If you’re visiting Glacier National Park you should make sure hiking the Grinnell Lake Trail is on your list of things to do.
Glacier National Park is home to some of the best hiking in the United States. And Grinnell Lake is a huge payoff hike that’s accessible to visitors of all ages and ability levels.
Not to be confused with the hike to Grinnell Glacier, this trail will take you up close and personal with Lower Grinnell Lake. This area sits just below the Glacier and is a much more accessible hike if heights or steep elevation gains aren’t your cup of tea.
Despite the much easier difficulty, this is one of Glacier National Parks top tier hikes and should be on every visitor’s agenda.
In this guide we’ll cover everything you should know before hiking out to Grinnell Lake and mistakes you should be sure to avoid!
If you’re still looking for more things to do outside of Grinnell Lake, be sure to check out my guide covering the best activities in Glacier National Park once you’re finished reading this post. I’ve also put together a video guide covering what to know before hiking to Grinnell Lake if that’s more your cup of tea.
Table of Contents
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Where is Grinnell Lake located?
Grinnell Lake is located in the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park which calls northern Montana home. Many Glacier is located on the eastern side of the National Park and is accessed through the town of Babb.
However, both hotels typically book up a full year in advance and are generally on the expensive side.
Parking in this area can be challenging at times so I’d recommend arriving early in the morning if you aren’t staying at one of the hotels to secure a spot.
Visitors staying near Whitefish on the western side of the park will need to travel through or around the entirety of Going to the Sun Road. This drive can take upwards of three hours so plan accordingly based on where you’re staying!
What to expect when hiking to Grinnell Lake?
The most important thing to know when hiking out to Grinnell Lake is that you’ll need a timed entry reservation for the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park to access the trailhead.
The trailhead for this hike originates near the Many Glacier Hotel. If you’re staying at the hotel then you’re in luck because you can reach the trailhead by simply walking outside!
You can make reservations for the hotel here but as mentioned before it tends to book up a full year in advance so plan accordingly.
Other visitors will need to secure parking in the hotel parking lot or in one of the pull offs along the main road.
This is a very easy hike with flat and well maintained paths. The only thing to remember is that it is moderate in length at 7 miles (or 11 kilometers) which can be on the longer side for small children or less active guests.
The trail is well covered for most of the duration by trees and vegetation which is great for cutting down on sun exposure if you’re attempting this hike in the middle of the day.
If you’re looking for a way to cut down on the hiking distance, further on in this post I’ll mention the boat tour shortcut which can cut the hiking distance roughly in half.
Just before you reach the lake you’ll encounter a small bridge crossing and eventually a set of pit toilets.
Once you’ve passed this point you’ll shortly encounter the epic views of Angel Wing Mountain which towers over Grinnell Lake.
The views you’ll enjoy of the lake’s icy turquoise waters are some of the best in all of Glacier National Park. If you’re feeling adventurous, kick your hiking boots off and wade out into the icy mineral waters to refresh your feet. And don’t be surprised if you see some visitors going for a swim in the water!
While this is a very popular destination in the park there’s plenty of room to spread out and enjoy some personal space while enjoying the high alpine lake (this can’t be said for everywhere else in the park).
If you’re interested in reaching one of the mountain saddles along this ridge line be sure to check out my post on hiking the Highline Trail which will lead hikers up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.
As always in GNP be sure to keep a look out for wildlife. When we reached the lake we saw a large bull moose hanging out near the water. Keep your distance as they can be aggressive if you get too close.
Also, don’t hike anywhere in Glacier National Park without bear spray. While we didn’t encounter a bear on this particular day, during our visit we had two close encounters with grizzly bears and saw a black bear from the Many Glacier Hotel parking lot.
For anyone doing the full hike on foot you should budget about 3 hours to complete the trail and for spending some time enjoying the incredible views at Grinnell Lake.
The out and back trail for this hike splits around Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. If you’re interested in switching up your views, you can hike back on the opposite side you took on the way out.
How does the Grinnell Lake Boat Tour work?
For those interested in cutting down the length of this hike or enjoying views of the surrounding mountains from a boat consider booking a Many Glacier boat tour.
The boat tour will cut a few miles off the total hiking distance which can be a game changer for less able park visitors or those with small children.
The tour disembarks from the Many Glacier Hotel and will ferry you across the length of Swiftcurrent Lake. From here you’ll disembark and walk a short distance to a second boat that will take you across Lake Josephine.
One way boat rides are an option as well if you want to experience both hiking around the lakes as well as views from being on the water. There are also guided hike options that you can reserve when the boat drops you off at the end of Lake Josephine.
The guided option isn’t necessary for reaching the lake since the trail is well maintained and obvious, but tours can be a great way to meet new people and learn more about the area.
If the guided boat tour is an option that interests you be sure to book your reservation extremely far in advance. It’s not unusual for the limited slots on these tours to book nearly a full year in advance. While you can try riding standby (in the event of cancellations) I wouldn’t count on it!
Planning a trip to Glacier? I’d recommend reading my post covering a number of useful facts and tips about Glacier National Park to assist you during that process when you’re done here. I’ll cover how to book boat tours in the park and much more!
Can you swim at Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park?
If the icy temperatures don’t deter you, visitors are allowed to swim in Lower Grinnell Lake.
Once you reach the lake you’ll see rocky beaches that are easily accessible from the trail. Kick your hiking boots off and wade out into the water, it’s a great way to refresh your feet and cool off after hiking out to the lake on a hot summer afternoon!
There will likely be other visitors doing the same but the beach area is large enough that it shouldn’t be too crowded.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, pack a swim suit with you. There’s a pit toilet not far from the lake that makes for a decent changing room.
Just don’t forget that the water will be extremely cold even during the middle of summer!
If you’re looking for other alpine lakes to swim in during your visit to GNP be sure to check out my guide to hiking Avalanche Lake which is situated on the western side of the park. Another one of my favorites worth checking out is the hike to Hidden Lake near Logan’s Pass.
How long is the Grinnell Lake hike?
The out and back Grinnell Lake Trail originates near the Many Glacier hotel and is about 7 miles or 11 km long with only a few hundred feet of elevation gain.
The trail follows along the shores of both Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. At either lake the trail forks allowing you to walk along either side before re-converging.
This means you can walk along one side of each lake on the way out and switch up your views during your return trip by taking the opposite trail.
This hike will take most visitors around 2.5 hours of time spent on the trail to complete. From there be sure to budget additional time (another 30-60 minutes) to enjoy the views and swim at Lake Grinnell itself.
If this is your only opportunity to explore Swiftcurrent Lake or Many Glacier Hotel during your visit you should budget additional time to explore these areas as well.
Are there bears around Grinnell Lake?
Be sure to bring bear spray as bear activity is common in Glacier National Park. While we didn’t encounter any bears during this particular hike, we encountered one near the Many Glacier hotel and another near the Iceberg Lake trail. Both of which are in the Many Glacier area.
Fortunately these encounters are usually harmless and the bear we encountered along the Iceberg Lake trail we were able to scare off without difficulty.
The National Park Service has a guide on bear safety which I would recommend reading before venturing out into Glacier National Park’s vast wilderness.
Grinnell Lake is a great place to see wildlife
Generally speaking Glacier National Park is one of the best places in the United States to experience wildlife encounters.
During our hike we encountered a large moose near the lake. It’s also not unusual to encounter marmots or bears in this area of the park.
Mountain goats and big horn sheep are also common throughout Glacier National Park but we didn’t encounter any on this particular day. If you’re interested in spotting either of these animals, try exploring the Logan Pass area.
Do I need bug spray for the Grinnell Lake hike?
It’s a good idea to pack bug spray when attempting the hike to Grinnell Lake. Much of the trail passes through dense forest and vegetation that can be buggy at times.
When we hiked through this area I also wore pants and a light long sleeve moisture wicking t-shirt.
Even though it can be hot during summer afternoons hiking in Glacier National Park, wearing long sleeves and pants can be a great way to counter bugs and sun exposure.
Will I have cell phone service at Grinnell Lake?
Cellular service throughout Glacier National Park is hard to come by. The Grinnell Lake hike is located in an extremely remote portion of Many Glacier and it’s unlikely you’ll have any cell phone service during your hike.
If you’re an avid hiker I’d recommend purchasing AllTrails Pro which allows you to download offline maps. This is something I always utilize on remote hikes or when I know I won’t have cellular service.
Not only does it ensure you stay on the right trail, but it’s a great way to track and time your hiking activity!
Do I need a reservation for Grinnell Lake?
Glacier National Park is effectively divided into four distinct zones which require individual reservations to access. Those areas are Going to the Sun Road, Many Glacier, Two Medicine and North Fork.
To access Grinnell Lake visitors will require a timed entry reservation to the Many Glacier area of the park.
Keep in mind that if you’re traveling from the West Side of Glacier National Park you would require a separate reservation to travel on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Otherwise your choices are to seek accommodations on the east side of Glacier or stay at a hotel situated in Many Glacier itself.
Time entry reservation slots fill up far in advance so I’d recommend understanding how that system works ahead of time. I’ve put together a helpful guide on the National Park timed entry reservation system you should check out as a starting point.
Even with a timed entry slot secured, parking in Many Glacier can be challenging and for that reason I generally recommend attempting popular hikes such as this first thing in the morning.
I would also recommend visiting the National Park Service website before your visit to ensure you’re aware of the most up to date entry requirements as they can vary season to season.
Pets aren’t allowed at Grinnell Lake
While pets are permitted inside Glacier National Park, they’re not allowed on any of the trails or backcountry. This means pets aren’t welcome along the Grinnell Lake hike or any other trails in the Many Glacier area.
Your leashed furry friend will mostly be confined to your vehicle, parking lots or other developed areas of the park.
Are there bathrooms at Grinnell Lake?
If you end up needing a proper bathroom during your hike out to Grinnell Lake you’re in luck as there’s a pit toilet located near the lake.
As a pro tip – if the pit toilet is locked from the outside it means there’s no one inside. Be sure to lock up after you’ve used one of these facilities to ensure animals stay out!
The trailhead for this hike begins near the Many Glacier hotel which is another great restroom break option when you’re starting or finishing the hike.
What should I pack for the Grinnell Lake hike?
Even though much of this trail enjoys tree cover I would still recommend wearing sunscreen since you’ll be exposed to the elements for around three hours. Your time spent out near the lake will be completely exposed.
If swimming in the lake is something you’d like to attempt, be sure to wear appropriate clothes during your hike or pack a swimsuit and towel.
The wooded sections of the hike can be buggy so I’d recommend using bug spray and or wearing long pants and sleeves.
Per usual be sure to pack enough water to get you through a few hours of being out on the trail.
Packing a lunch to eat once you reach Grinnell Lake is a great way to spend some time enjoying the serene views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Bear spray is a necessity no matter where you’re hiking in Glacier National Park. We didn’t encounter any bears during this hike but we did see two others throughout our stay in the Many Glacier area.
It’s probably overkill for this trail, but if you’re looking for a comprehensive day hike packing list be sure to check out the guide I wrote. It’s a comprehensive packing list that should cover everything you’d need for this hike and way more.
When is the best time of day to hike Grinnell Lake?
My rule of thumb when attempting uber popular hikes is usually to start first thing in the morning. Between limited parking, crowds and sun exposure this is usually the way to go.
However, there is quite a bit of parking between the Many Glacier Hotel and surrounding parking lots. You shouldn’t have issues securing a spot regardless of when you arrive.
Since most of this trail is covered you won’t have to be overly concerned with sun exposure, but hiking in the morning or late afternoon is always a great way to mitigate exposure.
While some hikes can be crowded at the payoff location (the lake in this case), Grinnell Lake boasts a pretty large area to enjoy the views and so it’s unlikely to be overcrowded.
This activity pairs really well with a lunch or dinner at Many Glacier Hotel once you’re finished so consider that when planning your day.
You can also rent canoes or kayaks at Many Glacier Hotel to take out on Swiftcurrent Lake.
Consider spending your morning out on the trail, grabbing lunch at the hotel restaurant and then taking a canoe out during the early afternoon. This was one of my favorite full days we spent at Glacier National Park!
Another good option is to hike Grinnell Lake in the morning and then do the shorter hike to Redrock Falls in the late afternoon. The trailhead is located just down the road and is a manageable 3.6 miles (5.8 km) in length.
How difficult is the Grinnell Lake trail?
The hike to Grinnell Lake is what I would consider easy. The trail is extremely flat and well maintained without any technical portions or sheer drops.
Just remember that if you hike the full distance (without the boat shortcut) it’s just over 7.0 miles (11 km) roundtrip. Which is on the lengthier side for a hike that I would classify as easy.
The trail is pretty well covered so sun exposure isn’t a significant issue. But as I mentioned before this tree cover and vegetation means bugs can be a mild annoyance.
Wildlife encounters in this area of Glacier National Park are common so be sure to carry bear spray and keep your distance from any animals you pass along the way.
If you’re looking for another easy hike to try on the opposite side of Glacier National Park be sure to check out my post about hiking Trail of the Cedars. Alternatively, if you want to add a challenge hike to your itinerary check out my post on hiking the Mount Brown Lookout.
Check out these activities available in the area
Looking for more ways to fill out your trip itinerary? Be sure to check out the list of activities below from GetYourGuide.
Looking for suggestions on what to pack for hiking?
Chances are if you’re visiting Glacier National Park you’ll be doing some hiking. If you’re doing some hiking you’ll want to have the right gear handy in order to have the best experience possible.
For your convenience I’ve put together an extremely thorough hiking checklist to make sure you don’t overlook anything.
That guide is geared towards longer day hikes, so if you’re doing something more casual you probably won’t need everything on that list. But rest assured you won’t overlook a thing!
Another great resource for planning your trip to Glacier National Park is the video I created covering my favorite activities in the park. Don’t forget to check that out as well!
Hopefully you found this guide to hiking the Grinnell Lake Trail in Glacier National Park helpful!