Hiking to Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park
Updated: Jun 3
Summer 2021 is off to a crazy start in Glacier National Park. Due to overcrowding, the park implemented a ticketed entry system for the busiest section of the park: Going-to-the-Sun Road and the attractions accessed from it, during prime park hours between 6 am and 5 pm.
But, if you want to skip all that ticket entry drama, then consider the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park. This section of the park does not require an entry ticket. Aside from that, it's home to two of the most jaw-dropping hikes in Glacier National Park. The Grinnell Glacier Trail and the Iceberg Lake Trail. This post will cover Iceberg Lake.
If you want to try your hand at obtaining the very difficult-to-get $2 entry ticket, here is the link. Don't worry if you can't get one. You can still drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road before 6 am or after 5 pm. We did it after 5 pm from the St. Mary's entrance, and it was a great time to go in terms of the lighting.
Now, on to Iceberg Lake!
ICEBERG LAKE HIKE STATS
Distance: 9.7 miles out-and-back.
Elevation Gain: 1,300 feet (roughly).
Location: Many Glacier Area in Glacier National Park.
Trailhead: Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in Many Glacier.
Length of Time: 6 hours (roughly)
When to Go: Mid-June through September
Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging- due to length of the trail, possible snowpack, and a river crossing if the footbridge is removed. (It was removed when we went).
WHAT TO PACK
A hat for added protection.
A raincoat- weather can change quickly.
Snacks and water (enough for 10-miles).
If you are into photography, you'll want a telephoto lens for wildlife shots ( 400mm-600mm is best ). And a wide-angle for Iceberg Lake.
Dress in layers.
Wear comfortable hiking sneakers or boots.
For photos, red and yellow clothing stands out. I wore blue- big mistake! 😝
We went at the end of June, and there were still large icebergs over much of the lake.
GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
The Iceberg Lake Trailhead is located behind Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in the Many Glacier Area of Glacier National Park. To be on the safe side, I recommend getting there by 9 am. If you get there after 11 am, you risk not finding parking or being turned away at the entrance station due to overcrowding. We saw this happening to people on the return of our hike.
Cell phone service is spotty to nill; I recommend entering the location in Google Maps while you still have service. Just enter Swiftcurrent Motor Inn into Google Maps. Once at the Inn, you'll see signs for the trail.
STARTING THE TRAIL
Though not difficult, the first section of the trail is the steepest. Once you get through that short first section, the trail opens up to a fairly flat meadow with stunning views of the surrounding peaks. When we did the hike at the end of June, the meadow was filled with wildflowers. This area of the trail is a popular spot for grizzlies and bighorn sheep. We didn't see any bighorn sheep, but we saw a grizzly bear and her cubs in the far distance.
The photo above was shot with a 300mm lens which was clearly not long enough. But it gives an idea of how far away the bears were. They were also very good at camouflaging themselves.
About halfway through the trail (2.6-miles), you will arrive at Ptarmigan Falls. Ptarmigan Falls is a beautiful waterfall, but it's hard to get a clear view of it, as there are trees and cliffs blocking the view. However, it's a great spot to take a break, eat a snack, and snap some photos before continuing on the trail. From there, you'll cross over a wooden bridge and hike through a forested area before the trail opens again to views of Ptarmigan Wall (Iceberg Lake sits at the bottom of Ptarmigan Wall).
REACHING THE LAKE
The last mile or so of the trail was covered in snow. It was a bit slippery at times but very doable in hiking sneakers. For some reason, the wooden footbridge that is usually laid across the river was removed, so we had to do a river cross. We walked over a wobbly log, but I saw other people take their shoes off and get in the water (it looked freezing 🥶).
As mentioned earlier, we did this hike at the end of June. If you hike it later in the summer, you might not have to deal with snow on the trail or a missing footbridge.
Eventually, we saw Iceberg Lake in the distance, which was very encouraging! When we arrived at the lake, we saw that it was partly covered in icebergs, which was pretty cool to see.
I did bring a bathing suit, but the water was waaaay too cold to even considered jumping in. I took my sneakers off and went in up to my ankles. It might have been the coldest lake I've ever dipped my feet in.
We ate lunch, soaked in the views, and took lots of photos before making our way back down the trail. On the way back, we got rained on for a bit and saw another bear!
GRINNELL GLACIER HIKE
I thought the Grinnell Glacier hike was not only the prettiest hike in all of Glacier National Park but perhaps one of the most stunning hikes that I've ever done!
I would have written a post on Grinnell Glacier, but unfortunately, I couldn't complete the hike due to excessive snow about two-thirds into the trail. There was also a big sign stating that hikers have died trying to traverse the snow, so I didn't want to take a chance without the proper gear (poles and crampons).
Regardless of not being able to complete the hike, it's still absolutely worth doing. The views we did reach were breathtaking.
The trailhead is located in Many Glacier just past the Many Glacier Hotel and comes up on Google Maps as "Grinnel Glacier Trailhead"
MANY GLACIER HOTEL
Many Glacier Hotel is a great spot to grab breakfast and coffee before you set off on your hike, or lunch when your return. It's the largest hotel in Glacier National Park and looks like something straight out of Switzerland.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
For current conditions in Glacier National Park click here.
I hope you enjoyed this post! Let me know what some of your favorite hikes in Glacier National Park are in the comments!
Please enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
Always practice the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace.