By Michael Lanza

The morning sun wouldn’t make the climb over Mount Grinnell and find its way into the valley of Swiftcurrent Creek for a couple of hours yet, so we hiked quickly without breaking a sweat in the chilly air. No one else was on the popular Swiftcurrent Pass Trail when we set out shortly after dawn, and this trail was new to us; so it felt like we were the first people to walk into this small but spectacular little crease in the mountains of Glacier National Park.

There was a good reason for our early start: We had a big day ahead of us, one of the finest long days of hiking one can do in this flagship national park—a judgment I make based on numerous visits dayhiking and backpacking much of Glacier over the past three decades, including 10 years I spent as the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog.

At the head of the valley, we zigzagged up through switchbacks beneath ribbon-like waterfalls free-falling hundreds of feet down cliffs, looking back down the valley at lakes flanked by the upright meat cleavers of Mts. Wilbur and Grinnell. Beyond Swiftcurrent Pass, we descended across alpine slopes strewn with wildflowers, with a sweeping view of mountains rolling to distant horizons.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A backpacker on the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Jerry Hapgood hiking the Iceberg Lake/Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park. Click photo to learn how I can help you plan this trip.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gla4-36-Ptarmigan-Tunnel-Trail-Glacier-NP-copy.jpg?fit=300%2C193&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gla4-36-Ptarmigan-Tunnel-Trail-Glacier-NP-copy.jpg?fit=900%2C578&ssl=1″ width=”900″ height=”578″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gla4-36-Ptarmigan-Tunnel-Trail-Glacier-NP-copy.jpg?resize=900%2C578&ssl=1″ alt=”A backpacker on the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park.” class=”wp-image-17730″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gla4-36-Ptarmigan-Tunnel-Trail-Glacier-NP-copy.jpg?resize=1024%2C658&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gla4-36-Ptarmigan-Tunnel-Trail-Glacier-NP-copy.jpg?resize=300%2C193&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gla4-36-Ptarmigan-Tunnel-Trail-Glacier-NP-copy.jpg?resize=768%2C493&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gla4-36-Ptarmigan-Tunnel-Trail-Glacier-NP-copy.jpg?resize=1080%2C694&ssl=1 1080w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gla4-36-Ptarmigan-Tunnel-Trail-Glacier-NP-copy.jpg?resize=200%2C129&ssl=1 200w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gla4-36-Ptarmigan-Tunnel-Trail-Glacier-NP-copy.jpg?resize=670%2C430&ssl=1 670w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gla4-36-Ptarmigan-Tunnel-Trail-Glacier-NP-copy.jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Jerry Hapgood hiking the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park. Click photo to
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