Most visitors to Glacier National Park are looking for great day hikes. In the Many Glacier area, it doesn’t get much better than a trip up to Iceberg Lake and/or Ptarmigan Tunnel. The trail that serves both hikes is often closed due to Grizzly Bear activity, so a planned alternative is recommended, but if you do hike it, you won’t regret it at all!
Iceberg Lake is so named because of the big floating chunks of ice that last well into the summer (some summers more than others depending upon weather). Its shear cliff walls shield those ice chunks from the sun and create a humbling cirque making for a dramatic and unique lake.
Ptarmigan Tunnel provides an amazing and very unique hiking experience. It was determined that a route connecting the Many Glacier Valley with the Belly River drainage should be put in place and so, in 1930, the 240′ long tunnel was jackhammered and dynamited out of the cliff. (iron doors were hung on each end in 1975 to keep snow out and are opened in Mid-July and closed again on October 1st) The Many Glacier side looks out over Ptarmigan Lake and into the peaks and valleys of Many Glacier with Mt. Wilbur standing prominently. The north side looking into the Belly River drainage shows off the stark red rock that makes the cliff that you traverse and Elizabeth Lake which the trail leads you to. Each step shows more and more of the ridge line that features the 10,004 ft Mt. Merritt and its glacier, Old Sun Glacier. The trees and shrubs are dwarfed due to the dry conditions and fierce wind until you finally get low enough and into the trees.
Elizabeth Lake is a gorgeous lake and has a very pleasant shoreline for lounging. Loons are frequently heard in the morning and an occasional moose is spotted.
You retrace your steps for about two miles until you come to the trail leading up to Redgap Pass. Once above the treeline, you begin to see more and more peaks. As you get close to the pass, you see a nice bowl that features the headwaters of Redgap Creek. Keep an eye out for Mountain Goats and, if you have it in you, scramble to the easy summit of Seward for a bonus view of the valleys.
Dropping into the Kennedy Creek drainage towards Poia Lake, you’ll get a brief look at the hanging lake called Kennedy Lake. You’ll gradually encounter subalpine fir, and then eventually get swallowed up by trees as you head into the valley bottom. The trail finds its way to Kennedy Creek and beautiful meadows appear. With these meadows, you get views up to the surrounding mountains and a great final approach to Poia Lake.
Poia Lake is another quaint lake nestled in a nice valley. Because of its orientation with the mountains, it gets a lot of afternoon sun. That coupled with a pleasant pebble beach makes for a refreshing dunk after a big sweat-inducing day.
The walk back out to Many Glacier isn’t very notable after the incredible previous two days save for a pretty creek, limestone caves and a smaller lake. You can take the Sherburne Cutoff trail. It is extremely steep, but does cut off a couple of miles and puts you right at the park entrance station. My advice is to head on down to the Apikuni Falls trailhead.
Apikuni Falls is another great little day hike. What the falls lack in power, they make up for in grace as they cascade in big drops. It’s about a mile to the falls and worth the effort.
A few other trails of note is that there is a horse trail that heads back from Apikuni Falls to the Many Glacier Bridge via Apikuni Flat. This trail does cross some small creeks and has no bridges, so you may opt to walk the road or hitch a ride. From the Many Glacier hotel entrance road, you can walk along the Swiftcurrent Lake Nature Trail and the footpath along the road to get back to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
The last section of note is the stretch of trail that most park visitors find is closed. It is known as the Altyn/Henkel stretch of trail (so named as it flanks the base of the two mountains) and is on the north side of the road and overlooks the foot of Swiftcurrent Lake (see last photo below). It is the old horse trail that used to be regularly traveled from Many Glacier hotel. It is a pleasant grade that intersects the Iceberg/Ptarmigan trail that originates from the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn area. (if you ever wondered why the Iceberg/Ptarmigan trail is such a bugger at the beginning, this is why) This area is closed because of the volume of bears that are attracted to the area for food in the fall. Getting ready for winter is a tough job and this is one section set aside for them. The only real reason you’d probably want to hike it is if you wanted to scratch off every mile of trail. It can be easily obtained at the beginning of the year before it’s closed or in October when it opens up again.
Many Glacier to Iceberg Lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel
Ptarmigan Tunnel to Elizabeth Lake
Elizabeth Lake to Poia Lake via Redgap Pass
Poia Lake to Swiftcurrent Inn
Sherburne Ranger Station cutoff trail