Grinnell Lake is a stunning, opaque turquoise/blue body of water found within the boundaries of the incredible Glacier National Park in Montana.
The stunning water is ice cold – literally since it’s formed from the melting of Grinnell Glacier! – and the coloration comes from the rock flour (silt) that’s transported into the lake from the glacier.
Grinnell Lake and Glacier were named for George Bird Grinnell, the “Father of Glacier National Park.” Grinnell was an anthropologist and conservationist who advocated for the preservation of the natural wonders in the area.
Glacier National Park itself is known as the Crown of the Continent and anyone hiking or driving their way through the ever-photogenic park can see why.
Grinnell Lake and Glacier are some of the most photographed attractions in the entire park but it’s less accessible than other spots – you’ve got to hike your way in.
Grinnell Lake Stats
The incredible Grinnell Lake has plenty to offer visitors with its beautiful hiking trail access, year-round accessibility (check for beat activity and weather closures, though), and amenities located nearby.
- Depth: 87 feet
- Size: 130 acres
- Season: Year-round with exceptions (weather, bear activity, etc.)
- Campsites and RV Parks nearby: 20+
Grinnell Lake is located on the east side of Glacier National Park and is accessible via the Grinnell Glacier Trail from Many Glacier Hotel, which is a resort offering within the national park.
The lake lies beneath the north face of Angel Wing, a 7,430-foot mountain providing a majestic backdrop.
Glacier NP is known as the Switzerland of the USA and for good reason! The natural beauty and incredible outdoor sports in the park resemble what you’d find accessible in a Swiss Alps chalet.
Grinnell Lake itself is an ice-cold body of water where swimming is permitted but most folks don’t participate unless they’re looking for a polar plunge. If you’re brave, dive right in (clothing required) and enjoy the benefits of polar bear swimming like improved circulation, immune system boosts, and a natural high.
You’ll find boating options at the lake and at other lakes within the park. Rentals are available within the park as well as nearby outfitters, plus there’s a boat/boot tour from Many Glacier Hotel that involves two shuffle boats and some hiking to the lake itself.
From Many Glacier Hotel, there’s the Grinnell Glacier Boat Tour and Hike – deemed “strenuous” with 8.5 miles of hiking – available, or the Grinnell Glacier Boat Tour and Hike, which is deemed “easy” – which is a 4 hour journey with 2.5 miles of hiking.
- Rentals and Tours from Many Glacier
- Rentals from Glacier Outfitters
- Rentals and Tours with Sea Me Paddle
Wildlife Viewing and Birding
While hiking or boating to Grinnell Lake and hanging out in the vicinity, you’ll have the opportunity to view the incredible wildlife that has helped to make Glacier one of the most popular spots to visit in the USA.
You could catch glimpses of:
- Grizzly bears
- Mountain goats
- Bighorn sheep
- Mountain lions
- Black bears
There are also a wide variety of birds to spot in the park, including favorites such as:
- American dippers
- Clark’s nutcrackers
- common loons
- bald eagles
- Northern hawk owl
- Harlequin ducks
Scenic Drives and Vistas
While you’re in the park, you can take many scenic drives throughout or hitch a ride on a Red Bus tour. Either provide you with plenty of opportunities to catch fantastic views throughout the park and stunning photos of your own.
The Red Bus tours also provide visitors with amazing views from the roll-back top buses with guides who know their stuff – from history to wildlife to wildflowers and plants. The tours do sell out fairly quickly, so plan ahead.
Swan Mountain Outfitters is nestled within the park boundaries offering three horseback riding stables from which to ride out. Start your journey in the saddle from Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, or Apgar.
There are several tours and trails to take at varying times throughout the day each season.
- Lodgepole Loop – 1 hour – $60.00
- Ride & Dine – 1 hour + dinner – $80.00
- Glacier Gateway – 2 hours – $90.00
- Cowboy Cookout – 2 hours + dinner – $165.00
- Glacier Lookout – 3 hours – $115.00
- Mountain View – all day – $225.00
- Private West Glacier Trail Rides – varies – inquire for pricing
Museums and Educational Programs
In the national park, you’ll find ranger-led presentations and hikes/walks. All of the programs are free of charge and do not require reservations. You’ll want to plan ahead, though, to make sure you are ready in time for your preferred program before the group heads out on foot.
In the park and nearby, many museums may be visited as well to learn of the history and context of the region. Some of the most popular museums you’ll find include
There are also three visitors’ centers within the park where you can learn more about the park, have a chat with a ranger, and learn about the history of the park. In the park, you’ll also find the Apgar Nature Center which is open from mid-June to late August.
White Water Rafting
Glacier National Park happens to be a fantastic spot for white water rafting trips. There are several companies leading tours and trips – half-day, day, and longer – for people of varying skill and experience levels. Some of the best companies to consider are
- Great Northern Rafting and Resort
- Glacier Raft Company
- Get Your Guide Day Rafting Trip
- Rafting Trips with Wild River Adventure
Fly fishing is another popular activity in Glacier National Park. You can DIY the adventure (with proper permits) or hire a guide for your adventure with companies like Glacier Guides or Get Your Guide . Some of the best fishing spots in the park include
- Flathead River
- Yaak River
- Stillwater River
- Flathead Lake
- Trout Lake
- Logging Creek
- Mary River
Glacier National Park is home to many campgrounds for all skill levels. Throughout the campgrounds, you’ll find RV hookups, tent-only sites, and remote hike-in-only sites.
Trail Routes for Lake Grinnell
One of the fantastic things about Lake Grinnell is that it can be accessed by either a challenging or easy hike. This means families and groups of varying fitness levels can make it out to the lake for an enjoyable day.
Probably the most popular option for hiking-only trails out to Grinnell Lake is Grinnell Lake Trail. The trail is 7.1 miles round-trip, has a fairly easy grade (older kids can make it), and is heavily trafficked. The trail feels safe, open, and accessible.
Horseback riders, joggers, mountain bikers, and hikers can use the trail to get out to the lake and back on the loop.
The trail is best used from June to October but can be accessed other times of the year as well, just not as conveniently.
- Distance: 7.1 miles
- Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation gain: 351 ft
- Route Type: Loop
For a more challenging, much longer hiker, the Grinnell Lake and Lake Josephine via Piegan Pass Trail is a winner. The hike provides you with incredible views, multiple terrains, less traffic, and plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting and adventure.
Most folks take this trail for a more strenuous running trail, hiking, or backpacking experience. There’s boulder scrambling, bridge-less river crossings, and other challenges along the way. Some hikers noted that they required the use of crampons/microspikes.
The trail is more obscure but well-maintained and signage makes it easy to follow.
- Distance: 21.9 miles
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Elevation gain: 4,452 ft
- Route Type: Out and back
A moderately trafficked hike out to Grinnell Lake can be found along Grinnell Overlook via Granit Park Trail. The trail is 11.4 miles and provides hikers with an incredible view of the lake and mountain backdrops.
The trail is near Lake McDonald and is primarily used for hiking from June to October. The trail is extremely popular among hikers looking for a decent challenge and fantastic views and experiences along the way. Also known as the Highline Trail, this path follows along the Continental Divide (or Garden Wall) through Glacier National Park and provides hikers with incredible views and plenty of wildflower and wildlife viewing.
The trail isn’t as popular among families because of its more strenuous nature of it, but it’s a fairly trafficked trail through the wilderness.
- Distance: 11.4 miles
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Elevation gain: 3,710 ft
- Route Type: Out and back
Starting out near Many Glacier Hotel, the Grinnell Glacier Trail is the other most popular trail. For those looking for a shorter hike, this is also the ideal trail as you can take 3.4 miles off the hike by taking the boat service across the lakes before picking up the trail.
If you opt for hiking only, the trail is marked as strenuous or difficult. For those taking the boats, the trail is deemed easy. Via boat, this hike is the most kid-friendly option, though there are hills to climb which may be difficult for youngsters.
- Distance: 7.6 miles
- Difficulty: Easy via boat/difficult via foot-only
- Elevation gain: 1840 ft
- Route Type: Out and back