The Iceberg Lake trail is often said to be to the most beautiful in Montana’s Glacier National Park. A 4.5-mile trail (or 9-mile round trip) that takes you through open terrain and forests and provides you with one of the best opportunities you may ever get to see grizzly bears.
With a vertical elevation of 1,200 feet, this isn’t a strenuous hike (bar a rather steep bit at the beginning and very end), making it suitable for most fitness levels as well as children and easily doable in a day.
This, along with the fantastic scenery, probably explains why it’s so popular with experienced and novice hikers alike.
The park itself sits on the border of the United States and Canada, takes in parts of two mountain ranges and covers over 1 million acres. It has 130 named lakes and is home to over 1,000 different types of plants and 100 animal species.
Described as the ‘Crown of the Continent Ecosystem’ it is a beautiful place to visit and experience nature in the wild.
An Overview of the Iceberg Lake Trail
The Iceberg Lake Trail starts in Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier Valley. It’s 4.5 miles long (a 9 mile round trip) with an elevation of 1,200 feet. The trail climbs gradually, so it’s suitable for hikers of all ages including children.
It takes you through open terrain and forests, offering great views and a chance to see all kinds of wildlife (beyond the grizzlies we’ve already mentioned) including moose, the odd mountain goat and bighorn sheep.
The trail ends at Iceberg Lake itself which sits in the shadow of Mount Wilbur. As the name suggests, the area around the lake can be quite cold (there is almost guaranteed to be snow on the ground if you arrive early in the season).
Because of this, you won’t find any fish in the lake, but you could spot what some describe as icebergs floating on the surface, often as late as August, which is quite a sight to see.
Exact Location of the Iceberg Lake Trail
To get to the Iceberg Lake Trail, you can enter the park through the Piegan/Carway Port of Entry, which you’ll find on US Highway 89 North of Babb or the Roosville Port of Entry which is on US Highway 93 North of Eureka, Montana. You’ll need to pay a fee to enter the park and if you plan on camping while you’re there.
The Best Time to Visit the Iceberg Lake Trail
Glacier National Park and the Iceberg Lake Trail are open all year long. Cross country skiers, for example, often visit during the winter when there is guaranteed to be snow on the ground, and those who prefer a more peaceful experience (because the trail can get busy) might want to visit in the fall or early spring.
Hikers, however, will get the best out of their experience – and see more of the natural wonders on offer – if they visit between June and September. It’s worth remembering to check what facilities are open if you go out of season as many close down in the fall and don’t reopen again until the Spring.
What terrain can you expect at the Iceberg Lake Trail
Hikers on the Iceberg Lake Trail don’t need to worry about challenging terrain (the kind you might find on the Walker’s Haute Route for example). Here the terrain is relatively flat, gradually reaching 1,200 feet in elevation.
There is a pretty steep section you’ll need to look out for at the beginning of the trail that runs for about 0.1 miles at a 250’ angle and another at the end when you walk up to the lake. Other than that, the hike is described by the National Park Service as easy to moderate, meaning those who aren’t up to strenuous walks and even children will be fine on this trail.
A Typical Hike Through the Iceberg Lake Trail
You reach the Iceberg Lake Trail through the Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier Valley. Which is found on the East side of the park just North of St. Mary. This part of the park is known for its high winds, which can reach 40 miles per hour. But don’t be put off – they will gradually lessen and then stop altogether as you move along the trail.
The trail itself is at the end of Many Glacier Road, and you can’t miss it because it’s the only road in this bit of the park. Follow the road until you reach the trail itself, which starts with the steep climb we’ve already mentioned.
Thankfully, while this isn’t the easiest to navigate, it isn’t very long, and it’s the only significant climb in the whole walk.
Most of your hike from here on in is through open terrain, though you will pass through areas of the forest too. The great thing about this is the opportunities it provides to take in the view, which is spectacular. Rising directly in front of you at this point is Mount Wilbur. To the West, you’ll see the Ptarmigan Wall as well as Mount Henkel and the Atlyn Peak.
After just over a mile, you’ll enter the forest and then cross the Ptarmigan Creek. (By a bridge, you don’t need to wade through any water, don’t worry), which is fed by Ptarmigan Lake. This is the halfway point in your walk to Iceberg Lake. And you’ll often find fellow hikers stopping and taking a break, filling their canteens with water, before moving on along the trail.
Where to after crossing the creek
Once you’ve crossed the creek you have a decision to make – carry on to Iceberg Lake or head to Ptarmigan Lake instead? The latter is a much steeper trail, though those who want to avoid at least part of it can take the 250 feet Ptarmigan Tunnel which cuts directly through the mountains.
Assuming you don’t change your plans, you’ll continue along the Iceberg Lake Trail, which gradually starts to slowly, but steadily, climb higher towards the lake itself. Through scattered forests that, now and then, open up to reveal the views this trail is known for.
After about half a mile, you’ll come to the Ptarmigan Wall. Which – rising to 3,000 feet above you – is guaranteed to make you feel somewhat small. With two miles still to go, this is an excellent time to take a breath and take in your surroundings; the East, you’ll see the path that brought you here. And the entire Many Glacier area including Mount Wilbur (which is never far from view) and Iceberg Peak.
From here, the forests disappear, and you are walking through open terrain all the way to the lake. Which you reach by climbing a slightly steep ascent then taking a short walk down to the shore, which you’ll find shrouded in shadows from the surrounding cliff tops. Make this hike in winter, and you’ll find the lake covered in ice.
Other hikes near the Iceberg Lake Trail
One of the best things about Mount Glacier National Park is the number of trails. There are plenty of day hikes to be found in Many Glacier alone, including:
- Apikuni Falls: an easy, if somewhat steep, 2-mile round-trip to see the 150 feet high Apikuni Waterfall.
- Cracker Lake: a strenuous 12-mile round trip. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but which rewards you with turquoise waters at the end that are simply stunning.
- Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint: another strenuous walk that offers fantastic views of the Grinnell Glacier. The trail is a 10.5 miles round trip unless you take boat from the Many Glacier Hotel, which will cut a couple of miles of the journey.
- Grinnell Lake: you can take a boat from the Many Glacier Hotel to Grinnell Lake as well. Turning a 7 miles roundtrip into a 2 mile one. Like Cracker Lake, Grinnell offers impressive views and stunning turquoise waters.
- Piegan Pass: this is an either a 9 or 17 miles roundtrip. Depending on whether you leave from the Piegan Pass Trailhead (9 miles) or the Many Glacier Hotel (17 miles). It’s a strenuous walk that offers views of the park’s largest Glacier (Blackfoot).
- Poia Lake: a small lake nestled in a forest, it’s a 13 miles round trip to get there, but those who make the hike say it’s well worth it.
More information on all walks to be found at Many Glaciers and the Glacier National Park is available on the park’s website.
How Much Would a Visit to the Iceberg Lake Trail Cost?
One of the best things about hiking is that, once you’ve bought your gear, there aren’t many costs involved. You’ll need to pay to get there and to get into the park. Entrance fees are higher in the summer and lower in the winter (1 November to 30 April). Visitors can enter the park for free on national holidays.
|Single (per person)||$20.00||$15.00|
|7 Day Car (all passengers)||$35.00||$25.00|
You can buy passes at the entrance to the park (there is an honor system is Park Rangers aren’t around). Seven day or Annual passes can be purchased online. If you plan on camping, you’ll also need to pay for this too.
Where to stay on the Iceberg Lake Trail
There are four campgrounds in Glacier National Park. All of which you’ll need to book in advance in the summer if you hope to find a spot. They’re incredibly popular. The nearest to the Iceberg Lake Trail is the Many Glacier Campground, which is $23 a night. There is space for 41 tents at the site as well as 13 RV campers. Some sites come with generators/electric hook-ups, but not all (you’ll need to confirm this on your booking). The site does have restrooms, including flush toilets and sinks with running water. It offers a range of evening ranger-led evening activities.
- Fish Creek Campground to the North West of the park has more spaces available. (178) and also costs $23 a night.
- Apgar Group Site is to the South of the park. It’s the smallest site in terms of spaces. There are only ten spaces – but the largest in terms of how many it can accommodate as each site is for up to 24 people. Prices start at $65 per night.
- St Marys Campground is to the East of the park. It has 145 spaces and costs anywhere from $8 to $65 per night.
Those who want to camp and don’t need access to toilets and running water can also choose to primitive camp. There’s a fee of $10.00 a night for this, but it’s only available in the shoulder season.
People who aren’t keen on camping (or who can’t find a spot) could try the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn located just outside the park, the Glacier National Park Lodges, which is ideal if you are visiting trails to the East of the park, or the Many Glacier Hotel, one of the oldest in the area.
The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn offers a shuttle to/from the park entrance, though there is a fee attached. The Many Glacier Hotel sits on the shore of the Swiftcurrent River. You can set out from here for day hikes and take a boat across the lake to cut the distance off a few of those walks. (There is a fee for this). Plus, on the days you aren’t hiking, you can take advantage of boat tours and horse riding. This is available on-site. As with the campgrounds, if you’re planning on visiting in the summer, a reservation for any accommodation is highly recommended.
What to Take on a Visit to the Iceberg Lake Trail
While the Glacier National Park has Visitors Centers that will stock some of what you need for a day hiking. It is much better to go with everything you need if you are walking the Iceberg Lake Trail, even if it is one of the easiest in the park. You never know, after all, what the weather will decide to do or whether you’ll come across unexpected obstacles. With this in mind, make sure you pack:
A good raincoat
One that will keep you protected from the winds that will be gusting as you start the trail. As well as from any rain showers. Choose one that is lightweight and easy to carry. (Ideally one that can be folded down into a bag or hooked onto your backpack). As well as waterproof so you will stay warm and dry, even in a downpour. Remember, it can be cold by the lake even in the middle of summer, so you’ll need enough room for you to add layers.
Layers are a must.
Take a fleece or warm jumper with you. Choosing one that isn’t too bulky to carry because, while it can be chilly around the lake if the sun is shining the rest of the hike might be quite warm. Consider wearing convertible hiking trousers for the same reason; this way, you can go from pants to shorts and back again depending on the weather.
Sturdy hiking boots
Because, while this isn’t a strenuous walk, it’s not a stroll in the park either and sneakers just won’t cut it. Look for ones with a good tread because you’ll be walking on uneven surfaces. Plenty of support and – ideally – ones that are waterproof too (still planning for that unexpected downpour!).
A canteen, water bottle, or hydration system
That carries at least three quarts of water. While the Iceberg Lake Trail isn’t that long, you’ll still to take drinking water with you. If you have a hydration system in your backpack, that would be ideal. Remember, you can fill it up halfway along the trail at Ptarmigan Creek.
To carry all your supplies. As you’re only out for the day, this doesn’t need to be a heavy duty one. (A sling bag might be a good option here) but it does need to carry your essentials such as snacks, lunch, sunglasses, sunscreen and bear spray.
OK, this might not be essential, but you’ll regret not being able to take pictures of the scenery once you’re on the trail. Especially if you come across the bear, moose and mountain goats that call the park home.
If you’re camping, you’ll need camping gear too. Though as the Iceberg Lake Trail is only a day hike, you thankfully won’t need to carry it with you. Instead, you can leave your pack back at the campsite ready for you to relax.
Maybe listen to a story or two from the park rangers when you get back after a day amongst the Glaciers. You couldn’t ask for better than that, could you?