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How to do the Grinnell Glacier hike and Many Glacier boat tour (by a former guide)

If you have spent some time researching things to do on your trip to Glacier National Park, chances are you’ve heard of the spectacular Grinnell Glacier trail in Many Glacier. If a 12-mile round-trip with 1,600 feet of elevation gain seems daunting to you, don’t worry! This hike can be shortened by riding Glacier Park Boat Company’s historic tour boats.

As a former boat captain and tour guide in Many Glacier, I am here to help you navigate the process of booking a boat tour and making your way up to Grinnell Glacier.

If you would like to shorten the Grinnell Glacier hike by using the Many Glacier boat tour, you can purchase tickets online (https://reserve.glacierparkboats.com) or over the phone (406-257-2426) months in advance. It is also possible to purchase tickets day-of, but this is extremely competitive and not recommended.

When you use the boat tour to shorten your hike, it will be 7-miles round trip, saving you five total miles! The boat tour departs on Swiftcurrent Lake aboard the Chief Two Guns, just behind the Many Glacier Hotel. After your cruise across Swiftcurrent, you will walk 400 meters over a hill to Lake Josephine where the Morning Eagle will take you to the upper boat dock and the Grinnell Glacier trail.

This process can be confusing at first glance, so keep reading for a detailed explanation each step of the way! In this article I’ll cover:

  • All about Many Glacier
  • The Grinnell Glacier Hike
  • Many Glacier Boat Tour (shortens your hike!)

All about Many Glacier

What is Many Glacier?

Many Glacier is located on the east side of Glacier National Park and is the most remote and wildlife-filled region of the park (of those accessible by road, that is).

Many Glacier is home to the iconic and historic Many Glacier Hotel and the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn for accommodations, along with the most incredible scenery the park has to offer, miles and miles of scenic trails, and abundant wildlife.

Many Glacier is named for the large number of active glaciers that remain in the valley — there are many of them! South Swiftcurrent Glacier, Grinnell Glacier, Salamander Glacier, Siyeh Glacier, and Gem Glacier are all still carving the iconic landscape.

Getting There

Accessing Many Glacier can be confusing, so see your options below!

  1. If you are coming to Many Glacier from the east you can take Highway 2 to Browning, and then Highway 464 from Browning to Babb.
  2. If you are coming to Many Glacier form the east you can take Highway 89 to Browning, and then Highway 464 from Browning to Babb.
  3. If you are coming to Many Glacier from the west, you can take Highway 2 around the south end of Glacier. When you reach East Glacier you will continue to Browning on Highway 2 and then take Highway 464 to Babb.
  4. If you are coming to Many Glacier from the west, you can take the Going to the Sun Road through the middle of Glacier until you end up in St. Mary. From St. Mary, continue on Highway 89 to Babb.

Once you make it to Babb, go left at the Cattle Baron Supper Club (you will not be able to miss it) onto the Many Glacier Road! You’ve done the difficult navigating now, and you just continue driving straight for 13 miles.

Check the road conditions

The Many Glacier road has been undergoing construction for the last couple of summers, which can lead to delays entering the park.

Always make sure to check the Glacier National Park Website for current road conditions.

  • If you’re flying, don’t forget about getting a rental car. Don’t leave it to the last minute.

The Grinnell Glacier Hike

What is the Grinnell Glacier Hike?

The Grinnell Glacier trail is one of the most iconic trails in the entire park. The views are unbeatable, the trail is challenging enough to be memorable, and the destination will take your breath away.

The trail is 10.6 miles long and climbs 1600 feet in elevation. It is not for the faint of heart! But I can assure you that if you are willing to put in the time and energy, the hike is well worth it.

If you want to shorten the hiking distance, you can use Glacier Park Boat Company’s boat tours to shave off approximately 2.5 miles each way! See the “Many Glacier Boat Tour” section below for more information.

What can I see?

The Grinnell Glacier Trail begins in the woods, where you will walk along the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake for about a mile before you climb up and over a small hill to reach Lake Josephine.

Once you reach Lake Josephine, you are greeted by a stunning view that invites you further down the valley. As you walk the length of Lake Josephine, you are in prime bear habitat. Be sure you’re making noise as you hike so you don’t surprise a bear!

After following the shore of Lake Josephine, lined by wildflowers and songbirds, you begin to gain elevation as the trail traverses Grinnell Mountain. After climbing in elevation for about a mile, you will be rewarded with a stunning view of bright turquoise Grinnell Lake below you.

Once you see Grinnell Lake for the first time, the next exciting landmark is Thunderbird Falls. This waterfall cascades over the trail (sometimes gently, sometimes not so much), so make sure you have your rain jacket on to keep from getting drenched on your way under!

After Thunderbird Falls, the trail can become frightening for people not comfortable with heights, but there truly is nothing to be worried about. You may feel butterflies in your stomach as you walk along the trail cut into the side of the mountain, with a steep, sheer drop-off on the left side. 

Soon, you will reach the “Sound of Music” meadows, which will greet you with vibrant wildflowers and the sense that you have nearly made it to your destination. Keep your spirits high!! You are almost there.

When you finally reach Grinnell Glacier, you will be forced to sit down, relax, and soak in the magnificence of the place you are in. You did it! It’s all downhill from here…

Hike Preparation

The Grinnell Glacier Trail is a moderately challenging hike even for experienced and well-conditioned hikers. With this in mind, make sure you are preparing yourself and your hiking party so that you can have the best possible day!

Bring plenty of water. I typically hike with at least three liters of water in a hydration pack, which is a great investment because the easy access makes it so easy to drink enough water. A water filter is also a good idea because if you run out of water on your hike it is great to be able to replenish your supply.

It is also important to bring food! I have been labeled the “queen of packing too many snacks,” but I don’t think there is any such thing. For this hike, I bring snacks for the way up and down (like trail mix, granola bars, cheese and crackers, peanut butter and Nutella to spread on graham crackers, and gummy bears).

You should also bring a meal with you for when you reach Grinnell Glacier, like a large sandwich or wrap or something along those lines! I personally love a lukewarm and slightly soggy hot dog that has been sitting in my backpack all day…

Bring layers to make sure you stay warm and dry. Even if rain is not in the forecast, bring a raincoat and rain pants if you have them. Remember to stay away from cotton clothing, as it retains water (sweat) and can lead to a very miserable day if the weather turns cold. On every hike, I bring long underwear, a fleece, a puffy winter jacket, a stocking cap, and my rain gear.

  • Are you traveling to Glacier or other National Parks out west? Our travel guides will provide you with a game plan and make your trip planning a breeze.

Many Glacier Boat Tour

What is the Many Glacier boat tour?

The Many Glacier boat tour is something to look into if you are interested in shortening the hike to Grinnell Glacier. It is scenic, fun, informative, and saves your legs five miles of walking.

The boat tour in Many Glacier is unique because it takes you across two different lakes on two different boats. This two-boat, two-lake tour gives you views of the most spectacular valley in the park (in my opinion) with only a short (but steep), ¼ mile hike necessary between the two lakes.

If you purchase boat tour tickets from Glacier Park Boat Company, you will be able to save five miles of hiking on your trip to Grinnell Glacier! That may not sound like a lot, but your legs might thank you at the end of the day if you spared them five miles of walking.

When are the Many Glacier boat tours?

The Many Glacier boat tours depart at 8:30am*, 9:00am, 11:00am, 1:00pm*, 2:00pm, 3:00pm*, and 4:30pm. (Tours marked with an *asterisk * do not begin operating until July 1st).

How long does the Many Glacier boat tour take?

The total round-trip tour time is 1.5 hours. However, if you are only using the boat to get to Grinnell Glacier, you can count on about 45 minutes to make it across both lakes and to the beginning of your hike.

How do I know which tour to take?

The last return trip of the day is at 5:30 from the head of Lake Josephine (where you will be dropped off initially). This means that in order to make it to Grinnell Glacier and back down for a return trip, you will need to leave on either the 8:30, 9:00, or 11:00 boats. These are the only departures that will leave you with enough time to reach Grinnell Glacier and come back to the boat by 5:30.

If you do not want to worry about taking the boats out in the morning but are interested in a ride back at the end of the day, check at the ticket office and inquire about one-way tickets!

Can I do a tour without doing the Grinnell Glacier Hike?

Yes! If you have no interest in hiking to Grinnell Glacier but would still like a boat tour, the table below outlines your tour options.

Tour TimeTime RequiredOptional Guided Hike?Price
11:00, 1:00, 3:00, 4:301.5 hoursNo$33.50 adult $16.75 child
9:00, 2:004 hoursYes$33.50 adult $16.75 child
8:3045 minutesMaybe$33.50 adult $16.75 child
Many Glacier tour options. Prices subject to change.
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Grinnell Glacier Hike vs. Grinnell Lake Hike

The name Grinnell is used excessively in Many Glacier, which can make it confusing to know what hike you’re getting yourself into.

The Grinnell Glacier Hike is 11 miles round-trip and gains 1600 feet of elevation. The Grinnell Lake Hike is 7 miles round-trip and gains less than 100 feet of elevation. Both are great but very different.

The Grinnell Glacier trail takes you up high into the alpine, while the Grinnell Lake trail stays on the valley floor.

These hikes are both accessible from the boat tours described above, and the boat will cut five total miles off of either option.

Keep in mind that these trails, though close to each other, are not the same! You will see Grinnell Lake (from above) on the Grinnell Glacier trail, but you cannot see Grinnell Glacier from Grinnell Lake.

In the past, there has been a guided hike to Grinnell Glacier from the 8:30am boat tour, given by an interpretive guide with the National Park Service.

There is a guided hike to Grinnell Lake at 9am and 2pm every day, given by a Glacier Park Boat Company naturalist.

How to purchase tickets

To book a tour, call (406) 257-2426 or visit reserve.glacierparkboats.com. This is the most popular boat tour location, so I highly recommend booking your tour well in advance, especially if you are traveling in a large group!

If you are not able to reserve in advance, you can attempt to purchase tickets at the boat dock/ticket office, located below the Many Glacier Hotel on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake.

Tips

  • Make boat tour reservations in advance! This will save you stress on your vacation and you will not regret it. To book a tour, call (406) 257-2426 or visit reserve.glacierparkboats.com
  • If you plan to hike to Grinnell Glacier and would like to utilize the boat tour to shorten your hike, take the 8:30, 9:00, or 11:00 boat tours. These will give you enough time to hike and come back on the final (5:30) return trip.
  • Be sure to check Many Glacier road conditions before you head out! Aim to be through the Many Glacier entrance by 10am at the latest. This will help you avoid excessive traffic and entry delays.
  • Bring plenty of food, water, and clothing on all of your hikes! Do not underestimate Mother Nature and her tendency to be very unpredictable.
  • Take time to rest on your hike! Make sure you are enjoying yourself and not just hiking uphill with your head down.
  • And always, Leave No Trace!
  • When you’re finished, have a meal or a free tour at the Many Glacier Hotel.

National Park Resources