Grinnell Glacier Trail – A Must-Do Hike in Glacier National Park

If you can do only one hike in Glacier National Park, then it has to be the Grinnell Glacier Trail in Many Glacier.

Last updated: May 25, 2024

Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, Hike in Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
Hiking the Grinnell Glacier Trail in Many Glacier

Grinnell Glacier Trail – An Epic Hike in the Many Glacier Section of Glacier National Park

Long trails rarely sneak into our itineraries when we travel as the 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, yet tedious Grinnell Glacier hike.

Ascending panoramic mounts in Many Glacier, the Grinnell Glacier Trail 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 every year. Neither the long distance nor the steady uphill incline keeps them away from the favorite trail.

If they can do it, so can we. Easier to say than done. The hike along the Grinnell Glacier Trail 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 Trail was worth it. Interestingly, the higher you climb, the more you realize it. At some point you even want to pinch yourself. How can this place be real?

And trust me when I say that the views become better and better the higher you climb. So get ready for an adventure of a lifetime along the scenic Grinnell Glacier Trail. 

Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, Hike in Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
The views from the Grinnell Glacier Trail
Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, Hike in Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
Near the trailhead of the Grinnell Glacier Trail

HIKING THE GRINNELL GLACIER TRAIL

Grinnell Glacier Trail: 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 Trail: Grinnell Glacier Trailhead vs. Many Glacier Hotel 

Many Glacier offers two starts of the Grinnell Glacier hike. The first, the most popular, starts near the Many Glacier Hotel, one of the highly treasured historic structures in the American West. Considering 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. We chose this place as the start of our Grinnell Glacier hike.

Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, Hike in Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
Along the Grinnell Glacier Trail

Swiftcurrent Nature Trail

The Grinnell Glacier Trail shares a section of the route with the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail. Starting as a paved path, it slowly turns into a well-trodden dirt trail that winds through an old-growth forest.

This part of the Grinnell Glacier hike is easy. Festooned with a good number of signage 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 – one of the ways to protect yourself from bears in the wild.

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 Trail turns slightly to the right and begins to ascend. 

Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, Hike in Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
Swiftcurrent Lake | Hiking the Grinnell Glacier Trail

Swiftcurrent Lake

Before the trail sprints up the mountainside, it runs along the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake, one of the iconic places in Glacier. Famous for the Many Glacier Hotel that nestles on the eastern shore, the place allures with its impeccable surroundings, towering mountains, dense forests, and sweeping vistas.

Only a portion of the lake is visible from the Grinnell Glacier Trail. Yet it’s enough to persuade you to get closer to the water and admire a row of trees reflecting in the calm water.

Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, Hike in Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
Views near the Grinnell Glacier trailhead
Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, Hike in Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
Lake Josephine

Lake Josephine

The Grinnell Glacier 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 mirroring in the water at its far end, the area feels especially serene during early morning hours. Frequently overlooked by many visitors, it’s a perfect photo spot in Glacier to set up your tripod and capture a few images before resuming your hike along the Grinnell Glacier Trail. 

Lower Grinnell Lake

The best part of the Grinnell Glacier hike is an abundance of natural attractions along the trail. Lower Grinnell Lake is the next place to gaze at. While the previous two lakes allure the hikers to their shores, allowing them to touch the cold water, Grinnell Lake seduces from afar.

The iconic aquamarine lake sits at the foot of an imposing mountain that embraces its western side. A number of Glacier’s waterfalls, including Grinnell Falls and Salamander Falls, stream down the mountainside until dispersing into the lake. A place can’t be more idyllic.

Different experiences and vistas await those who take a detour from their Grinnell Glacier Trail and hike to Grinnell Lake. The Grinnell Lake Trail follows the Grinnell Glacier 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 Trail, Hike in Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
Grinnell Glacier hike

Upper Grinnell Lake

The views of Grinnell Lake accompany Grinnell Glacier’s hikers until almost the end of 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 Trail veers from the cliff edge and springs uphill in a zigzag manner. Soon, 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 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 the gurgling creek-waterfall. A well-trodden path, however, emerges right on the other bank.

During our hike along the Grinnell Glacier Trail, only a few travelers waded through 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 proglacial lake in the 1930s. The lake gets bigger and bigger as the glacier continues to retreat. 

End of the 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. 

Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, Hike in Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
It took us several hours to complete the Grinnell Glacier hike

Alternative Grinnell Glacier Trailhead

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 that takes you to the southern side of Lake Josephine.

Disembark here and continue your journey on foot. The end of the Grinnell Glacier Trail is 3.6 miles (one way) away. Follow the trail as outlined above.

Note: Fees may apply for using the boats.

Glacier’s Wildlife Along the 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 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 “intruders” on the Grinnell Glacier Trail.

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, enriching the Grinnell Glacier hike with their clumsy paces and fearsome appearances.

 Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
We saw pikas, but no bears and goats while hiking the Grinnell Glacier Trail
Grinnell Lake - Roads and Destinations
Lower Glacier Lake | Views from the Grinnell Glacier Trail

Grinnell Glacier Hike: Location and Direction

The Grinnell Glacier Trail is arguably one the most beautiful 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 the Grinnell Glacier Trail

The hike along the Grinnell Glacier Trail 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 later in the afternoon when the sun is low and doesn’t burn mercilessly. 

 Hike in Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
Half-way through the Grinnell Glacier hike
Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, Hike in Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
The trail to Upper Grinnell Lake

Tips and Things to Know before Hiking the Grinnell Glacier Trail

Bear Safety

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.

Arrive Early

Hike to the Grinnell Glacier Trail early in the morning to avoid the crowds and being burned by the afternoon sun.

Bring Plenty of Water

Hiking uphill is not a leisurely walk on a beach. On top of that, many sections of the Grinnell Glacier Trail are exposed to the sun. So bring along a large bottle of water and stay well hydrated. 

Use Hiking Staffs

They can serve you well, especially on the steepest portions of the Grinnell Glacier Trail.

Check for Trail Closures

The Grinnell Glacier Trail along with some other routes in the Many Glacier Valley can be closed due to unfavorable weather conditions and seasonal grizzly activity. Check the National Park Service’s website for the latest updates. 

Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
Hike to Upper Grinnell Lake
 Many Glacier - Roads and Destinations
A complete guide to hiking the Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park

2 Comments

  1. Amanda
    April 23, 2023 / 7:59 pm

    I would love to do this hike – if I take the boats is it 3.6 miles round trip or one way? Is this the same as the Grinnell Glacier hike? I’m kind of confused – from what I’m reading it sounds like the Grinnell Glacier Overlook trail was only accessible from the Highline trail – is that correct? Thanks for your detailed instructions – so helpful 🙂

    • Zhanna
      Author
      April 24, 2023 / 9:50 am

      Hi Amanda,

      Sorry if somehow I confused you. Yes, it is the Grinnell Glacier hike. When the trail conditions are right, you can get all the way to the glacier. That wasn’t the case during our hike. So like most of the hikers that day, we enjoyed the views of the lake and glacier from the trail. There are many trailside overlooks along the way.

      The official Grinnell Glacier Overlook can be reached via the Highline Trail. The views from there are different. Thank you for letting me know that it may sound confusing. For clarity, I’ll make some changes in the title of the article.

      If you decide to hike this trail, though, this is what you’ll see along the trail (see the pictures). If you take the boat, you will still need to hike 3.6 miles one way. It’s a long distance, but totally worth it.

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