Grinnell Lake, Montana, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Montana - Glacier Country -

Also known as:  Grinnell Lake Trail, Lower Grinnell Lake

Grinnell Lake is the reward at the end of the Grinnell Lake Trail. And what a reward it is! The entire trail, although considered one of the easiest hikes in Glacier National Park, also offers some of the most spectacular scenery. The trail skirts several lakes and offers beautiful views of the Continental Divide, Mount Gould and three glaciers. The trail from the trailhead in Many Glacier Valley to Upper Glacier Lake is about six miles long. The trail gains about 1600 feet in altitude, but the climb is mostly gradual. Rangers regularly lead hikes to this location, but numerous visitors make the trek on their own each summer. Those who make the trip are rewarded with the sight of beautiful milk-white-to-turquoise Upper Grinnell Lake, a small glacier-fed lake that is always exceptionally cold. Few people attempt an end-of-trail swim in this cold little lake. The lakes and the glacier were named in honor of George Bird Grinnell, a naturalist who was instrumental in convincing Congress to establish Glacier National Park.

There are actually two Grinnell Lakes along the Grinnell Lake Trail, and visitors often confuse the two. Lower Grinnell Lake is a bit larger at 130 acres than Upper Grinnell Lake’s 77 acres. It is also a turquoise color from the glacial rock flour carried by the melt water that feeds it. When people refer to Grinnell Lake, they most often mean the lower lake. Lower Grinnell Lake holds some brook trout, whereas Upper Grinnell Lake has no fish. Occasionally fly fisherman head to Lower Grinnell Lake, but most people complete the hike so they can be rewarded by the sight of Grinnell Glacier, Salamander Glacier, and little Gem Glacier. Salamander and Grinnell glaciers were once connected, but melting has caused them to separate. A small back country campground is located near Lower Grinnell Lake, and a picnic area with bench and pit latrine located there make some people think they have reached the end of the trail. The trail goes on, however, to Upper Grinnell Lake nestled at the base of the Continental Divide.

The trailhead is located near the Many Glaciers Hotel, one of the few hotels built by the Great Northern Railroad in an effort to encourage tourism to the region. Completed in 1915, the hotel’s 214 rooms have hosted over half a million visitors to the eastern side of Glacier National Park since it opened. The National Historic Landmark maintains its sense of rustic history by not placing televisions in the rooms, the goal being to get people out of doors and into the Park. Major renovations recently have assured that the historic hotel will remain open to visitors for many more years. The Many Glaciers Campground is located near the trailhead. The hotel overlooks Swiftcurrent Lake, where the Grinnell Lake Trail begins. A tour boat cruises Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, cutting almost two miles off the hike to Upper Grinnell Lake. Those wishing an easier trek can take the boat one way to the dock at the far end of Lake Josephine. Most hike the entire trail, however, which skirts Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.

The first couple of miles of the trail are relatively flat ground as they pass the first two lakes. Then the trail gradually starts to climb as it follows Grinnell Creek upstream. On every side the views are spectacular and wildlife are abundant. The glaciers come into sight, then disappear behind peaks as hikers progress along the trail. Short side-trails lead to viewing points, and one trail leads to a spot where hikers can actually stand on the glacier. Those planning to camp must be aware of all regulations regarding primitive camping in the area and also remain aware that this is prime grizzly bear habitat. At times, the trail may be closed due to excessive grizzly activity in the area. Those unaccustomed to back country hiking will do best if they take one of the ranger-led treks, as the local rangers are experts on both the trail and the needs of inexperienced visitors. The experienced and more adventurous hiker can approach Grinnell Lakes the long way, from over the much longer and more strenuous Piegan Pass Trail across the Continental Divide.

Hikers looking for solitude will do better finding another trail. The Grinnell Lake Trail is one of the most popular in Glacier national Park and could almost be called crowded on busy summer weekends. There are numerous trails in the area with fewer visitors, but every back country hiker should be equipped with an excellent map and accompanied by a hiking buddy. The trails are open year-round, although Park services are closed in winter. Some of the easier trails are favorites for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, while a few experienced alpine skiers seek out some of the more remote slopes to test their mettle against the wilderness. Visitors also can find all sorts of lodgings other than campgrounds just outside the park, from motels to guest cabins to guest ranches and hunting camps. There are few towns of any size near the east side of Glacier National Park, so motels or guest ranches with restaurant or meal accommodations may be the best bet. Campers will need to plan on bringing many supplies with them.

If you only have one trip to Glacier National Park in your future, then Grinnell Lake Trail is a great option for experiencing both the mountains and the glaciers that cover many of them. Bring the hiking boots and the binoculars. They and the camera will be your most important supplies for this lovely 11-mile round trip hike.

*Statistics are for Lower Grinnell Lake.

Things to do at Grinnell Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park

Fish species found at Grinnell Lake

  • Brook Trout
  • Trout

Grinnell Lake Photo Gallery

Grinnell Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 130 acres

Shoreline Length: 2 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,040 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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