Swiftcurrent Lake Nature Trail

Glacier National Park, Many Glacier Hotel

If you’re looking for a family-friendly hike that includes history, outstanding scenery, and wildlife, the loop around Swiftcurrent Lake in Many Glacier is hard to beat. This is one that can be enjoyed May through October.

Trailhead Location

The most popular places to access the trail are near the Many Glacier Hotel, or the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead found in the picnic area.

The road junction for the Many Glacier Hotel is four miles west of the Many Glacier Entrance Station. Make your way to the hotel parking lot. From there, it’s a short walk to the lakeshore.

A half-mile past the road intersection to the Many Glacier Hotel is a picnic area. Find the trail either at the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead, at the south end of the parking lot, or near the east junction of the picnic area road and the Many Glacier Road.

The Hike

This post describes the walk beginning at the Many Glacier Hotel boat dock and proceeds clockwise. Starting and finishing there allows twice the time to enjoy the historic structure set in a world-class view, stroll around inside and maybe find a snack, beverage, or meal. If a trail ride is something you want to fit into your day, the Many Glacier Corral is at the back of the parking lot.

The Many Glacier Hotel opened on July 4, 1915, and survived economic downturns and the floods of 1964, 1975, and 2006.1 When smoke cleared after Heavens Peak Fire in 1936, the hotel was still standing, but there was little else.2 For over a century, the Many Glacier Hotel has hosted presidents, celebrities, rambunctious wranglers, and visitors from around the world.3

Without a doubt, Grinnell Point steals the show when looking across Swiftcurrent Lake. Add Mount Gould and Angel Wing to the south and Mount Wilbur to the north, and it’s spellbinding.

A great treat of this route is the possibility of seeing moose. Glacier National Park has a Wildlife Safety webpage with tips on sharing the land with these impressive animals. Also, deer frequent the area, as do bears. If you’ve had little experience traveling through bear habitat, the park has an informative Bear Safety webpage that’s worth visiting.

From the boat dock, head south along the roadway for about 500 feet to the trailhead. The footpath never strays far from the shoreline. After about half a mile, the path brings you near the boathouse for the 1961 45-foot vessel Chief Two Guns and crew member cabins.

Glacier National Park, Grinnell Point from the Swiftcurrent Lake Nature Trail
Grinnell Point

The first bridge on the route crosses Cataract Creek flowing out of Lake Josephine and Stump Lake. A quarter-mile past the bridge, the loop trail intersects the Grinnell Glacier Trail. At that place, a left turn begins a worthy side-trip to Lake Josephine, 0.2 miles away. The historic 1945 45-foot Morning Eagle passenger boat docks there and has been carrying passengers on the lake since 1960. Mount Gould and Angel Wing across the water to the southwest, framed by Grinnell Point to the north and Allen Mountain to the south, are spectacular.

Glacier National Park, Lake Josephine and Morning Eagle tour boat
Morning Eagle on a stormy fall day

From the Swiftcurrent Lake Loop Trail and Grinnell Glacier Trail junction, a right turn continues into a little more densely wooded section of the walk with fewer lake views. You’ll see the Chief Two Guns south boat dock almost immediately. In 0.4 miles, there is a bridge over Swiftcurrent Creek and then a quarter mile to the picnic grounds’ parking lot. Continue right on the blacktop for 300 feet. The footpath is on your right.

The trail meanders for a half-mile between the Many Glacier Road to its north and Swiftcurrent Lake to the south. After that distance, you’re at the asphalt leading to the Many Glacier Hotel.

Glacier National Park Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake
Many Glacier Hotel across Swiftcurrent Lake with Wynn Mountain and Allen Mountain in the background.

Two of the original eight chalets erected during 1911 are standing across the roadway from the trail. At that time the Many Glacier Hotel only existed on paper and in the minds of the designers.5 An avalanche wiped out one chalet a few winters after construction. The 1936 Heavens Peak Fire took most everything else.2

The route continues along the hotel road to the bridge over Swiftcurrent Creek. Downstream is Swiftcurrent Falls. Several walking paths lead away from the south side of the bridge, allowing visitors to view the cascades from several perspectives.

It’s a quarter-mile back to the boat dock from the bridge.

Hike Summary

Total Distance: 2.3 miles
Total Elevation Gain: level
Difficulty: 2.3, easy (Calculated using Petzoldt’s Energy Rated Mile equation.)
Total Walking Time: 55 minutes (Calculated using an average 2.5 mph speed.)

Places to see and things to do.

Get it on Apple Books

Notes

  1. Bristol, George. Glacier National Park: a culmination of giants. Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 2017.
  2. Guthrie, C.W. The First 100 Years. Helena, MT: Farcountry Press, 2008.
  3. Hagen, John. “A History of Many Glacier.” Glacier Park  Foundation. Last modified, 2012. http://www.glacierparkfoundation.org/History/mgh.html.
  4. Kiser, Fred H. “Site of Chalet Camp On Lake McDermott.” Montana Memory Project. https://tinyurl.com/y885ebue.
  5. “Many Glacier Chalets aka Swiftcurrent Chalets.” The National Park Lodge Architecture Society. Last modified , 2010. https://www.nplas.org/swiftcurrent.html
  6. “Many Glacier Historic District.” National Register of Historic Places. Last modified September 29, 1976. https://tinyurl.com/32rzzezn 
  7. Minetor, Randi. Historic Glacier National Park: the stories behind one of America’s great treasures. Guilford, CT: Rowan and Littlefield, 2016.
  8. “Pack Train Arriving At Many-Glacier Chalets. “See America First” Great Northern Railway.” Minnesota Historical Society. http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10767548.
  9. Robinson, Donald H. Through the Years: in Glacier National Park. 5th ed. West Glacier, MT: Glacier Natural History Association, Inc., 1973.

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