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.
Grinnell Glacier Hiking Stats
Distance: 10.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1600 feet
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 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.
The trail along Lake Josephine
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.
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 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.
Once at the lake, enjoy the view. This is a great spot for a picnic (just pack out everything you bring in).
Ending the Hike
To finish the hike, return the same way you came. It’s faster hiking back, now that it is mostly downhill.
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.
Not five minutes later, as we rounded a bend, a black bear and her cub walked right up onto the trail.
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.
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.
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.
There are three options: out-and-back from Many Glacier Hotel to Lake Josephine to Many Glacier Hotel, out-and-back from Many Glacier to Lake Josephine to Many Glacier Hotel plus a guided hike to Grinnell Lake, and a one-way ticket from Lake Josephine to Many Glacier Hotel.
All tickets must be purchased in advance. You will not be able to purchase a ticket at the last minute for the one-way trip from Lake Josephine to Many Glacier Hotel. It’s best to purchase your tickets at least one day in advance because they can sell out. Learn more on the official website.
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
If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.
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.
If you like this hike, you might also like Sky Pond or Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park or the Skyline Trail in Mount Rainier National Park.
If you have any questions about hiking to Grinnell Glacier, comment below.
More Information on Glacier National Park
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK: Check out our Glacier National Park Travel Guide for important travel information, sample itineraries, and how to plan your visit. Don’t miss our article Best Things to Do in Glacier National Park for more great things to do in the park.
HIKING IN GLACIER: Check out our article Best Hikes in Glacier National Park for great hikes to add to your to do list. We also have detailed hiking information about the Highline Trail, another great hike to do in Glacier National Park.
MORE GREAT HIKES IN THE NATIONAL PARKS: From hikes to the tallest peaks to beautiful coast trails, read our Guide to the Best Day Hikes in the US National Parks. If you prefer to keep your hikes short and sweet, read our guide to the Best Short Hikes in the National Parks.
ROAD TRIP ITINERARY: Learn how to put together Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks into one amazing 10 day road trip.
NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries.
Read all of our articles about the United States in our United States Travel Guide.
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I am confused about the distance of this hike. Your site says 10.6 miles and this site http://www.hikingglacier.com/grinnellglacieroverlook says 15.5 miles. What is the difference?
Just looking at the front page of that website I don’t trust it. I don’t think it is a true hiking website and I advise anyone looking at this comment to NOT click that link. Cheers, Julie
If you add the Grinnell Overlook to the Highline Trail, is it still worth doing the separate Grinnell Glacier hike? Some have suggested that the view by adding the Grinnell Overlook to the Highline Trail is redundant to the Grinnell Glacier full hike. Is that true from your perspective? Trying to manage lots to see in a short period of time and using our energy/leg strength as effectively as possible!
My favorite part of the Grinnell Glacier hike is seeing the surrounding mountains from the trail, before you get to Grinnell Glacier. So I think that Grinnell Glacier is worth doing separately for this reason. Which means you could skip the Grinnell Overlook section of the Highline Trail (that view of Grinnell Glacier is a bit redundant). In my opinion, if you only did 2 hikes in GNP, I’d recommend Highline and Grinnell Glacier and skip Hidden Lake and the Avalanche Lake trail…those are nice but not as good as Grinnell and Highline. Cheers, Julie
My husband and I are in our 50s. We hike 5-7 hilly (moderate) miles regularly, often in hot, humid conditions. We are really wanting to hike this trail, but are concerned about it being listed as a hard trail.
* In terms of difficulty, how does it compare to other trails at Glacier? *And any suggestions in terms of preparation? (We’ll be there after the boats have stopped for the season so that’s not an option for us.)
*If this trail is closed when we are there, any suggestions on another trail in the area?
In the Many Glacier area, this is one of the easier trails to do. Iceberg Lake is about the same distance but has a little less elevation gain, so it is slightly easier than Grinnell Glacier. Most of the hikes in the Many Glacier area come in around 10 miles and feature a fair amount of elevation gain, since you are hiking higher up into the mountains. The Highline Trail, which starts at Logan Pass, is also easier, since it is a mostly downhill walk (and this would make a nice option if the Grinnell Glacier Trail is closed). Cheers, Julie
Hi- I wanted to follow up and thank you for your tips! We completed this trail in early October! It was amazing!!
Definitely the most difficult trail we’ve done, and took us much longer than we expected. It was SO worth it!!
Thanks for writing in again. I’m glad you had a great hike! Cheers, Julie
Thank you for all this amazing and detailed information. My question is, are there restrooms along the way to Grinnell Glacier?
No, there are no restrooms along the hiking trail. But you can go off trail to take care of business, should you need to. Cheers, Julie
Hello Julie! Is there a way to buy a print of your picture at the top looking at Grinnell Glacier. Unfortunately, I was far too tired when I got there and completely forgot to take a good picture and I would like to frame one of your pictures. it was such an amazing hike, I just missed getting a good shot like you did. Thank you for the amazing blog, you do such a good job every time! Such an inspiration!
Hello Sarah. I’m glad you like our site! Unfortunately, we do not give away or sell our photos. But you can check Shutterstock.com and they might have something similar. Cheers, Julie
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?
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
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.
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