Grinnell, Salamander and Gem Glaciers from the Garden Wall 8-30-11.
There is a free ranger led hike that starts every day at 8:30 AM at the Many Glacier Boat Dock. The boat ride is NOT FREE and reservations are needed.
Contact Glacier Boat.
The Grinnell Glacier Trail starts at the far northwestern end of Lake Josephine. There are several ways to get to this point. The easiest is to catch Glacier Boat at the Many Glacier Hotel Boat Dock. Otherwise you can hike on either shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. Park behind the Many Glacier Hotel if you wish to hike on the southern shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. The trailhead starts just west of the last wing of the Many Glacier Hotel. The other option is to drive past the turnoff for the Many Glacier Hotel and take the first left into the parking area just north of Swiftcurrent Lake. Both trails meet near the western boat dock for Glacier Boat at the western end of Swiftcurrent Lake. At this point there is a semi paved trail that connects between Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. When you get to the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake once again you can hike on either shore, the northern trail around Lake Josephine is more direct with a gradual ascent, however this trail is frequently closed due to grizzly bear activity. The northern trail around Lake Josephine turns into the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail at the end of Lake Josephine.
The free ranger led hike gets to this point, at the end of Lake Josephine, sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 am seven days a week until 9-10-2011.
This route is well marked by trails signs installed by Glacier National Park. The trail becomes much trickier footing wise after passing Lake Josephine. Care should be taken to beware of your footing as the spectacular views tend to distract you from the trail surface. The trail from the Lake Josephine boat dock at Oster Shelter goes along a boardwalk until it meets up with the connector trail to Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, at this point there is a series of steep, but short switch backs. Those hikers that hiked along the north shore of Lake Josephine avoided these switchbacks but put more actual miles into their hike. The Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail starts a gradual ascent until you reach a series of gradual switch backs. It then returns to a gradual ascent until you reach the waterfall that at times covers the trail with a ice cold spray. Expect to get wet in 2011 from this small waterfall. At this point the trail at times is carved out of the rock face.
Care should be taken when going around blind curves to make sufficient noise to alert any bears to you presence. This trail is frequently closed because of bear activity. The Lake Josephine part of this trail is even more frequently closed because of bear activity. This is a very active grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) corridor. The Grinnell Glacier Overlook continues it's gradual ascent to the foot of the glacier moraine. The final, and for many, major ascent is up the terminal glacier moraine formed by Grinnell Glacier during the Little Ice Age. It is a good idea to take a break before these rocky steps. There is an outhouse before the terminal glacier moraine. Big Horn Rams tend to congregate at this point on the rock face to provide you with entertainment while you gather you strength for the final ascent. In 2011 the rock face that the Big Horn Rams used to rest is still snow covered as of 8-26-11. You can't see Grinnell Glacier from the foot of the glacier moraine. In 2008 I was not able to get to this trail until mid August, two weeks earlier the steps were carved out of snow up to Grinnell Glacier Overlook. In mid August of 2008, these normally dry rock steps had turned into a shallow creek bed. I'm looking forward this year to hiking the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail soon after it opens and climbing those rocky steps with walls of snow on both sides. Well due to bear activity on the trail almost all of the snow was gone by the time the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail opened on August 22, 2011. Most of those steps are put together by Glacier Park's trail crew out of the smaller loose rock from the glacier moraine. Once you climb this last uphill section which is the terminal glacier moraine of Grinnell Glacier you will be able to see Grinnell Glacier, Salamander Glacier and Gem Glacier. Frequently more striking are the large icebergs, for Montana, in what is now Upper Grinnell Lake. One hundred years ago when Glacier National Park first became a national park there was no Upper Grinnell Lake. There also wasn't a Salamander Glacier as the glacier now known as Salamander Glacier was the upper part of Grinnell Glacier.
Please bear in mind that wildlife prefer the ease of travel on established trails. Didn't see a bear when hiking with the ranger led hike on 8-26-11 but did see two big horn rams at the overlook to Upper Grinnell Lake. When I hiked this trail in August of 2008 I didn't see a bear. 2011 is a very active bear year, it is a short eating season for bears this year. On the North Shore Trail of Lake Josephine I did see a moose with a calf on the trail in 2008. The safest method I know of viewing wildlife is from The Morning Eagle on Lake Josephine. By the time I started up the trail to Grinnell Glacier this moose and calf were in the water at the head of the lake. Upper Grinnell Lake was mostly frozen, all three glaciers visible from the overlook were covered with snow from the past winter. The icebergs frozen in the lake were remnants from 2007. This is the roughest trail that I'm familiar with in Glacier National Park. During 2008 the trail was even more tricky then usual. There are a few tight spots on the trail in 2011 from large rocks moved onto the trail by the heavy snow accumulation this year. The Grinnell Glacier Trail as of late August 2011 was drier then I expected. The Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail was finally clear of snow in 2008, but the trail in places had become a stream bed from late summer runoff. One portion of the trail, which is always tricky, with steps carved into the rock face is now a good place to cool off in the frigid waterfall that sprayed over the trail. The water is just above freezing, if you don't want to get wet bring a raincoat.
The dark band of rock seen to the left of Salamander is known as the Purcell sill.
"Today the igneous materials are evident as pillow lava formations (black basalt) in the Granite Park area (granite does not occur in the park) and as the Purcell Sill that runs through the Siyeh Limestone, a dark band of igneous rock (diorite) about 100 feet (30 m) thick. The heat of the intrusion forced out the dark organic matter from the surrounding limestone, recrystallizing it into white marble (metamorphic rock). " quote from NPS
Upper Grinnell Lake was about 90% frozen as of 8-26-11 the surprise was the lack of large icebergs. Usually the rocks on the icebergs on Upper Grinnell Lake are the size of a house! The tip of Salamander Glacier is visible in the upper right hand corner of this photograph taken in August of 2006. Salamander Glacier was once a part of Grinnell Glacier @ 90 years ago. The icebergs on Iceberg Lake (technically aren't really icebergs) are much smaller and less abundant.
"...a man who keeps company with glaciers comes to feel tolerably insignificant by and by. The Alps and the glaciers together are able to take every bit of conceit out of a man and reduce his self-importance to zero if he will only remain within the influence of their sublime presence long enough to give it a fair and reasonable chance to do its work."
- A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain
My guess was Late July 2008 for the Grinnell Glacier Trail to be cleared of snow. (the trail opened July 25th but was not clear of snow until the second week of August.) Wildflowers peaked by early August in 2008. The North Shore of Lake Josephine is a 'favorite lunch spot' for wildlife. When you are hiking through chest high cow parsnip you need to be extra vigilant for bears. Cow parsnip is a popular forage for deer, elk, and bear. The underbrush restricts wildlife movement and the trail is an essential passage for bears, moose, elk and bighorn sheep.
If your not prepared for a bear encounter take the 8:30 am Glacier Boat from the Many Glacier Hotel boat dock and join the free (the boat ride is $23.00) ranger guided trip along the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail.
If your looking for peace and tranquility then time your hike so that you are not on the trail when 40 hikers start out from the end of Lake Josephine sometime between 9 and 9:30 am seven days a week.
Grinnell Glacier late summer 2007 after a LONG Montana fire season. Ashes from those fires darken the glacier. Sixty years ago the foreground rocks were completely covered by this glacier. Click here to see what this glacier looked line in the 1930's. This is a strenuous hike. It can be made easier but still strenuous if you take Glacier Boat from Many Glacier Hotel. Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail is a very busy trail. Glacier Boat literally brings hikers in by the boatload. For years I was told that it was a very difficult trail, so I hiked to Sperry Chalet, to Ptarmigan Tunnel, to Granite Park Chalet instead of hiking to Grinnell Glacier. None of these other hikes can match the view along the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail. Only Ptarmigan Tunnel comes close to having as memorable a destination as Grinnell Glacier Trail does, in addition all of those hikes are more strenuous then the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail. My memories will be of the final demise of this once great glacier. In 2006 USGS reported that Grinnell Glacier lost 9% of it's surface area. From the number and size of icebergs that were present in August and September of 2006 I'm not surprised about the news of the rapid shrinking during 2006 of Grinnell Glacier.
I remember first seeing a print of Grinnell Lake taken from the Grinnell Glacier Trail and thinking what a poor color reproduction the print was of the water color in the lake. Well if you hike the Grinnell Glacier Trail you can see for yourself that glacier flur from Grinnell Glacier transforms the lake surface into a turquoise color.