Hiking to Iceberg Lake, Many Glacier, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
If you are looking for a longer day hike that it is not too difficult, I highly recommend the hike to Iceberg Lake near Many Glacier in Glacier National Park, Montana.
It is one of my favorite hikes in Glacier National Park, for so many reasons.
The hike is 5 miles one-way, with about a 1200 foot elevation gain. If you think this is too much for you, give yourself a chance! This is a very popular hike, and if you go slow and make a day out of it, anyone can do it. And it is well worth the hike.
The hike starts out going up through the trees for about a half of a mile. Don’t let this section fool you. I don’t know the elevation gain in this section, but it seems to me to be a lot of the hike’s elevation gain is gained right at the beginning. You are definitely going up at first.
Once you get through this section of trees, the hike opens up, and feels like it levels out a bit. From that point on, you gradually head up toward the lake.
From this point, you get expansive views of the Swiftcurrent Valley and up toward Iceberg Lake. This is where I began saying: “This is the best day. I love my life. I love it here. I love these views. This is amazing. Glacier National Park is stunning.” And so on. I could not stop proclaiming my love for this area to my husband.
I hope this spot makes you feel the same.
From here, the trail meanders around the mountainside, with beautiful waterfalls streaming down over the trail. This is also a great section to find huckleberries. You will want to research what the bush looks like before you start picking berries off of bushes to eat, but dark purple huckleberries picked right off of the bushes are so delicious. Especially if you are lucky enough to find the large, juicy ones. We got lucky and found a few to snack on. But don’t spend too much time picking, remember you still have a long hike in front of you!
Watch for grizzly bears during this part of the hike. CARRY BEAR SPRAY. The hillside feels open, but this is very thick brush, and a bear could surprise you. During our hike, there was a bear present that hung around the trail, and there were many rangers there who were considering closing the trail. Unfortunately, the bear arrived after we had passed, and had disappeared by the time we were hiking back down. All we got were the concerned rangers on the trail. While I never want to run directly into a bear, I would not mind seeing one from a distance.
You will eventually enter the woods again, limiting the views of the surrounding mountains, but there are several small, lovely, waterfalls you will walk through, that are nice to cool your feet off in on the way back.
We were lucky enough to encounter a baby deer in this section.
Eventually, you reach Ptarmigan Falls. Ptarmigan Falls plummets over a rocky cliff edge, and the bottom of the falls cannot be reached by the trail. You get a view of the falls as you round a corner, and then you can go enjoy lunch at the top of the falls where there are a lot of rocks and a nice area for a break from the hike.
The question is how far it is to Ptarmigan Falls. According to the signs, it appears that these falls are exactly halfway, 2.5 miles into the hike. I don’t quite believe it. It feels like this first part of the hike is much longer than the second half. Regardless, if it feels that way to you while hiking, when you reach Ptarmigan Falls, you will be more than halfway. Or so it will feel, anyway. 😉
You pass the falls and continue through the trees a bit longer. Then you come to a point where the trail splits, and you will want to stay left to get to Iceberg Lake. If you turn right, you will head up to Ptarmigan Tunnel.
The trail eventually opens up again and you leave the forest behind as you gain elevation. This last part of the hike is just stunning. We really booked it up in this section, trying to beat the ranger-led hike behind us to the lake. This section doesn’t seem too bad at all, as you again have gorgeous views of wildflowers and you can see the waterfalls that cascade down the mountain from Iceberg Lake.
You can tell as you near Iceberg Lake that you are almost there, because the surrounding cliffs show you the hike is about to end. Just when you think you are there, there is one last little uphill section to climb. I was pretty much running to the lake at this point, and this last section put me back to walking. (I was tired.)
You reach a small lake that appears to be a runoff from Iceberg Lake on your left — while beautiful, keep going, this is not Iceberg Lake.
Iceberg Lake will be in front of you, with lots of opportunities for photo opportunities of the wildflowers as you near the lake.
You will find when you reach the lake that there is a large beach area right at the end of the hiking trail. We had lunch here, but this spot gets crowded. I would recommend taking the trail to your left right before you reach the beach, and following the trail around to the other side of the lake. There are fewer people over there, and you can really see the turquoise colors. The trail was a bit muddy heading around the lake, but you can wash your feet off in the waterfalls on the way back down.
One thing that we saw was a lot of people who climbed out onto the icebergs, and were jumping from one to the next. Do not do this. This is not safe. There are icebergs in the lake for a reason: it is cold. If you fall in, no one can save you, and it would be nearly impossible to get out.
The weather at the lake is much different from the hike. You will be hot while you hike, mostly in the sun and the temperature will probably be in the 80’s in the middle of the summer. Then, you enter the bowl that the lake sits in, and the temperature drops. The way that the lake sits it does not get much sun, hence the icebergs in the lake, even in the summer. My guess is that the temperature drops at least 30 degrees. It is freezing!! I was wearing shorts, and was wishing I had brought pants to put on to sit by the lake. I shivered the whole time, and was so thankful I brought warm clothes for my baby (I always do in case of an emergency). BRING WARM CLOTHES! Pack them for your time at the lake.
Bring warm clothes!! Carry them in your pack. It gets cold at the lake, even though the hike is exposed to the sun and therefore you will be hot during the hike, once you drop down into the lake area, it is significantly colder.
Bring a hat and sunglasses, you don’t have shade for a lot of the hike.
As always, pack bear spray. And don’t pack it away – carry it on the belt of your backpack.
Bring a lunch to eat at the lake.
Start early in the morning, it is hot hiking in the afternoon, even on the way back down.
**Head to the left when you arrive at the lake, and follow the trail around to the far end. Fewer people, and the water is so green and gorgeous here.
There is a pit toilet just before Ptarmigan Falls.
Do NOT climb onto the icebergs. This is not safe.
Last but not least, have fun!! This hike is wonderful for its views, and the clear blue lake filled with icebergs you reach at the end.
The hike to Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park in Montana won’t disappoint!
Warmest Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Alex M. Neill
Montana Vacation Blog
GETTING HERE: As you head toward Many Glacier from Babb, you will drive around Lake Sherburne, and past the turn to the Many Glacier Hotel on your left. You will continue all of the way until the road ends. You will see the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn on your right, and you will be driving through a parking lot as the road ends. You can park here and start hiking from this point, but if you take a right on the tiny road just past the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn (you will see the sign for the Iceberg Lake Trail), there is a small parking lot that will cut about 0.1 – 0.2 miles off of your total hike.
I know that does not sound like a large number, but after a 10-mile hike, as you approach your car, it will be nice to be that much closer to the trail head. Park anywhere in this lot, and you will see where the trail begins.