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Ptarmigan Falls, Glacier County

Ptarmigan Falls, named for the creek by the same name from which it flows, is a cascading falls located within Glacier National Park, in Montana.

The creek is named for the northern grouse (bird) species, ptarmigans, a decorative-looking bird with feathered legs and beautiful plumage that typically changes from darker colors to white in the wintertime, thanks to its native Arctic habitat.

Ptarmigan Falls, Glacier County – Guide

Ptarmigan Falls may be seen from either hiking along Ptarmigan Trail or Iceberg Lake Trail. The trails run into each other north of the falls, so you may join Ptarmigan Trail from the north and hit Iceberg Lake for the journey south as they merge.

Ptarmigan Falls Stats

ptarmigan falls stats

Ptarmigan Falls is a beautiful waterfall of 30+ feet with multiple cascades, falling along its course from Ptarmigan Creek. The waterfall is a backcountry fall that may only be reached via hiking.

  • Location: Many Glacier Region, Glacier National Park, Glacier County, Montana
  • Latitude: 48.82141
  • Longitude: -113.71161
  • Stream: Ptarmigan Creek
  • Elevation: 5709 feet
  • Height: Multiple cascades, one at least 30 feet
  • Season: Spring to autumn
  • Campgrounds and RV parks nearby: 20+ campgrounds located within the park or nearby, with hundreds of sites available

Recreational Activities Near Ptarmigan Falls

There’s plenty to do while visiting Glacier National Park, both on your way to Ptarmigan Falls and when you’re elsewhere within or nearby. From hiking and biking to whitewater rafting and swimming, it’ll be impossible to be bored.

Swimming

Many folks want to know, can you swim in Ptarmigan Falls? You really shouldn’t. Swimming in waterfalls can be a dangerous activity, thanks to the rushing undercurrent that can sweep you under and take you away.

It’s better to choose a quieter, calmer body of water, like one of the many lakes in the park. Some popular swimming locales in Glacier NP include St. Mary Lake, Lake Josephine, Bowman Lake, or Lake McDonald.

For those who love a remote, polar swim, one-the-way backcountry lakes like Lake Grinnell are a great choice. Just beware! When we say polar, we mean it! Many of the lakes in the park are created by glacier melt or mountain runoff, meaning the waters truly are frigid.

Boating

boating

A popular recreation choice in Glacier NP is boating, thanks to the over 300 various bodies of water within the park boundaries.

Many of the rivers are perfect for canoeing or kayaking and many of the lakes welcome both human-powered and motorized boats. Take note of which lakes welcome motorboats, though if you decide to haul one in.

If you don’t have your own boat to bring, there are many companies and outfitters nearby who rent out boats and offer tours.

White Water Rafting

A different way to see Glacier via boat is whitewater rafting. Many of the rivers are perfect for the exciting activity, no matter what your skill level.

If you’re familiar with the sport and have your own gear, you can find many access points for rivers throughout the park. For those without, you will find many offerings of trips and rides from local outfitters.

Be sure to choose the right trip package, though, by comparing the many choices and prices that could fit your budget and plans.

Some tours last an hour, some several hours, and some may even go for a few days, complete with camping, wine tastings, meals, or other fun add-ons.

Find great tours through:

Birdwatching and Wildlife Viewing

birdwatching

Glacier National Park is home to many wild animals and bird species. While you’re out on the trails, hanging out near lakes, or just lounging on the campsite, you could see any number of creatures enjoying their natural habitat. Some of the critters you might spot could include

  • Elk
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Beavers
  • Bald eagles
  • Wolverines
  • Mountain lions
  • Ospreys
  • Marmots
  • Pikas
  • Common loons
  • Mountain goats
  • Clark’s nutcrackers
  • Harlequin ducks
  • Moose
  • Northern hawk owls
  • Black bears
  • Swifts
  • Coyotes
  • Ptarmigans
  • Bats
  • Lynx
  • American dippers
  • Grizzly bears

Scenic Drives

scenic drives

Taking a slow drive through the park could be another great choice for “things to do” in Glacier. You’ll find many incredible vistas open up around some of the roadsides. There are waterfalls, rivers, picnic areas, incredible meadows with stunning wildflowers, and so much more out on the roads around the park.

But if you don’t feel like driving, you could book a seat on a Red Bus tour and let someone else take the wheel. Just make sure you book early, as these famous tours fill up fast.

Photography

Thanks to the many interesting species of life, the vast and incredible beauty of the parks, and the unique trails you’ll find throughout Glacier, photography is an extremely popular activity here.

Find a hushed trail and go looking for moose, or park yourself by a waterfall and snap some shots of the sparkling, rushing waters.

Wherever you turn, you’re sure to find something spectacular to photograph – just remember extra batteries and memory cards to keep the photos coming.

Fishing

You may go fishing in many locations throughout the park. There are some rivers, streams, and lakes that are off limits, and others that don’t have much in the way of fish life due to the icy environs or other factors, but you could hire a guide to find some great spots for fly fishing, trout fishing, or even salmon fishing.

Both Glacier Guides and Get Your Guide can help you find a great guide, or you can opt to check out one of the following locations on your own.

Cycling

cycling
Image: NPS Climate Change Response

The MTB Project has put together a great list of mountain biking and off-road biking opportunities throughout Glacier National Park.

Many of the trails are also occupied by hikers or runners, but many you’ll find quiet and unsullied. You could also book a lift-access-only ride via Whitefish Mountain Resort for a unique experience.

Trail Running

Trail running is a popular activity in the park. Many of the trails are a perfect spot for exploring the great outdoors with a pair of runners, but you might want to check out Great Runs and All Trails to determine which ones will be best suited to your interests and skill level.

Horseback Riding

Swan Mountain Outfitters, Rich Ranch, Big Sky Safaris, Dunrovin Ranch, and Adventure Missoula all offer amazing trail ride options throughout Glacier National Park and nearby National Forests.

The many outfitters offer a variety of trail ride lengths, ranging from one hour to several days on a single trip. Each company has its own unique packages, so be sure to compare the add-ons, distances, and timelines for the best fit for your time at Glacier.

Camping

camping
Image: Steve Cyr

Many folks opt to camp out while in Glacier, to experience that sensation of oneness with nature. With the many hundreds of campsites and potential campsites in the backcountry, you can certainly experience all the wonders of living “rough” for a night or several.

Many of the campsites are designed for RVs and tents with vehicles, while others are backcountry, meaning they must be hiked to. Some of the backcountry sites have campfire rings and picnic tables, but none have running water, bathrooms, or electricity.

Be sure to prepare for whatever kind of camping you plan on, with plenty of supplies including drinking water, food, and toilet paper.

Hotels and Cabin Rentals

If camping feels a little too much like work, you have plenty of rental cabins, motels, and hotels to choose from instead. In the park, Many Glacier Hotel is a popular option, but it does book up fast, so be sure to plan ahead!

Outside the park, you’ll find hotels, motels, and cabins as well, including

Museums and Educational Programs

Whether you love ranger-led presentations or want to take in history museums of the region, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to learn all about Glacier’s natural wonders, the peoples who lived here in early settlement days, and First Nations peoples who lived here long before European immigrants moved in.

Explore the history of the park by visiting any of the three visitors’ centers or hit up the Apgar Nature Center, which is open from mid-June to late August. Or head outside the park to visit some of the fine museums nearby.

Trail Routes

trail routes ptarmigan falls

You may reach Ptarmigan Falls from either the northern end of the trail or the southern end of the trail. The northern end has access from the Continental Divide Scenic Trail (CDT), while the southern end has access from Many Glacier Road or the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail.

Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail

Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail runs from a junction point at the Continental Divide Scenic Trail (CDT), passing Ptarmigan Lake and southwestward, connecting with Iceberg Lake Trail not too terribly far from Ptarmigan Falls.

After visiting the falls, you may backtrack a bit to hit up the Iceberg Lake Trail and hike out to the lake, which promises to be an incredibly beautiful sight!

Or you may continue southward of Ptarmigan Falls until you connect with Swiftcurrent Pass near Many Glacier Road. The trail is deemed challenging and isn’t particularly suitable for young children.

No pets are allowed on the trail. The southern end of the trail begins behind the cabins near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.

While much of the trail is out in the open, a portion of the trail is through a tunnel in the mountains. When you arrive at the tunnel’s south entrance, you’ll have incredible views of Ptarmigan Lake and the glacially sculpted valley between Ptarmigan Wall and Crowfeet Mountain.

  • Distance: 10.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,375 feet
  • Difficulty level: Challenging
  • Trail type: Out and back

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