We are slowly but surely checking off our ’20 Must Do Hikes in 2016′ this year and are in the midst of planning what is shaping up to be an exciting year on the trail. Plans for this September include putting on some major mileage in Glacier National Park.
Glacier boasts more than 700 miles of hiking trails, including some of the best wildlife and scenery in the United States. The Avalanche Lake Trail, one of the more popular in the park, has something for everyone. Novice hikers and families will enjoy the shorter distance, only 2.3 miles to the lake. More experienced hikers will appreciate the diversity in conditions, starting the hike in a forest of ancient cedars followed by a moderate climb to the lake and then a solitary picnic along the western shore.
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Planning your Visit to The Avalanche Lake Trail
The trailhead for Avalanche Lake can be found on the Going to the Sun Road approximately 5.5 miles east of the Lake McDonald Lodge. Park on either side of the road at the Avalanche Lake picnic area (or see info below about taking the shuttle).
Begin your hike on the self-guided, handicap accessible Trail of the Cedars. The boardwalk winds gently through the dense cedar forest with signs and information about Glacier’s giant trees. In approximately 1/2 mile, cross the footbridge over Avalanche Creek. Don’t forget to take a photo of the iconic gorge as you cross, one of the more well-photographed sites in the park.
The Avalanche Lake Trail heads left for the most strenuous portion of the trail. With nearly 700 feet of elevation gain in short 1.1-1.5 mile distance, plan to take the portion slow with frequent stops to admire Avalanche Creek as it rushes down the slope beside you.
Avalanche Lake will appear at mile marker 2.3, although at this point many hikers are caught looking upward towards the Bearhat Mountain and ‘the Little Matterhorn,’ both formed by ancient glaciers. Join other hikers for a lakeside picnic, or if you prefer a little more seclusion continue along the western shoreline of the lake.
The trip back down to the trailhead follows the same trail back. Be cautious of your speed as you descend to be mindful of the slower hikers still climbing the steeper sections up to the lake.
- The Going to the Sun Road shuttle system operates July 1st through Labor Day with stops at the Avalanche Lake trailhead. Given this is one of the busiest areas of the park, if you are planning to hike mid-day (not recommended!), it is best to use the shuttle rather than navigating the congested parking area.
- Chipmunks, birds and other small animals flock to the shores of Avalanche Lake because less-careful visitors have left behind food and garbage for scavenging. Beware of your backpack as these animals can be quite aggressive now. And as always, never feed wildlife.
- Plan to complete the entire Trail of Cedars boardwalk at the end of your trip, the flat ground and cool, shady forest will feel the best after your descent.
- Ranger-led hikes leave from the Avalanche Lake Trailhead daily during the summer months. We recommend it if you have time during your visit and want expert information about the unique geology and natural forces that shaped Glacier’s landscape.
- For the best photos and a less-crowded trail, we recommend leaving early in the morning so the sunshine is over the mountains or in the later afternoon when the sun falls behind you.
- All of Glacier National Park is bear country. Pack bear spray, hike in a group, and pay attention. Bears have been sighted on the Avalanche Lake Trail, including during the busier travel season.