Picking up once again from my last post, we’re going to spend another day exploring Many Glacier! The subject of today’s post is actually one of my very favorite hikes – Grinnell Glacier. In fact, Grinnell Glacier is on my All-time Favorite Hikes list. It also tops my day hikes in Glacier list…which only exists in my head at this point, but will probably someday make it onto here.
To my knowledge, Grinnell Glacier is the only glacier in the park that you can actually hike to. That being said, it’s still a 10.6-mile (17 km) round-trip hike with 1,600 feet (488 m) of elevation gain. When my mom and I set off on this hike in September 2011, we were expecting to see relatively few people on the trail. Turns out we were wrong. Grinnell Glacier has to be one of the most popular hikes in the park!
Taking a boat across Swiftcurrent Lake instead of hiking around it cuts about 3 miles (4.8 km) off the round-trip distance, making it a much more appealing and achievable hike for many people. We didn’t take the boat, but instead followed the trail along the east shore of Swiftcurrent Lake to the boat dock and junction. There are a lot of trails in this area, but everything is well-marked and easy to follow. From the junction, keep right towards Lake Josephine.
Lake Josephine is a very pretty lake, and the trail follows the shoreline, providing lots of views. There’s also a little beach at the northern end of the lake that’s nice for wading and enjoying the view.
Beyond Lake Josephine, the trail begins to climb as it traverses the side of Mount Grinnell, rising above the valley floor. The steepness pays off, though, rewarding us with wildflowers all around and stunning views back behind us.
At about the 4 mile (6.4 km) mark is the overlook for Grinnell Lake. Grinnell Lake sits far below the trail in the shadow of a very distinctive mountain called Angel Wing. It bears the typical turquoise color of glacial lakes as a result of glacial silt that is washed downstream and collects in the lake. We could also see Grinnell Falls meandering down the hillside from the glacier to the lake.
The last mile of the hike is steep as it climbs up to the foot of the glacier. A glance over our shoulders revealed a view of Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, and Lake Sherburne stretching down the valley through which we just hiked. It’s a beautiful view and we could clearly see just how far we’d come.
The trail comes to an end at Grinnell Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake, which is covered in icebergs. I use this word lightly, as real icebergs in the ocean are 1000s of times larger; nevertheless, there are tiny icebergs on Upper Grinnell Lake.
Grinnell Glacier and its namesake waterfall and lake are named for George Bird Grinnell, an American conservationist during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He is probably most notable for his work to preserve the American Bison in Yellowstone National Park, which were on the brink of extinction (there were just 23 animals left in 1902). However, he also spent much time in the Glacier area and was influential in the decision to establish it as a national park.
In the early 1900s, Grinnell Glacier was much larger and actually included what is now Salamander Glacier. Salamander Glacier is directly behind and above Grinnell Glacier, on the uppermost portion of Mount Gould. At some point, the giant Grinnell Glacier split in two, giving way to Salamander Glacier up above and Grinnell Glacier down below.
It’s sad to see photos of how much the glacier has shrunk over the years. Some scientists predict that all of the glaciers in Glacier National Park will have disappeared by 2030 if the climate continues to change at its current pace. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that 2017 was a turning point for this pattern and that the glaciers will manage to persist. A glacier-less Glacier National Park would be very sad.
Anyway… if someone told me they only had one day in the Many Glacier area, my advice would be to hike to Grinnell Glacier. It’s a beautiful hike with a little of everything – flowers, lakes, glaciers, views, and most likely some wildlife. We saw bighorn sheep along the trail, but mountain goats, bears, and moose also frequent the Many Glacier area. Plus, where else can you say you hiked to the foot of a glacier?
Trust me. It’s worth every step!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: the Swiftcurrent/Many Glacier area is the northeastern section of the park, located 25 minutes west of the town of Babb, MT
- Fees & passes: $30 per car for a 7-day pass; Interagency Annual Pass accepted
- Camping: Many Glacier campground (109 sites, $23 per night, reservations accepted for half of the sites during peak season) is the only option in this area of the park
- Hiking: Grinnell Glacier – 10.6 miles (17 km) round-trip without the boat ride, 7.6 miles (12.2 km) with, moderate; there are also trails encircling Lake Josephine that lead down to Grinnell Lake itself and beyond to a couple waterfalls
- Other: this hike is the absolutely one of the highlights of Glacier, so make sure to add it to your to-do list in the next few years, before Grinnell Glacier disappears completely