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A Most Beautiful Hike to Grinnell Lake

Updated 04.01.2015

Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park

Grinnell Lake makes a stunning stop for a picnic.

Most hikers visiting the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park come to experience the Grinnell Glacier Trail or trek to Iceberg Lake. But the trail to Grinnell Lake offers a beautiful experience, too, if you’re looking for a less strenuous Glacier National Park hike. You’ll still catch a glimpse of a glacier, although it’s Salamander rather than Grinnell. And there are two options for getting there—the easy way via the Glacier Park Boat Company—or the hard way hiking the entire journey (6.8 miles) on your own two feet.

Of course Alan and I chose the hard way to reach Grinnell Lake as part of a Glacier National Park Hiking Program with Road Scholar. Accompanied by guides, Lori and  Stephanie, we left Many Glacier Lodge on a morning hike that accessed the trail on the south shore of Swiftcurrent Lake.

For the first mile or so of the hike, we shared the trail with horses, which meant watching closely where we stepped. Next time, I’d choose an alternative to this portion of the trail (and there are several).

Salamander glacier reflects onto Swiftcurrent Lake at Glacier National Park.

Salamander glacier reflects onto Swiftcurrent Lake.

Once the horse trail veered away from our path, the hike to Grinnell Lake became an enjoyable, mostly level, walk in the woods. The trail follows the shores of Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes with several opportunities to step off-trail for taking photos of glacier-fed waters.

On one portion of the trail, as we walked single-file along a slightly muddy path enclosed by trees, a “shh-shh” passed down the line of hikers. What did those ahead of us see? Two moose eating a breakfast of shrubs and tree leaves. By the time it was my turn to observe, the moose had moved deeper into the forest and were only slightly visible, but I could hear them chomping away. Moose are loud eaters!

The trail becomes busy near the boat dock closest to Grinnell Lake. If you arrive at the same time as the boat, you’ll be joined by those who chose the easy way to Grinnell Lake. However walking across the cable bridge below Hidden Falls is a bouncy journey that everyone must take to reach the lake.

Waterfalls streak down the mountain and into Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park.

Watfalls streak down the mountain and into Grinnell Lake

When our group arrived at Grinnell Lake, frigid winds whipped off Grinnell and Salamander glaciers making for a slight chop in the water. On this September day, it was too cold to go wading, but Alex Neill  from Montana Vacation blog braved the waters during a summer visit and declared them, Cold!

The wind forced us to take shelter on a couple of logs behind a screen of vegetation. It was still a beautiful spot to enjoy the sack lunch that had been provided by Many Glacier Hotel.

For those looking for more solitude, be patient. The boat hikers usually stay a few minutes and then leave, and the quiteness quickly returns.

Lake Josephine in Glacier National Park

Looking back at Lake Josephine

On the return hike, our group crossed a bridge at the end of Josephine Lake to hike on the north side of both lakes. This more open terrain offered sunlight and good views of the lakes although we were walking with the sun shining into our faces—the wrong direction for good photography.

For better photography, and to avoid hiking with the sun in your eyes, start this hike in the morning on the north side of the lake and return on the south side.

As we moved down the trail, one of the Road Scholar lectures from earlier in the trip came to life for us. Researchers have placed patches of barbed wire on trees so that when grizzlies scratch against the wire, fur is collected to use for DNA testing. This helps determine the family relationships and movement patterns of grizzlies in the area. Stephanie stopped at a tree to point out one of the barbed wire collection sites. Yes, there were small strands of grizzly fur on the ends of the wire. Later, we passed a research assistant collecting the hair to take back for testing.

Many Glacier Hotel on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake

Many Glacier Hotel on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake

Taking the trail between Josephine and Swiftcurrent Lakes, brought us back to the south shore. In the process, the grand view of Many Glacier Lodge provided lovely photo opportunities.

For those needing an easier hike to Grinnell Lake, purchase a blue ticket from Glacier Boat Company. It will take you across both lakes plus offer a return trip to Many Glacier Hotel. Total hiking distance: 0.9 miles each way

The hike to Grinnell Lake proved to be a pleasant morning in the woods. I recommend it as a get acquainted hike in the area. It’s also an easy hike to use as a rest day between two harder days of hiking to Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake.

Click Glacier National Park hiking tour to read more about our small group tour with Road Scholar.

Have you hiked to Grinnell Lake? Come join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook. Or send us an email with your thoughts.

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