Ptarmigan Tunnel Hiking Guide

ptramigan tunnel

About Ptramigan Tunnel Trail

  • Trail Highlights – Glittering alpine lakes, towering peaks, lush meadows and plenty of wildlife, including moose
  • Roundtrip Length – 10.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain — 2,300 feet
  • Peak Elevation – 7,255 feet
  • Parking Lot — Yes
  • Difficulty — Strenuous
  • Region – Many Glacier
  • Availability of Water — Yes

Although strenuous, this is one of the most popular hikes in Glacier Park, with spectacular vistas and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.

Plus, you get to walk through the 240 foot Ptarmigan Tunnel, which is pretty impressive, especially when you reach the north end and it opens up into a spectacular view of Elizabeth Lake and the surrounding area, which includes the Belly River Valley, Mount Merritt, Mount Seward, Gable Mountain and the Alberta Plains.

The tunnel was dynamite blasted through the massive rock wall in 1931 and connects the Many Glacier portion of the park with the Belly River area. Steel doors were installed in 1975 and are closed from October 1 until the trail opens in the middle of July.

To get to the Ptarmigan Tunnel trailhead, park behind the Swiftcurrent Inn. If there aren’t any spots, there’s street parking in front of the inn.

To reach the trail, begin at the Iceberg Lake trailhead and turn right after 2.5 miles at the marker to get to the Ptarmigan Tunnel trail. Don’t miss this turn or you’ll end up at the Many Glacier Hotel.

This portion of the trail is where it begins to climb, and it doesn’t stop until you reach the tunnel, although the first .25 miles is the hardest, because it gains almost 200 feet in elevation over this stretch. After that, the trail switchbacks up the mountain, steadily gaining in elevation.

Grizzly bears frequent this area, particularly the portion right after you get off the connector trail onto the Ptarmigan Tunnel trail.

Take caution by making a lot of noise as you hike and be sure to carry bear spray. It’s also a good idea to hike this area in large groups to scare off grizzlies (learn more about safety while hiking in grizzly bear habitat).

Remember that bears don’t really want to come into contact with humans and will usually move away if they hear you coming.

Note that I said usually, not always, which is why you carry the bear spray. The bottom line is that getting up close and personal with a grizzly is extremely hazardous to your health (but watching them from a distance is one of the most marvelous events you can ever experience).

Views of Elizabeth Lake from the Trail

As you head up the trail, you’ll have spectacular views of Mt. Grinnell and Swiftcurrent Mountain looking off to the southwest. You’ll also see Mount Wilbur off to the west and the massive face of the Ptarmigan Wall to the northwest. You’ll pass through a dense patch of forest at about 1.5 miles from the start of the Ptarmigan Trail.

After about 2.5 miles, you’ll get a great view of Ptarmigan Falls. This is the only view of the falls you’ll get on this hike, so stop and take it in.

After that you’ll come to a bridge over Ptarmigan Creek and about a .1 mile later you’ll be at the Iceberg Lake Trail junction.

Turn right here to stay on the Ptarmigan Tunnel trail. The number of hikers on this section of the trail thins out, because most will have turned off toward Iceberg Lake.

This next stretch of trail is fairly steep, gaining over 400 feet in the next .6 miles.

You’ll be passing through a dense patch of huckleberries, which are a grizzly favorite, so proceed with caution. After a brief stretch, you’ll get a spectacular view of the

Ptarmigan Wall rising up at 1700 feet. You’ll also pass through several cascading waterfalls and grazing bighorn sheep as you approach Ptarmigan Lake. This is my favorite part of the hike. The Ptarmigan Wall is one of Glacier National Park’s most spectacular sights, so soak it up!

This is the last section of the trail, which switchbacks steeply up for about .7 miles to the tunnel, gaining roughly 500 feet in elevation. This final trek can look intimidating from the bottom, but don’t despair, it’s well worth it once you get to the tunnel and experience the spectacular views from both sides!

Once you reach the north end of the tunnel, hike a bit further down the trail and you’ll be rewarded with a glorious view of Old Sun Glacier glistening on Mount Merritt towards the west.

ptargmigan tunnel profile

Ptargmigan Tunnel Elevation Profile

Additional Ptargmigan Tunnel Photos

Additional Glacier National Park Hiking Info

Check out other Glacier National Park hiking trails, or head back to the hikes in the Many Glacier area.

Return home to
Glacier National Park Travel Guide

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