Hiking the Iceberg Lake Trail - Many Glacier Area - Glacier National Park - Montana
On our last day in Glacier National Park this year, we took on the 10-mile round-trip Iceberg Lake Trail. It's a beautiful hike with an intriguing reward at the end - a lake filled with icebergs in July. And it probably isn't the prettiest part of the hike. Some of the views were just breathtaking.
We were up at 6:00, out the door at 7:00, having breakfast at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in Many Glacier at 8:00, and on the trail by 9:00. We managed to just get in front of the Ranger-guided hike (about 20 people) to Iceberg Lake.
The sign at the trailhead said 4.9 miles to Iceberg Lake. Add the walk from the parking lot to the trailhead and we were looking at a 10-mile roundtrip. But other than the length, the hike was relatively easy, and it is another very poplular trail.
The trail gains 1,200 feet in elevation, but the steepest part is right at the beginning. After the first half mile, the trail ascends gradually enough that you really don't notice any uphill strain.
The trail proceeds through prime bear habitat, and we kept scanning the hillsides and forests, but we saw no bears. The trail was exposed for awhile ....
providing great mountain vistas, ....
and then it would go through a shaded section. It repeated that pattern a couple more times.
Though we searched for wildlife, all we saw was this bird that I thought was a Ptarmigan (since we were on the Ptarmigan Trail), but it turned out to be a Spruce Grouse.
We followed it for about a quarter-mile before it finally left the trail.
At about the half-way point, there was a seemingly random sign pointing to a pit toilet up the hill. I suppose they have that bonus feature due to the guided hikes.
Just past that, we came to Ptarmigan Falls. The falls are pretty, but there is limited visibility, and you can't get a full-length photo without some dangerous scrambling.
We took a little break on the rocks at the top of the falls along the stream.
Though this is a popular trail, and it wasn't exactly early, there were just a few people out there with us at that time.
After crossing the foot bridge in the above photo, maybe a tenth of a mile past Ptarmigan Falls is a trail junction. The sign said to continue straight to Iceberg Lake which was 2.1 miles farther.
Shortly thereafter, we exited a wooded part of the trail and got a good look at the cirque where Iceberg Lake exists and where our hike terminates.
A cirque is a bowl-shaped hollow at the upper end of a mountain valley generally caused by glacial erosion.
As an aside, when Glacier National Park was established, there were 150 glaciers in the park. Now there are only 25. To meet the definition of a glacier, according to a ranger, it has to be moving ice. Typically, the movement is caused by a combination of gravity and the stress of the ice under its own weight. Once it stops moving, it's no longer a glacier, but rather a snowfield or icefield.
The trail turned toward the cirque. Along the way, there was a huge pile of bear scat, so our scanning of the area intensified for a little while. Still no bears.
As we got closer, there were two lovely waterfalls down below providing a light "thunder" as the background music for the remainder of the hike.
To our right was a high wall known as an arête - a thin ridge created by glaciers on either side thus separating two cirques or glacial valleys.
While I thought the trail would take the direct route along the wall, it veered off to the left crossing a stream ....
before going through a colorful meadow past a small, pretty lake .....
and then uphill before making one final turn providing a dramatic look down at Iceberg Lake.
Here's some video.
While there is no glacier here anymore, the lake is surrounded by snowfields, and the large, compacted "bergs" fall into the lake as the summer temperatures heat up. However, because the lake only gets a few hours of sun each day, the "bergs" don't melt all the way and remain in the lake throughout the summer.
The trail dumped us out in a rocky area on the lakeshore where everyone seems to gather. Though there is plenty of room to spread out with a little effort, the crowd seems to concentrate in one small area. By the way, there is another pit toilet at the lake.
We plopped our backpacks down, and I took some pictures .....
while Linda shot some video.
We had a nice, blue background behind the gray mountains.
Linda had her resting spot claimed, so I did my usual wandering around looking for better pictures and different angles.
We quickly learned that it is apparently a goal of some to take a little swim in the icy lake and to climb up on an iceberg.
This young fella looked like he may have regretted that decision as he was in a bit of a hurry to get out.
There were a few more that took the full plunge, but many wanna-be swimmers turned into reluctant waders once they stepped in.
I walked around to an area where there were no people and climbed up for a higher view of the lake.
Here's a shot along the shoreline where everyone gathered.
I continued on around where the ice was thicker.
The water was crystal clear and wasn't moving at all. There were slight ripples where melting snow was flowing into the lake, but other than that the water was dead still. I wanted to move our stuff over to this quieter side of the lake, ....
but I think Linda was content to people watch where she was.
I re-joined her and we had some lunch. There were a couple of Mountain Goats way up on the wall to our right - a couple of white specks moving along the grayish brown background.
After lunch, I wandered some more going in the opposite direction. Again, it didn't take much effort before I was in an area where there were no other people.
I crossed the outlet stream ...
and made my way to the top of the berg-less lake we passed on our way in.
I enjoyed my alone time there ....
for awhile before returning to Linda. Up until then we had about an hour of peacefulness, but now the crowd was growing. I found Linda acting as instigator trying to get others to go for a swim or encouraging them to climb on icebergs. She got this young lady to build a tiny snowman on her claimed hunk of ice.
When the guided tour arrived, it was more than I could take. Everyone was closing in on our little area and walking in front of us even though we were inches from the water. The noise level increased, and we lost the quiet effect of enjoying the scenery.
So we moved and found a little secluded, shaded area away from all the people. We leaned on our backpacks and enjoyed a bit of solitude for another hour.
After two to two and a half hours admiring Iceberg Lake, we headed out for the return trip.
We walked back through the wildflower meadow and past the smaller, aquamarine lake.
We stopped briefly to take a look at a barely visible Moose lying in the brush next to a small pond.
Then we continued back down into the Many Glacier Valley.
About half way back, I needed a break from carrying the backpack and Linda's feet were starting to bother her. Also, the flies were starting to swarm. It was a short break, and we were on our way again.
Back on the final stretch and the steepest downhill part of the trail, we stopped to watch this ground squirrel bend over a flower and munch it like corn-on-the-cob.
Linda had just enough energy to get some live action video.
Back at the Jeep, Linda was done. I think I pushed her to her hiking limit over this last week.
We got some ice cream and rested before making the drive back to the campground.
Ah, but on the way out, we saw what was clearly a "bear jam". Sure enough, up on the hill where bears are often spotted, a Grizzly sow sauntered along feeding.
You could see her with the naked eye although she was just a tiny brown dot in the center of the photo above. But we got some really good looks with the binoculars, and I could zoom in just enough with the camera to tell that it was a bear, and a Grizzly at that.
That was a nice finish to our last full day here at Glacier National Park. We've had a great time, and Glacier is certainly now one of our favorite national parks.
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