Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park packs more great hiking trails into a
relatively compact area than perhaps any other area of Montana. Unlike many hikes
requiring a long and sometimes uninteresting approach, hikers in this area are surrounded
by world-class scenery before they
even leave the trailhead. Also, most area trails start out with relatively flat canyon
bottom terrain with steeper areas in their upper reaches. This helps make them enjoyable
for anyone from kids to seniors, couch potatoes to fitness buffs.
Accommodations are available at the spectacular Many Glacier Hotel, which is one of
several large lodges in Glacier built by the Great Northern railroad in the parks
early days. Cabins are available for rent at the campstore, and a large campground offers
plenty of good campsites. For more details, see our camping page. Another issue hikers
need to be aware of is bears, also covered in our camping section article on this area.
First time visitors and inexperienced hikers should consider going on one of the guided
hikes led by a ranger-naturalist. These hikes lead to most of the area attractions.
Schedules and info are available at any of the area facilities.
A couple of superb trails begin at the northwest corner of the campstore parking lot.
The Iceberg Lake trail proceeds up the Wilbur creek valley under towering Mount Wilbur.
North of the trail, the relatively open slopes of Altyn Peak and Mount Henkel often
provide opportunities to observe bighorn sheep and mountain goats. After about three miles
the trail splits, with the
left-hand fork leading to Iceberg Lake. This beautiful lake lies in an alpine cirque
behind Mount Wilbur. A small glacier flows down Iceberg Peak into the lake, and chunks of
ice that break off give the lake its name. Total distance to the lake is about 4.5 miles,
with an elevation gain of 1200 feet. The trail dead-ends at the lake, and further travel
should only be undertaken by experienced climbers. Climbing in Glacier is more dangerous
than many alpine areas, due to the unstable nature of the rock. Those wishing to venture
off-trail should consult the book "A Climbers Guide To Glacier National
Park," available at the Visitor's Centers in the Park.
The right-hand fork of the Iceberg Lake trail leads to Ptarmigan Lake and the Ptarmigan
tunnel. This trail is more strenuous, particularly beyond the lake where it climbs the
Ptarmigan Wall, but it provides fantastic views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. The
tunnel itself is a man made hole bored through the Ptarmigan Wall that provides a shortcut
to the Belly River valley to the north. Those equipped for a multi-day trip can hike down
to Elizabeth Lake and either continue along the Belly River or loop back to the Many
Glacier valley via the Redgap Pass trail. These are relatively long and strenuous trips
and should not be attempted by the casual hiker.
The other trail that departs from this trailhead follows the Swiftcurrent valley south
of Mount Wilbur past a series of beautiful lakes. For a visitor who only has time for one
hike, this is the best choice. It combines easy terrain ( at
least in its lower reaches) with stunning scenery, wildlife viewing, and fishing
opportunities. After about a half mile Fishercap Lake is visible through the trees south
of the trail. Fishermen are better off to continue 1.5 miles to Redrock Lake. Above this
lake, the trail skirts Redrock Falls before continuing another two miles to Bullhead Lake.
To this point the trail climbs gradually, only gaining about 300 feet of elevation from
the trailhead. Shortly after Bullhead Lake, though, the trail begins a rapid ascent to the
continental divide at Swiftcurrent Pass, gaining another 2000 vertical feet.
Another great series of trails begins at the picnic area between the hotel and the
campground. This trail skirts Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes and continues to Grinnell
Glacier. This is a fairly large glacier and the best choice for those who wish to visit
one of the areas namesake glaciers. Distance to the glacier is six miles, with an
elevation gain of 1100 feet. At the risk of sounding redundant, hikers on this trail are
surrounded by world-class alpine scenery providing great photographic opportunities.
A favorite short hike ( about one mile) is to Apikuni Falls. This trailhead is on the
main access road into Many Glacier, shortly before the turnoff for the hotel. Those
interested in an off-trail scramble can continue above the falls into beautiful Natahki
basin. Legend has it the Blackfoot Indians used this basin as a "horse
hospital," a recuperation area for injured horses. A barricade above the falls would
contain the horses in the basin. Personally, I wonder about this. It seems to me a horse
with much of an injury would have trouble making it up to the basin, plus the Blackfeet
were plains dwellers who felt the mountains were inhabited by spirits and best avoided. It
makes a nice story, though.
Across the valley from Apikuni Falls the Canyon Creek valley lies between the steep
slopes of Allen and Wynn mountains. A trail beginning at the hotel leads up this valley to
Cracker Lake, which lies at the head of the valley nestled beneath towering Mount Siyeh.
This is a popular trip for those taking a guided horseback ride. In my opinion, horseback
is the best way to visit this valley. Several hikers in recent years have been mauled by
grizzlies in this area. A group of horseback riders is extremely unlikely to have bear
problems. Hikers need to be aware the entire Many Glacier area is prime bear country and
exercise precautions. For more bear info, see our camping page article on Many Glacier. In
my opinion, the rewards of visiting this spectacular country far outweigh the risk.
That about covers the trails in this area. There are a few others, but the ones
mentioned are the best choices. There are many off-trail alternatives, but the combination
of rough terrain and high grizzly concentrations make them risky at best and suicidal at
worst, recommendable only to experienced outdoorsmen (and women). I have a couple of them
on my agenda, though. I am planning on climbing Grinnell Point, the rocky spire across
Swiftcurrent Lake from the hotel. Also, while slightly outside the Many Glacier area,
climbing Chief Mountain is a goal. Reports on these will follow. Those with specific
questions should use our consulting service.
See you on the trail!