Glacier's North Circle Route (North East Section)

Swiftcurrent, Montana



9.7 miles

Route Type



Added by Adrien Patanè

An epic multi-day backpacking trip through some of the most majestic scenery in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Glacier National Park. From windswept passes to lush forested glacial valleys and serene reflective lakes, it's a true adventure and should be on anyone's top 10 list of places to visit.

Planning & Preparations

As amazing as this trek is, it's certainly not without its challenges, and the first one you will run into is obtaining a backcountry permit for camping.  As it absolutely should, backcountry camping is very regulated.  Essentially, you request permits and multiple date window options.  Permit information can be accessed here

As with many adventures in life you need to be able to accommodate changes in plans, and our original planned route was as follows

  • Many Glacier (Start)
  • Elizabeth Lake Campground
  • Mowokanis Campground
  • Stoney Indian Lake Campground
  • Flattop Campground
  • "The Loop" Going-to-the-sun road (End)

Upon arrival at the backcountry permit office in Apgar Village we found out the Stoney Indian Lake Campground was closed due to significant bear activity.  As such we then changed the latter part of our route ending at the Canadian border.

Closest accommodation to the trailhead is the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins or the Many Glacier Campground.


The Journey

This route begins at the Iceberg Lake Trailhead, which then forks at the Ptarmigan Trail and on toward the Ptarmigan Tunnel.

This section of the hike meanders up a stunning valley where you will encounter many day hikers heading toward Iceberg Lake or the Ptarmigan Tunnel.  The tunnel itself allows passage through to the other side of the Ptarmigan Wall.  The Northern side greets with sweeping vistas of glacial carved valleys, pristine lakes and dense forests - a stunning introduction to what lays beyond in the days to come.

Continuing on to Elizabeth lake is a solid choice to camp and forms an epic day's hike complete with significant elevation gain & loss.  Elizabeth Lake campground by the shore of this pretty lake is a pleasant locale to rest and prepare for the next days excursions.

Next we hiked to the stunning & remote Mowokanis Lake.  Whilst being part of the Circle loop it's also one of the hardest locales to secure a permit due to just two campsites.  However its also one of the most stunning, with staggeringly beautiful views by the lake. The late evening was spent eating dinner whilst spotting mountain goats on seemingly sheer cliff faces of the rugged & beautiful mountains.  If there is one campground you don't want to miss, it's this one

Our route then returned via Cosley Lake, a pristine & beautiful campground on the shore of this epic lake. Mornings here are sublime with near perfect reflections of the majestic mountains in the crystal clear lake.  The night skies in Glacier National Park are spectacularly free of light pollution, if the weather holds up, your almost guaranteed a stunning display of the Milky Way, so make sure to peek out of your tent in the late evening hours.

The final segment of our version of this wonderful hike then followed much of the Belly River, passing the Gable Creek Campground.  This section of the park is more open with sweeping vistas over the valley flanked by the ridges formed by Gable & Kaina Mountains. Foliage here is particularly colorful in the fall also.


As mentioned be prepared to be able to change plans, the entire park is stunningly beautiful so if you don't get to do your precise planned route you're still going to be blown away by the scenery.  There are a number of different variations of this hike depending on where you want to start & finish as well as what campgrounds are open, so research & be flexible.

Bears are a significant consideration, use all precautions & always ask fellow hikers about sightings.  Whilst we didn't run into any, plenty of people we ran into had.  We also saw overnight paw prints near our camp and lots of fresh bear scat along the trail.

All camps have food poles to allow you to string up your food cache, be diligent ensure you tie your food on these for your safety & others.

Weather in the park is highly variable, good clothing & a quality tent is a necessity, I've never heard wind roaring down the valleys like it does here.

Final Thoughts

It's absolutely amazing hiking in Glacier's backcountry surrounded by epic beauty, the diversity of landscapes & rugged beauty truly is legendary, & very aptly named the Crown of the Continent.

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


Iceberg Lake

Ptarmigan Tunnel

Ptarmigan Falls

Ptarmigan Lake Trail

Swiftcurrent Lookout

Redrock Falls