Grinnell Glacier Trail – Glacier National Park
Another early morning and this time, we had a three hour drive ahead of us through the entire Going to the Sun Road and out the other side to access a new part of Glacier National Park – Lake Josephine and the Many Glaciers area. The parking lot is said to fill up before 7AM and with a three hour drive, that set us back to another 4AM departure. At least this would be our last early morning of this trip!
The Grinnell Glacier Trail is just under 11.2 miles long as a there and back trail with an elevation gain of 2184 feet. This trail certainly rivals the Highline Trail for best long trail in Glacier National Park but due to the location it is said to not be as popular. I tend to disagree with that since it appeared when we visit many people know about this trail and are not put off by the distance to get to the trail head. That being said, this is a great alternative if you do not have a reservation for the Going to the Sun Road – this is accessible by other road ways – which may explain the rise in popularity.
One option that some chose to take advantage of is the boat ride that transports guests from one side of Lake Josephine to the other. The tickets are $33 per person (quite expensive!) and requires advanced reservations. This makes for a good option to see the area but I would not use it to cut miles off of this trail. The part that the boat circumvents is all flat and very easy. In fast, where the boat docks is a very steep climb to get to the trail and continue on. In my opinion, if you feel you need to take the boat to do this trail, this may not be the trail for you. But I think the boat ride is a great option for those that cannot do the Grinnell Glacier Trail and get to enjoy the lake on the water.
The GPS still had us going on the entire Going to the Sun Road as the quickest way to get tot he other side of the park. The Going to the Sun Road drive was easy and there were barely any cars – the ones we did see turned off at Logan Pass Visitor Center for the Highline Trail so we were feeling pretty good about our parking odds. As we exited the Going to the Sun Road and began towards Lake Josephine, the road became a construction zone that significantly reduced our speed. Still not a lot of cars around though. We made a wrong turn towards the Many Glacier hotel and got stuck in a rather lengthy horse procession (completely random!) so that set us back a few minutes. Back on the road, we finally found the parking loot at the trailhead and grabbed the last marked parking spot at our 6:40AM arrival – just unbelievable.
We took some time to have a breakfast, use the bathroom, and allow other hikers that brought bear spray to start the trail ahead of us – this part of the park is a bit less crowded so animals sightings are definitely more likely. It also began to rain off an on which I was not expecting and we did not have rain gear on us (thanks, personal item packing only plane tickets). But we drove all the way here so if we get wet, its just water. It was just at 7AM and we were ready to start our jouney.
The beginning of the trail starts off through a lush forest that hugs Lake Josephine. The trees were very helpful in protecting us from periodic rain drops and we walked at a quick pace since this portion is all flat.
We noted a small break in the trees and a worn path down to the water. We took to detour and so glad we did – just look at this morning view! Certainly the benefit of early morning sunrise hikes.
The rain stopped as we rounded out our first two miles. After that the climbing began, however since the elevation is over almost the entire trail, we did not find it too strenuous. Plus, as we began to rise above the trees, we were treated to some incredible views.
We were already loving this trail! We just could not stop taking photos. The views kept getting more epic! The trail continued at a gradual incline with an occasional switchback, it really was quite enjoyable! Eventually we began the part of the trail that was carved into the mountain as we followed it up and around to the Grinnell Glacier, much like the Highline Trail.
Then we came to a point I remembered reading about – the water feature. I was happy to see it was at a trickle and could not imagine how much more water must flow earlier in the season. While it did not feel very wide while I was going up, it is wide and at the worst, you go up and down on your hands, knees, and bum which is exactly what I did.
As we got closer to the end, the trail did narrow at points but luckily we barely saw anyone on the trail so we had it mostly to ourselves and we just took our time. The views continued to be effortless up here. We also got a treat spotting a group of big horned ram up for breakfast.
And then we reached a trail marker indicating we were only 0.4 miles away from the Grinnell Glacier!
Which then followed by an intense round on the stair master. At least there were stairs here but this was the toughest 0.4 miles of the entire hike – at least it was only 0.4 miles but it is vertical for this short distance.
But as promised, after 0.4 miles we made it to the beautiful Grinnell Glacier – the temperature dropped and even though the sun was not out to illuminate the lake, you could tell that glacier hue color was there. It was really hard to believe just two days ago we were standing at the top of these mountains looking down at the glacier from the Highline Trail.
We sat and enjoyed our extremely soggy wrap with the company of extremely friendly / annoying chipmunks that would literally run right up to us – please do not feed the wildlife! It was extremely annoying to hide all our food while these chipmunks literally ran under and around us. We enjoyed time at the glacier before turning around and heading back.
Now, heading back was almost a completely different trail – it was sooooo crowded! I wanted to ask all these people where on earth they parked as the lot was already full when we left at 7AM. Luckily, going back was all down hill and we flew the second half of this hike. Still, we had to stop and take more photos – this place was so photogenic.
We finished the trail at 1230PM which put us at 5.5 hours to complete the Grinnell Glacier Trail – not half bad! And we felt so much different finishing this trail as compared to the Highline Trail – we had energy and felt physically good. Both trails are excellent though but the extra three to four miles on the Highline Trail does add up. It is still amazing how incredible the views are during the entire trail. Definitely a do not miss when visiting Glacier National Park!