Day hike to Avalanche Lake (and Trail of the Cedars) in Glacier National Park
Avalanche Lake is a “moderate” hike and is a great spot with easy access, therefore, it is my number one recommended hike in Glacier National Park. (For those of you looking for more difficult hikes, please check my other blog posts!)
The Avalanche Lake hike is by far the most popular hike in Glacier National Park (in my opinion, anyway!). I think that this is because of the moderate hiking conditions, and the beautiful lake at the end! You will stand in awe of the cascading waterfalls streaming down into the lake at the end of the trail….well worth every step!!
I cannot recommend enough that you arrive early to do this hike. Parking in the afternoon is ridiculous. There is not enough parking. (To be fair, there is not a lot of room for G.N.P. to put parking.) People begin to park along the road (which is not allowed, by the way). And the trail gets overly crowded. You will have a lot of people greeting you as you walk if you don’t get there early. And if you do get there early, you will be greeting them on the way back down.
You can also catch the Glacier National Park Red Bus and getting dropped off here. A great idea!!
The hike begins with the Trail of the Cedars. I remember my first trip to the Trail of the Cedars being in second grade as a field trip. (I may have visited before then, but cannot recall.) This is a paved walk with some board walk that travels through a cedar forest. Some of the trees you can see are over 80 feet tall. Not only does it smell amazing, but it is beautiful! You will find a lot of information provided by Glacier National Park as you walk along on the plaques overlooking different trees and areas. The most animals I have ever seen along this boardwalk is squirrels, but that is probably because this area gets crowded. There are of course chances to see many more animals than this (bears, deer, owls, etc.), depending on the time of day and what time of year you visit.
The hike then veers off and heads by Avalanche Gorge, a beautiful place to stop, breathe in the fresh air, and snap a few photos. The waterfall itself is only 15 feet tall. The beautiful moss-covered rocks remind me of Lord of the Rings. Be careful here! The rocks are very slippery. People have died falling into the creek and gorge. Please, please be careful along this part of the walk. Again, this is best visited early in the day, before the crowds, so that you are free to snap as many photos as you like. It is a lot more difficult as the day goes on and there are many other people wanting to snap a photo at the same time as you.
The hike then continues toward Avalanche Lake, and the trail follows the creek for some time. The total hike is just over 2 miles one way, so just over 4 miles roundtrip. It goes up and down, so both ways you will be going up and down small hills as you climb in elevation. The total elevation gain is 730 feet.
The reward at the end is a lake with beautiful waterfalls falling from large mountains surrounding the lake. It truly is picturesque, and is a sight to not be missed. Once you get to the lake, you can follow side trails out to a small beach area with logs to sit on, or you can continue walking around the lake on the trail. The trail eventually does end however, because Avalanche Lake is at the bottom of this basin surrounded by cliffs, so there is no way out except to turn around. A lot of people say they can see mountain goats from the beach up to the left in the cliffs, but I have never seen one there, and I think you would need binoculars to see any.
I would plan on the hike and time relaxing by the lake to take a few hours, of course dependent on how long you want to spend by the lake. It is hard to leave once you get up there.
I have read on a lot of sites that you need hiking boots for these hikes, but tennis shoes are just fine. I have personally done this hike many times in flip-flops (although I would not recommend this….the trail can get muddy/snowy at certain times of the year).
Glacier National Park has a feature called “eHikes,” where viewers can go and click-through a series of photographs from a hike with lots of information provided. This is helpful in knowing what you will see on your hike, and if a certain hike is something you want to do! Click here: Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake eHike.
Avalanche Lake also has a campground, which is a convenient place to stay while traveling through the park, because it is at the base of the Going to the Sun Road. Glacier’s shuttle system will pick up at this campground, so you can hop on for a ride up to the top of Logan Pass. There are many tent and RV sites available (87 sites), but only 50 sites accommodate vehicles up to 26 feet. There are NO showers! There are toilets and sinks with running water available. (Cold water only, of course!) You CANNOT book ahead– all sites at Avalanche Campground are on a first-come first-serve basis, and Avalanche is so popular, I would try to plan early! (Fees are $20.00 per night.) For more information, click here: Avalanche Campground.
I have not fished this lake, but check out this blog for information: Bigskyfishing
GETTING HERE: continue driving around Lake McDonald, headed toward Going to the Sun Road (and Logan Pass) for about 5 1/2 miles, until you reach Avalanche Lake Parking Lot. You cannot miss the signs for the parking lot/ camping area. There is parking right off the main road.
Warmest Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Alex M. Neill
Montana Vacation Blog
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