Iceberg Lake (MT)

Mount Wilbur and Iceberg Lake

Please note: Although this page is attached to the Iceberg Peak page, it does not represent a route to the summit. If you want to climb Iceberg Peak from Iceberg Lake, please refer to my Iceberg Notch page, to which this page is also attached.


If there is one must-do trail in Glacier National Park, it may be the one to Iceberg Lake. Long enough to feel like a true foray into Glacier's backcountry (as opposed to super-popular Hidden Lake Trail, which may be the park's most scenic but lacks a wilderness feel due to the boardwalks, crowds, and short distance), the trail features a little of everything that is great in Glacier, including views of peaks and glaciers, waterfalls, wildlife and wildflowers, and colorful rocks. And, of course, there is Iceberg Lake.

Named for the ice that floats in its waters well into August, Iceberg Lake is easily one of the prettiest alpine lakes in the park. But it's more than just the icebergs; the lake is in a stunning setting, guarded by sheer cliffs on three sides and in the shadow of Iceberg Peak and Mount Wilbur. From the lake, one has the option to climb to Iceberg Notch, a good destination itself or a launching point for other climbs and hikes; or to find his or her way to Shangri-La, an off-trail lake basin tucked on the northeast shoulder of Mount Wilbur.

The lake is not fed by a glacier, but it is fed by permanent snowfields that may once have been glaciers, and there is enough glacial activity there to produce the "flour" that gives the lake its remarkable blue color.

Another plus-- to some people-- about the trail is that no other trail in the park features more bear sightings. The trail passes through prime grizzly habitat, and it is common to see black or grizzly bears (and important to make noise and know how to behave around bears). Sometimes the trail can be closed because of bear activity.

Unless you start at or before dawn, you are not going to find solitude on this trail, not even on a rainy day, but it is still worth going. It can be busy and crowded, but it is nowhere near as bad as it is around Logan Pass and some of the short trails located along Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Iceberg Peak and Still-frozen Iceberg Lake
Lake still frozen in July
Iceberg Lake and Mt. Wilbur
View from Iceberg Peak

The Route

Mount Henkel
Mount Henkel
Swiftcurrent Glacier and Mount Grinnell
Mount Grinnell

Depending on which sign or guidebook you read, the trail is 4.5-5 miles long. It gains about 1100', most of which you do not feel. The only steep part is a short section at the beginning. The trail does not ascend past timberline, but most of it is along open slopes with outstanding views.

The trail begins near the cabins of Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and immediately climbs onto the slopes beneath Mount Henkel. These open hillsides are excellent grizzly habitat, so don't be surprised to see one foraging somewhere nearby or above you. For well over a mile, the trail stays in the open, and then it heads into the forest, though the trees are not too thick and obstructed views are numerous.

Nearly three miles along is Ptarmigan Falls and the junction with the trail to Ptarmigan Tunnel; make sure to stay left. Past here, the trail soon opens up again, and you walk the rest of the way with the spectacular Pinnacle Wall in your face. If you look carefully near the north end, you can see a "hole" high up there, and J. Gordon Edwards describes a Class 4 route to that hole in his book A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park.

Note-- You cannot camp at Iceberg Lake or anywhere else along the trail.

Mount Wilbur
Mount Wilbur

Why This?

Iceberg Lake is unique and spectacular enough that I felt it could belong here. Many guidebooks have descriptions for this trail, but now SP has a handy one, with plenty of pictures to whet your appetite.


Below is a gallery of photos of Iceberg Lake. Because of the side-by-side display, you may not be able to see each picture fully if your screen is not at least 15.4 inches, but you can view the pictures by clicking on them.

Mount Wilbur and Iceberg Lake
Walls of Iceberg Cirque

Can only be Iceberg Lake...
By saintgrizzly
Iceberg Lake sits in the...
By mrh
Down to Iceberg Lake
Iceberg Lake
Iceberg Lake-- Snow and Ice
Iceberg Lake Reflections
Iceberg Notch
Iceberg Lake
Icebergs and Reflections