Julie United States 25 Comments

The hike to Grinnell Glacier is one of Glacier National Park’s most beautiful hikes. This hike has it all…stunning alpine scenery, waterfalls, emerald green lakes, wildflowers, the chance to see wildlife, and of course, a glacier.

On this hike, we spotted moose, mountain goats, and bear. The wildlife sightings and the gorgeous scenery made this was one of our favorite experiences in Glacier National Park.

Here’s how to do it.

Facts About the Hike

Distance: 10.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1600 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length of Time: 5 to 7 hours
When to Go: Mid-June through September, when the road to Many Glacier and the trail are free of snow.
Location: The Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park

Grinnell Glacier Elevation Profile

Grinnell Glacier Elevation Profile of the round trip hike from the trailhead on Continental Divide Trail.

There are two ways to do this hike. The hiking stats listed above are for the round-trip hike from main trailhead on Continental Divide Trail.

You can shorten this hike by taking the boat across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Taking the boat shaves off 3.4 miles, for a grand total of 7.2 miles of hiking. This is a great option if you are traveling with kids, want to add a scenic boat ride to the hike, or just don’t like the idea of hiking over 10 miles.

In this article, I cover both ways to hike to Grinnell Glacier. First, learn what to expect along the trail, from the trailhead to Grinnell Glacier. Then, learn how to use the shuttle service across the lakes.

Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

Getting to the Trailhead

The Grinnell Glacier trailhead is located on Continental Divide Trail, the road that connects the Many Glacier Hotel with Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and the Many Glacier Campground. On Google Maps, it is labeled “Grinnell Glacier Trailhead.”

There is a small parking lot here. Get here early (before 8 am) to ensure that you get a spot. If you can’t get a parking spot, you will either have to park along Continental Divide Trail or at one of the lodges and walk to the trailhead. This could add on quite a bit of mileage and time to your day.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: If you are not staying overnight in the Many Glacier area, try to get to Many Glacier no later than 8 am. Once the parking lots fill, park rangers turn visitors away at the entrance station. This happened during our visit, not to us, but to other visitors.

From the Trailhead to Lake Josephine

For those of you planning to take the shuttle boats, this is the section of trail that you will skip.

From the trailhead, it is a 2.1 mile walk to get to the far end of Josephine Lake. It is a mostly flat walk so it goes by fast. For the most part, you walk through a pine forest with nice views of both lakes. This is not the most exciting walk, so if you choose to take the boat shuttles, you really are not missing out on much. However, we did see moose from this part of the trail.

Swiftcurrent Lake

Swiftcurrent Lake

 

Along Lake Josephine

The trail along Lake Josephine

 

Lake Josephine Boat Dock

The view of Lake Josephine and the boat shuttle from the hiking trail.

Lake Josephine to Grinnell Glacier

The main trail and the trail from the Lake Josephine boat dock join up at the far end (the western end) of Lake Josephine. This is where the climbing begins and the views really start to get good.

It’s just over 3 miles, one way, to Grinnell Glacier from this point. Three gorgeous miles.

From Lake Josephine, it is a steady, uphill walk to Grinnell Glacier. The higher you go, the more the views open up. On a clear day, this hike is literally jaw-dropping. You stop to take a photo, walk another twenty feet, and stop again. Just when you think the view can’t get any better, somehow, it does.

Here is the trail in photos.

First Good View

Hike Grinnell Glacier

Hike Glacier National Park

Hiking up alongside this waterfall is the “trickiest” part of the hike. It’s not so bad going up, but coming back down, it can be slippery.

The Waterfall

Glacier National Park Hike

Hiking Glacier National Park

Kara Rivenbark

The steepest part of the hike comes right before you get to Grinnell Glacier. You’ll climb several sections of staircases made of giant rocks and boulders. But once you get to the top, it’s a short walk to the Grinnell Glacier viewpoint.

Big Steps

 

Once at the lake, enjoy the view. This is a great spot for a picnic (just pack out everything you bring in).

Grinnell Glacier

Ending the Hike

To finish the hike, return the same way you came. It’s faster hiking back, now that it is mostly downhill.

View of the Valley

This is the view looking back to Many Glacier Hotel.

This is when we had our best animal sightings.

About a half mile from Grinnell Glacier, we had spotted several mountain goats at different locations along the trail.

Mountain Goat Grinnell Glacier

 

Not five minutes later, as we rounded a bend, a black bear and her cub walked right up onto the trail.

Black Bear Grinnell Glacier

Black Bear

The trail was very busy now. It was approaching midday and there just happened to be a park ranger leading a large group on a hike out to Grinnell Glacier. At the advice of the park ranger, Kara and I joined their group and backtracked at least a quarter of a mile back to Grinnell Glacier. After a brief wait, and yet another mountain goat sighting, it was safe for us to continue on our way.

What a thrill to see so much wildlife in such a short period of time. But you must always be on alert for bear when hiking in Glacier National Park, even on a crowded trail. Keep up a conversation, carry bear spray, and keep a lookout for bear, not only in front of you on the trail, but also in the brush and the trees along the trail.

Using the Boat Shuttles

The boat shuttle consists of two separate boats: one from Many Glacier Hotel that crosses Swiftcurrent Lake and a second shuttle that crosses Lake Josephine. These shuttles are operated by Glacier Park Boat Company.

Grinnell Glacier Boat Shuttle

The boat on Lake Josephine.

From the Many Glacier Hotel, you will take the shuttle across the Swiftcurrent Lake, a journey that takes about 10 minutes. Disembark this boat and walk 0.2 miles to Lake Josephine. Board a second boat and then it is a 12-minute ride to the far end of Lake Josephine. From the boat dock, you will walk 0.4 miles to the main trail to Grinnell Glacier.

Boat shuttle map Grinnell Glacier

Map of the hiking trail and boat shuttles. The main hiking trail is yellow. The boat shuttle routes are white. The red lines are the short hikes between the two lakes and the hike to get to the main trail from Lake Josephine.

The ticket price is $33.25 for adults and $16.75 for children (in 2021). This price includes your round trip journey on the boat shuttles. At specific times of day, this also includes a ranger-led hike to Grinnell Glacier.

You cannot book a one-way ticket from Many Glacier Hotel to Lake Josephine. However, if there is availability, you can ride the shuttle one way from Lake Josephine to the Many Glacier Hotel. This really depends on how much open seating these boats have, so you run the risk of walking to the dock and learning that the boats are fully booked for the day.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Book your tickets in advance because they can sell out. It is possible to purchase your ticket the same morning that you want to do this hike, but most likely you will have to wait in a long line. We tried this, but the line was so long that we gave up and hiked the entire trail instead.

Important Note: If you don’t want to hike with a big crowd, skip the boat shuttle and start your hike early. The first shuttle leaves Many Glacier Hotel at 8:30 am, so these hikers join the main trail between 9 and 9:30 am. We were able to stay ahead of the crowds on the way out to Grinnell Glacier, but we saw them on our hike back to our car. And crowds can be huge. This is a very popular hike in Glacier National Park.

What to Bring on the Hike

  • Food and water
  • Sunscreen. There is very little shade on the trail.
  • Bear Spray

Before You Go

Get updates on park status and road closures here. 

The trail can close due to snowfall and bear activity. Get trail status updates here. 

More Information on Glacier National Park

For more information about Glacier National Park, read our Guide to Glacier National Park. Get important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.


If you have any questions about hiking to Grinnell Glacier, comment below.

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Glacier National Park Grinnell Glacier

 

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Comments 25

  1. About how long would it take to hike from where the 2nd boat lets you off to Grinell Glacier? If I take the 2:00pm boat leaving from Many Glacier, would I be able to complete the hike in time to catch the 5:15 return boat?

    Thanks!

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      Author

      You will have about 7 hours of hiking. If you hike at 2 miles per hour (which is average hiking speed), you will need 3.5 hours. You could make the 5:15 boat if you hike fast and don’t linger long at Grinnell Glacier. Cheers, Julie

      1. Hi Julie – thanks so much! I take it that you meant 7 *miles* of hiking. Either way, sounds like maybe the 1:00pm boat is a safer bet for me to hike and catch the 5:15 return.

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          Author

          Oops, yes, you are correct. The 1 pm sounds great. It gives you more time to take your time. It’s a beautiful spot, maybe the prettiest we have seen in Glacier NP, so the extra time will be wonderful. Cheers, Julie

  2. Thanks for the amazing information! We are looking at a late August trip in 2022. Our kids will be 10 & 12. With your experience on this hike do you think athletic kids of this age could handle the round trip hike to Grinnell glacier? Thanks!

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      Author

      Yes, a 10 and 12 year old should have no problems with this hike, especially if they are active. Kara was 14 when we did this and she loved it and could not stop taking photos along the way. This is a great hike to do with active kids. If you like this hike, I also recommend the Highline Trail. Cheers, Julie

  3. Hi Julie,

    Hope all is well at your end. First of all a huge thank you for such a well written blog. You and your family really inspire us 🙂

    I am planning to go to Glacier National Park during the first week of August 2021. I have a few queries –

    1) Are there 2 lakes? – One by the name Grinnell Lake (also called Lower Grinnell lake) and another by the name Upper Grinnell Lake?  If yes, which lake of the above two has the Grinnell glacier attached to it and has small icebergs floating in it?
    2) You have mentioned the total distance of this hike to be 10.6 miles, this hiking distance is for the lower Grinnell lake or the Upper Grinnell Lake or the Grinnell Glacier?
    3) As per my understanding the Grinnell glacier is attached to the upper Grinnell lake. This upper Grinnell lake also has some small icebergs floating in it and I will see the lower Grinnell lake from a far off distance while on the trail to the Upper Grinnell lake. Is my understanding correct?
    4) I want to see the Grinnell glacier up and close and I want to dip my feet in the water of the lake which is nearest to this glacier… which trail should I take for this and what will be the total mile count to and fro from the Swiftcurrent lake.
    5) On this boat reservation website (http://glacierparkboats.com/tour/many-glacier/), it is mentioned on the right hand side that “Hike to Grinnell Lake is 4 hours” and “Hike to Grinnell Glacier is 8.5 hours”.  This is very confusing to me 🙁 Is the glacier and lake not at the same place? Which hike should I choose? Which hike of these two have you mentioned in your article above?
    6) Me and my husband are not experienced hikers, do you feel we can hike till the Grinnell lake and glacier without a guide?

    I understand these are too many queries. I would be really grateful to you if you help me get clarity. 
    PS – Your travel blogs are extremely informative and inspiring. Please keep travelling and writing. Thanks again.

    Kind Regards,
    Divya

    1. Post
      Author

      There are four lakes along this hike. Swiftcurrent Lake is first and Lake Josephine is second. You will either hike past these two lakes or ride the shuttle across them if you choose the boat tour. From the hiking trail, a little ways past Josephine Lake, you will overlook Grinnell Lake, the 3rd lake on the trail. The fourth and final lake is Upper Grinnell Lake. This is where the trail ends and this is the lake with the glacier. The 10.6 miles is the total distance if you start at the main trailhead and hike all of the way to Upper Grinnell Lake and back again, without taking the boat shuttle. If you want to see the glacier, you need to choose the “hike to Grinnell Glacier” option on the boat tour (the 8.5 hour option). My understanding is that the shorter option only takes you to a viewpoint of Grinnell Lake. If you take the boat tour, it’s still a long day, but you will do less hiking since the boat covers some of the hiking distance. If you are in good physical shape, you should be able to hike all of the way to Grinnell Glacier, but I do recommend taking the boat because your total hiking distance is 7.2 miles. Cheers, Julie

      1. Thank you so much Julie for clearing all my doubts. Really appreciate it. Wishing you and your family good luck for all your future travel. More power to you. Cheers, Divya.

  4. Hi Julie,
    What time of year did you do this hike or have you done it? I am looking at going the end of June (27th) but am worried about snowpack.

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      Author

      We did this in mid-August. You could still have some snow on the trail at the end of June. You can bring hiking poles and/or traction cleats to help you in the snow. Cheers, Julie

  5. Thank you for the details and wonderful photos!

    We are planning this hike on September 14, 2021, the last day the boat runs! We arrive at Village Inn from Yellowstone on September 12th. On the 13th, we will be going to Logan Pass. We are staying the 13th at Many Glaciers and hiking to Grinnell on the 14th. I wish we had booked another night at Many Glaciers after the Grinnell hike!!

    I’ve been checking everyday to see if we can get another night. Do you have recommendations on where else we could stay? I would prefer to stay on the east side. Thanks!

    1. Post
      Author

      Look into the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. It is also in the Many Glacier area of the park. I have stayed at the Many Glacier Lodge and Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and I actually liked the Motor Inn more. There are also some small hotels and B&B’s just outside of the park, near Babb and St. Mary. Have fun in Glacier!! Cheers, Julie

  6. We’ll visit GNP from May 28-31, 2021. Is this trail open yet? Is the hike along the Sun Road? I don’t know if we get the permit to go in the Sun Road.

    1. Post
      Author

      This hike is located in the Many Glacier region of Glacier National Park. The Many Glacier area of the park will not open until 5/28/21 due to road construction. You do not need a permit (ticketed entry) for this part of the park. Cheers, Julie

  7. Can you access this trailhead by entering the west entrance of the park and driving there? or can you only reach it if you enter from the east entrance? that entrance is going to be closed for the rest of 2020 and I want to be sure we can still access this Grinnel Glacier on our trip in August as if not, we may skip this NP. Can you let me know?

    1. Post
      Author

      Grinnell Glacier is typically accessed by hiking round trip from the Many Glacier area. You can also see Grinnell Glacier by taking the spur trail on the Highline Trail (this starts at Logan Pass so you can get here via the west entrance) but I am not aware of a way that you can hike to Grinnell Glacier from here. The best part of hiking to Grinnell Glacier is the final two miles of trail before you get here, from Many Glacier. So you might want to save Glacier NP for 2021 or later, if this hike is a must-do. Cheers, Julie

  8. Thank you for this comprehensive guide to hiking Grinnell and your other blog post referencing the Highline/Granite Chalet. We’re going to be in GNP the last week in June. I’m keeping my fingers crossed these two trails will be open. We are staying the full last week in June until the 2nd of July so hopefully, we can get in there.

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      Author
    2. I just checked with the park and it looks like Many Glacier trailheads may open on 7/1 as of now. But, that may change. We are in Glacier from 6/23 until 7/2 and will be missing out on some very highly rated hikes. 🙁

  9. Thank you so much for your comprehensive guide! We are planning our first trip to GNP this September & am so happy to have found your blog!

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      Author
  10. If you are visiting this place then don’t forget to visit Lake Mcdonald. You will not find any directions for reaching the lake. You just have to walk down the hill to reach the beach. Trust me one of the best ways to spend quality time at the beach.

  11. We hiked this on a cold & rainy day at the beginning of september and the views were still spectacular! One of my favorite hikes I’ve ever done. September was not too crowded in the park so I definitely recommend that timing for a visit. When we got to Upper grinnell lake it was also filled with iceburgs! Very cool.

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      Author

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