Includes Swiftcurrent Lake Loop Trail, South Shore Lake Josephine Trail Hidden Falls, North Shore Lake Josephine Trail
Grinnell Lake, Glacier National Park
Includes Swiftcurrent Lake Loop Trail, South Shore Lake Josephine Trail Hidden Falls, North Shore Lake Josephine Trail
Trailhead: Many Glacier Hotel
Distance: 3.4 miles (one way) If you take the boat: 0.9 miles (one way)
Elevation Gain: 60 vertical feet
The hike to Grinnell Lake in the Many Glacier Area of Glacier National Park begins at the Many Glacier Hotel. This is one of the easiest Glacier National Park hikes not only because it's quite short (only 0.9 miles if you take the Many Glacier Boat Tour), but there is only about 60 feet in elevation gain. This is a perfect hike for those visitors wanting to see some absolutely gorgeous scenery without having to tackle a physically demanding day hike. The hike to Grinnell Lake is definitely one of the best easy day hikes in Glacier National Park that can be enjoyed by all ages.
Finding the Trailhead
The trailhead is located just south of the Many Glacier Hotel, along the east shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. To get there, simply walk down to the boat dock, then start walking south along the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake, and as soon as you enter the trees, there is a trailhead sign showing you the way. From this point you are about 3.4 miles from Grinnell Lake.
Another Option: Take the Boat
Many visitors choose to "kill two birds with one stone" and take the Many Glacier Boat Tour. This tour involves two historic wooden boats and two famous Glacier National Park lakes. The historic wooden boat Chief Two Guns takes you across Swiftcurrent Lake, and Morning Eagle takes you across Lake Josephine. Between the lakes is a four hundred yard easy hike. The Many Glacier Boat Tour is one of our "Top Ten Things To Do in Glacier National Park", and we highly recommend that you take it, whether or not you're planning on visiting Grinnell Lake.
If you take the Many Glacier Boat Tour, your actual hike is only 0.9 miles instead of 3.4 miles (one way). After Chief Two Guns takes you across Swiftcurrent Lake, and after you've walked between the lakes to the lower boat dock at Lake Josephine, the wooden boat Morning Eagle will then take you across Lake Josephine to the upper boat dock. This is where your hike to Grinnell Lake begins. There are trail signs everywhere, so you can't miss it. MAKE SURE YOU TAKE THE GRINNELL LAKE TRAIL AND NOT THE GRINNELL GLACIER TRAIL!!! We've seen hikers intending on hiking to Grinnell Glacier ending up at the shore of Grinnell Lake, and we've seen hikers intending on hiking to Grinnell Lake ending up on the Grinnell Glacier Trail. So please pay attention to this important detail.
The Hike To Grinnell Lake
To get to Grinnell Lake by hiking from the Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, you will first hike along the east shore of Swiftcurrent Lake on the Swiftcurrent Lake Loop Trail, and you will then hike along the south shore of Lake Josephine on what is known as the South Shore Lake Josephine Trail. There is a maze of trails in this area that can be somewhat confusing. Hopefully we can make sense of it for you here. The actual hike to Grinnell Lake is quite easy to follow, but if you want to take a different trail back to the Many Glacier Hotel, just keep in mind that there are loop trails around both Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine that connect with each other between the lakes, sort of like a figure eight. So no matter what trail you take, you will end up where you started... eventually. Below is the fastest and easiest way to get to Grinnell Lake from the Many Glacier Hotel.
Section 1: Swiftcurrent Lake Loop Trail
The first section of your hike to Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park involves walking along the east shore of Swiftcurrent Lake, beginning at the Many Glacier Hotel. This portion of the hike is on what is known as the Swiftcurrent Lake Loop Trail. This trail is actually a 2.4 mile loop that takes you completely around Swiftcurrent Lake and ends up at the Swiftcurrent Picnic Area, which is where the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead is located. This picnic area is about 0.5 miles west of the Many Glacier Hotel. There is a trail located at the northeast corner of the picnic area that connects the picnic area to the hotel. This completes the 2.4 mile loop. The Swiftcurrent Lake Loop Trail is a nice, simple trail that is very scenic and great for visitors who want to enjoy a leisurely hike along a beautiful mountain lake. By the way, keep an eye out for moose- we often see these beautiful animals along the shore of the lake.
South Shore Lake Josephine Trail Junction
Now of course, to get to Grinnell Lake you do not take the entire Swiftcurrent Lake loop. Instead, once you get to the end of Swiftcurrent Lake, you'll see a junction where you can either go right and stay on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake and continue on with the loop, or you can keep going straight and head toward Grinnell Lake. Therefore, to get to Grinnell Lake, stay to your left and keep going straight (southwest). There are plenty of trail signs that will make all of this very clear.
South Shore Lake Josephine Trail
As you keep going straight at this junction between Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine in Glacier National Park, you are now on what's known as the South Shore Lake Josephine Trail. Initially this trail follows the shore of a natural channel that flows between Lake Josephine and Swiftcurrent Lake, until you reach the actual shore of Lake Josephine in a little over a half a mile. This is also a very scenic section of your hike to Grinnnell Lake, and is very enjoyable. As you hike along the shore of Lake Josephine, you will get a great view of Grinnell Point rising into the sky from the other side of the lake. As you continue along the lake shore, to the southwest you will begin to see Mount Gould, Grinnell Mountain and the Grinnell Glacier Complex.
Upper Boat Dock
Near the far southern end of Lake Josephine you will reach the upper boat dock. This is where visitors are dropped off from the wooden boat Morning Eagle for the day.
Some of these park visitors will hike to Grinnell Glacier (3.8 miles from the upper boat dock), and some will hike to Grinnell Lake (0.9 miles from the upper boat dock). The boat ride essentially cuts off about 2.5 miles (one way) from your hike to either Grinnell Lake or Grinnell Glacier.
From the boat dock, there will be a very obvious trail sign showing you the trail to Grinnell Lake. (Again, make sure you follow the Grinnell LAKE trail and not the Grinnell GLACIER trail!!!)
From the Lake Josephine upper boat dock, Mount Gould really dominates the southern skyline. Just to the right of Mount Gould is what is known as The Angel Wing. Grinnell Lake is directly below The Angel Wing, to its left. Once you get to Grinnell Lake, The Angel Wing blocks the view of the iconic Mount Gould.
Section 3: Grinnell Lake Trail: final 0.9 miles to Grinnell Lake
From the upper boat dock, you are only 0.9 miles from Grinnell Lake. The hike is level and very scenic and you hike through a gorgeous forest as the trail follows Cataract Creek. Cataract Creek originates high above you near Piegan Pass and Cataract Mountain. In fact, there is a trail that comes down from Piegan Pass all the way to the Many Glacier Hotel. This trail parallels the lake shore trails that you just hiked, and periodically there are connecting trails to the lake shore trails, one being located at the boat dock
(A popular day hike is to be dropped off at the Siyeh Bend on the Going To The Sun Road where you'll hike to Piegan Pass. You'll then hike all the way down the Cataract Creek Valley to the Many Glacier Hotel.)
Just before you cross Cataract Creek on a well built suspension bridge, you'll see a spur trail that takes you to Hidden Falls. This is a quick little side trip that you should take if you're OK with a fairly steep two hundred yard ascent to the falls. The falls are quite dramatic during the early part of the summer with all of the melting snow.
Once you get back on the trail and cross the suspension bridge over Cataract Creek, the trail follows this creek for a short while and then turns south towards Grinnell Lake. At this point you are really, really close to the lake.
Grinnell Lake is a classic Glacier National Park lake that is surrounded by picturesque mountains. The large mountain that dominates the view to the south is known as The Angel Wing, and is actually a small buttress of the monstrous Mount Gould. Mount Gould, the giant mountain that dominates the Grinnell Glacier Area, and the entire Many Glacier Area, is out of your view just behind The Angel Wing. The large peak to the northwest, on the other side of the lake opposite of The Angel Wing, is Grinnell Mountain.
Grinnell Lake in the Many Glacier Area of Glacier National Park.
Grinnell Lake is known for its turquoise-colored water due to the glaciation of Grinnell Glacier, Salamander Glacier and Gem Glacier that loom far above Grinnell Lake. You can see the impressive Grinnell Falls coming from these glaciers cascading down the mountain towards Grinnell Lake beyond the far shore. This turquoise coloration is due to the finely ground-up rock particles suspended in the water knowned as "glacial flour". This "glacial flour" is created by the glaciers grinding across the rocks as they slowly move downhill. The flour isn't itself turquoise-colored, it's actually grey. But when the blue sky reflects off these tiny particles in the water, it makes the water appear turquoise-colored.
This is a view of Grinnell Lake from the Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park. From this vantage point, you can really see the amazing turquoised-colored water due to all the glaciation occurring above the lake at the Grinnell Glacier Complex. Notice Mount Gould peaking over the top of The Angel Wing.
Once you've enjoyed a nice lunch on the shore of Grinnell Lake, you can now hike back 3.4 miles the same exact way you came to get back to your car at the Many Glacier Hotel. If you'd like to see some new scenery on the way back, take the North Shore Lake Josephine Lake Trail instead of the South Shore Lake Josephine Lake Trail instead (see below).
North Shore Lake Josephine Trail
On your hike back to the Many Glacier Hotel, if you want to see some new country, once you get back to the Lake Josephine upper boat dock, take the trail heading to the left. This trail takes you across the inlet of Lake Josephine on a well constructed foot bridge towards the Grinnell Glacier Trail. Once you reach this junction, take a right on this trail (If you take a left, you'll be heading to Grinnell Glacier). After you take a
right, you'll now be hiking on the North Shore Lake Josephine Trail. You are about 3.5 miles from Many Glacier Hotel at this point. This trail is quite scenic, with Allen Mountain directly above you to across the lake to the east. The heavily vegetated slope to your left is full of berry bushes, and is known as the "Lunch Table" because grizzly bears and black bears love to spend time there eating berries. With this in mind, be sure to talk loud so you don't surprise any bears (and of course always carry your bear spray and know how to use it).
Near the Swiftcurrent Lake upper boat dock, you will reach the trail junction that lies between Lake Josephine and Swiftcurrent Lake. Again, keep going straight (left) if you continue to want to see new country on your way back to the Many Glacier Hotel. The trail to the right takes you between the lakes and back to the portion of the Swiftcurrent Lake Loop Trail that you've already hiked on. This "new" trail is the remaining section of the Swiftcurrent Lake Loop Trail that you haven't yet been on today. This trail will take you to the Swiftcurrent Picnic Area in about 0.7 miles (this is the trailhead to the Grinnell Glacier Trail). Walk to the northeast end of the parking lot where there is a trail that parallels the road and will take you back to the Many Glacier Hotel.