Grinnell Glacier Trail


The Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park is the most terrifying and rewarding hike I have ever been on. We ran into bears, clung to bushes to keep from falling off the side of a cliff, trekked through snowy patches that covered the trail and walked through a thrashing waterfall on a narrow path alongside a mountain.

We didn’t fall to our death, so in the end I decided the views were worth it!

Grinnell Glacier Trail (9)

Breakfast at Many Glacier Hotel

We started the day with a buffet breakfast at Many Glacier Hotel. The food was just okay for a high price, but the view is amazing. It was a nice change of pace to drink real coffee too instead of the instant that we’ve been making in the morning. It wasn’t until a few hours later that we both realized what a smart move it was to begin the day on a full stomach.

Many Glacier Hotel

Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park

The most breathtaking hike in Glacier National Park is to Grinnell Glacier. I would consider it the heart and soul of the park.

It is roughly 12-miles round trip, if you begin at the hotel like we did, with a 1,600 foot elevation gain and is considered moderately difficult. You can cut a few miles off the hike by paying for a boat ride that drops you off further along on the trail.

Looking for other Glacier National Park Hiking Trails? Cobalt Lake Trail

Many Glacier Hotel 2

From the hotel, the trail begins with a relatively flat 2-mile walk along two lakes, Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.

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It then gradually increases in elevation leading you to some of the most spectacular views in the park.

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Unfortunately, we heard the trail was closed a few miles in due to hazardous snow conditions. We decided we would walk as far as we could, hoping to catch some of the gorgeous views we read about and turn around once we hit snow.

BUT that was not the way the day went. Instead, we adventured into the most terrifying hike I have ever been on!

Grinnell Glacier Trail
Note: It says “not recommended” not closed.

At about mile three, we ran into a couple who were wild-eyed and frazzled about running into a bear right on the trail. They thought it was a grizzly and had no desire to turn back.

While we discussed whether to continue, another couple in front of us (whom we later found out was from Montana) said they had their bear spray and were going. They convinced the group, about eight of us at this point, as long as we stayed together we were good.

The couple took the lead, me and Dave being third and fourth in the single-file line. We were clapping our hands and shouting, only making it a few minutes before I saw a cub in the tree on the right side of the narrow path just before the first person reached it.

I yelled and he stopped dead in his tracks. He slowly backed up as the cub scurried up the tree. At this point, we all wanted to know where mama bear was.

Grinnell Glacier Trail 6
The cub blends in but I circled so you could see how close it was to the first guy in our line.

With bear spray drawn, the man crept around the corner and realized the mama bear was around the bend on the other side of the path. Just as he was saying she was right there, she slowly made her way across the path to where her cub was.

I saw the mama grizzly’s butt and my husband says this is where he saw an outline of where I used to be because when he looked over, I was already hightailing it down the hill. The exact opposite of what you are supposed to do, mind you.

Everything we have read has said, DO NOT RUN. And what do I do? Turn my back and take off! It was just a reaction and I couldn’t believe after everything I read I still did it.

The other two couples were having none of this and turned right around back down the trail, leaving the four of us to fend for ourselves. Out of the four of us, I was the only one thinking it wasn’t a great idea to keep going. Considering what might have happened if we hadn’t seen the cub in the tree and we kept walking was a frightening thought. We would have been right in between mama and baby and I don’t think that would have ended well!

So what did we do? We picked up the pace and kept going! Shortly after, we reached the warning sign regarding the treacherous terrain. There weren’t many people stopping at this point so it didn’t seem like a big deal to continue on.

Grinnell Glacier (20)

Grinnell Glacier Trail 23

Grinnell Glacier Trail 25

The views, oh the views! The higher we went, the more stunning the scenery became convincing us we should keep going regardless of the cautionary signs.

Grinnell Glacier Trail (5)

Grinnell Glacier Trail (10)

Grinnell Glacier Trail (3)

We zipped up our raincoats and carefully traversed through a tumbling waterfall. “What did we get ourselves into?” was the question I was asking myself as we followed behind our group.

Grinnell Glacier Trail 15

Snow was covering the trail in a few spots so we either trekked right across if it looked stable enough or we made a new path on the rocky mountainside.

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The worst section was clinging to a handful of branches to keep from sliding down the mountain, but even after that, we kept going. The landscape of the glacial valley is absolutely spellbinding! The lakes are extraordinarily blue, it’s almost dreamlike.

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We reached the last maybe ¼ of a mile stretch that was all snow on a steep ascent and I finally decided it was time we parted ways with our new friends. We could see a section of the glacier from where we were and we heard the lake at the top was frozen over still.

I decided I wasn’t willing to chance an injury just to go a little further. I’ll say (write) it… I totally chickened out! And being the nice husband he is, mine stuck with me.

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We ate lunch overlooking the impressive view before heading down to meet up with the Grinnell Lake Trail.

Grinnell Glacier Trail 26

Within a few minutes of being on the trail, we saw a moose and her calf standing in shallow water munching away. They stopped and looked when we approached, but then went on their merry way.

Grinnell Glacier Trail (14)

Boardwalks and bridges guided us to the base of Grinnell Lake which was covered in mosquitos so we kept our visit short.

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The walk back along the lakeshore provided beautiful views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

Grinnell Glacier Trail (19)

Grinnell Glacier Trail (18)

Grinnell Glacier Trail (17)

Beers and Brat at the Many Hotel

We weren’t planning on eating at the hotel again, but after our long day, we felt we deserved a drink. We ordered up a few local beers and split one of the largest brats I’ve ever eaten.

Many Glacier Hotel Brat (Copy)

Huckleberry Beer

If you visit Glacier National Park, you have to put Grinnell Glacier Trail at the top of your list! It is an unforgettable hike with astonishing views and breathtaking scenery. Hopefully, when you visit, all the snow will have melted for the season!

Up Next: Waterton Lakes National Park

And so our epic 80 day summer road trip continues – 13 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces and 13 national parks. For the upcoming months, I will be sharing with you our highlights, lowlights, adventures, favorite spots, best tips and our thoughts on three months of road tripping and living in a pop up.  I’ll try to answer any and all of your questions too!  You can also follow our journey via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  Total Miles Driven: 4,176 – Average Gas Price per Gallon: $2.61 – States: Montana

If you would like to see our full itinerary, start at the beginning here. And Start at Day One here.

What do you think? Was the Grinnell Glacier Trail worth the added danger? Don’t forget to sign up below to receive our emails on new posts!

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Angela E. is a travel writer from the Chicagoland area who has visited all 50 states in the US and has traveled extensively around the world. She is passionate about exploring the great outdoors and hiking in particular. Her love for nature has taken her to some of the most beautiful locations on the planet. She has written extensively about her travels on her own website, Dang Travelers, and has been published in collaboration with other travel websites and multiple visitor bureaus around the country.

4 Responses

  1. Chris Travels

    I think it’s great, Angela, that you put on your “big girl pants” and continued venturing forth on the trail in spite of the warning signs, bears, and icy snow since all ended well, of course! You have fantastic pictures, and memories that you won’t soon forget!

  2. Rob Taylor

    Can we please meet here next summer? True your family and ours were just there, but it’s just my favorite place in the West… Wonderful post, beautiful pics, wish I was there now.

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