Be sure to see them while you still can
Story & photography by Greg LindstromAsummer visit to Glacier National Park would be incomplete without making a trek to one of its namesake icons. Grinnell Glacier, located in the Many Glacier region, is one of the easiest glaciers to access, and the hike offers as much history as it does scenery.
In the late 1800s, explorer and naturalist George Bird Grinnell began exploring the Crown of the Continent and discovered the glacier while traveling up the Swiftcurrent Valley. Grinnell was later influential in establishing the national park in 1910.
The trail to Grinnell Glacier starts about a half-mile west of the turnoff to Many Glacier Hotel. The first three miles meander gently around Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. At the west end of Lake Josephine the trail begins to climb gradually, ultimately gaining approximately 1,600 feet en route to Upper Grinnell Lake. Be on the lookout for bighorn sheep, mountain goats and other wildlife that frequent the alpine meadows, as well as wildflowers blooming in the summer months.
A few switchbacks along the final stretch of trail lead past a massive boulder nicknamed Elrod’s Rock. Morton Elrod and other scientists used the rock to measure the edge of Grinnell Glacier, which reached the rock in 1924. Elrod used to measure the recession of the glacier in strides from the boulder. Today, the terminus lies nearly a mile from Elrod’s Rock. Between 1966 and 2005, Grinnell Glacier lost nearly 40 percent of its total acreage, according to a U.S. Geological Survey.
Just beyond Elrod’s Rock, visitors can watch icebergs float in Upper Grinnell Lake and listen to sounds of the shifting icy mass. Use caution if you decide to scramble on or around the glacier itself.
In 1850, there were more than 150 glaciers in the park, but today there are only 25 and scientists believe that within a few decades all the glaciers will be gone. Be sure to see them while you still can.
Getting there The hike begins at the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead, located approximately a half-mile west of the turnoff for Many Glacier Hotel. The trail gains approximately 1,600 feet over the 5.5-mile one-way trek to Grinnell Glacier Overlook.