Grinnell Lake Trail offers a level hike along a string of glacier-fed lakes. The trail departs from Many Glacier Hotel on the northeast side of Glacier National Park. There are trails along opposite sides of two beautiful subalpine lakes preceding Grinnell Lake, as well as a short spur to a waterfall, giving hikers a few options. There is also a ferry service that transports guests from Many Glacier Hotel across the first two lakes, for those who prefer less hiking and more on-the-water leisure. Even hiking the full distance of 7.5 miles round trip, there is just 100 to 300 feet of elevation gain to reach Grinnell Lake (depending on your route), providing a non-strenuous day hike in a spectacular setting.
Start at the parking lot above Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake and walk down the steps toward the lobby. Peak inside the historic lodge before heading to the trailhead at the south end of the building. In addition to a gift shop and restaurant, the working hotel has a public gallery of photos depicting the dramatic recession of the area’s glaciers over the past hundred years.
Begin the hike on Swiftcurrent Foot Trail, which immediately enters a forest of firs and lodgepole pines. Chart a level course down the east side of Swiftcurrent Lake, passing several places where a couple steps off the trail gives you clear views over the lake toward the dramatic surrounding peaks. Grinnell Point, an imposing pyramid-shaped prominence guards the end of the valley holding the hike’s next two lakes.
Pass a couple private cabins and progress toward the south side of Swiftcurrent Lake. After 0.75 miles you will come to a junction that presents two routes around the second lake, Lake Josephine, a beautiful turquoise mirror cradled by tall mountains. Turn left to continue through the forest along the southeast side of the lake on South Shore Josephine Lake Trail, or head straight to connect to North Shore Josephine Lake Trail along the northwest side where there is minimal shade, more elevation gain, and grander views of the lake. Both routes are enjoyable, so hike in on one trail and out on the other.
The directions along South Shore Josephine Lake Trail are the simplest. Turn left at the junction near the bridge at the south end of Swiftcurrent Lake. Cross through the forest, making an obvious right turn after 0.18 miles. Go straight through a junction with Piegan Pass Trail before reaching the shore of Lake Josephine, 1 1/3 miles from the start. Continue through the woods along the lake for 0.9 miles, making another clear right turn before passing a boathouse at the south end of the lake. When you reach the merger with the North Shore Trail, stay to the left and continue toward Grinnell Lake.
To see the other side of Lake Josephine first, cross over the bridge at the south end of Swiftcurrent Lake and head west to a boat launch, 0.2 miles from the junction. Turn left up a paved trail, traveling over a rise to another boathouse on Lake Josephine. This is the steepest part of the hike, crossing a 150-foot rise in a quarter mile. Angle to the right when you hit the lake, following North Shore Josephine Lake Trail out of the forest and across the banked slope on the northwest shore. You will have open views across the lake toward Allen Mountain and may spot the ferry crossing the beautiful lake. Three-quarters of a mile past the boathouse on the north end of Lake Josephine, you will cross the first of two junctions with Grinnell Glacier Trail. This arduous track climbs 1,500 feet to the glacier above Grinnell Lake. North Shore Josephine Lake Trail sticks with the lake, curling through wetlands on the south end to rejoin the other trail to Grinnell Lake.
Both routes around Lake Josephine are similar in length. South Shore Josephine Lake Trail is 1.75 miles long, while North Shore Josephine Lake Trail is 1.85 miles long. There is only one trail between Lake Josephine and Grinnell Lake. Along the way, you will pass a pair of pit toilets (for those who forgot to go at the hotel). Shortly thereafter, you will arrive at a spur trail to Hidden Falls Overlook, 0.85 miles from the junction at the south end of Lake Josephine. Here you may turn left and ascend about fifty feet over less than a tenth of a mile to a viewpoint where a stream gushes through a rocky trough. The view from the overlook of the forty-foot waterfall is worth the brief detour.
Back on the main trail, cross a short seasonal suspension bridge to reach the other side of the creek below Hidden Falls. The trail transforms into a walkway of wooden planks over the last 1/3 of a mile as you cross a damp forest full of meandering streams that leads to a gravel beach on the shore of Grinnell Lake. They saved the best lake for last, and this vantage point is perfect. Turquoise water glistens beneath towering peak on the Continental Divide. The fingers of a long cascade topple down the mountain slope on the far side of the lake, topping off the pool with runoff from Grinnell Glacier, which hangs just below the Divide. If you brought your binoculars, take a look at the ridge to the right of the glacier and try to spot hikers looking down on Grinnell Lake from Glacier Overlook off Highline Trail.
Pines circle the pristine pool, adding to the charm of the final lake. Have a seat in front of the grand subalpine pool and enjoy a picnic lunch, or at least a snack break, before turning back down the trail. Return via either trail around Josephine Lake. No permit is required to hike to Grinnell Lake, but there is an entrance fee for Glacier National Park.
To get to the trailhead: From the east entrance of Glacier National Park drive outside the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road to the town of Saint Mary. Turn north on Route 89 and drive 8.5 miles north to Babb, Montana. Turn left on Many Glacier Road (Route 3). Drive another 11.5 miles to Many Glacier Hotel and turn left into the parking lot above the hotel. The trail begins from the south end of Many Glacier Hotel.
Trailhead address: Many Glacier Road (Route 3), Glacier National Park, Browning, MT 59417
Trailhead coordinates: 48.795359, -113.657262 (48° 47′ 43.29″N 113° 39′ 26.14″W)
This stunning trail presents hikes of several lengths from 7 miles to 15 miles, like an amazing 13.5-mile through-hike that includes a spur trail to an exceptional Glacier Overlook.
|Garden Wall Trail to Glacier Overlook|
This extension off Highline Trail climbs a thousand feet in a mile to extraordinary views over Grinnell Glacier and a trio of subalpine lakes.
|Johns Lake Loop|
This 2-mile loop visits a small lake in a mossy fores and then follows McDonald Creek past McDonald Falls to return to the trailhead.
|Saint Mary Falls and Virginia Falls|
This 3-mile hike visits two waterfalls in the forest above Saint Mary Lake on the east side of Glacier National Park.
|Crypt Lake Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada|
This adventurous 10.8-mile hike is considered one of Canada’s best, passing waterfalls, a natural tunnel, and a cable traverse to reach a pristine lake on the US border.
|Glacier National Park Campgrounds|
There are 13 campgrounds with over 1,000 total sites spread throughout the park in picturesque locations.