If you want to hike the Grinnell Glacier trail, you will find the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead a half-mile past the turn off for the Many Glacier Hotel. Some hikers take the two shuttle boats across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine to cut 3.4 miles off of their roundtrip hike. This trail description assumes you will take the two boats. Therefore, our hike will begin at the boat dock at the Many Glacier Hotel. Don’t forget that you have to pay to ride each of the boats.
The first boat across Swiftcurrent Lake takes about 8 minutes. After landing on the south side of the lake, follow the paved path to Lake Josephine. The walk from the landing to the dock at Lake Josephine is only about 0.2 miles and climbs about 80 feet before descending back down to the boating dock. The boat ride across Lake Josephine takes about 12 minutes.
Upon arriving at the landing on the south end of Lake Josephine, hikers will continue on the route to the right until reaching Grinnell Glacier Trail where you will turn right again and begin on the trail.
After hiking through the junction, the trail continues around the south side of the lake. A lot of the ground in that area is a wet marshy area, so make sure to stay on the boardwalk provided. The trail to Grinnell Glacier continues up a 135 feet hike over the course of the next tenth-of-a-mile
About four-tenths of a mile from the beginning of the trail, there will be another trail that veers off to the right. This is the North Shore Lake Josephine Trail, which takes you back to the beginning of Grinnell Glacier Trail. To continue on for the duration of the trail, hikers should go to the left. After the thigh-burning hike from the junction, the trail flattens out and allows hikers to catch their breath.
After three-quarters of a mile, you will be able to see the first view of Grinnell Lake in the valley below. If you keep walking you will be able to see the Grinnell Falls rolling hundreds of feet down the headwall behind the lake.
While hiking up the valley you will be able to see incredible views of many glaciers. The first one that is directly below the Garden Wall is The Salamander. This is the biggest glacier visible at this point in the hike.
While on the trail you will see beautiful alpine meadows with many wildflowers. You will also see some small waterfalls coming down the cliffs of 8851-foot Mt. Grinnell on the right. This also a great time to look above Grinnell falls to see your first good view of Grinnell Glacier.
After hiking 2.2 miles, the trail veers off and begins to hug a cliff face. You need to take you time with this stretch, there are a couple of places where the path is very narrow with a fairly steep drop-off. You should also keep your eye out for mountain goats or bighorn sheep.
On this trail, you need to make sure to always be on the lookout for bears. You are traveling right through their primary habitat while on Grinnell Glacier Trail. If you encounter a mother bear that has her cubs with her, she will do anything in her power to protect them if she feels threatened.
On August 25th, 2005, Johan Otter and his 18 year old daughter, Jenna, were hiking and ran right into any hikers worst nightmare: a 300 pound mother grizzly bear and her two cubs. The accident happened around this stretch of the trail. Jenna and her father went on this trip after Jenna graduated from high school and was about to leave for college. She was hiking in front of her father and was about to walk around a 20-foot boulder sticking out on the trail, when a momma bear and her two cubs turned the corner. According to Backpacker, she was so close to the bear that “she could’ve reached out and touched its snout. It was within 5 feet of her.” With no bear spray at hand, Johan and Jenna fought for their lives and were on the verge of death when found by rescuers.
When hiking on any trail, make sure to only hike during regular business hours. Bears are usually out early in the morning and late at night, so to avoid contact with one, go in the middle of the day. If you hike in the middle of the day it is less likely to run into a bear, but still very possible. When hiking always make sure to make loud noises, travel in large groups, as well as have your bear spray ready at all times. This means do not keep it in your backpack. When in a life or death situation, you will not have time to search through your backpack for it.
A roughly 3.2 miles into the trail, you will arrive at a small rest area where you will find benches and a pit toilet.
Directly above the rest area, you will find a series of steep switchbacks through a boulder-strewn moraine. As you climb this short terrain, look down at the valley for an incredible view of Grinnell Lake and Lake Josephine, as well as Sherburne Lake in the distance.
Around 3.6 miles into the hike, you will finally reach the Grinnell Glacier Overlook where you will enjoy views of the 152-acre glacier, Upper Grinnell Lake, the Garden Wall, as well as 9553-foot Mount Gould. If you look towards the southeast, just below the summit of Mount Gould, is Gem Glacier, the smallest named glacier in the park.
Park rangers used to lead hikes on the glacier, but as a result of its retreat in recent years, rangers no longer take people out on the ice. However, you can still go on the glacier yourself, but the park highly recommends that you do not go alone or go out too far. Especially after a snowfall, the snow hides deep crevasses.
In 1850, at the end of the Little Ice Age, Grinnell Glacier as well as The Salamander had a combined measurement of 710 acres in surface area, but as of 2005 it has shrunk to less than 200 acres.
George Bird Grinnell discovered the glacier in 1885. He was so inspired by the scenery during his first visit, he spent the next two decades trying to establish it as a national park. After his final visit to the glacier in 1926, he noted in his diary, “the glacier is melting very fast and the amount of water is coming from it is great. All these glaciers are receding rapidly and after a time will disappear.”