Grinnell Glacier (Glacier National Park) 31-Aug-2009

Grinnell Glacier Montana

This is THE iconic hike on the east side of Glacier National Park. And thus it was the one where we encountered the most other hikers (20-30, including a ranger-led hike). It’s 11 miles roundtrip, and with 1,600 feet of elevation gain, from Many Glacier Hotel to Grinnell Glacier, so we got an early start (easy to do when the trail starts right from the hotel).

We were rewarded for our oh-dark-thirty initiative with an amazing view of Grinnell Point across Swiftcurrent Lake.

Grinnell Glacier Montana
Grinnell Point across Swiftcurrent Lake

The trail follows along the south shore of Swiftcurrent Lake, crosses an isthmus, then follows the north shore of Lake Josephine before starting its climb toward the glacier. Bears were sighted around the lakes but it still felt weird to be breaking the morning’s silence with a lot of (required) talking and yelling. The trail is well maintained and gains its 1,600 feet at a very moderate angle, but still gives you a sense of being perched on the edge of the world.

Grinnell Glacier Montana
The trail hugs the canyon wall on the way up to the glacier

Occasionally the trail accomodates the geology in unique ways.

Grinnell Glacier Montana
The trail climbs some natural stairs

Glacier Falls is in the center but the glacier itself is out of sight below the visible snowfield (called the Salamander). The falls cascade down about 1,500 feet from upper to lower Grinnell Lake.

Grinnell Glacier Montana
Glacier Falls

The trail takes you to a nice lunch spot at the base of the old moraine,

Grinnell Glacier Montana
At the moraine

then up the moraine to a view of Upper Grinnell Lake (filled with remnants of the glacier),

Grinnell Glacier Montana
The Salamander and Grinnell Glacier

and of the glacier itself.

Grinnell Glacier Montana
Grinnell Glacier

In comparison to the Grinnell Glacier shown in historical photos, today’s glacier is a mere shadow of its former self – in the old days, it pretty much filled the upper basin. Since 1850, 125 of the park’s 150 glaciers have disappeared and it is estimated that all will be gone by 2030 (or sooner). So if you want to see Glacier National Park with glaciers, you should probably add it to your travel plans sooner than later.


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