Grinnell Glacier is a must-do hike in the Many Glacier region of Glacier National Park, Montana.
The Grinnell Glacier hike is a round trip of 11⅞ miles (19 KM) with 1,585 ft. (483 m) of net elevation. Rolling land and additional exploration can easily increase gross elevation to near 2,100 ft. (640 m).
The cool, brisk morning rapidly clears into a warm, sunny day. Following an excellent and hearty breakfast at the Swiftcurrent Restaurant, the hike to Grinnell Glacier begins nearby at the trail-head adjacent to Swiftcurrent Lake. The hike beside the lakeshore is a flat forest walk through lodgepole pine which has matured since the massive 1936 forest fire swept along the north-west shore of Swiftcurrent Lake.
The 'Chief Two Guns' passenger boat is cruising the length of Swiftcurrent Lake loaded with passengers who will disembark at the far end to walk a short distance over a tiny hill to board another boat, 'Morning Eagle', which will shuttle passengers along Lake Josephine where disembarking and climbing stairs to the trail will save passengers about 4 miles (6.4 KM) each way on the Grinnell Glacier hike at reasonable cost.
At the end of the hike past Swiftcurrent Lake, elevation is gained briefly as the trail climbs over an ancient moraine camouflaged by forest. Lake Josephine was created by the glacial activity which formed the moraine. The hike continues through lush vegetation just above the shoreline of Lake Josephine and past a picturesque lakeside pond before beginning a gradual climb on the approach to the far end of the lake.
Vistas are continuous and spectacular within the valley as the hike proceeds along the lower reaches of Grinnell Point and Mount Grinnell. Wildflowers and fall color are abundant along the route occasionally perched precariously on steep cliffs. The amazing Grinnell Falls remains visible in Grinnell Valley for a long time before the first view of pristine, emerald Lower Grinnell Lake, the third lake in the chain.
Elevation gain becomes more aggressive. Anticipation increases as the Gem, Grinnell and Salamander Glaciers become closer and appear larger. Many years ago these small glaciers were all connected to form a single ice field. Near trails end, there is a steep climb over an ancient lateral moraine to arrive at the outlook.
The early arrival reduces exposure to crowds which will grow rapidly over the next few hours. The objective is to be at the far end of the glacial lake for closer proximity to the ice. The hike across bands of polished rock and rubble on the valley side of terminal moraines created by glacier shrinkage includes hopping over small drainage waterfalls that eventually disappear underground to create the accumulated flow of Grinnell Falls.
An hour and a half is spent touring the far end of Upper Grinnell Lake and basking in the sun during lunch.
Lunch is consumed while relaxing on polished slabs of rock sporting dark circles which create a kaleidoscope of naturally artistic color and design. The hiking lunches prepared for us by the Swiftcurrent Inn are outstanding and very reasonably priced. Hiking crampons stick us to the glacier for a cool walk in the shade. The glacier is rumbling so there is activity underneath but routes are carefully chosen and sounding with hiking poles is underway to detect thinner ice.
The return trip along the rocky shoreline of Upper Grinnell Lake intercepts large crowds at the trail end. T-shirt and shorts fit in perfectly for the swift and determined return hike under warm and sunny skies.
The name Grinnell is prevalent in Glacier National Park.
The name 'Apikuni', in Blackfeet, meaning 'Far Off White Robe' was given to James Willard Schultz, a white man who relocated from New York at age 17 to work at the Fort Conrad Trading Post. He married a Peigan woman and began living among the Blackfeet people. James wrote articles and books about his life with the native people and sent his stories to eastern publications.
In 1885, one of his articles was published in the popular publication 'Forest and Stream'. George Bird Grinnell, in his young, formative years, attended school at the home of his neighbor, John James Audubon, where he developed a love for nature. This passion led him to acquire two related degrees from Yale University. He became a respected naturalist and was invited to join George Armstrong Custer's 1876 Black Hills expedition which ended badly in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Grinnell could not attend due to other commitments.
In 1880, Grinnell was appointed as editor of 'Forest and Stream' magazine. In 1885, a published article submitted by James Willard Schultz prompted him to make the first of several visits to the Northern Rocky Mountains. 1885 is the same year Canada established Waterton Lakes National Park.
During this time, Grinnell established the forerunner of the National Audubon Society. In 1887, he and Congressman Theodore Roosevelt became founding members of the Boone and Crockett Club. Grinnell began to write in 'Forest and Stream' about the northern Rocky Mountains and using his political contacts and influence, largely became responsible for the establishment of the United State's 6th National Park in 1910.
It required 16 years to build the engineering marvel known as Going-To-The-Sun Road, completed in 1932, across Glacier National Park. 1932 is the same year Glacier National Park in the USA and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada were joined as the world's first International Peace Park. It remains as the only single, collectively managed park in the world sharing an international border and distinguishing itself as an example of achievements possible between cooperating countries.