Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana was established by the US Government in 1910 and is often referred to as the “crown jewel” of the national parks.
Glacier National Park is the site of many natural wonders, and some can only be seen from a distance. However, one of the beautiful features of the park is that you can hike to, and enjoy Avalanche Lake.
The alpine lake is surrounded by towering peaks and is fed by, among other sources, the Sperry Glacier, one of Glacier National Park’s remaining 26 glacier formations.
In addition to those few surviving glaciers, the US Park Services says there are 762 lakes and 563 streams within the park’s boundaries. There are 746 miles of hiking trails.
Two of those trails, the Trail of the Cedars and the Avalanche Lake trail, are the ones hiked to get to Avalanche Lake, at about 4.6 miles from the trailhead at Avalanche Campground.
The trail to Avalanche Lake is one of the first to open in the spring; because of its lower elevation than most of the rest of the park, snow has usually melted off of the Avalanche Lake trail by the end of May.
The Avalanche Lake hike is over a well-maintained trail, a distance of 4.6 miles. Trailhead Coordinates are at 48.680748, -113.819005.
[Note: Do not use Google Maps. Plot coordinates on USGS Topographical map or road map for accuracy.]
The overall elevation gain on the trail is approximately 600 feet. The hike can be accomplished in a half-day. It is considered an easy-moderate level hike.
Begin at the Trail of the Cedars trailhead. At the parking area at Avalanche Lake Campground, there is a map of the hike at the start of the trail. From there, you will proceed uphill and then follow Avalanche Creek. After about a half-mile, you will turn away from Avalanche Creek and traverse the forest for another half mile.
When emerging from the forested area, you will be able to see Mt Cannon and the Hidden Lake drainage in the distance.
In three-quarters of a mile, the trail meanders through a forest of mainly fir and other evergreen trees. Then you will begin to see the deciduous trees and bushes of the higher elevations as you approach Avalanche Lake.
Here, you will have a slight descent to the lake. From there, you will be standing on the shoreline of Avalanche Lake, with a view of the entire lake, as well as of the waterfalls from the Sperry Glacier.
Because the hike is within the boundaries of the Glacier National Park, it is a good idea to consult the park rules and regulations available on the Glacier National Park website.
- Size: 2 miles shoreline length; 106 acres.
- Depth: 63 feet
- Elevation: 3,905
To get to the Avalanche Lake area, driving, from the west, access to the Lake McDonald area, Park Headquarters, the Apgar Visitor Center, and Going-to-the-Sun Road is via Highway 2 east to the town of West Glacier, which is located approximately 33 miles from Kalispell.
From the east, there are three entrances, and all of them can be reached by taking Montana State Highway 89 north from Great Falls 1125 miles to the town of Browning. Follow signs from Browning to the St. Mary Entrance, the entry point for the Going-to-the-Sun-Road. That route reaches the St. Mary Visitor Center.
By air, Glacier Park International Airport (KFCA) is near the town of Kalispell. It is 30 miles west of the West Entrance to the park. Missoula International Airport (KMSO) is located 150 miles south of the West Entrance.
Great Falls International Airport (KGTF) is located 130 miles from the St. Mary entrance, with the Two Medicine and Many Glacier entrances about 15 miles further to the northwest.
For more information on air travel into the Glacier Park area, you can read more on it here.
You can also reach Glacier National Park by rail. The historic Amtrak Empire Builder train line operated on the old Great Northern railroad and stops year-round at the Belton, Montana station in West Glacier and at the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex. The train makes a stop at East Glacier Park in the summer season.
Also, in the summer, there is transportation provided by Glacier National Park Lodges via a shuttle that transports West Glacier Amtrak passengers.
The shuttle fee is $14 for adults and $7 for children for the route from the train depot at Apgar Village to the Lake McDonald Lodge. The cost is $6 for adults and $3 for children for shuttle transportation to the Village Inn. Reservations are required.
Other Hikes And Park Attractions
The Grinnell Glacier Trail is a popular spot for Glacier National Park visitors. It is located approximately 10 miles north by road from Avalanche Lake.
The Highline Trail. Another popular alpine hike is over this trail that covers 11 miles, with the trailhead located at Logan Pass. Be mindful of posted conditions and reports on the GNP website about trail conditions before starting out. This trail is for intermediate to expert hikers, not beginners.
Going-to-the-Sun Road. The 50-mile Going to the Sun Road connects the eastern and western boundaries of Glacier National Park and crosses the Continental Divide.
It is a stunning piece of engineering, winding past glaciers and ducking around waterfalls above high, hanging alpine meadows covered in wildflowers, and providing spectacular views.
The highest part of the road beyond Lake McDonald Lodge is closed during winter.
If you prefer to camp, there is a campground at the trailhead to Avalanche Lake. It is open from late May through early September. There are 87 campsites at the Avalanche Lake Campground, with fire pits, flush toilets, and potable water. There are a total of thirteen campgrounds throughout the park.
There are fish in Avalanche Lake, a species known as the West Slope Cutthroat trout. They’re not large—perhaps 7-9 inches. The growth of the cutthroat trout is limited by the low level of nutrients available in this relatively high alpine lake. The cutthroat can be caught on flies or lures.
Swimming is permitted in the lake, but a word to the wise: It’s an alpine lake in the northern Rocky Mountains. It is COLD!
Hotels And Motels
There are dozens of hotels, motels, and lodges at the west entrance to Glacier National Park and in Kalispell, Whitefish, and Polson, MT, to the west of Glacier National Park.