Hit the trail and discover the unique mountain engineering feat of Ptarmigan Tunnel

Story & photography by Greg Lindstrom
Walking through the 250-foot long Ptarmigan Tunnel is like being transported to another world. Cutting through a sheer mountain wall, each side of the tunnel offers a view into uniquely different terrain. Talus slopes and sculpted peaks dominate the Many Glacier valley on the south end, while red-stained mountains loom above the lush Belly River valley and Elizabeth Lake to the north. About a half-mile north of the tunnel, Old Sun Glacier can be seen high on the slopes of Mount Merritt.

The engineering of the tunnel and retaining walls on the north end is as impressive as the surrounding landscape. As a way to navigate the steep mountain pass on horseback, the Civilian Conservation Corps blasted through the mountain to build the trail in the 1930s. The heavy steel doors were added later, and they generally remain closed between Oct. 1 and mid-July.

On the way to the tunnel, enjoy the cool reprieve of Ptarmigan Falls and Ptarmigan Lake.

Getting There The trail to Ptarmigan Tunnel begins at the Iceberg Lake Trailhead near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn at Many Glacier. The trail gains 2,300 feet on the 5.3-mile route to the tunnel.