Hike to Iceberg Lake

Date Visited: 7/7/16

Distance: 9.7 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 1,275'

Trailhead: Iceberg Lake/Ptarmigan Trailhead

Alex and I initially wanted to do this hike immediately after we arrived to Glacier on Wednesday but unfortunately the weather wasn't cooperating and all of Many Glacier was socked in by clouds and mist. Instead, we spent that day attempting to hike the slightly shorter Grinnell Glacier trail and then getting driven back down by a downpour after only a mile or so into that hike as well. The weather forecast for the remainder of our time in Glacier looked dismal and I was feeling discouraged after a rainy Wednesday, but when we woke up on Thursday the clouds had cleared and it looked like we might have a clear day to hike! Since Alex and I only had one full free day to hike and we still wanted to hike both the Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake trails we decided to hike them both on Thursday, an ambitious undertaking as the hikes combined totaled just over twenty miles and over 3000' in elevation gain. We went for it!

The trailhead for Iceberg Lake is located behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. We parked and bought some last minute provisions from the market located next to the Inn and hit the trail by 8:30am. We had heard of recent bear sightings on this trail so we began making noise as we hiked. The beginning of the hike started with a quick and steep ascent of nearly 200' in a quarter of a mile. Shortly after this ascent we reached a fork in the trail, we continued left as a right would have taken us back to Many Glacier. After the initial steep section the elevation gain was much more moderate for the remainder of the hike. 

The first mile and a half of trail was in the open and offered spectacular views in all directions. In front of us lay Mt. Grinnell, Mt. Wilbur, Swiftcurrent Mountain, and the Ptarmigan Wall and behind us was a valley leading towards Many Glacier. Alex and I stopped often to photograph this area. At 1.5 miles we entered a thick pine forest, it was beautiful and it smelled lovely. At 2.5 miles we passed Ptarmigan Falls, other early-bird hikers had stopped here for a snack and water break. Shortly past the waterfall we crossed Ptarmigan Creek and then we reached Ptarmigan Junction. We continued straight towards Iceberg Lake. Ptarmigan Tunnel and Lake are located to the right. 

At 4.5 miles we crossed a small footbridge that took us over Iceberg Creek. From here it was a short hike through an alpine meadow to the shores of Iceberg Lake. Our early start meant that there were few others at the lake when we arrived. We walked around the southern shore and found a nice spot we could have to ourselves. Alex set up a time lapse and then we explored the area and had some trail mix. 

We could have stayed all afternoon but we still wanted to get to Grinnell Glacier so we headed down after about an hour. By the time we left the lakeshore was lined with groups of people with more hikers showing up by the second. The hike down took extra time because we had to stop every ten yards to let another group of hikers pass, but we eventually made it down and headed back to change and freshen up before tackling Grinnell! 


Special notes: Grizzlies and black bears call Glacier home so it is imperative that you carry bear spray and know how to use it, make noise, and hike in large groups. The trail was so busy the day we hiked it that bears we likely steering clear but we still took precautions anyways. 

Required permits: None for the day hike!

Trailhead: Cracker Lake/Ptarmigan Trailhead located behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn


Gear to pack:

  • The 10 Essentials
  • Bear spray
  • Bear bell (optional if you are consistent about making noise)
  • Camera gear