Grinnell Valley to Grinnell Waterfall is an amazing Glacier National Park hike.
Following a hearty, early morning breakfast in the dining room at Swiftcurrent Inn, the enormous hiker’s lunch is packed up for the day’s hike through the length of the Grinnell Valley. The drive to the trail-head near the Many Glacier Hotel is short and quick.
The heavily overcast forest is damp from overnight rain. The hike begins along the south shore of Swiftcurrent Lake then continues past tiny Stump Lake where there are glimpses through dense forest of a moose bottom-feeding.
The trail veers toward the shoreline where Stump Lake meets Lake Josephine and there are outstanding mirror images across still waters to the end of the Grinnell Valley. The glaciers above Upper Grinnell Lake and spectacular Grinnell Falls beckon to continue. The apparition captures the imagination under gray skies.
The walk along the rocky shoreline of Lake Josephine encounters a steep rock fall which blocks easy passage, so a return to the trail allows hiking along the south side of Lake Josephine. An encounter with a guided group of about 20 people slows progress and it takes me a few extra minutes to work my way through the crowd.
The maneuver also results in reluctantly passing the option to take the planned short side hike into Hidden Falls in favor of gaining distance from the group. The very good but wet trail through forest is a substantial distance from the lake and views of Lake Josephine are quite limited until arrival at the shuttle boat dock near the far end of the lake. The docking location hosts a large log shelter where waiting boat passengers can stay dry during inclement weather.
A good portion of the trail between Lake Josephine and Lower Grinnell Lake is on raised plank bridges above water runoff from surrounding mountains. It is nature’s hydroponics.
Crystal-clear water blankets the ground until this short section of trail through lush plant growth arrives at the small beach at Lower Grinnell Lake for fabulous views of the impressive Grinnell Falls. Hiking to Grinnell Glacier, the previous year, looked down on this incredibly beautiful glacier-fed lake which appeared as a tiny, alpine, aquamarine gem. From water level the jade color is not as apparent. Today's hike is making very good time, and options are available, so the decision is made to continue to the Piegan Pass Trail above Lower Grinnell Lake.
The middle part of this day’s hiking will be posted as ‘Morning Eagle Falls’ to divide the words and pictures into two more reasonably sized segments.
The return is via the Piegan Pass Trail, high on the mountainside above the same lakes explored inward bound at shoreline. One of the potential objectives is to perform reconnaissance of the route to the Josephine Mine, located across Lake Josephine on the side of Grinnell Peak at about my current altitude. Dense forest and limited views prevent achievement of this objective.
The intent to return to the Many Glacier Hotel via the Piegan Pass Trail is thwarted when the encounter with the final 2 miles (3.2 KM) shared by hikers and horse traffic finds horse traffic has destroyed the trail for hikers in this summer’s wet weather. After about half a kilometer (0.3 miles), the short retreat begins after forward progress becomes impractical and off-trail on steep slopes is not a reasonable option.
Return to the connector will allow dropping back down to the lakeside trail. Unfortunately, this steep descent is also shared with horses. By the time descent is completed for the short distance to arrival at decent trail an hour later, miraculously without injury sustained in the steep, muddy and slippery mess.
Back on the lakeside trail, the hike east locates a game trail which leads into the shoreline of Lake Josephine. On the beach, a light rain begins, so the umbrella is employed to continue hiking on the rocky shoreline towards Many Glacier Hotel. A half kilometer later, after picking the way through a substantial amount of dead fall along the shoreline, the encounter with the rock fall is experienced again from the other side.
Absence of common sense decides to scramble the traverse. The rocks are wet and slippery from the rain but, with two hiking poles in my left hand and the wobbling umbrella in my right, the effort continues. The rule of three points stable, one point moving, is religiously followed. About 5 meters into the horizontal scramble above the lake’s surface, both boots lose hold at the same time my left hand is in motion. I fall into Lake Josephine.
On the way down, I manage to grab a stable hold with the right hand so it is only the left side of my body which gets baptized in the glacial-fed water of Lake Josephine. In spite of the water being slightly warmer than expected, I am highly motivated to get back up onto the slippery wet rocks. Partially through the recovery, I hear a loud, booming voice. ‘Are you OK?’ I pause ..... and look up. I think it must be God speaking to me.
The faint putter of the boat’s motor attracts my attention and looking behind finds the Lake Josephine shuttle boat, the Morning Eagle, heading my direction. The skipper is hailing me over the loudspeaker. The boat is full of people and the shuttle boat is leaning to one side. The Morning Eagle seats about 50. Most of them have cameras pasted to their faces. Flashes are firing. Well, isn’t this just lovely?
Unquestionably, any semblance of personal pride and dignity has evaporated, however, there is no sense in sullying my entire nation so in the best southern drawl I can muster up, I holler back, ‘Ah’m fine but ah’m shore lookin’ fahward ta gittin’ bach to Ark-in-saw’. Then I scramble up and over the rock fall and force myself into the restricted confines of relative sanctity in the damp, dense forest.
I offer my profound apology to the fine people of Arkansas. I have visited your wonderful State and I have absolutely nothing bad to say about it. Please, you must understand; I was under a lot of pressure. In hindsight it would have been better to choose a different country and spoken a different language.
To return to the trail, the bushwhack is about a half kilometer of dense forest through wet, chest-high underbrush which conceals large boulders and dead-fall. It is tough sledding but returning to the lakeshore is no longer an option. Back at the trail, I am completely soaked and it begins to rain hard. I reach into the lower pocket of my hiking pants to retrieve my umbrella and discover it is gone. It must have snagged on something during the bushwhack. There is no chance it will ever be found. Well, isn’t this just lovely?
I put on my broad-brimmed hat, pick up the pace to maintain warmth and complete the day’s hike at 4:00 PM having endured about all the humiliation a person can tolerate in a single day. If you happen to be surfing the Internet one day and you come across a photo of some idiot wearing a maroon jacket and performing half a baptismal event in Lake Josephine, the odds are very high that would be me. Maybe I am on YouTube.
The short drive from the Many Glacier Hotel to the welcome warmth of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins is achieved expeditiously. Warm, dry clothing combined with a hot meal and beverage is looking very attractive.
The Swiftcurrent Inn had humble beginnings in 1911 when the Great Northern Railway established a small, wilderness Teepee Camp at the site of an ancient Indian hunting ground. Guests were initially shuttled by horseback, and later by stagecoach, from the East Glacier railroad station.
The Blackfeet Indians called Grinnell Valley the 'Land of the Walled-in Lakes'.