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Glacier Hiking Book
Hiking Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks provides details for more than 60 hikes, including trail descriptions, best hiking seasons, difficulty ratings, average hiking times, GPS- compatible maps, and hikes suited to every ability.

Grinnell Glacier

Trail Features: Outstanding views, Glaciers, Meadows Grinnell Glacier
Trail Location: Many Glacier Hotel Boat Dock
Roundtrip Length: 7.6 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 1840 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 484 Feet
Highest Elevation: 6515 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 11.28 (strenuous)
Parking Lot Latitude 48.79667
Parking Lot Longitude -113.65815

Trail Description:

The hike to Grinnell Glacier begins from the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead, located about a half-mile past the turn-off for the Many Glacier Hotel. However, you can shave 3.4 miles off your roundtrip hike by taking the two shuttle boats across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. This hike description assumes you'll take the shuttle boats, therefore this hike begins from the boat dock at the Many Glacier Hotel. Please note that there is a fee to board the two boats.

The express boat shuttles hikers across Swiftcurrent Lake in about 8 minutes. From the landing on the south side of the lake you'll take the paved trail over to Lake Josephine. This short 0.2-mile walk climbs about 80 feet before descending back down to the Lake Josephine boat dock. From here you'll board the Morning Eagle and take the 12-minute shuttle ride across Lake Josephine.

From the boat landing on the south end of Lake Josephine hikers should proceed along the trail that leads towards the right. In a very short distance you'll reach the Grinnell Glacier Trail junction where you'll turn right to proceed towards your destination.

From the junction the trail circles around the south end of the lake. Much of this segment is on a raised boardwalk to keep hikers above a wet marshy area. Immediately after exiting this short section you'll arrive at the North Shore Lake Josephine Trail junction, which veers off to the right. The trail to Grinnell Glacier continues up the hill, and from this point, will climb a thigh-burning 135 feet over the course of the next tenth-of-a-mile.

Grinnell FallsRoughly four-tenths of a mile from the boat landing hikers will reach another trail that branches off to the right. This trail connects with the North Shore Lake Josephine Trail in a short distance, and takes hikers back to the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead in Many Glacier. To continue on towards Grinnell Glacier hikers should turn left here. From the junction the trail flattens out for awhile, and allows hikers to catch their breath.

At roughly three-quarters of a mile you'll have your first views of Grinnell Lake in the valley below. Walk a little further and you'll also see Grinnell Falls tumbling hundreds of feet down the headwall behind the lake.

There are three glaciers that will be visible as you proceed up the valley. Sitting just below the Garden Wall is The Salamander. This is the dominating glacier visible from Lake Josephine, as well as during the early portions of the hike.

bighorn sheepAs the trail continues to climb hikers will pass through beautiful alpine meadows with numerous wildflowers. You'll also see a couple of small waterfalls tumbling down the cliffs of 8851-foot Mt. Grinnell on your right. At roughly 1.8 miles from the boat landing, after climbing a couple of switchbacks, take a look above Grinnell Falls for your first good view of Grinnell Glacier.

At 2.2 miles you'll reach a stretch of trail that begins to hug a cliff face. There are a couple of stretches where the path hangs on a fairly narrow ledge with some fairly steep drop-offs. If you take your time, however, most people shouldn't have any problems here. Hikers should also keep an eye out for bighorn sheep and mountain goats in this area. On our most recent hike we saw at least 15 bighorn sheep, most of them rams, grazing and resting in the meadows just below the path.

As with all the other trails in the Many Glacier area, you should be aware that you're traveling through prime grizzly bear habitat while on the Grinnell Glacier Trail.

In 2010 Columbus Zoo keeper and television personality, Jack Hanna, was charged by a 150-pound grizzly bear near this stretch of the trail. Hanna, along with three other hikers, rounded a blind corner near Thunderbird Falls and came face-to-face with a sow grizzly and her two yearling cubs. The bear was only 10 feet away before Hanna was able to repel the bear on a third burst of bear spray.

At roughly 3.2 miles hikers will arrive at a small rest area where you'll find a couple of benches and a pit toilet.

Above the rest area the trail begins to climb a series of steep switchbacks through a boulder-strewn moraine. As you proceed up this short section take a moment to look down the valley for an absolutely grand view of Grinnell Lake and Lake Josephine, as well as Sherburne Lake in the far off distance.

Grinnell Glacier

At roughly 3.6 miles from the boat landing hikers will finally reach the Grinnell Glacier Overlook where you'll enjoy commanding views of the 152-acre glacier, Upper Grinnell Lake, the Garden Wall (part of the Continental Divide), as well as 9553-foot Mount Gould. Looking towards the southeast, in the notch on the Garden Wall just below the summit of Mount Gould, is Gem Glacier, the smallest named glacier in the park.

In years past rangers would lead hikes out onto the glacier itself. However, as a result of its retreat in recent years, rangers no longer take groups out onto the ice. The park does allow visitors to venture out onto the glacier, but they highly recommend that you don't go alone, or go too far. It's especially dangerous when there's fresh snow on the ground, which can hide deep crevasses.

Grinnell Glacier

In 1850, at the end of what has been referred to as the Little Ice Age, Grinnell Glacier, combined with The Salamander, measured 710 acres in surface area. As of 2005 it has shrunk to less than 200 acres.

The glacier was discovered in 1885 by George Bird Grinnell, an early American conservationist, explorer, writer and founder of the Audubon Society. Grinnell was so inspired by the scenery during his first visit to the area that he spent the next two decades working to establish it as a national park. Interestingly, during his final visit to the glacier in 1926, Grinnell noted in his diary that "the glacier is melting very fast and the amount of water coming from it is great. All these glaciers are receding rapidly and after a time will disappear."