftcurrent Lake shore until a narrow path forks to the right. This time Lake Josephine is at the center of attention.
Adorned with a modest boat dock and the mountains mirrored in the water at its far end, the area feels especially serene during early morning hours. Frequently overlooked by many Glacier’s visitors, it’s a perfect photo spot to set up your tripod and capture a few images (no less than a few dozens for me) before resuming your hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.
The best part of the Grinnell Glacier Overlook hike is an abundance of natural attractions dotting the area along the trail. Grinnell Lake is the next place to gaze at. While the previous two lakes entices the hikers to their shores, allowing to touch the cold water, Grinnell Lake seduces from afar.
The iconic aquamarine lake sits at the foot of the giant mountains that embrace its western side. A number of Glacier’s waterfalls, such as Grinnell Falls and Salamander Falls, stream down the mountainside until dispersing into the lake. The whole place can’t be more idyllic.
Different experiences and vistas await those who take a detour from their Grinnell Glacier Overlook trip and hike to Grinnell Lake. The Grinnell Lake Trail follows the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail before forking to the left about a mile from Lake Josephine. From here, the path runs downhill until stopping at the shore of Grinnell Lake, 1.6 miles later.
Grinnell Glacier Overlook
The views of Grinnell Lake accompany the Grinnell Glacier Overlook’s hikers until almost the end the trail. Offering different perspectives of the lake, the path continues climbing. The area is mostly exposed to the sun. Several small waterfalls stream down the mountainside, accommodating the hikers with temporary shady refuge and welcoming coolness.
At one point, the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail veers from the cliff edge and springs uphill in a zigzag manner. Soon enough, it stumbles upon another waterfall that rushes down to Grinnell Lake.
This place looks perfect to sit down, look back, and feast your eyes on the surreal surroundings. “Can this place be real?” – You’re not the only one who asks this question again and again.
The Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail seems to come to an end here. Neither a footbridge nor any other visible crossings allow the hikers to get to the other side of this creek-waterfall. A well-trodden path, however, emerges right on the other bank.
During our hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook, only a few travelers waded throught the water to continue farther uphill to Upper Grinnell Lake, the end of this hiking endeavor.
Interestingly, the lake with floating icebergs didn’t exist here before. Once a kingdom reigned solely by Grinnell Glacier, the area gave in to the proglacier lake in the 1930s. The waterbody seems to get bigger and bigger as the glacier continues to retreat.
End of Hike
Use the same trail to get back to the Grinnell Glacier trailhead. As the trail runs downhill now, hiking is easier. Your knees, however, may disagree with it.
Alternative Unofficial Grinnell Glacier Overlook Hike
Truth be told, the Grinnell Glacier trailhead is not the only start of the hike. Nor is the path that runs from the Many Glacier Hotel area. You can shave a few miles off your hike by taking two shuttle boats across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.
The first concession boat departs from the boat dock at the Many Glacier Hotel and reaches the southern side of Swiftcurrent Lake in about 8 minutes. From here, walk to Lake Josephine and board the second shuttle boat.
The distance to the unofficial Grinnell Glacier Overlook from the boat that reaches the southern side of Lake Josephine is 3.6 miles (one way). Follow the trail as outlined above.
Note: Fees may apply for using the boats.
Glacier’s Wildlife along Grinnell Glacier Trail
The Many Glacier Valley is home to a large concentration of grizzly and black bears. The animals thrive in this forested paradise, often crossing the trail and surprising the oblivious hikers.
Pikas and chipmunks feel even more comfortable. Jumping from one bush to another in search of something to munch on, they look seemingly unbothered by the “intruders” hiking to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.
Higher elevations are the realm of mountain goats and bighorn sheep that can be spotted basking in the sun on rock ledges. The bears also frequent this area, adorning the Grinnell Glacier Overlook hike with their clumsy paces and fearsome appearances.
Grinnell Glacier Overlook (Unofficial) Hike: Location and Direction
The Grinnell Glacier Overlook hike is arguably one the most popular excursions in Many Glacier, located in the northeastern corner of Glacier National Park.
The place sits approximately 16 miles north of the Going-to-the-Sun Road and has its own entrance. Upon arrival, continue on along Route 3 for 4.5 miles until you reach the Grinnell Glacier trailhead.
The Best Time to Hike to Grinnell Glacier Overlook
The hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook is preferable when the trail is free of snow. Normally, it’s late spring through October. Moreover, be sure to hit the trail early in the morning or latter in the afternoon when the sun is low and doesn’t burn mercilessly.
Tips and Things to Know before Hiking to Grinnell Glacier
It’s rather exciting to see a bear in its natural habitat. Yet the wild animal is unpredictable and can be dangerous. Be sure to steer clear of its path, use bear spray in case of a bear attack, and learn how to protect yourself from the bears in the wild.
Hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Furthermore, if you plan to spend just one day in Many Glacier, be sure to arrive before 8:00 a.m. During the busy summer season, rangers may close the entrance to this section of the park when parking lots get full.
Bring Plenty of Water
Hiking uphill is not a leisurely walk on a beach. On top of that, many sections of the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail are exposed to the sun. So bring along a large bottle of water to keep yourself hydrated.
Use Hiking Staffs
They can serve you well, especially on the steepest portions of the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail.
Check for Trail Closures
The Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail along with some other routes in the Many Glacier Valley can be closed due to unfavorable weather conditions and seasonal grizzly activity. Check National Park Service’s website for the latest updates.