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Grinnell Glacier Trail How to Hike Series

Part 1 - Trail Walk Through

by Shirley
4 segments of Grinnell Glacier Hike

Grinnell Glacier Trail of the Glacier National Park is one of the most fun and beautiful hikes. Enjoy breathtaking view of various landscapes, passing three lakes {Swiftcurrent Lake, Lake Josephine and Grinnell Lake} and experience glacier at the end of the trail.

The trail is about 11.2 miles or 18 kilometers long, taking approximately 4 hours to get to the end of the trail and another 4 hours to come back. Be prepared to spend 8 hours total on the trial. It is a must-hike if you are in Glacier National Park area. Perfect for amateur outdoorsy persons who enjoy just the right amount of challenges.

Beginning of Grinnell Glacier Trail
We were at the beginning of Grinnell Glacier Hike

About Grinnell Glacier Trail

Grinnell Glacier Trail is located in the northeast side of Glacier National Park, the Many Glacier area. The trail is about 11.2 miles {18 kilometers} long. The elevation gain is about 2,000 ft {600 meters}. To hike the trail, you start at the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead, and then hike toward the glacier.

Grinnell Glacier Trail on the google map
Grinnell Glacier Trail highlighted in yellow on the google map

We hiked there in the summer of 2021 and absolutely loved it. It took us 4 hours to get to the end of the trail and another 4 hours to come back, including picture and snack/water stops.

Swiftcurrent Lake - Grinnell Glacier Trail
Family Picture in front of Swiftcurrent Lake – Grinnell Glacier Trail

For about 40% of the trail, you are hiking along the shoreline of Switfcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.

Swiftcurrent Lake, Grinnell Glacier
Swiftcurrent Lake, Grinnell Glacier

The trail covers a small portion of the Swiftcurrent Lake shoreline, but entire one side of Lake Josephine shoreline.

Lake Josephine
Shirley next to Lake Josephine

Grinnell Lake is much smaller compared to the other two lakes, it is also located further out from the trail. After passing Josephine Lake, you overlook the lake the whole way till the end of the trail as you climbing many rock/stone stairs. The beautiful lake in the distance kept you going.

Overlooking Grinnell Lake
My boys and I overlooking Grinnell Lake from the trail

What do you see and experience along Grinnell Glacier Hike?

If I divide the entire trail into 4 segments, each is a little under 3 miles and taking about 1 hour to hike. Every segment has its unique characteristics.

4 segments of Grinnell Glacier Hike
4 segments of Grinnell Glacier Hike

Segment 1 features unpaved dirt path in the forest and along Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine

It starts at the trailhead and ends at the end of Lake Josephine. The trail starts with an unpaved dirt path in the forest, almost feels like you are hiking in your neighborhood forest reserve.

Grinnell Glacier Trail - segment 1
Grinnell Glacier Trail – Segment 1

You then cross Swiftcurrent Creek and walk toward the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. It takes about 7 minutes to get here.

Swiftcurrent Lake, Grinnell Glacier
Swiftcurrent Lake, Grinnell Glacier

For the next 5 minutes or so, you are hiking along the lakeshore until you are at the end of Swiftcurrent lake.

end of Swiftcurrent Lake, Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 1
end of Swiftcurrent Lake

After having said “see you later” to Swiftcurrent Lake, you are back in the forest unpaved dirt path.

Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 1 between swiftcurrent lake and Lake Josephine
Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 1 between Swiftcurrent lake and Lake Josephine

After a short 5 minute walk, you start to see Lake Josephine on your left side.

Lake Josephine, Grinnell Glacier Hike
Lake Josephin

Along the shoreline, there is a oval shaped pond, we saw big blocks of glacier inside the pond.

Oval shaped pond next to Lake Josephine
Oval shaped pond next to Lake Josephine

For the next 25 minutes, you are walking along the shoreline of Lake Josephine, taking in the beautiful lake view with the mountain views in the background.

Hike along shoreline of Lake Josephine
Hike along shoreline of Lake Josephine, me and my younger son. My husband in the back.
Lake Josephine
Lake Josephine

The plantation is thick and filled with wild berries and flowers.

unpaved trail with thick plantation near the beginning of Lake Josephine
unpaved trail with thick plantation near the beginning of Lake Josephine

Then you are at the end of Lake Josephine, which also concludes segment 1 of the trail. This segment is reasonably flat and relatively easy.

close to one end of Lake Josephine along Grinnell Glacier Hike
close to one end of Lake Josephine along Grinnell Glacier Hike, me and my older son

Segment 2 features rocky path, stunning valley view and Grinnell Lake

This segment features rocky unpaved path, when you walk toward the glacier, you see cliffs on your left side and rocky mountain on your right side. Stunning valley views with Grinnell Lake in the distance.

Grinnell Glacier Trail Segment 2
Grinnell Glacier Trail Segment 2
Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 2 rocky unpaved path with Grinnell Lake
Me and My Younger Son
Grinnell Glacier Hike segment 2 Grinnell Lake in the distance
Family Picture on Grinnell Glacier Trail Segment 2, Grinnell Lake in the back
Grinnell Glacier Hike segment 2, cliffs valley view with Grinnell Lake in the background
Grinnell Glacier Hike segment 2, valley view

The soil on the entire trail looks red, but this segment features more pigmented red color. You will notice later your shoes are covered with red color dirt.

Grinnell Glacier Hike segment 2 with Grinnell Lake in the distance
Grinnell Glacier Hike segment 2 with Grinnell Lake in the distance, me and my sons

For this segment, the trail is winding around Grinnell Lake in the distance, you overlook the lake from different angles.

Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 2 with Grinnell Lake in the distance
Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 2 with Grinnell Lake in the distance

You also see glacier covered mountains in the distance.

Trail next to Grinnell Lake
Trail next to Grinnell Lake, Family Picture

For a small portion of this segment, you are back on an unpaved dirt path in the forest with no visibility of the Grinnell Lake because of the thick forest blocking the view.

Segment 2 of Grinnell Glacier Trail
Segment 2 of Grinnell Glacier Trail
Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 2

However, before you know it, you are back on a rocky path with mountain & valley view. You see glacier covered mountain and waterfalls or creeks from the melting glacier.

Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 2 glacier formed waterfalls
Trail Segment 2 – glacier formed waterfalls and creeks, Me and My Husband

This rock overlook area which provides a stunning view culminates, also a perfect spot for water and picture stops. This concludes segment 2 of the trail.

Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 2 glacier formed waterfalls mountain view

Segment 2 is slightly more challenging compared to segment 1 of the trail, but still OK. Nevertheless, after having hiked for two hours, you felt exhaustion kick in and took extra strength to lift your legs to climb the hill.

rock overlook area of Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 2

Segment 3 of Grinnell Glacier Hike features rocky path, waterfalls and Grinnell Lake

At the beginning of segment 3 of Grinnell Glacier Trail, you will see a rocky area with beautiful waterfalls. Big rocks with flat surface serve as wonderful sitting area. It is a popular spot for snack/water break. By now, you are halfway through the one-way trail.

Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 3 waterfalls

Most of the elevation occurred in the second half of the trail, or segment 3 and 4 as I describe it. The hiking becomes increasingly challenging.

Grinnell Glacier Trail - segment 3/4

Segment 3 highlight No.1 – waterfalls

One of the highlights of this segment is the waterfall in the middle of the trail.

waterfall in the middle of the Grinnell Glacier Trail
Waterfalls of Grinnell Glacier Trail – going to the glacier view

Frankly , I was thinking about quickly running through the waterfall to avoid being poured on. But because of the wet slippery rock stairs and my seemingly extra heavy legs, I ended up walking slowly and carefully. But don’t worry, you will get dried in no time.

Waterfalls of Grinnell Glacier Trail - returning view
Waterfalls of Grinnell Glacier Trail – returning view

For segment 3 of Grinnell Glacier Trail, expect to do a lot of lifting legs and climbing the hills through the winding trail. The terrain becomes more difficult.

Climbing up hills on Grinnell Glacier Trail
Climbing up hills on Grinnell Glacier Trail
Grinnell Glacier Hike segment 3/4

The rewarding part is that the view becomes increasingly scenic too. You can see the Grinnell Lake from various angles, as well as gorgeous valley view.

Grinnell Lake of Glacier National Park
Grinnell Lake of Glacier National Park
Valley view along Grinnell Glacier Hike
Valley view along Grinnell Glacier Hike
Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 3 of 4
Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 3 of 4
Grinnell Glacier Trail - Segment 3/4
Grinnell Glacier Hike segment 3/4, valley view

About half way into this segment, you come to this rock cliffs overlook area, overlooking the lake and valley. No doubt it is another wonderful spot for water/snack break and picture stops.

Grinnell Glacier Trail half way through segment 3 valley and lake overlook
Grinnell Glacier Trail half way through segment 3 valley and lake overlook
Grinnell Glacier Hike Grinnell Lake overlook
Grinnell Glacier Hike Grinnell Lake overlook – Me and My Older Son

Remember the waterfalls formed by the melting glacier in the distance featured in segment 2? By the end of segment 3, you climbed up the mountain enough to get a very close look at it.

Grinnell Glacier Hike toward the end of segment 3 or 3 hours into the 4-hr one way hike
Grinnell Glacier Hike toward the end of segment 3 or 3 hours into the 4-hr one way hike
close look at waterfalls formed by melting glacier along Grinnell Glacier Trail
close look at waterfalls formed by melting glacier along Grinnell Glacier Trail

Segment 3 highlight No.2 – beautiful wild flowers

This segment concludes in a meadow area filled with wildflowers. Purple, coral and yellow are among the dominant beautiful colors.

purple wild flowers along Grinnell Glacier Hike, toward end of segment 3
Coral wild flowers along Grinnell Glacier Trail, toward the end of segment 3

Segment 4 features steep rock stairs and glacier

This is the last segment of Grinnell Glacier Trail. The most challenging part as you climb the steep rocky hill after having hiked for 3 hours straight.

Grinnell Glacier Hike, segment 4, close to the glacier
Grinnell Glacier Hike, segment 4, close to the glacier

Apparently my two teenager boys still had plenty of energy to choose more challenging route, LOL.

Grinnell Glacier Hike segment 4/4
Grinnell Glacier Hike, segment 4/4

One portion of segment 4 you are on a narrow dirt path with beautiful wildflowers blooming on the trail side.

Hiking toward the glacier on Grinnell Glacier Trail
Hiking toward the glacier on Grinnell Glacier Trail – Me and My younger son

Expect a lot of climbing via winding dirt/rock path on this segment of the trail.

Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 4/4
Grinnell Glacier Trail segment 4/4
Grinnell Glacier Hike Segment 4/4, close to the glacier
Grinnell Glacier Hike Segment 4/4, close to the glacier

This is also the area where you likely encounter bighorn sheep. Their mountain climbing skill is outstanding, to say the least.

Big Horn Sheep along Grinnell Glacier Trail

Big Horn Sheep along Grinnell Glacier Trail

By now you have climbed high enough to look down over the beautiful Grinnell Lake.

Grinnell Lake overlook
Grinnell Lake overlook

The last leg of the trail is a set of rock stairs.

last leg of Grinnell Glacier Trail, the rocky stairs
last leg of Grinnell Glacier Trail, the rocky stairs
toward end of Grinnell Glacier Trail, rocky path and hill
toward end of Grinnell Glacier Trail, rocky path and hill

And finally you are on this platform walking toward the glacier.

Close to the end of Grinnell Glacier Trail
Close to the end of Grinnell Glacier Trail
Glacier at the end of Grinnell Glacier Trail
Glacier at the end of Grinnell Glacier Trail

You can definitely enjoy the glacier from the platform. If you want to take a closer look at the glacier, simply climb down the little hill.

Hill next to the glacier, Grinnell Glacier Hike
Hill next to the glacier, Grinnell Glacier Hike
hill next to the glacier, Grinnell Glacier Hike
hill next to the glacier, Grinnell Glacier Hike

It is amazing to see glacier so closeup.

Glacier of Grinnell Glacier Trail
Glacier of Grinnell Glacier Trail
Enjoy Glacier at the end of Grinnell Glacier Trail
Glacier at the end of Grinnell Glacier Hike
Glacier at the end of Grinnell Glacier Trail

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4 segments of Grinnell Glacier Hike

How to Hike Grinnell Glacier Trail Part 1

Active Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours

Grinnell Glacier Trail of the Glacier National Park is one of the most fun and beautiful hikes. A must-hike if you are in Glacier National Park area. Perfect for amateur outdoorsy persons who enjoy just the right amount of challenges. This is part 1 of the series which provides a detailed walk through what you see and experience along the trail.

Materials

  • Not Applicable.

Instructions

Grinnell Glacier Trail is located in the northeast side of Glacier National Park, the Many Glacier area. The trail is about 11.2 miles {18 kilometers} long. taking approximately 4 hours to get to the end of the trail and another 4 hours to come back.

If I divide the entire trail into 4 segments, each is a little under 3 miles and taking about 1 hour to hike. Every segment has its unique characteristics

  1. Segment 1 features unpaved dirt path in the forest and along Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine
    Beginning of Grinnell Glacier Trail
  2. Segment 2 features rocky path, stunning valley view and Grinnell Lake
    Trail next to Grinnell Lake
  3. Segment 3 of Grinnell Glacier Hike features rocky path, waterfalls and Grinnell Lake
    Grinnell Glacier Hike Grinnell Lake overlook
  4. Segment 4 features steep rock stairs and glacier
    Glacier at the end of Grinnell Glacier Trail

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