Glacier National Park and Hiking the Grinnell Glacier Trail

Glacier National Park

Montana / View all National Parks

It’s been a really long time since I’ve been to Glacier National Park, 9 years in fact!  Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest though, I really have no excuse.  It’s a day’s drive away now so I hope to get out there at least once a year.  It’s worth it.  This time around I had my friend Nick with me for the big adventure and Glacier was just the start!  This year’s trip was to go from Seattle to Glacier, then up into Canada and explore a little of Banff and Jasper National Parks before looping back home.  Lots of driving and lots of amazing sights to be seen!

Glacier National Park

On the first day in Glacier National Park we stayed right off Lake McDonald at Fish Creek Campgrounds.  It was a quaint little place and actually wasn’t all that bad.  We caught a little bit of afternoon storminess with some nice late day glow before hitting the sack pretty early.  12+ hours of driving will make your eyes feel a little bleedy!

Lake McDonald, Glacier National ParkLake McDonald, Glacier National ParkLake McDonald, Glacier National Park

The next morning we woke up nice and early as we needed to drive across the park for the true beginning of the trip- a major hike!  Our intention was to get up at around 6am, hightail it across the entire park, and then catch the boat that was going to save us a ton of time and distance.  The Grinnell Glacier hike is a total of around 7.6 miles round trip with the boat shortcut, so nothing to shake a stick at.  But lets be honest, a photographer with amazing morning light?  Yea right, not happening.  The price of missing this distant boat?  We were going to be doing an additional 3.4 miles of hiking for a total of around 11.  Worth it.

Early morning at Glacier National ParkEarly morning at Glacier National ParkSunrise at Glacier National ParkSunrise at Glacier National ParkSunrise at Glacier National ParkSunrise at Glacier National ParkSunrise at Glacier National ParkSunrise with waterfall at Glacier National Park

We finally reached the Many Glacier area other side of the park and the start of the Grinnell Glacier hike.  It was a gorgeous day with some great clouds lingering from the previous day.  Since we missed the boat, our trailhead was just a little bit farther down the road by Swiftcurrent Lake and we were off.

Early morning at Many Glacier areaHiking Grinnell Glacier TrailHiking Grinnell Glacier TrailContinental Divide

Glacier National Park is well known bear country and eyeing many clawed up trees wasn’t the greatest sight in the world.  Thankfully there were plenty of other tastier snacks [people] to pick off before they got to us.  In theory anyway.

The Garden WallHiking on a cliff

Grinnell Lake down below is fantastically beautiful and vibrant!  There’s no missing that hyper teal color and it gets even more gorgeous as you get closer.

Mountain with teal lake MontanaGrinnell Glacier, Glacier National ParkTeal Glacial LakeTeal Glacial Lake DetailGrinnell Glacier Hiking Path PhotosGrinnell Glacier Hiking Path with the Salamander GlacierThe trail felt like it was going on forever before we finally did about a half-mile of hard switchbacks up a hill and we were at the Grinnell Glacier moraine.  Absolutely amazing and incredibly dramatic with a giant waterfall front and center.  In my opinion, if you’re going to head out and do a pretty long hike like this one- the payoff needs to be worth it.  Without question it completely was.  Tons of icebergs, glacial outcroppings, and hyper teal water all around.  My idea of paradise.
Grinnell Glacier and Glacial MoraineGrinnell Glacier and Glacial IcebergsGem Glacier

Sadly the Grinnell Glacier is a bit of a poster child for global warming with many photos of it’s decline since the 1800’s.  Photographed from the same spot from around 1850, the glacier has shrunk from an estimated 710 acres down to around 200.  It’s a shame, scientists estimate it might be completely gone by the 2030’s.

Grinnell GlacierSalamander Glacier and Grinnell GlacierGrinnell Glacier icebergsGrinnell Glacier waterfall into teal lakeglacier-national-park-31glacier-national-park-32

Heading back we started getting some really great dramatic light from the setting sun behind the clouds and mountains.  It lit up Grinnell Lake quite nicely as well as the amazing beargrass blooms which were just starting to peak.

glacier-national-park-33glacier-national-park-34glacier-national-park-35glacier-national-park-36glacier-national-park-37glacier-national-park-38Grinnell Lake at sunsetGrinnell Lake at sunsetSunset on Grinnell Glacier TrailSunset on Grinnell Glacier TrailGrinnell Lake from trail at sunsetGrinnell Glacier Trail at sunset

With all that walking we needed a break and it seemed to work out perfectly with a little window of unreal light which just lit up the field in front of a dramatic stormy background.  It was seriously only there for 5-7 minutes max before clouds started coming in and it was gone.  Simply magical.

beargrass at sunsetbeargrass at sunsetfield of beargrass at sunset

Oh yea, and I brought my Hasselblad.  That was a lot of fun!

Hasselblad 500cm with 80mm 2.8 lensPerfect photo of Grinnell Glacier Hike at sunsetGrinnell Lake in stormGrinnell Lake in sunset storm

At night we camped outside the park at a funny little RV park and had a great meal before starting a campfire and enjoying the dark skies.  We could see a bit of the milky way and once I pulled out the camera it really highlighted how awesome it is to be out away from the city.  I hope I get back to Glacier National Park again soon!

Montana starry skies and milky way

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You can see more of our Glacier National Park work on our National Parks Photo Guide.


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