The Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park is full of great hikes, and the Iceberg Lake Trail is definitely one of the best. The reward doesn’t come easy, though. At just under 10 miles (round trip), you’ll have to work to get there. However, for those that are willing to take on the trip, they’ll enjoy breathtaking scenery along the entire route, a waterfall, several river crossings and an emerald-green, glacier-fed lake, complete with icebergs!
Hiking 10 miles is not something that our family typically does, and as you can imagine, our kids are not usually overly excited to head out on a hike this long. However, this turned out to be one of our favorite hikes of the park!
ICEBERG LAKE TRAIL DETAILS
- Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
- Distance: 9.6 miles (round-trip)
- Trail: Out-and-back
- Elevation gain: 1,702 feet
- Peak elevation reached: 6,171 feet
- Best time of year to hike: Summer to fall
- To beat the crowds: Arrive before 9:00 am or after 3:00 pm
- Footwear: Hiking boots
- Watch out for: Mosquitoes, bears, sun exposure
- Restrooms: Located at the trailhead and on the trail
- Pets: Not allowed
- Time needed: 4-5 hours
With over 16 pages of information, our Glacier National Park itinerary covers everything you need to know to get started with your planning, including Glacier National Park maps, hiking information, where to stay and information on camping in the park.
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE ICEBERG LAKE TRAIL
Iceberg Lake Trail parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service
The Iceberg-Ptarmigan Trailhead is in the Many Glacier area of the park. To access Many Glacier, head north from St. Mary, MT on Highway 89 to Babb and then follow signs west to Many Glacier. After arriving in Many Glacier, continue past the Many Glacier Hotel toward the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. If you are camping, the Many Glacier Campground is a great option to consider in this area.
- Directions from Mary, MT to the Iceberg Lake Trail (this will take about 40 minutes without traffic).
- Directions from Logan Pass to the Iceberg Lake Trail (this will take about 70 minutes, provided you drive straight there and don’t stop at any sights along the way!).
There are two options for parking. The main parking area for the trail is northwest of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. This parking area is small (only about 15 spots) so an alternative is to park in the lot for the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. This parking lot requires a short 3-minute walk to the trailhead and there are many spots available (with a high amount of turnover, so just drive around for a few minutes if you can’t find a spot).
This hike is popular, but the length tends to keep crowds away. We arrived early in the morning (around 7:00 am), which made the trail fairly quiet on the way out. On the way back to the parking area, there were plenty of people making their way onto the trail.
Clean restrooms (with running water) are located in the small visitor center in the front of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. There are also pit toilets (heavily used) on the trail near the junction with the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail and at the end of the hike near Iceberg Lake. Since the trail takes about 5 hours to complete, you’ll want to make sure you stop here first!
ICEBERG LAKE TRAIL: TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY
- Trail surface. The trail is packed dirt for the majority of the trail. If you are here before the snow melts off, you’ll likely have some short snow fields to cross through. Yes, even in mid-July, you can expect a bit of snow.
- Accessibility. The trail is not wheelchair accessible. While not challenging at any given point, the length of the trail definitely means that you need to be in good shape and able to walk for long distances.
PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE ICEBERG LAKE TRAIL
It’s likely that you will be on this hike for at least four hours, so you want to make sure you come well prepared. Here are a few things that we thought were must-haves:
- Sunblock. The trail is exposed for at least half of the hike, so you’ll want to make sure you wear sunblock. We have to use sunblock that is good for sensitive skin, and the one that we found that we like that doesn’t break the bank is No-Ad SPF 45.
- Bring Bear Spray. Bears are all around in Glacier National Park, and it’s not rare for trails to be shut down in the middle of summer due to activity. To hike without bear spray is like playing Russian roulette, and we highly advise picking up some ahead of your visit to the park or at a ranger station while you are in the park. The one that we carried with us (and didn’t use) is the Counter Assault Pepper Spray.
- ...and Bug Spray! The bugs on this trail were not awful, but parts of the park are known for having pretty intense mosquitoes that are ready to greet you around every corner. Our favorite bug spray is Squito Ban from Yaya (as it is all natural), but if you prefer something with Deet, then this option from Repel is great.
- Water. Carrying water on these long hikes is a must, and we recommend the Platypus pack.
THE HIKE TO ICEBERG LAKE
The trail starts in a forest and then heads immediately uphill. In fact, the trail climbs 1,500 feet for the first 3.6 miles before it flattens out for the last mile. The trail never feels really steep. After the first 0.3 miles of the hike (which has the steepest climbing), you are in for a gradual uphill the rest of the way. Don’t be afraid-the initial climb is relatively easy and ends quickly.
Once you settle into the hike, you’ll find yourself hiking along the south side of Mount Henkel. For the duration of the hike, you’ll have wonderful views of Mount Wilbur to the southwest and Iceberg Peak (which is right behind your final destination) to the west.
Along the trail there are nine water crossings. The river crossings are either very small (barely getting the soles of your feet wet) or have a small footbridge to make it easy. During the early part of the summer, snowmelt can still be an issue, so we do recommend checking in with the rangers at the Many Glacier Hotel or at the Many Glacier information station near the Swiftcurrent Lodge.
While hiking, the trail alternates between being in a forest and in open brush. The mix is nice, and the forest provides some much-appreciated shade. On a hot day, which is common on the summer, taking a break in the shade is a great way to help recover from the sun.
The one downside of being in the trees is that it is a bit more difficult to see any wildlife (like bears) that can be roaming the area. Be sure to keep the noise level up, either by talking or wearing bear bells to help warn bears that you are coming. Bears don’t like to be around people, and if they hear you coming they will generally move away.
Take some time to stop and appreciate the wildflowers. In July, they were in bloom and quite beautiful!
After approximately 2.7 miles, you’ll come up on 30-foot Ptarmigan Falls. Ptarmigan Falls is beautiful, but a bit underwhelming if you decide to stop here and make this your final destination. We recommend taking a break in the shade, taking some pictures and resting up a bit in the cool shade before continuing the last 2.1 miles.
A few hundred feet past Ptarmigan Falls, the trail comes to a split. The Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail forks to the right for hikers wanting to go to Ptarmigan Tunnel. To get to Iceberg Lake, stay to the left. If you have to make a quick pit stop, there is a pit toilet here as well.
This part of the trail flattens out after the first mile (at this point, you have one mile to go!).
Depending on the time of year, you should be prepared for some snow crossings along the way, particularly as you get closer to Iceberg Lake. We hiked in the middle of July and while the snow was almost gone we still had to be careful to avoid slipping.
Be prepared to be amazed-as you approach Iceberg Lake you’ll catch your first glimpse of this well-hidden oasis!
Iceberg Lake sits at the bottom of Iceberg Peak, towering over 3000 feet above the lake. The lake gets its name from the icebergs that are present year-round, which fall from above. The lake has an amazing blue-green color, and if you look closely you can see the icebergs moving ever-so-slowly if the wind is blowing.
Iceberg Lake is fed from the snow melt above, but runs off into Iceberg Creek. Iceberg Creek is the main water crossing that you have right before you reach Iceberg Lake. Iceberg Creek follows downhill of the Iceberg Lake Trail, before combining with the runoff from Ptarmigan Falls and combining into Wilber Creek.
If you wait long enough, you may be lucky enough to experience a small rockslide, which booms and echoes like you wouldn’t believe! This happened right as we arrived at the lake and it was incredible.
Take your time at the lake and enjoy the view. Stick your feet in the water if you dare! The water is near freezing, even close to the shoreline.
If you must, there is a pit toilet at the lake, marked by signs just west of the trail.
THE RETURN TRIP
The hike back is easy, aside from the length. The views are beautiful the entire way, and it will take about 20 minutes less than on the way out due to the downhill slope. Even though our kids were tired, they managed to do really well and not complain at all on the way back!
ICEBERG LAKE TRAIL: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES
- “Easy” Uphill Climbing. Though the trail is long with plenty of elevation gain, it is never really that steep or challenging.
- Broad, Sweeping Views. The views here are incredible on any hike in the park, but we loved the panoramic views on this trail that keep your eyes busy the entire way.
- Unique Destination. In the end you get to see a blue lake full of icebergs. Yeah-it’s outstanding.
- Bear Hiding Spots. When walking on the forested part of the trail, we definitely were on edge a bit trying to keep our eyes out for bears. We never saw any, but we were a bit worried!
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE ICEBERG LAKE TRAIL
The Many Glacier area really is full of things to do. In fact, you could easily spend a few days here and not get bored. Some other ideas include:
- Take the 13.5-mile (round trip) Cracker Lake Trail. Climbing over 2,000 feet, this trail ends with a spectacular lake.
- The Grinnell Glacier Trail is known as one of the best hikes in the park. There are views the entire way, but it ends with a view of the glacier.
- The Many Glacier Hotel is a Swiss themed hotel that is worth stopping in. You can refuel here or get a few souvenirs. The lobby is worth checking out by itself.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON GLACIER NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Glacier National Park is packed full of great places to explore and they are covered in detail in our 16+ page itinerary for Glacier National Park.
- For an overview of the park and why you need to book a trip now, see our blog on 10 Reasons Why You’ll Love Glacier National Park. It is full of great information that we’re confident you’ll find very useful. We also have an extensive blog on campgrounds in Glacier National Park.
- Another great hike in Glacier National Park is the Avalanche Lake Trail, just west of Logan Pass. We also loved the family-friendly, Trail of the Cedars hike and the impressive Hidden Lake Trail.
- Check out our list of What to Pack for your trip to Glacier National Park for your pre-trip planning. And if you need an airport to fly into, then check out our blog on the Best Airports Near Glacier National Park.
- Glacier National Park had such an impact on our son that he felt compelled to write up his own post on the park. You can read it at Ask Andrew: Glacier National Park.
- The Iceberg Lake Trail is one of many hikes that has made it to our list of the Best Family-Friendly Hikes in U.S. National Parks. Check out our blog post to see the others that made it to the list!
- After you return from your trip, be sure to send us an image so we can create a custom, vintage style travel poster using your photo!
OTHER USEFUL LINKS ON GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
- The wildflowers in Glacier National Park can be amazing if you go at the right time of year. To learn about the flowers you might see on a nearby trail, check out Charlie’s blog on the Ptarmigan Falls Trail.
- If you want an overview of a few hikes in the park, check out the blog from Ultimate Country Guides: 3 Ultimate Hikes in Glacier National Park.
- For a detailed topographical profile of the hike as well as some great photos and video, check out this blog: Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park.
- The Many Glacier Area is one of the must-do spots in the park, and you should check out information from the from the National Park Service on the Many Glacier.
- The National Park Service also has an overview of hiking in Many Glacier.
- Hikingglacier.com covered another great hike that you should also consider while you are in the area, and that is the hike to Grinnell Glacier.