Hike to Ptarmigan Tunnel

Details

Distance

10.7 miles

Elevation Gain

2249 ft

Route Type

Out-and-Back

Added by Chema Domenech

Hike along Ptarmigan Creek’s cascades and waterfalls to cross the Ptarmigan Tunnel. This adventures rewards you with spectacular views of Many Glacier’s jagged peaks and a chance to see the Old Sun Glacier, likely to disappear in the next five years due to climate change.

This amazing 11 mile hike with 2,300 feet of vertial gain begins behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn cabins. If you start early enough you can park by the trailhead, but if you get a little later start you may need to park in the main lot of the Motor Inn.

As you begin your hike, you will pass the Iceberg Lake trailhead and immediately turn right to catch the connecting trail to the Ptarmigan Trail. This is a steep part of the trail and a difficult start, but it gets easier after that. When you reach the next junction make sure you take a left to stay on the Ptarmigan Trail, otherwise you will end up back the hotel.

This first section of the trail is wide open and offers amazing views of the Many Glacier peaks. To the southwest you will see Mt. Grinnell (8,851 feet) and the Swiftcurrent peaks (8,436 feet). However, your attention will likely be focused on Mt. Wilbur (9,321 feet) towards the west.

After hiking for a couple miles you will head into denser forest. About 2.5 miles into the trail you will reach Ptarmigan Falls. This has become a favorite spot for a snack and the squirrels are not shy. Please don’t feed the wildlife. But, for you it is a great spot to take a rest and refuel. The sound of the falling water and the smell of the trees is amazing and relaxing. Not a bad place to take a nap either!

This next part is important! After you cross the bridge over the falls, the trail splits. Keep right to stay on the tunnel trail. Most people stay left towards Iceberg Lake. You will begin a stretch that passes through a thick patch of huckleberry bushes. Bears love these, so make sure to make a lot of noise and have your bear spray handy.

About 4.5 miles into your hike you will reach Ptarmigan Lake. Just below the lake there are a series of cascades and waterfalls that are part of Ptarmigan Creek. From here you can spot the last part of your hike on the Ptarmigan Wall. Keep your eyes open here, mountain goats and bighorn sheep are often spotter here. This last part of the trail rises about 500 feet in about a half-mile. It may look daunting but the views awaiting you on both sides are spectacular. Go for it!

You’ve made it! The valley below you was carved out by a glacier over millions of years. That is pretty amazing! In the distance Mt. Wilbur dominates the landscape. Now cross to the other side and enter a whole different landscape.

From there you can see the Belly River flowing into Elizabeth Lake. If you walk a little further down the trail, you will see the Old Sun Glacier on Mt. Merritt towards the west. If you have your binoculars with you, take them out and checkout the wicked waterfall coming from the glacier.

Take a moment here to really enjoy the Old Sun Glacier. Scientists estimate that all the glaciers in the park will disappear by 2020.

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Chillin
Photography
Hiking
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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Reviews

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Glaciers Are Still There

Cool trail, but don't believe this clown's warning about the glacier being gone and that all the glaciers will be gone by 2020. They're all still there. Grow up.

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5.0/5

Leave No Trace

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

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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