The Grinnell Glacier Trail, Montana

Jason Gass
Last Updated: February 27th, 2023

Grinnell Glacier trail is one of the most popular trails in Glacier National Park. Though a challenging hike, this trail takes you through wildflower-filled meadows, around pristine glacial lakes, and offers amazing views of the rugged peaks that are iconic to the park.

Grinnell Glacier Trail Details

grinnell glacier trail
Image: Jeff P

The Grinnell Glacier trail is a popular hike in Glacier National Park. The trail takes visitors through meadows, along rock ledges, and to beautiful glacial lakes.

Of course, the highlight of the trail is Grinnell Glacier and Salamander Glacier which sits on the shelf above Grinnell Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake.

Depending on how you start the hike on Grinnell Glacier Trail, the hiking distance will be either 10.6 miles or 7.2 miles round trip. If you are up for the longer option, you’ll start on the Continental Divide Trail at the Many Glacier Picnic area. From here you’ll follow the trail around Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.

If you want to shave a few miles from your hike, take the tour boats across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, and start your hike on the shores of Lake Josephine.

From here you’ll follow a well-marked trail to Grinnell Lake, and if you choose, you can continue along the rock ledge to Upper Grinnell Lake.

This is a very exposed trail, so if you’re planning on making the hike, you’ll want to pack sunscreen, a hat, a jacket, rain gear, snacks, and plenty of water.

  • Distance – 10.6 miles or 7.2 miles depending on your starting point.
  • Elevation – Trailhead is 4,890 feet; Grinnell Glacier is 6,510 feet.
  • Elevation Gain – 1,620 feet to Grinnell Glacier.
  • Difficulty – Strenuous, but the trail is well maintained.

When is the best time to hike to Grinnell Glacier Trail?

As with most of the trails in Glacier National Park, you’ll want to plan your hike to Grinnell Glacier when the trail is free from snow. You’ll also want to make sure the road to the Many Glacier picnic area is also open and free of snow.

Depending on the snowfall from the previous winter, this window can vary. However, you’ll have the best luck hiking the trail with minimal amounts of snow on the trail if you plan your hike from mid-June to late September.

How long does it take to hike Grinnell Glacier Trail?

How long it takes you to hike the Grinnell Glacier trail depends on two factors: where you start your hike and how much time to spend at Grinnell Glacier.

Starting at the Continental Divide Trail the hike to Grinnell Glacier will take you around 4 hours. If you take the boat tour, from Lake Josephine the hike will take you 2.5 to 3 hours.

Many people that hike the Grinnell Glacier trail enjoy spending some time around the two lakes and the glacier before heading back, so when you are figuring the time necessary to make the hike, plan on around an hour of time at Grinnell Glacier.

Your return trip from Grinnell Glacier back to the picnic area is downhill, so it is a bit easier and faster. For the full return distance, you’ll want to plan for another 3 hours.

For most people, the hike takes between 8 and 10 hours for the round-trip hike.

Highlights on the Grinnell Glacier Trail

Grinnell Glacier

grinnell glacier
Image: Sathish J

Grinnell Glacier is one of the most popular glaciers in Glacier National Park. Named after George Bird Grinnell, an explorer, and advocate for the establishment of Glacier National Park, it is located in the area of the park called Many Glacier.

Grinnell Glacier is one of the most frequently photographed glaciers in the world thanks to the turquoise blue Grinnell Lake below, and Mount Gould serving as its backdrop.

Grinnell Glacier, like others in the park, is melting at an ever-increasing rate. If you’re interested in making the hike to Grinnell Glacier, you’ll want to do so, soon. Grinnell Glacier has shrunk by 40% in the last 50 years.

Lake Josephine

lake josephine
Image: GlacierNPS

Lake Josephine is another frequently photographed feature in Glacier National Park. It is a perfect, natural reflecting pool, mirroring the peaks that surround it.

For the early risers, Lake Josephine is a great spot to watch the sunrise and the morning colors reflect off the water.

Josephine Lake is accessible only by the tour boat across Swiftwater Lake or by hiking around the lake on the Continental Divide Trail.

Grinnell Lake

grinnell lake
Image: Ryan McKee

Grinnell Lake, also named after George Bird Grinnell, sits in the valley below Grinnell Glacier. This beautiful turquoise lake gets its color from sediments left behind by slow-moving glaciers.

This lake was one of the features of the area that inspired George Grinnell to campaign vigorously for the establishment of Glacier National Park.

Grinnell Lake is also popular with photographers, thanks to its bold color and backdrop of the rugged Mount Gould.

Upper Grinnell Lake

upper grinnell lake
Image: Steve

This is the last feature that you’ll come to on your hike along the Grinnell Glacier trail. Upper Grinnell Lake sits at the base of Grinnell Glacier and has formed as the glacier has receded.

Like Grinnell Lake, the turquoise color of this lake is created by rock sediments left behind by the slowly melting glacier.

This lake also receives water from the Salamander Glacier which sits on the shelf above Grinnell Glacier. Upper Grinnell Lake frequently has large icebergs that have broken off of the glacier. This makes for a unique photo opportunity.

Wildlife Viewing on the Grinnell Glacier Trail

If you are looking for a place to view some of the more unique wildlife in Glacier National Park, the Grinnell Glacier Trail is a great pick. Start your hike early (before 8 AM is our recommendation) before the crowds arrive and the boat shuttles start operating.

A peaceful trail will allow you to catch glimpses of mountain goats, Bighorn sheep, deer, moose, bear, and a variety of small mammals.

Do keep in mind that all of Glacier National Park is Grizzly bear habitat, so while you enjoy wildlife watching on the Grinnell Glacier trail, do be aware of your surroundings, to avoid unintended encounters with bears.

For an added safety measure, make sure to carry a can of bear spray just in case.

Final Thoughts

Grinnell Glacier trail, though very popular, is a great hike for visitors that want to experience some of the most iconic views in Glacier National Park. The hike is challenging and will require a full day to complete.

But, if you’re willing to make the trek, you’ll be rewarded with wildlife, wildflowers, and picture-perfect views around every corner.


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About The Author

Jason Gass

Jason Gass is a Colorado based freelance writer and blogger whose goal is to share a good cup of coffee and great stories around a campfire with close friends. When he’s not working, he spends most of his time traveling, searching for the best breweries, and road-tripping in his teardrop trailer with his wife, daughter, and two dogs.

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