Grinnell Lake is a turquoise beauty nestled under Glacier National Park's towering, glacier-carved mountains. The hike is jam packed with jaw-dropping views including those of Lake Josephine, Mount Gould, Grinnell Falls, and the massive eastern face of the Garden Wall.
Start the hike from the Swiftcurrent picnic area parking lot. The trail winds through thick tree growth with a quick crossing over Swiftcurrent Creek. If you’re hiking early in the morning, be sure to make plenty of noise on the trail because bears are often seen in this stretch.
The trail saunters around the southern side of Mount Grinnell, briefly following the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake before entering a thick stand of firs and pines. Lake Josephine soon comes into view along with your first view of Mount Gould. The uphill climb begins not long after. There is little shade on the way up, but the scenery more than makes up for the exposure.
The best overlook area of Grinnell Lake is just off the trail to Grinnell Glacier and before the park service’s snow hazard sign on a chain across the trail. If you’re well-versed in snow travel and are prepared, there are usually several snowfields to cross if your destination is Grinnell Glacier. Snow hazards in Glacier are snowfields on steep-slopes, often by cliffs or on rocky terrain.
After enjoying the views of Grinnell Lake at the overlook, take the same trail back down. For a change of scenery, enjoy a small detour on the way back by heading right at the first junction. The trail drops steeply down the mountainside to the marshy, western banks of Lake Josephine. Bridges and wooden planks help you cross over the entire marsh area without muddying your boots. The trail winds east around the southern shore of Lake Josephine, passing the boat dock and Oastler Shelter en route all the while offering spectacular views of Grinnell Falls and the Garden Wall. If you’re up for it, it’s an additional 0.8 miles (one-way) southwest from the boat dock to reach the shores of Grinnell Lake. Just be sure to head back to the correct trailhead by taking a left onto the bridge just after Lake Josephine.
Many landmarks in the Many Glacier area are named in honor of George Bird Grinnell, often known as the man who pushed for the establishment of Glacier National Park. In 1887, Grinnell made his second trip to the Many Glacier area, where he found and climbed the glacier that now has his name. His article, “The Crown of the Continent,” was published in Century Magazine in 1901 and was a critical step forward in establishing Glacier. In it, Grinnell wrote of Glacier:
Here is a land of striking scenery…Here are cañons deeper and narrower than those of Yellowstone, mountains higher than those of Yosemite. Some are rounded and some square-topped, some are slender pinnacles, and others knife-edged and with jagged crests, each one a true sierra…Along their verdureless slopes slow-moving ice rivers still plow their deliberate way, relics of mightier glaciers, the stiffened streams of which in a past age fashioned the majestic scenery of to-day.
The park’s creation was eventually realized in 1910 with a Congressional Act.