Hiking to Grinnell Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
If you make it as far as Many Glacier on the east side of Glacier National Park in Montana, and are looking for a stunning, easy hike, go no further than the hike to Grinnell Lake.
There are two ways of getting to beautiful Grinnell Lake. You can either take the boat tour provided by the Glacier Park Boat Company from the Many Glacier Hotel across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, or you can hike all of the way from Many Glacier.
If you take the boat tours, it will cut about 5 miles off of the hiking. But the hike is flat and easy the entire way from the Many Glacier Hotel, so if you are up to the distance, it is probably worth doing the hike. The hike starting at the Many Glacier Hotel gives you views of both lakes as you go.
We took the boat tours across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine this last time. With a little one, we thought it would be fun, and easier time-wise to shortcut the hike with the boats.
There is only one short hike (I think a distance of 0.2 miles) to get from the dock at Swiftcurrent Lake up to the dock at Lake Josephine. The Glacier Park Boat Company states that this is a strenuous hike. It absolutely depends on what kind of shape you are in, but I didn’t think it was strenuous. It is a short hill that goes up and then down to Lake Josephine. I think that anyone can handle it if they just take their time.
Once you get to the head of Lake Josephine, you will unload from the boat. **BE SURE if you are hiking to get a BLUE TICKET. This ticket is your return ticket to get on the boats on the way back.***
The blue ticket will give you the return times that the boat will be sure to have room for hikers. When we were there, the return times in the afternoon were 11:45, 2:45, 3:45, and 5:15 …. but, please always be sure to check the ticket before you start hiking, to be sure that you catch a return boat. (*The 11:45 and the 5:15 boats make multiple trips to make sure to get everyone at those times.) If you miss the boats, you will be walking the 5 miles back to Many Glacier.
Once you unload the boat, you will start off hiking to your left toward the lake. There is a covered shelter with a bench inside at the head of Lake Josephine, which is nice to sit in the shade for a moment, or to get out of the rain if you hike in June.
You will almost immediately come to a fork in the road, where the sign will tell you to continue straight for Grinnell Lake, or turn right to head to Grinnell Glacier. You will continue toward Grinnell Lake. **See below.**
The hike is 0.9 miles from the head of Lake Josephine to Grinnell Lake. The trail is nice and flat, but it felt longer than 0.9 miles to me. Not sure why.
You walk along a creek throughout different sections of the trail. I love clear creeks where you can see rocks, they always make me want to go for a swim!
You also cross over a fun, “one-at-a-time person” suspension bridge.
We had an amazing run-in with a cow moose and her calf while hiking. Click here to read about my moose story!
As you get closer to the lake, you will see two wooden outhouses for your bathroom use. Use these if you need to, there are no toilets at the lake!
The trail starts out as a nice dirt trail, but then it ends as a thin boardwalk that is lifted up a few feet into the air. Since we were carrying a baby on our back, it was difficult for people to pass us on the boardwalk because we tend to be pretty wide. I wish that they had made that section of the hike a little wider.
Upon arrival at the lake, you will be greeted with this view, a beautiful beach area on a green lake surrounded by cliffs, jagged peaks, and waterfalls. Get ready to fall in love.
We had a beautiful lunch sitting by the lake, and I took my sneakers off to wade out to the sandbar a short distance out, and take some photographs. This water is cold!! After a few minutes of standing in it, I was pretty sure my feet were going numb. This is some of the coldest water I have ever felt (and I live in Montana! where our water is always cold!).
The bright greenish blue color of the water will take your breath away. The water is this color due to the glacier silt: there is rock flour floating in the water that creates this color. Rock flour is made up of fine pieces of rock that have been crushed by the glaciers above.
Another awesome thing that happened is that we were recognized at the lake for this blog (Montana Vacation Blog!). It was pretty neat for someone to ask if I was the one who wrote the blog about Montana. They happen to be locals to the Flathead Valley, so we hope we made some new hiking friends!
On our way back, we took the 0.2 mile detour to see the “Hidden Falls” by the suspension bridge.
If you have read my blog post about Avalanche Lake, I stated there that that was probably the easiest hike in the park. Well, that is the easiest as far as location — the trail head is extremely accessible, as it is right off of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway. But the Grinnell Glacier hike is probably the easiest in the park as far as elevation gain and length, with a stunning view at the end. It just takes a little more to get there.
I know a lot of people do the “guided tour” provided by the Glacier Park Boat Company. I did not do the tour on this hike. But I personally don’t think I would. We saw a tour coming up on our way back. It was several dozen people, walking at a fast pace, in single file, and they all looked hot and (can I say?…) miserable. This hike is so easy and when we went in the middle of July, it wasn’t even crowded. I personally think it more peaceful to go at your own pace and be able to see in front of you, and enjoy the wilderness. (I have heard that the Grinnell Glacier hike tour is worth doing!)
I fell in love with Grinnell Lake on this visit.
I wish we lived a bit closer to Many Glacier so that we could visit more often. This is a fantastic place to take your kids, and enjoy lunch. This will be a place you want to visit again and again. Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park has a small piece of my heart.
Warm Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Alex M. Neill
Montana Vacation Blog
**AN IMPORTANT THING TO NOTE:**
When we did this hike, we had planned on only hiking to Grinnell Lake. Then when we got there, we considered doing the Grinnell Glacier hike instead. So we thought, oh, we will just hike to the lake and see how it is going, and if we feel like it, we will continue on to the glacier.
You have to choose between doing either the Grinnell Glacier OR the Grinnell Lake hike.
Unfortunately, these are two separate trails, so you cannot hike to the lake and then continue on to the glacier if you so choose. You will have to backtrack and start the hike to the glacier from Lake Josephine.