Our final stop on our epic Glacier National Park trip was Lake McDonald. Lake McDonald Lodge is 45 minutes from the Logan Pass Visitor Center and is a good take off point for the west side of the park or getting up to Logan Pass early in the morning. Rather than having towering mountains and glaciers like in the upper park, Lake McDonald has the eponymous lake and McDonald Creek, as well as other smaller lakes, waterfalls and cascades. Here is what you might see.
The best and most popular hike in this area is Avalanche Lake. Even though there is numerous parking nearby, the lots are almost always full and feel very crowded. After being up in the high country of Logan Pass, the Lake McDonald area feels closer to civilization (it is) and therefore, has more infrastructure and way more people. Again, if you get started pretty early in the morning, you can get on any hike you want to.
The trailhead to Avalanche Lake begins with a pleasant walk through the Trail of the Cedars. Though this might feel like an unnecessary prelude, there are some good compositions in here and it is shady and pretty. At the beginning of the Avalanche Lake trail is the Avalanche Gorge. This is a deep and steep gorge that is pretty, but hard to photograph. Try going in tight with a telephoto to capture a few cascades. Follow the 3 mile trail up to the lake which looks like a diamond in the rough, cut from the towering Bearhat Mountain (8,700 feet tall) and the Little Matterhorn (7,900 feet tall). You can stay at the east end of the lake like most people or walk another 45 minutes to the west end for a different look.
Our next favorite location was McDonald Falls. It’s just a few minutes from the lodge. There is a parking lot along the road with a view of the falls that is obscured by trees. I did find two openings that you could get some kind of composition. The best view of the falls is on the other side of the creek on the Upper McDonald Creek Trail which starts on North Lake McDonald Road. There was plenty of parking along the road, here.
Mary’s favorite hike was the John’s Lake Loop which is on the opposite side of the street from McDonald Creek and the lodge. It weaves through pine forest around John’s Lake and you can keep going and connect to the Upper McDonald Creek Trail for a longer hike.
Finally, we did have a couple of tries at photographing Lake McDonald. It was cold, smoky from near-by fires, and the sky was bald. There are many turn-outs along the road from Apgar to Lake McDonald Lodge. I think the better ones are closer to Apgar. We scouted all of them in the afternoon and picked out our favorite for sunrise. Remember, it’s pitch black dark in the morning so have a flashlight or headlamp and always carry your bear spray in Glacier.
There is more to do in Glacier, especially if you want to backpack in the backcountry or use one of the many chalets in the park. Mary hiked 74 miles in ten days and I hiked 180 miles in 18 days. You could see Glacier as a “park and point,” but you would not see that much of the park. We noticed that there were many campgrounds outside the park for people with trailers and fifth wheels, so you don’t necessarily need to stay in the park, but it does make getting around a lot more convenient.
I would highly recommend at least one trip to Glacier National Park in your lifetime. It was truly a bucket list item for us. If we go back again, I would want to go in the spring when it will be colder, there will still be snow in the mountains, and we will have more water run off. And, the glaciers are slowly, but surely disappearing due to climate change.
There are four main posts about Glacier on our blog: Two Medicine, Many Glacier, Going-to-the-Sun Road (east side), and Lake McDonald.