The Best Hike in GNP

The best hike goes to ‘Grinnell Glacier’. The typical 11 mile hike in Many Glacier was shortened by the boat tour we took from Many Glacier Hotel. I figured that since we had just walked 12+ miles the day before, a nice boat ride to and from the trailhead of a shorter trail would be appreciated by our bodies.

We made our way to the Glacier Park Boat Company in the back of Many Glacier Hotel. Our boat tour started at 9:00am so, with our backpacks, bear spray and water in tow, we set off across Swiftcurrent Lake. Since the boat ride was considered a ‘tour’, our cruise across the lake consisted of interesting park facts alongside a beautiful backdrop. Once off the ‘Two Guns’ boat, we took a short stroll through the forest to the ‘Morning Eagle’, which was docked on Lake Josephine. The boat rides were great considering we received some history about the park and shaved off 3.4 miles round trip on the hike.

Once off the boat, our hike began. A grueling 7.6 miles and 1,600 feet of elevation change was in front of us. Within the first mile we had our first view of Grinnell Lake in the valley below, which was a short distance from the Lake Josephine boat dock. Throughout the trail we walked through beautiful alpine meadows covered in wildflowers and saw many waterfalls. We even got to walk through one. To our left was a cliff, where one slip would send you tumbling down, and on the right was a pouring waterfall. We had to slowly maneuver over a 3 foot wide path of slippery rock, all while getting soaked by freezing water.

After the waterfall, at around mile 2, we reached a stretch of the trail which hugged a cliff face. It was incredible. The view the entire length of the trail so far had been beautiful, but this portion was especially fantastic. There were no obstructions…nothing but the lavish trees and turquoise lake below you, the stony trail beside you, and a glacier in the distance.

Above a small rest area at about mile 3, the trail began to climb a series of steep switchbacks in our final ascent to the glacier. Finally, after 3.6 miles, we reached the top. It was about 10-15 degrees cooler by the glacier, so we threw on our jackets and stared in awe.

There are now three Glacier that are up on Mount Gould; Gem, Grinnell and Salamander. Salamander used to be a part of Grinnell Glacier, but has since separated due to the climate change. Gem Glacier, located on the Garden Wall above Grinnell Glacier, is one of the smallest in the park and has shown little change over years because it’s so high up in elevation. Grinnell Glacier, which is the largest glacier on Mount Gould, has lost more than 40% of its total acreage since 1966.

There was a guided hike which started about 30 minutes before us, so we ended up reaching the glacier about the same time the guide had. The guide was making his way over to the stromatolites. We had no idea what that was, but decided to tag along. On our way, we discovered that upper Grinnell Lake did not even used to exist, and has been created due to the glacier retreat. We actually got to walk over rock that holds striation marks from when the Glacier was pushing against it. These marks were hundreds of feet from where the Glacier rests now. After about 10 minutes of walking towards the glacier, we stopped at these ‘blueberry pancake’ looking things on the rock below our feet. They were 1.5 billion year old fossils. They date back to the Precambrian era, when layers of blue-green algae formed bacterial mats in the warm, shallow sea bottoms that covered what is now Glacier National Park. At the time, carbon dioxide dominated the atmosphere so these algae mounds were actually responsible for providing earth with much of its oxygen rich environment, through the process of photosynthesis.

We walked along the rock ‘waves’ for a while longer before making our way back to the boat dock. On our way back down the trail, we could see a moose swimming in Grinnell Lake, and when we finally reached the boat dock, a baby moose was relaxing by the shore as we waited for our boat. While the ‘Morning Eagle’ made its way across the lake, I reflected on the last 4 hours. We saw things that will one day no longer exist, some within the next few decades. We found fossils that are billions of years old. We witnessed beautiful vistas, spectacular waterfalls and wildlife. There was nothing more this hike needed. It was perfect, and has become my #1 top favorite hike ever.

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