Montana, Grinnell Glacier Trail

Location: Glacier National Park
Length: 10 miles / 16.0 km
Trail Type: Out and back
Elevation Change: 1,600 ft / 488 m
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

The trip  up the Grinnell Glacier may be strenuous, but the end is well worth the climb

Trail Information:

The hike to Grinnell Glacier encompasses a full spectrum of majestic landscapes : sharp peaks and ice-carved cliffs, lush valleys, jewel-like lakes and, of course, glaciers.

With open views throughout and a predominantly gentle gradient, it is hardly surprising that this is one of the Park’s most popular trails.

A level path through light forest leads to the west shore of Swiftcurrent Lake in just a few minutes. Follow the lakeshore south to a junction at 0.6 mile/1 km and turn right for Lake Josephine, which quickly comes into view. As it does, the trail to Grinnell Glacier turns sharp right. Here you head through open ground of low shrubs and grasses, with fabulous views over the lake.

Around 1.3 mile/2 km the trail splits – take the right fork, moving away from Lake Josephine. Briefly head through trees to another divide 0.3 mile/0.5 km later – again take the right fork signed to Grinnell Glacier (the left fork descends to Josephine boat dock). Here are some splendid views of the forested valley between the sparkling blue lake and serrated mountain tops.

Logans Pass on the trail is ablaze with wildflowers in the summertime

So begins a steady climb which, although not steep, can be sapping in the heat of summer. Ahead, clinging to the serrated cliffs of the Garden Wall, is The Salamander glacier. Waterfalls plunge from the ice to a stunning turquoise lake – Grinnell Lake – that comes into view at around 1.9 miles/3 km.

Surrounded by gorgeous mountain scenery, the trail traverses a lush slope covered with purple fleabane, harebell, paintbrush, corn lily and fireweed. Heading steadily south-west, there are fabulous views of glacier, waterfalls, and the gem of a lake that lies below.

Around 3.1 mile a narrow rocky gully and pass move towards Grinnell Lake.

Part of it pours over a low, sheer wall directly beside the path, providing an extremely welcome cold shower on a hot summer’s day! The trail skirts the craggy cliff face high above the valley floor, but the path is wide and there is no exposure. Looking north-east, the height you have gained enables you to see all three lakes – Grinnell, Josephine and Swiftcurrent. Cross more wildflower-covered slopes, ablaze with yellows, mauves, pinks and whites.

At 4.4 miles/7 km, climb briefly via a switchback to a sign positioned just before a hill of glacial rubble: “Grinnell Glacier, discovered in 1887 by George Bird Grinnell, covers approximately 300 acres.

Caution. Do not go out onto the glacier alone. Deep crevasses are often hidden by thin snow bridges.”

A final 10-minute climb remains, the steepest of the day.

Zigzags and boulder steps lead upwards, cresting the moraine at an elevation of 6,560 ft/2,000 m. The trail end is just a few minutes further on where, spread out before you, is gray-green Upper Grinnell Lake, floating with ice. A waterfall tumbles from The Salamander down the sheer face of the lake’s cirque. The great bulk of Grinnell Glacier lies to your left, beneath the cliff.


The trail is located in the Many Glacier area on the Park’s eastern side. The easiest access is via US 89 to Babb, 10 miles south of the Canadian border and 150 miles north-west of Great Falls. Turn off US 89 just south of Babb and head west for 12 miles on Many Glacier Road.

Trailhead: Swiftcurrent Lake picnic area, on the left just before the road end. There is a large parking lot, but it is best to arrive in the morning as it can be full by early afternoon. The trail can also be accessed from Many Glacier Hotel, by skirting the east and south shores of Swiftcurrent Lake to join the main trail.

NOTES: Check weather conditions to assure that you won’t need axe or picks and make sure to check for bear sightings prior to leaving at the Many Glacier visitor center at the road end.

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