|Trail Features:||Outstanding views, Alpine Lake, Wildflowers|
|Trail Location:||Iceberg Lake Trailhead|
|Roundtrip Length:||9.7 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||1275 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||263 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||6160 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||12.25 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||48.79958|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-113.67924|
The hike to Iceberg Lake begins behind the cabins near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. There’s enough parking for roughly 10-15 cars in the lot next to the trailhead. However, given the popularity of the area, it’s likely the lot will be full, in which case you’ll have to park in front of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. This will add a two-tenths of a mile walk to the trailhead.
Just beyond the Iceberg Lake Trailhead hikers will turn right at a junction to access the short connector trail that leads to the Ptarmigan Trail. This connector trail is a fairly steep climb, and gains roughly 185 feet in only a quarter-of-a-mile. However, once on the Ptarmigan Trail, the gain in elevation is much more moderate.
Upon reaching the Ptarmigan Trail junction, turn left. A turn to the right will lead you down to the Many Glacier Hotel.
On the upper reaches of the connector trail, as well as along the early sections of the Ptarmigan Trail, hikers will have commanding views of 8851-foot Mt. Grinnell and 8436-foot Swiftcurrent Mountain towards the southwest. Dominating the view towards the west is 9321-foot Mt. Wilbur, and lying towards the northwest, in the direction you’re heading at this point, is the Ptarmigan Wall.
The Many Glacier area, especially the Ptarmigan Trail area, is located in prime bear habitat. The first mile or so past the connector is a haven for grizzly bears. Nearly every time that I’ve hiked this trail I’ve spotted one up on the hillside. It’s extremely important for hikers to make a lot of noise, carry bear spray, and hike in groups while in this area. As a result of its location, trails in the Many Glacier area are frequently closed due to bear activity. Thus, it’s always a good idea to check with a ranger on the status of a trail before proceeding on any hike in the park.
The first segment of the hike passes through open terrain that offers grand views of the surrounding mountains. But as you proceed further along the trail enters a fairly dense section of pine forest, roughly 1.5 miles from the trailhead.
At 2.5 miles you’ll reach a small clearing that overlooks Ptarmigan Falls. Unfortunately this is the best view of the waterfall you'll have. Steep terrain makes it virtually impossible to get a closer look. Moreover, trees block a full view of the falls from top to bottom.
Just above Ptarmigan Falls is an open and rocky area that has become a popular spot for a snack break or a rest stop.
Shortly after passing the falls you’ll cross a footbridge over Ptarmigan Creek. Roughly a tenth-of-a-mile later you’ll reach the Iceberg Lake Trail junction. The Ptarmigan Trail continues towards the right, leading hikers up to Ptarmigan Lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel. To proceed towards Iceberg Lake, continue going straight on the path now known as the Iceberg Lake Trail.
Roughly 3 miles from the trailhead you’ll emerge from the forest again where you’ll have your first good views of your destination. Looking towards the left you’ll see a cirque with a couple of large snowfields lying on the cliff walls. In the basin just below those snowfields is Iceberg Lake.
Shortly thereafter the trail reaches the bottom of the Ptarmigan Wall and begins heading in a west-southwesterly direction. The Ptarmigan Wall, towering more than 1500 feet above you at this point, is an arête, or a thin ridge of rock separating two valleys that have been carved by glaciers. In this case, the Ptarmigan Wall separates the Many Glacier valley from the Belly River valley.
At roughly 4.5 miles from the trailhead you’ll cross a footbridge over Iceberg Creek, and will begin walking through an incredibly beautiful alpine meadow filled with a variety wildflowers. The trail then begins a short climb of roughly two-tenths of a mile. Once at the top of this small rise it’s only a short distance down to one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in Glacier National Park. Although there might be a lot of people on this hike, it will be quite apparent as to why once you arrive at this magnificent gem. You may find quite a few people near the trail outlet, but if you skirt around the lake a little in either direction, you should be able to find a quiet spot to soak in the outstanding scenery.
Sitting at an elevation of 6094 feet, Iceberg Lake is surrounded by Mt. Wilbur towards the south, and Iceberg Peak and the Continental Divide to the west. Being situated in the shadows of these mountains towering some 3000 feet above, the lake receives little sunshine, thus allowing ice and snow to accumulate on the water and on the surrounding cliff walls. On our most recent visit, in September of 2011, we saw far more ice in the lake than we had in previous years.