This 20-mile overnight trip starts from the Many Glacier area and leads through a beautiful part of Glacier National Park up to the Canadian border. The beginning of the hike is the most crowded area because many hike toward Iceberg Lake or the Ptarmigan Tunnel as a day hike.
The hike presents many views of the surrounding peaks and glaciers with various stream crossings and waterfalls along the way. After about 5 miles of hiking you’ll catch your first glimpse of Ptarmigan Lake, which means you are nearing the famous Ptarmigan Tunnel. A steep hike up the pass on the other side of the lake brings you to the 240-foot tunnel, and a brand new viewpoint awaits on the other side.
The Civilian Conservation Corp built the Ptarmigan Tunnel in the 1930s. Using jackhammers and dynamite, the workers broke through the mountainside in less than three months. Heavy iron doors were added in 1975. The tunnel is closed between October 1 and July depending on snow conditions, so make sure you check closures with National Park Service before embarking on the trail. There can also be closures due to bear activity during the regular season.
Hike through the tunnel and on to the other side, where you begin your descent toward Elizabeth Lake. Camping at Elizabeth Lake Foot Campground breaks up this trail distance perfectly. You need to obtain permits in advance, and this can be a hard campsite to get in the busy season as it is popular. The campsite itself has a cooking area, a pit toilet, and food storage, but make sure you are prepared to do hang your food as the lock boxes can fill up.
The next morning, wake up to catch sunrise over the lake before heading out. Ascend toward the Belly River Ranger Station, which is nestled in the middle of the park without road access. Continue through forest up toward the Canadian border where you will come out at Chief Mountain Customs. From here you can book a shuttle that will bring you back to your car at the trailhead. There are free shuttles during peak season, and paid shuttles can be reserved after Labor Day for a limited time.
This trail is bear territory, as is the entire park, so make sure you look into bear safety before embarking on this beautiful journey.