Grinnell Lake

No matter how often I hike in the Many Glacier Valley among the massive chiseled crags, I am always filled with awe. The grandeur of the panorama is both exhilarating and humbling. Once on the trail, the sights, sounds, and smells that command my attention result in a restorative therapy that for me is second to none. Grinnell Lake and Hidden Falls offer an opportunity for this experience.

Getting There

At the junction of the Going-To-The-Sun Road and Highway 89 in Saint Mary, turn north toward Babb Montana then drive for about 9 miles. The junction of the Many Glacier Road and Highway 89 is just before the town of Babb. This road will follow Swiftcurrent Creek towards the west. Be aware that this road can be quite rough in several spots. Also, note that before you see the sign that indicates the border for Glacier National Park, you are traveling through land that is part of the Blackfeet Reservation. Please be respectful.

Once inside the park, the Many Glacier Road skirts the north side of Lake Sherburne. The land is now hidden by the reservoir, but in the first decade of the 1900s, oil drilling operations were in full swing. Cassidy Curve, located about 1.3 miles from the Glacier National Park border, was named for Mike Cassidy. His oil well location is now under water. Cassidy drilled from 1905 to 1909. His reward was a little natural gas which he used to heat and light his home for a few years.1

About halfway along the lake, you will come to the Many Glacier Entrance Station. After the entrance, start watching for the Many Glacier Hotel sign three miles past the entrance. Travel about one-half mile further after the turn for the hotel and look for the Many Glacier Picnic Area and Grinnell Glacier Trailhead signs. This is where the hike described below will start.

Another option is to start at the trailhead located near the Many Glacier Hotel. The trail from there will wind its way through the heavily forested southeast sides of Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. You could end up on the trail that is used by horses. This will not be pleasant. I know this from experience.

There is a third option. It is possible to buy passage on two different launches that transport you across two different lakes. The 45-foot, 49 passenger 1960s era launch, Chief Two Guns, will take you across Swiftcurrent Lake. From the dock at the head of Swiftcurrent Lake, it is a very short walk to the dock at the foot of Lake Josephine where you can board the 45-foot, 49 passenger Morning Eagle which was built in 1945. This launch will deliver you to the head of Lake Josephine. From the Lake Josephine dock, it is about a one-mile hike to Grinnell Lake. To return, you can either hike back or catch the launches at a later time in the day. More information can be found at the Glacier Park Boat Company .

The Hike

The Many Glacier region is grizzly bear habitat. Be sure to carry bear spray where it is quickly accessible and know how to use it. Never hike alone and be sure to make plenty of noise. Surprising a bear can make a great day into a really bad day quickly.

It is 3.6 miles and a modest 160 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead at the Many Glacier Picnic area to Grinnell Lake. The trail and trail junctions are well marked with signs noting destinations and distances.

Beargrass Along Lake Josephine, Glacier National Park, Many Glacier region
Beargrass Along Lake Josephine: (clockwise) Ridge of Allen Mountain, Mount Gould, Angel Wing, Ridge of Grinnell Point

The Grinnell Glacier Trail will guide you along the north shore of Lake Josephine. Views to the south across Lake Josephine toward 9,376-foot Allen Mountain provide many photo opportunities. If you visit this area from June to July, the Beargrass bloom can be spectacular.

In shaded moist areas along the trail, keep an eye out for the Bead Lily. The single white blossom is on display from June to July. Later, a single glossy blueberry is displayed proudly at the top of a stem. It might look tempting, especially to children, but don’t eat the berry.

Stay on the Grinnell Glacier Trail for 2.1 miles. There you will encounter a junction that will allow you to proceed toward Grinnell Lake. Turn left off of the Grinnell Glacier Trail. If you miss the turn, you will end up at Grinnell Glacier. (Note there is another trail junction at about 1.6 miles from the Many Glacier Picnic area. I prefer the route using the junction at 2.1 miles. However, both paths will end up at the same location.)

After leaving the Grinnell Glacier Trail, walk about 0.3 miles to another junction. Watch carefully for the Grinnell Lake sign. Veer right and in 1.1 miles the lake will come into view. There is a short spur trail to Hidden Falls just before the lake.

Grinnell Lake

This 130 acres of turquoise beauty is at the center of an exhilarating panorama. Angel Wing is to the south. To the west at the headwall, Grinnell Falls thunders 960 feet carrying meltwater from Grinnell Glacier.3 Mount Grinnell rises 3,800 feet above the lake to the north.

Grinnell Lake with Grinnell Falls, Glacier National Park, Many Glacier region
Grinnell Lake with Grinnell Falls

Grinnell is a name attached to many features and rightfully so. They are the namesake of George Bird Grinnell who was a man of many accomplishments. He earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1880. Grinnell served as a naturalist on one of General Custer expeditions but declined a similar offer before the hapless foray in 1876.2

Grinnell on His Glacier
Grinnell on His Glacier – Courtesy of National Park Service

Grinnell was a friend of Teddy Roosevelt and also a prominent figure in the early conservation movement. He started the first Audubon Society and was a founding member of the Boone and Crockett Club. Importantly, he was influential in establishing Glacier National Park.2

The Return Trip

There are several options. Backtrack and see the view that was to your back earlier in the day. Or, from the last junction, follow the trail that borders the south side of Lake Josephine to the head of Swiftcurrent Lake and then to the Many Glacier Picnic area.

If you made arrangements earlier, board the Morning Eagle at the head of Lake Josephine and enjoy the cruise. Disembark at the foot of the lake and follow the Grinnell Glacier Trail to the picnic area.


End Notes

  1. Robinson, Donald. Through the Years. 5th ed. West Glacier, MT: Glacier NaturalHistory Association, 1973.
  1. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. “George Bird Grinnell.” Accessed June 28, 2018.
  1. World Waterfall Database. “Grinnell Falls.” Accessed June 28, 2018.

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