Hike to Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier Trail | Glacier National Park


“George Bird Grinnell, the father of the Glacier National Park called it the crown of the continent. The crown means jewel, right? And some of these Jewels from the park are – the Moose, the Glacial and Alpine lakes, the Glaciers, the Grizzlies, the Old Forests with Lichens, the Waterfalls etc. There are two Ranger led hikes from Many Glacier to the Grinnell Valley – The Grinnell Glacier Boat Tour and Hike (8.5 hours, strenuous 8 mile) & Grinnell Valley Boat Tour and Hike (4 hours, easy 2.5 mile). The hike to the Grinnell Lake and forward to Grinnell Glacier is a plethora of spectacular scenery of Valleys and Mountains and old forests that makes it all worthwhile. I love treading in the icy cold water of Grinnell Lake.”

                                The view of the Grinnell Lake from Grinnell Glacier Trail

Grinnell Lake Hike - Easy

To shorten the hiking effort, one can also take Boat tours by Glacier Park Boat Company from Many Glacier Hotel that is a 2-lake cruise with a 0.25 mile walk over moderate hills between the Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes.

We took the reservation of the boat ($28 – 8:30 am, 9:00am, 11:00, 1:00,2:00,3:00,4:30) a day before. The ranger led valley boat tour and hike requires you to take tickets.

                                View of Swiftcurrent Lake from Many Glacier Hotel

                                                   0.25 mile hike between the lakes 

You can also start hiking from the Many Glacier hotel itself, however since cruises are more convenient plus those are active bear habitat we chose not to add onto extra on our hike. But there are many people who were seen hiking from the Many Glacier hotel.

Also, keep in mind that the last boat is at 5:15 especially if you plan to hike further onto the trail to Grinnell Glacier post the lake. We luckily could catch the last cruise, but we could have had been easily late should the trail was open till the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.

Waiting for our boat on our way back from the hike at 4:30 which is also the last time of the day the boat picks up from Josephine Boat Lake Dock!
Grinnell Glacier Hike - Strenuous

While I would that the ranger led hike to the Grinnell Lake is easy, the Hike forward from the boat dock (we did non-ranger led as ranger hikes to Grinnell Glacier opens by late July. We did the ranger led hikes till Grinnell Lake) to the Grinnell Glacier is strenuous.

Even though we could only hike till the warning board that was 1.5 mile up, it felt like ages. Our ranger had previously warned us not to go any further than the warning sign, so we did not. She told us, there were some steep snowfields that we were difficult to cross during this season and due to melting snow there were high chances of pretty serious fallouts if we were to lose our footings. Plus, we were not wearing proper hiking boots/shoe. We just had our normal regular shoe on us.

“I still saw one or two people attempted to be brave enough to traverse through those cracked
snowfields with waterfall beneath them that was draining steep into the valley. I could have followed them, but after my husband gave up on looking at the site, I did not venture further hiking alone either as it wasn’t looking that pretty to be making that choice. But that also gives me another reason to go into Glacier National Park once again, just to complete the entire hike.

Tip1: Do not be like me. Go to Glacier National Park in Late July – August – early September when all trails are open fully. You can either do them solo or join rangers on those hikes. Upper sections of Grinnell Glacier are not accessible till late in the summer i.e. late July. Also, do wear hiking shoes if you are doing this trail.

Tip2: Be careful while hiking Grinnell Glacier trail post the lake. You have to pay full attention to those narrow steep rocks that you’d be hiking on. It gets very narrow at times or sometimes there are trickles of water flowing beneath the rocky steps. On one such instance I was too busy taking videos from my GoPro that I completely lost traction and tripped over the rock and badly bruised myself. On another instance, since we are not so used to hiking such long trails, I got blisters in my feet and I had to wear mole cushions (stores in St. Mary do carry mole cushions and other first aid items).

Tip3: If you are light travelers like us, please do not carry big heavy DSLRs on your trail such as this. We did not and we were thankful that we didn't. It would have added extra load on our backs. We just carried our phones and a Gopro. Most hikes in Glacier would thank you, if you carry light cameras. We made a mistake of carrying our DSLR on iceberg trail - even though we did not take it out, we got tired of lugging it all the time. 

The Great Northern Railway

The Great Northern Railway is responsible for many of the establishments including roads and lodges in the park and they had invested more money in the park than the park service itself. Louis Hill of the Great Northern Railway chose the spot for Many Glacier hotel because of its strategic positioning and scenic views. If you look through the windows – on your left, you would see the Grinnell Point and, on either side, you would see Swift current Valley and Grinnell Valley. It’s a beautiful sight to see.

The Yesteryear’s mining town

This place wasn’t just important to the Great Northern Railway but was also important to the miners before that. The Swiftcurrent waterfalls pours into Sherburne reservoir. The reservoir covers the mining town of Altyn. In 1897, this area was opened as the first preserve. In 1898, that first preserve was open to mining plants. Mining in the valley was done in the Grinnell Valley, in the Grinnell Point, near the Cracker Lake etc. The mining town went bust, after they did not much resources to mine in the area and the prospect seemed dim. Luckily in 1910, the area was set aside as a national park.

Tip 3: If you have to hike to the bluest lake in the park, our rangers suggested we hike to Cracker Lake. The Cracker Lake Mine was established in 1897 after copper was discovered on the shore of the lake. According to the legend, the mine received it name when L.C.Emmonds and Hank Norris, had a lunch of cheese and crackers on the site after stalking their claim.

As we started hiking our ranger pointed us towards Green Rocks. Green rock is Argilite that has 3% iron in composition and due to that turns green when it turns to Chloride. She told us on the wall in the back is the Iceberg Ptarmigan Wall – the vertical snow shoot that sticks out as little V on the wall and goes right down into Iceberg Lake.

Tip 4: She suggested if tonight we were staying at the hotel, during sunset, we can look up there and we can see light shining through the hole on the top of the wall.

The mountain at a distance was Swiftcurrent peak. There is a fire lookout up there. Interestingly. Enough, the last fire that we got was the same year when they were constructing the lookout.

There is an active beaver activity in the area specially if you hike down the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail. There you would see the Willows and Aspen trees been chopped by Beavers.

Salamander Glacier & Gem Glacier

Grinnell Point is the diving line for the Many Glacier Valley – It divides the Swiftcurrent lake with the Grinnell Valley. She pointed us a back wall with a nose of Black Stripe. She said if we follow the Black stripe to the right – that’s where Salamander Glacier is. Next is Gem Glacier. Gem Glacier is taken off the Glacial list as Gem couldn’t be any bigger if it wanted to in terms of acreage. It could be deeper, however. It still has crevasses so its moving. A little bit of the snow on the tip of the trees was where we could see Grinnell Glacier. That was the best view we can get from the Valley floor.

Moose Sightings on Lake Josephine & on the trail

We got to see Moose twice on the trail – once in Lake Josephine and another on the trail to Grinnell Lake.

                                        Moose sightings on the Grinnell Lake trail 

Moose can swim across anywhere and they can dive up to 20 feet. Their favorite grass is Willow and you will find many Willow grass on the shore at the end of the lake. Since it is an old forest that hasn’t been burned for 450 years in the area, you will also see many Spruce and fir trees. Berry shrubs grew in the areas where there was Avalanche shoot and you will find many Deer, Moose, Insects, Bears.

The Geological Marvel

The Geologists collect core samples from the bottom of the lake. Swiftcurrent lake is 30 feet deep at its deepest, Josephine 50 feet and Grinnell Lake 87 feet deep. They are however not the deepest lakes – the deepest are St Mary and Lake Mc Donald. So, these lakes never had any fishes until a naturalist introduces fishes in them for anglers.

Over a billion years ago, this area had no mountains. There was an inland sea and that inland sea was the size of Arizona. Since that time there were no land plants, without those plants the erosions used to happen frequently, and the sea would collect sediments. These sediments solidified into rocks such as mudstone, sandstone and limestone. In the park here, we have 4 miles of sediments beneath us.

In 1.5 million years, due to chemical weathering, V shaped ice valleys were formed sitting above ice and snow. Large U-shaped hanging valleys formed thereafter with waterfalls cascading down as the main Glacier broke up and continued carving. Salamander used to connect to Grinnell at one point of time.. Things kept changing. These are remnants of little ice age that started in 1280. We had 150 glaciers down that time, now we are down to 25.

Passing through Old Forests covered in Witch Hair-like lichen

As we were hiking ahead in the trail, we passed through Scaly Spruce and the Flat Fir Trees. The Spruce has flaky barks and the scales come off. These scales can also poke your hand whereas the Firs are friendly.

Tip5: Observe the forests around you. The main highlight of our trail here, was the Witch Hair like Lichen on the trees. A Lichen is a combination of fungus and an algae. They are living symbiotic to the trees, but they do not take anything from the trees. They use lower branches of the trees to hang out and they hang down towards the ground. There are around 250 species of Lichen on the trees. And its ghostly to walk by these trees as they no look no less than witch’s hair.

The mutual existence

So, our ranger says, “We have to understand we are hiking in bear country. Here surprise encounters with Bears are negative encounters, so we wouldn’t want that and hence make noise as we go along the way”. Trails are posted for Bear activity and there are patrolling done for Bear Activity in the area. Clear Patrol means there are no spats, there are no new digs, no bear sightings for 3 consecutive days.

She continues, “Our animals here are closely linked with ecosystem of the region. Bears depends on soft cow parsnip in early in the season. Bear hence carry cow parsnip seeds through their stools and that indeed helps in better cow parsnip. Similarly, Indian Paintbrush plants are closely linked to honeybees. We also see a lot of Bear Grass in the region (a lily closely related to Yucca plant) on which deer, elk and big horn sheep feed on.

Reaching Grinnell Lake

Our ranger told us, she would conclude the hike at the suspension bridge – the point where we have an option to cross the bridge and go to the lake or go to the hidden falls or you could do both too as we did.

If you have to choose between two hikes – Iceberg and Grinnell. I would say, do both. But if you just have one day and can only choose one – Iceberg Lake is more diverse and more easily doable than Grinnell whereas I have seen pictures online of Grinnell Glacier that has views of park’s three receding glaciers and it looks one of its own kind however the hike is strenuous. Both are day long hike and the choice is yours!

During the first year when the park was open, it had only 4000 visitors. Last year, the park had 3 million 300 visitors. They are at a point of not knowing what to do with all these people. That is why sometimes they do close parking lots of Many Glacier as there is no way people could park. We certainly have come a long way for good or for bad, from the horseback ride days to now.

1 comment

  1. So magnificent and distinctive does it look during Sunset that I wish I stayed more like one of the readers mentioned on the Facebook group.


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