Many Glacier to Elizabeth Lake FT
Total Mileage- 10.10 miles
Total Elevation Gain- 2480 feet
Total Elevation Loss- 2518 feet
We packed up early at Many Glacier as we had over ten miles and significant elevation in front of us. Day 3 would have us traveling Ptarmigan Trail over 2400 feet up to Ptarmigan Tunnel, which is a very cool spot, and then descending down to Elizabeth Lake.
Leaving Many Glacier we saw Ranger led tourist groups who would be traveling the same trail up to Ptarmigan Tunnel. Ptarmigan Tunnel is the last location along the remainder of the North Circle Route where we would encounter day hikers and tourists.
The morning began a bit overcast and we were confident that we would eventually run into some rain at some point. Needless to say that we had our pack covers and rain jackets readily accessible. Ptarmigan Trail is heavily used and well-maintained. Our ankles and knees appreciated the fine, dusty dirt trails. In the days to come the trails would not be so well-maintained… primarily because they do not get as much traffic and there is significant plant growth over the trails… but more on that in another post. For now, we are enjoying the gradual ascent up to the tunnel.
Once Ptarmigan Lake comes into view the tunnel does not seem to be very far away, but it is still a couple of miles and several mountainside switchbacks away. The switchbacks offer a beautiful southern facing view of Ptarmigan Lake and Mount Wilbur in the distance. Make sure you stop along the switchbacks to take it all in… it’s spectacular.
Ptarmigan Tunnel is passed the half-way point from Many Glacier to Elizabeth Lake. Passing through the tunnel has a real sense of accomplishment and, at least to me, signified the break between day hiking and backcountry backpacking. We stopped for a significant lunch break and took the opportunity for some pics and for some fun. You will notice the cloud cover hovering just above our heads. As we descended Ptarmigan Trail the clouds began to break… opening the skies for some much needed sunshine.
At this point the trail was composed of a fine, brick-like rock which was, again, easy to hike. As we started down this portion of the trail we could see Elizabeth Lake coming into view. I remember stopping and saying, “This spot may be the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life.” I would subsequently say the same thing later that evening at Elizabeth Lake and then again at Fifty Mountain on Day 7. Pictures are so inadequate.
The Elizabeth Lake FT campsites are located on the north side of the lake, which is closest to the trail. If you are staying at the campsites labeled as Elizabeth Lake… they are at the south end of the lake, which adds an additional mile to your hike as you can only arrive there by first passing Elizabeth Lake FT and then hiking southward around the lake.
At this point I should note a couple of things. You are now legitimately in the backcountry. Please take ALL precaution with your food. Immediately store your food in the metal bins in the eating area and DO NOT leave your food unattended even for a split second. A few hundred yards from our camp (but only 50 feet from us) we saw a very large grizzly. Fortunately we had been making enough noise that he wasn’t alarmed and he subsequently moved along. The animals WILL come into your camping areas to take your food. Early the next morning as we were packing up a Ranger approached us and asked for our permit and also asked where our food was located. We told him that we had already put it in our packs so we could leave. Six out of seven of us had our packs with us so this wasn’t a problem. Unfortunately one guy in our group had packed his food but left his backpack unattended by our tents. The Ranger reprimanded him for his carelessness and told him/us that we could very easily write a citation for the offense.
He spent thirty minutes with us telling us stories as to why it is essential that we always keep our food with us or stored away. The most notable reason is that once a bear eats food in the camping vicinity, the park has to close down that area for over two weeks so that the bear will no longer connect that area with food. For the sake of the bears and for the sake of future backcountry campers, take all necessary precautions with your food.
I hope that you enjoy Elizabeth Lake as much as we did.
In the next post I will be detailing our hike from Elizabeth Lake FT to Mokowanis Junction.