Hiking Johns Lake Loop, Glacier National Park, Montana
Johns Lake Loop is a fun, easy hike that is great to do with kids in Glacier National Park in Montana. This 1.8 mile loop takes you past the stunning Johns Lake, Sacred Dancing Cascade Falls, along McDonald Creek, and past McDonald Falls while taking you through a spacious forest.
You will start this hike at the Johns Lake Trailhead, which you will reach by traveling east (toward Logan Pass) just over a mile past the turn to Lake McDonald Lodge along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. You will see the sign for Johns Lake on your right, and there is a pull out for parking that holds about 8 vehicles.
You start this hike by hiking away from the Going-to-the-Sun Road toward Johns Lake. Just up from the parking area you will reach a fork in the trail. There will not be a sign immediately in front of your face, but stay left and there is a sign just a few feet up the trail pointing you to keep going to the left toward Johns Lake.
Just up the trail you will reach a second fork in the trail. Just before the fork you will see a sign to your right for the horse’s trail. Don’t take that right. Turn right at the fork just past the horse trail. There will be a sign at this junction pointing you toward Johns Lake.
The hike from this point to the lake (and beyond to the Going-to-the-Sun Road) is simply beautiful. The old cedars and hemlocks will keep your jaw to the ground as you enjoy this easy, and fairly flat trail. You will pass a small, still pond on your left that is not the lake, so keep going.
You will find Johns Lake to your left: a still, muddy lake filled with lily pads with a beautiful reflection of Mount Stanton and Mount Vaught. There is quite a bit of mud around the lake, and you can’t swim here, but I do think that it is a great place to enjoy lunch and relax. That reflection is enough to capture anyone’s heart!
Just beyond the lake you will stay left to stay on the Johns Lake trail instead of going right to the Avalanche Lake trail. Continue on and head down the hill back to the Going-to-the-Sun Road where you will cross the road. Just to your right you will see the parking area for the Sacred Dancing Cascade Falls. Walk to the parking area and follow the paved path down to your left to the footbridge that crosses McDonald Creek.
This is a great photo opportunity, and another great place for lunch. You will cross over the footbridge and stay to the left at the junction over the bridge. The trail will continue the rest of the way along McDonald Creek.
You will reach a small log bench and another fork in the road, and you will stay left to stay on the loop.
You eventually pass McDonald Falls, an incredibly powerful and beautiful waterfall that the trail allows you to get right next to. Be careful at this spot, the rocks are slippery, the water is cold, and people have sadly fallen in the creek before.
Continue along the trail until you reach McDonald Road, where you will immediately take a left to stay on the path that goes right along the road and cross the bridge. The bridge allows views of Lake McDonald and McDonald Falls. There is one small spot along the river to get down closer to the river if you wanted to picnic here, but there is not that much access at this spot.
Cross over the bridge and cross over McDonald Road, where the trail continues along the right side of the road. (Avoid the gated gravel road.) Follow the small path a short ways back to the Johns Lake Trailhead.
The woods on this hike feel enchanted, with large trees and mossy rocks in an open forest. I love this hike for children, because not only is it short and easy (with only a 200-foot elevation gain), I think there is enough along the way to hold a child’s attention. Instead of hiking to get to one destination, this loop takes you past several sights that kids will enjoy.
As always, I recommend getting there early to get parking. If I had to say a time to be parked by, it would probably be by 9:30 am. If the parking area at Johns Lake is full, I have seen a lot of people park just past there along McDonald Road to the left, but I don’t know if this is legal or not. You can also continue up the road and park to your left at the Sacred Dancing Cascade Falls (which you hike by if you start at the Johns Lake Trailhead), and start the loop from there. You will know the Cascade Falls stop because you will see the large footbridge that crosses McDonald Creek.
The Johns Lake Loop Trail is a scenic, easy hike for the entire family!
Warm Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Alex M. Neill
Montana Vacation Blog