Considered the easiest backcountry lake of Glacier National Park to access, Lake Josephine is a popular destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts alike, especially those with families or less extensive fitness levels.
The lake is immediately southwest of Swiftcurrent Lake and is close to Many Glacier Hotel with Glacier National Park.
It’s a hike or boat-in-only lake, which is why it’s classed as a backcountry lake within the park. Getting there will only take a one-mile hike or a short boat ride via one of the popular shuttle boats.
Lake Josephine is set within the stunning park with incredible backdrops of Mt. Gould, Allen Mountain, and Grinnell Point towering above the shining waters.
So, grab a pair of boots – or a boat pass – and head on out for a short, easy day filled with stunning views, fishing, boating, and much more.
Lake Josephine Stats
Beautiful Lake Josephine is a large lake welcoming visitors of all skill levels for a variety of activities within Glacier National Park.
The lake has a sandy, rocky beach where you may access the water for your polar plunge, along with a boat dock for the boat shuttles to cross over for other adventures in the area.
- Size: 137 acres
- Season accessible: Year-round with exceptions (weather, bear activity, etc.)
- Campsites and RV Parks nearby: 20+
Lake Josephine offers visitors a wide range of activities both in and at the lake and nearby, thanks to being in the heart of Glacier National Park and the “most accessible” backcountry lake within the park.
You can hike or boat into the lake for your day of beauty and outdoor activities and enjoy a full day or play that day on repeat for as long as you desire year-round.
Lake Josephine is a glacier-fed lake, meaning it’s pretty darn cold for swimming. It’s not the coldest of the lakes in Glacier National Park, but it’s still a polar plunge.
Cold swimming is a chilly, fun moment in your Glacier National Park adventure that also gives some health benefits you might find helpful.
Ideally, enter the lake on the north shore where the sandy/rocky beach is and dive in. Just be sure to have a warm blanket and towels waiting for warming up afterward.
Thanks to the easy access and decent size of Lake Josephine, boating is a plentiful activity for visitors. You can bring your own boats and hike or paddle them in from Swiftcurrent Lake or rent from a vendor nearby.
You’ll also find boat tours available, offering different views of the lake and taking on the history of the park, along with wildlife spotting and ecology information about the area.
The tours are especially great for anyone who is unable to hike in or just wants to take it easy while exploring the great outdoors.
A few vendors to experience boating on Lake Josephine include.
- Rentals and Tours from Many Glacier
- Rentals from Glacier Outfitters
- Rentals and Tours with Sea Me Paddle
Wildlife Viewing and Birding
As you enjoy Lake Josephine and the relaxing atmosphere of Glacier National Park, you’ll find plenty of moments when wildlife and birds come in for a closer look.
You’ll find a range of animals that have helped to make the park so popular, though most of the big predators are unlikely to make an appearance around the lake itself since it’s a popular destination for visitors.
Some of the animals you’ll potentially see – up close or far away – include
- Mountain goats
- Grizzly bears
- Mountain lions
- Black bears
- Bighorn sheep
You’ll also have the opportunity to witness a wide variety of birds roaming the park and region, including
- Bald eagles
- Common loons
- American dippers
- Clark’s nutcrackers
- Northern hawk owls
- Harlequin ducks
Lake Josephine is one of the most stunning vistas in the whole park. With Mt. Gould, Grinnell Point, and Allen Mountain as a backdrop, and bright, sparkling water in the cold lake, the view is unmatched by much of the world’s lake views.
While at the lake or at the nearby more remote Grinnell Lake with equally spectacular views, you’ll find more photo opportunities than you could possibly capture on a single visit.
In late summer, alpine wildflowers emblazon the meadows with vibrant colors, as well. So, if you’re into wildflowers, plan accordingly.
Scenic Drives and Vistas
In addition to stunning photographic vistas at the lakes, scenic drives and overlooks throughout the park add to your opportunities to capture and view some of the most incredible sights in the United States. Drive the roads yourself or take a Red Bus tour.
The Red Bus Tour provides visitors with views from a roll-back top bus with knowledgeable guides leading the way through the history of the park, along with assistance in spotting and identifying wildlife, wildflowers, smaller natural wonders, and much more.
The tours sell out quickly, though, so plan ahead.
A lovely horseback ride of any variety of lengths could be just the way for you and yours to enjoy Lake Josephine and Glacier National Park.
Swan Mountain Outfitters is tucked into the park’s boundaries, offering three horseback riding stables from which to head out. Saddle up at Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, or Apgar. Several trail rides are available including
- 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 about pricing
Museums and Educational Programs
Educational experiences abound near Lake Josephine, at museums and galleries, as well as within the park itself.
Inside the park, you’ll find ranger-led presentations and hikes/walks. Each of the programs or walks is free but on a first-come-first-serve basis, so be sure to show up on time for them to avoid being left behind.
There are also three visitors’ centers inside the park where you can learn more about Glacier, Lake Josephine, the wildlife, and more, or chat with a ranger on topics you’re really wanting to learn about. Or visit the Apgar Nature Center which is open from mid-June to late August for a more hands-on experience.
Near the park, you’ll find plenty of museums and galleries to further your education on local interests at sites such as
White Water Rafting
For the more adventurous types with a love of excitement, there’s white water rafting available near Lake Josephine.
Several companies run partial day, full-day, and overnight trips in the park. Be sure to explore the various tour options to find the right fit for you and yours.
- Great Northern Rafting and Resort
- Glacier Raft Company
- Get Your Guide Day Rafting Trips
- Rafting Trips with Wild River Adventure
Lake Josephine isn’t just a stunning location for photos and cold water swimming – it’s also a fantastic spot for fishing. The lake is primarily a brook trout but some kokanee salmon are sighted here on occasion. Dry flies or attractor flies work here.
You can DIY the fishing experience with the proper permits or hire guides through Glacier Guides or Get Your Guide.
Fish on Lake Josephine or take to other waters in the park at:
- Flathead River
- Yaak River
- Trout Lake
- Logging Creek
- Mary Lake
- Stillwater River
- Flathead Lake
Surrounding Lake Josephine, you’ll find plenty of camping accommodations available. Many Glacier Campground is nearby but extremely popular so fills up quickly.
You’ll also find campgrounds for all skill levels elsewhere within the park for every type of camping from RV hookup sites to remote hike-in-only sites. Cabins and lodges are also available in the park.
Trail Routes for Lake Josephine
Because Lake Josephine is the “easiest” backcountry lake to access within Glacier, it’s a popular destination for folks who want a little “extra” in their outdoor experience. It cannot be accessed by car, just by boat or on foot.
There are a few ways to get there, including the following trails.
Grinnell Lake and Lake Josephine via Piegan Pass Trail
If you want don’t want to take the shuttle boat or simply want a more challenging hike getting into Lake Josephine, you may take the Grinnell Lake and Lake Josephine via Piegan Pass Trail.
This trail provides incredible views, less traffic, plenty of opportunity for wildlife viewing, and multiple terrains. The full trail will take you beyond Lake Josephine to Grinnell Lake, as well, for an added icy-water thrill with more stunning backdrops.
Many hikers have noted that the use of crampons/microspikes is required for parts of this trail.
- Distance: 21.9 miles
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Elevation gain: 4,452 ft
- Route Type: Out and back
Lake Josephine Loop
Beginning at Many Glacier or Grinnell Glacier Trailhead near the Many Glacier Picnic Area, the Lake Josephine Loop is an easy to moderate trail of about 6 miles. This hike, as the name indicates, is a loop trail, allowing you to see new scenery the whole way around the trail.
The trail offers stunning views – as any within Glacier would! – and moderately easy terrain for intermediately skilled hikers.
Those with less hiking experience can still enjoy the trail but may find themselves a little winded along the way here and there. Thankfully, with the beautiful views, stopping for a breather won’t be a problem.
- Distance: 5.8 miles
- Difficulty: Easy to moderate
- Elevation gain: 225 feet
- Route Type: Loop
Grinnell Lake Trail
Probably the most popular trail for reaching Lake Josephine by foot is the Grinnell Lake Trail.
The tail is 7.1 miles round-trip, but Lake Josephine is part way there, estimated at about 4 miles. The trail has a fairly easy grade (older kids can make it) and is heavily trafficked, helping it feel safe, open, and accessible.
It’s not just hikers who frequent this trail – mountain bikers, runners, and horseback riders are also present, mainly from June to October, so expect some company along the way.
- Distance: 7.1 miles
- Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation gain: 351 ft
- Route Type: Loop