Grinnell Glacier sits at the head of the Grinnell Creek drainage and is the easiest glacier in Glacier National Park to day hike too. Even with its popularity, this gorgeous hike is also a perfect place to see animals. We experienced all of that on this trip.
My brother Josiah and his wife Amy were coming to Montana to visit us and we all wanted to go on a hike in Glacier National Park. We decided to head up to Grinnell Glacier as this hike easily takes you to a glacier, is absolutely gorgeous, and you have a great chance to see animals.
After waking up earlier than we all wanted to, we hopped in the car and drove the 2.5 hours to Many Glacier to make sure that we could get a parking spot and start hiking while it was kind of cool out. The parking lot for the Grinnell Glacier trailhead was full, so we parked along the road and began out journey.
We traveled along the valley bottom crossing over the lovely Swiftcurrent Creek before coming to the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake. The air was hazy due to all of the smoke from surrounding fires, but it was still gorgeous. A Common Loon hollered as it uncharacteristically flew in circles over the lake. We continued on the lake’s shore until the boat dock where we followed the trail up and over the rise separating it and Lake Josephine.
The boat was returning to the dock on a calm Lake Josephine as we dropped down to the pebbled shore. Mt. Gould reflected in its waters and pictures were easy. After the brief stop, we continued along skirting the shores of this lake. As we worked our way up the drainage, each lake got progressively greener due to its proximity to Grinnell Glacier hanging high up the valley above us.
Once we reached the head of the lake where the boat was returning and the Common Mergansers were fishing, we turned up the Grinnell Creek drainage where the trail gets steeper. A Mountain Goat watched from above as we wrapped around Grinnell Point and Grinnell Lake came into view backdropped by the towering and elegant Angel Wing. Grinnell Lake, greener than Lake Josephine, was stunning. Looking up towards Piegan Pass, we could make out Morning Eagle Falls as Cataract Creek tumbled down the other drainage.
As we climbed, we began to see more waterfalls, lakes, open meadows, and hanging snow and ice high above. This section of the trail crosses a few cliff bands that can make those uncomfortable with heights a bit edgy. One section had a wonderful waterfall splashing right over the trail getting everyone wet to one degree or another. A couple sets of switchbacks and more traversing brought us from shrubs to alpine and picturesque views along the way.
After some climbing and traversing, we finally arrived up to the head of the drainage. We passed the busy picnic section with the lone outhouse and continued along one of the moraines left by the glacier when it was much larger. Eventually, Upper Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier came into view in an otherworldly landscape. We ate lunch and watched a herd of Bighorn Sheep rams traverse the hillside above us.
This lake is the greenest of them all as the glacier melts directly into this body of water. Salamander Glacier melts into the lake via a tall, lacy waterfall from above. We walked the moonscape terrain dotted with smaller ponds of various colors to the outlet of the lake. We hopped over Grinnell Creek and over to Grinnell Glacier.
I had never been on the glacier and we proceeded carefully and not too far. It’s very hard to see where the glacier’s crevasses are and we had no desire of punching through and getting injured. While we were on, we could hear the water tricking on, through, and under the ice as well as some haunting groaning that occurs as the ice moves and grinds.
We eventually turned around and headed back down. While we saw a couple of animals on the way up, we spotted another Mountain Goat just off the trail, a cow Moose in Grinnell Lake, a Mule Deer doe and two Grizzly Bears along the trail, and finally another cow Moose in Swiftcurrent Lake. Hot, tired, a little sore, and euphoric, we returned to our car, picked up a few ice creams and drove back home.
It’s hard to beat a sunny day to Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park. If you’ve not been, you should make sure it’s on your list. It’s popular, so you’ll see plenty of people, but it’s absolutely worth it. You never know what you’ll see.