Glacier National Park: Grinnell Lake

Back-to-back boat rides jump-start this dayhike to a glacier-fed lake in Glacier National Park.
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Back-to-back boat rides jump-start this dayhike to a glacier-fed lake in Glacier National Park.

From early June through mid-September, the Glacier Park Boat Company operates shuttle boats and hiking tours from the Many Glacier Hotel. This route begins with cruises on the Chief Two Guns and the Morning Eagle across Swiftcurrent Lake and to the head of Lake Josephine where you’ll begin the hike.
The well-marked trail starts at the dock and heads south over a series of boardwalks and a suspension bridge near Hidden Falls. It’s 0.9 mile from the dock to the foot of Grinnell Lake, where you’ll catch views of its eponymous waterfall and mountain, the Continental Divide, and the sweeping northern slope of the 7,430-foot monolith, Angel Wing.
After admiring the view, backtrack toward the dock and continue south along the shoreline toward the Many Glacier Hotel. At the foot of Lake Josephine, you’ll turn toward the North Shore Trail and cut between the two lakes before bearing right to follow Swiftcurrent Lake’s shoreline headed north. Look across the water for views of the hotel—a 5-story, Swiss style chalet—before crossing a bridge into a picnic area near the park road about 0.9 miles from loop end. Skip the road by following the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail around the foot of the lake to the hotel.
PERMIT: Overnight camping in Glacier National Park requires a backcountry permit. Check out the latest fees and more details at nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm.
PARK INFO: Glacier National Park, (406) 888-7800; nps.gov/glac/.
-Mapped by Kristy Holland

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 12.9

Waypoints

GNL001

Location: 48.796631, -113.657942

Buy your boat ticket at the Many Glacier Hotel and start this excursion with a boat ride across Swiftcurrent Lake.

GNL002

Location: 48.78933, -113.665902

From the dock at the head of Swiftcurrent Lake, there's a short hike to the foot of Lake Josephine and another short boat shuttle.

GNL003

Location: 48.774809, -113.682693

There are pit toilets a few hundred feet to the left of the dock. But, the well-worn trail to Grinnell Lake heads south through the forest from here. You'll skirt Cataract Creek and cross several boardwalks.

GNL004

Location: 48.769032, -113.695128

About 0.8 mile from the boat dock is a jumble of horse trails, a hitching post, and toilets.

GNL005

Location: 48.766925, -113.695879

Proceed one person at a time over this swaying suspension bridge, but take a minute to look left at Hidden Falls before tracing the creek's west side and bearing left.

GNL006

Location: 48.765072, -113.700428

Look up for glimpses of the towering profile of Angel Wing as you approach the lakeshore. From the rocky shoreline you can also see the Continental Divide above Upper Grinnell Lake and Mount Grinnell to the northwest. Turn back here and retrace your steps toward the head of Josephine Lake.

GNL007

Location: 48.774646, -113.682511

Though it's possible to return to the hotel by boat, opt instead to follow this route for a pleasant hike along the lake. Just follow signs for the Many Glacier Hotel.

GNL008

Location: 48.786191, -113.662498

Bear left at the next two Y-junctions. You'll turn onto a long, wooden bridge and continue toward the dock at the head of Swiftcurrent Lake.

GNL009

Location: 48.789292, -113.66678

At this junction, just past the dock, turn right onto the Swiftcurrent Lake Trail. You'll skirt the shoreline for a quarter mile before crossing a bridge and rolling through the open forest toward a roadside picnic area and the trailhead.

GNL010

Location: 48.797239, -113.668349

Pass through the picnic area and bear right onto the Nature Trail. There are a few interesting interpretive signs on the way; trailside tags identify the flowers and plants on the trail.

GNL011

Location: 48.799386, -113.664353

Cross the boat ramp access road and continue east. You'll be close enough to the hotel to easily see the return route.

GNL012

Location: 48.800009, -113.657019

As you turn right to follow the road to the hotel, cross and peek over the roadside falls.

Boat

Location: 48.796647, -113.658128

Boarding the 49-passenger wooden boat at the dock near the Many Glacier Hotel.

Disembark

Location: 48.789219, -113.666328

There is a 400-yard hike between Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. It begins with a small climb, but ends with a descent.

Dock

Location: 48.774632, -113.682371

To cut 3.7 miles from this hike, wait for the next boat at the Lake Josephine dock. A sign indicates scheduled arrival and departure times.

Boardwalk

Location: 48.774003, -113.683154

There are several boardwalks through the stream-crossed surrounds of the valley lakes. Stay on the trail.

Boardwalk

Location: 48.770163, -113.691952

Humans aren't the only ones who use these trails. Look for signs of bears, moose and other animals as you hike (noisily) through the forest.

Bridge

Location: 48.766958, -113.695515

A short suspension bridge over Cataract Creek. Look left as you cross for a glimpse of Hidden Falls.

Josephine Lake

Location: 48.782607, -113.667386

Admire the lakeshore and views above it as you cruise the lush forest and occasional meadows near the foot of Josephine Lake.

Grinnell Point

Location: 48.787703, -113.661969

Bridge

Location: 48.788507, -113.663817

You'll cross the bridge heading west before passing the dock at the head of Swiftcurrent Lake.

Map Kiosk

Location: 48.7972, -113.668325

This trailhead gives plenty of good pointers for Glacier National Park hiking.

Nature Trail

Location: 48.797851, -113.667873