Toddler Friendly Hiking in Glacier National Park: Grinnell Glacier Hike (Part 4 of our Banff/Glacier Trip)
The hike to Grinnell Glacier was strenuous and not necessarily for the faint of heart or the out of shape. With that said, I am both relatively out of shape and super faint of heart. My perseverance was rewarded by up close views of a glacier and views of one of the most gorgeous glacial fed lakes I have ever seen. If I can do it with a toddler- then it definitely counts as toddler friendly hiking!
Your trek to Grinnell Glacier starts with a boat ride from the Many Glacier Lodge. There are options for hiking around the lake that add some mileage on. Though I suppose that is an option for the truly fit, it was definitely not for us! Also, there was heavy bear activity around the lake when we went in August due to the abundance of berries. Therefore, the lakeside trails were closed on one side of the lake. Something to think about if you are planning on skipping the boat ride.
Assuming you don’t skip the boat ride it is awesome for a few reasons: (1) you get to rest a bit before you hike, (2) look at the views from the boat (!), and (3) my toddler loved the boat ride. A win for everyone! I suggest booking your trip via the Glacier Park Boat Company early as they book up. They are insanely friendly and helpful. We literally changed our itinerary four or five times due to some unforeseen work conflicts and they were always very accommodating.
After two short boat rides you have a relatively short flat walk before you start going UP! Just long enough to build a false sense of confidence in how easy the hike will be.
Another huge plus if you book the hike through the Glacier Park Boat Company is that the hike is led by a naturalist who can tell you all kinds of interesting things about the hike and Glacier National Park. In all honesty I struggled for the majority of the hike (to put my fitness level in perspective I have since started working out and am getting to the point where I can almost jog a whole mile – cardio is not my strong suit). Therefore, I missed a lot of the interesting facts being at the end of the group and focusing on breathing. But other people seemed to really enjoy it! I vaguely remember something about gigantic glaciers carving out the valley…
About a third of the way up you looking down at Grinnell Lake and this portion of the hike is certainly easy on the eyes. If, like me, you are feeling exhausted it also helps to have something beautiful to look at. If Grinnell Glacier is sounding a bit too strenuous there is also a hike option that just goes around Grinnell Lake. My in-laws opted for this hike and absolutely loved it. My mother-in-law was a bit under the weather at the time and still found it very manageable. Both said it was their favorite hike of the trip.
If you stick with the hike (and you should!) then you are rewarded with an up close view of Grinnell Glacier. While it is not safe to go the glacier itself you can go down to the water or close to the ice. We opted to stay up farther away with the water and let our daughter get out of the hiking pack and run around while we all ate lunch. The paths down to the water are relatively steep and after such a strenuous hike I didn’t personally have the energy to do a steep walk on loose rocks. However, there were tons of people who did it.
Logistics if you go with the Glacier Park Boat Company Tour:
In order to ensure you have enough time to get up and back the boat leaves at 8:30 sharp. You make it up to Grinnell Glacier around 12:30 which gives you some time to eat lunch before you start back down. The Glacier Park Boat Company guarantees you a spot on the 4:15 return boat. You just need to pace yourself appropriately. We were actually able to get on an earlier boat because we made good time on the way down. Fortunately, because it started to pour! On the way up you are pretty much in a large-ish group (although you could separate if you wanted to – there were plenty of people who passed us on solo hikes). On the way down you leave whenever you want and are therefore on your own. We ended up hiking for a while with a solo hiker to offer bear support.
Moderate+. The Grinnell Glacier hike with a toddler is hard. It is hard even if you aren’t carrying a toddler (like me!). I was definitely not in great shape, my husband is in better but not amazing shape. He had to take the hiking pack and toddler for the whole hike. I would never have been able to handle it. However, I did it with time to spare so it obviously wasn’t as hard as it felt. A family hiking with their five and seven year old children passed us towards the end. They had bribed them with a prize if they walked the whole way on their own. Did I mention they were passing me?
10/10. Assuming you can keep your toddler in a hiking pack all day without a melt down this is an awesome way to spend a day. However, if your little one is already mobile and would complain a good deal then this hike could be difficult. It is rather steep throughout and I think it would be pretty hard for little legs. Other great pluses were the boat ride and mountain goat spotting.
There is a waterfall you have to cross somewhere past the midway point. Reading about it online everyone makes it sound like no big deal. I’m just going to go ahead and say I found it terrifying. Particularly watching my husband with the hiking pack. It is on a relatively narrow piece of trail and you want to hug the wall but that’s also where all the water is. There is a cable to hold onto. We knew about it ahead of time so we brought a poncho to drape over the hiking pack to keep our daughter totally dry. Everyone survived but I think it is worth mentally prepping for. It is not something I would let a young child walk through on their own.
Total hike time/mileage:
~7.5 miles, we left the boat dock at 8:30am and were back around 4:15-4:30. You add on approximately 3.5 miles if you skip the boat portion.
Other things to note:
Bring a lot of food, water, and sunscreen. But seriously – sunscreen!
I considered skipping this hike because it is rated strenuous by most hiking website. One of my many changes with the Glacier Park Boat Company was switching from the Grinnell Lake hike to the Grinnell Glacier hike and I am so glad I did. It was challenging for me but absolutely worth it. It was definitely the highlight of our Glacier National Park trip!
Have you done the Grinnell Glacier hike with a toddler (or kids in general)? Let me know how they did & share any tips you might have!