Grinnell Glacier Hike

St. Mary, Montana

After three days of steady rain on the east side of Glacier NP, the weather prediction finally had only a slight chance of rain under cloudy skies.  That’s good enough for us!  We headed back into the Many Glacier section of the park to hike the 6.5 mile trail up to the Grinnell Glacier.

The first part of this hike runs a mile along the west side of Swiftcurrent Lake.  At the far end of the lake there is a great view back at the Many Glacier Hotel.

Looking across Swiftcurrent  Lake at Many Glacier Hotel

About a quarter mile up the trail you pass the next lake in the chain of four lakes along this valley, Lake Josephine.

After passing  the one mile length of Lake Josephine, the trail begins to gain in elevation.  Soon the third lake, Grinnell Lake, comes into view.

The opaque turquoise color of the water in Grinnell Lake indicates that it is glacial water.  The color is from rock flour, rock ground to a fine silt by a glacier.

Sometimes on mountain trails like this you look ahead and wonder just where the trail will be going.  The picture below is an example of this, as there doesn’t appear to be anywhere for the trail to go.  But as we approached the base of the rock face  we could see climbers above us and the trail came into view along a ledge winding up the cliff.

At one turn in the trail two big horn sheep were enjoying lunch just above us, oblivious to our presence.

We found ourselves hiking while enjoying a great view of a long waterfall.  Our destination is at the very top of the picture below.

The trail continued up along the face of the cliff.  Below you can see a group of hikers in the center of the photo (small black dots).

The last quarter mile winds steeply up over loose rocks, the most difficult part of the trail for us (especially after six miles of elevation gain in a steady drizzle).  But the view of Upper Grinnell Lake and the glaciers at the end of the trail made the climb worth the effort.

Upper Grinnell Lake with Salamander Glacier above it

Upper Grinnell Lake with rain dancing on the surface

The panorama below shows the lake and two glaciers, Grinnell Glacier on the left (long and narrow) and Salamandar Glacier (center).  About a hundred years ago both were joined together to form one huge glacier.

Beauty found along the lake (sorry about the rain drop on the lens)

View of Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, and Swiftcurrent Lake

Some one of our readers have commented on the lack of flora pictures in our blog, so we have added some for them her (these are for you, Sue).

Fireweed above Grinnell Lake

Indian Paintbrush

This fellow enjoyed a relaxing lunch while watching us pass by

One option to shave a couple of miles off this hike is to take a boat across Swiftcurrent Lake, hike a quarter mile, then take another boat across Lake Josephine.  The drill sergeant who planned and supervised our hike made it clear this was not an option!

The hike up to the glacier was spectacular, despite the rain and clouds.  To top it off, as we drove past the river near Many Glacier Hotel we spotted a bear and her two cubs crossing the rapids.

We first thought it was a grizzly but have decided that it is a cinnamon black bear.  The two cubs had a bit of a time crossing in the strong current.  Just after taking the picture below the second cub was pushed under and down stream a few feet.  But it quickly recovered and scampered up the bank on the other side.

The weather tomorrow is for sunny skies, so we’ll head up the Going to the Sun Road for another exciting walk through nature!

More on that later . . .


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34 Responses to Grinnell Glacier Hike

  1. RJRVtravels says:

    Great review of the hike. You motivated me and I drove over on Tuesday and did the hike – However, I did take the boats as I didn’t think I would have time to fit in the full hike and make the drive back to Apgar before the sun set. Even with the dreary weather you got some great shots. Catching the bears crossing the stream had to be a special treat.

    • placestheygo says:

      Glad we motivated you, Rick! I don’t blame you for taking the boat with the drive you had back to the other side. We were surprised how nice the view was despite the weather. Thanks goodness the clouds didn’t hang low. The bears sure topped off a great day.

  2. Laurel says:

    This hike has been on our list for several years — thanks so much for taking us along! What a spectacular day you had — your photos of the bighorn sheep and the bear and cubs are fantastic. I’m also glad you included the flower photos — I always like seeing what’s in bloom. Love the color of those glacial lakes!

  3. What a fabulous hike…I want to do it! We just may make it to East Glacier next summer, this one is on the list! Terrific wildlife sightings!!!!

    • placestheygo says:

      There are several wonderful hikes on the east side of Glacier and the area is much less populated. You and Hans will love the hike to the glacier. The park expects the Grinnell Glacier to be gone by 2020 which is why I wanted to get there before it is too small to enjoy.

  4. pmbweaver says:

    AAAAAAAh…to the header photo.

    The turquoise color of that water is awesome. The big horn sheep are a wonderful treat! Great photos.

    This has to be one of the most fabulous hikes I have ever seen. The lake and two glaciers are outstanding. You two are so blessed to be there and to have the health to do this hike. Wonderful.

    Anther added treat….mom and her babies. Now, how many people really ever see this sight in their entire life. Incredible!

  5. Jodee Gravel says:

    I’m curious how long the hike took you. We really want to do this one after we’ve gotten some hiking muscles and stamina built up! All the photos are spectacular, NG stuff. The bears and sheep are wonderful – what a great day!!!

    • placestheygo says:

      Jodee, this particular hike is about 12 miles. Since we were gaining 1600 feet, the going is much slower and of course there is stopping for pictures. It took us about 6 1/2 hours altogether. We probably would have stayed longer at the glacier if it hadn’t been raining and windy.

  6. Beautiful hike, the lakes, the glaciers and you saw a bighorn sheep with the full horns – nice! I’d love to do this hike at some future time, not able to this time around, so thanks for sharing. We were over at Many Glacier Hotel and I think we saw the same three bears today! A brown mama and two black cubs on the side of the mountain, the hotel staff said they’d been swimming around. But they were a bit far to get a photo. Hope you’re enjoying Waterton.

    • placestheygo says:

      How neat that you saw the same bear family! It was such a treat to catch them on our way home after a long, wet day. Yes, I was very excited to see Big Horns with huge horns for a change. They were just beautiful. You need to put the Grinnell Glacier in your plans soon. The park expects it to be gone by 2020! You want to see it while it still has some size.

  7. colibabas says:

    We did Waterton National Park north of Glacier a few years ago. Judging by your pictures Glacier is far superior for views and hiking. Awesome wildlife shots! This park is on our bucket list.
    Safe travels!

  8. Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

    I love those bear pics…the two cubs especially.

  9. Ingrid says:

    Love that photo of the Bighorn looking at you…. fabulous. This looks like an amazing hike. We’ve had some health issues to contend with and thus are working up the hiking endurance slowly. Hopefully I’ll be ready to tackle a trail like that next summer although I may need to temper my drill sergeant LOL.

  10. LuAnn says:

    This hike is on the list for us next year. What fabulous views and your images stunning. Your photos of the bighorn sheep and mama bear and cubs are wonderful. Glad that the rainy weather still allowed you to get this hike in before you had to move on. Pictures of flowers John…you must be softening. 😉

    • placestheygo says:

      Haha! Not sure he is softening, LuAnn! More like twisting his arm:) Two flower photos is a huge deal for me!! I was in heaven with the animal sightings. We’ve never seen Big Horn so close with those huge horns. It made my day:)

      • LuAnn says:

        I love bighorn sheep. I have to share a little story from our time in Yellowstone. One night after work, we were heading down the road to Gardiner and along the side of the road were two bighorn sheep. We pulled right in front of them and watched them do their dance as they clashed horns together. It was so amazing and this went on for about 20 minutes.

      • placestheygo says:

        LuAnn, I said to John up on the mountain that I was hoping to see some horn banging but everyone got along nicely…maybe in Jasper or Banff!

  11. Liz says:

    Gorgeous, gorgeous photos!!!

    I failed this hike about 19 years ago. I was only 38!! But a very hot day, I was new to this kind of thing (no camelbak), we didn’t get to the trailhead until 1:00 p.m…..not enough water…I stopped at the shaded pit toilet area about 2/3 or 3/4 (?) of the way and the rest of the group went on. Grizzly on the way back and we had to backtrack to pick up the lake boat.

    Anyway, good show to you two!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Liz! This would be a very challenging hike in the heat and without water! You’ll have to give it a try again on a cool day with lots of water. But hurry…the park expects the glacier to be gone by 2020!

  12. Gay says:

    Beautiful hike…and what great pictures of the long horned sheep and bears! Brings back nice memories from last summer! Even though we didn’t quite make it to the top!

  13. Pam, I get it!, we should be there by 2020! Gorgeous pictures especially the wildlife. I just wished we are next to you oohing and wowing… Beautiful!

  14. I admire your grit. After hiking in drizzle you are able to describe rain as “dancing” on the lake! I wouldn’t have described it so kindly. Your bear captures are wonderful. What a great sight that must have been.

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