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McDonald Falls, Flathead County

McDonald Falls is a roadside waterfall within Flathead County portion of Glacier National Park. The waterfall is situated on the western side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road and may be viewed from a narrow area after a short walk down some stairs descending from the road.

Some visitors have said the view from the parking area and road near the stairs provide a better view than the viewing ledge, due to vegetation obstructing the view. This may be the case, but seasonally would vary, with ideally early spring and late fall providing the best sight lines.

McDonald Falls, Flathead County

The waterfall is popular among visitors partially because of the easy access to the falls that doesn’t require a hike – meaning even those with small children or mobility issues may view the falls easily.

mcdonald falls stats

McDonald Falls Stats

McDonald Falls is a beautiful waterfall that may be seen from the road in Glacier National Park. It is one of the few waterfalls that requires no hiking to be seen by visitors, so do prepare for it being crowded during peak hours.

  • Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Flathead County, Montana
  • Latitude: 48.63949
  • Longitude: -113.86444
  • Elevation: 3210 feet
  • Stream: McDonald Creek
  • Season: Late spring to autumn ideal
  • Campgrounds and RV parks nearby: 20+ campgrounds nearby, hundreds of sites

Recreational Activities Near McDonald Falls

If you’re thinking about other things to do at McDonald Falls, you’re in luck! Glacier National Park and Flathead have plentiful activities of all types within a short drive of the waterfall.

White Water Rafting

white water rafting

One of the most popular adventures to be had within Glacier NP and surrounding areas is white water rafting. There are many rafting trips led by guides, as well as options for self-guided tours if you own your own boat or rent one.

Choose from partial, single, or multi-day trips, and consider the many add-ons companies have before you book. Some packages include snacks or meals, while others include lodging or camping.

Some of the most popular tour groups and rentals include:

Swimming

Can you swim in McDonald Falls? No, you may not swim at McDonald Falls. Swimming in waterfalls is highly frowned upon because of safety issues.

Waterfalls create undertows that may sweep swimmers under and jeopardize their safety. Because of this, swimming is recommended in other bodies of water instead within and around the national park.

It’s better to swim in lakes such as Ipasha Lake, Margaret Lake, or Lake McDonald. Easy access is available at many of the roadsides, near the roadside, and backcountry lakes and streams throughout the park.

Be sure to choose the location wisely, and never swim alone, however, as there are no lifeguards on duty in the park.

In many of the lakes and streams, however, the water may be quite chilly, as many of the bodies of water are formed from glacier and mountain peak runoff.

Boating

Boating in both Glacier National Park and other surrounding areas is a popular activity. Within Glacier NP, you may boat on locations like Holland Lake and Lake Josephine.

Outside the park, there are many other boating opportunities in Flathead County, including Flathead Lake and Corridor, Swan Lake, Salmon Lake, Placid Lake, Hungry Horse Reservoir, and Noxon Reservoir.

Bring your own boat or take a tour or rent a boat from the many outfitters in the area.

Birdwatching and Wildlife Viewing

Whatever recreational activities you choose to participate in the area, you’re likely to spot some wildlife on the way.

From big game like cougars and moose to small birds like nuthatches, you’re bound to find plenty of creatures to Instagram when you have cell service.

Along your journeys, you might catch glimpse of

  • American dippers
  • Bald eagles
  • Bats
  • Beavers
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Black bear
  • Clark’s nutcrackers
  • Common loons
  • Coyotes
  • Deer
  • Elk
  • Grizzly bears
  • Harlequin ducks
  • Lynx
  • Marmots
  • Moose
  • Mountain goats
  • Mountain lions
  • Northern hawk owls
  • Ospreys
  • Pikas
  • Ptarmigans
  • Swifts
  • Wolverines

Scenic Drives

scenic drives

Throughout both Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park, you have many opportunities to enjoy some stunningly scenic views.

Pull over at the viewing lookouts or creep along the road when no other traffic is around the enjoy the gorgeous mountain backdrops, meadows, lakes, waterfalls, and more.

Or if you’d prefer to leave the driving to someone else, book a Red Bus tour. The tours are popular and sell quickly, though, so book early and enjoy the views.

Photography

Throughout Flathead County, whether in Glacier, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Flathead National Park, or other nature reserves and parks, you’ll have plenty to photograph.

The locations are exceptionally popular among both professional and casual photographers thanks to the stunning views and incredible wildlife.

Whether you’re coming with a camera phone or a DSLR, be sure to bring plenty of storage space to capture all the photos – else you’ll be highly disappointed when that amazing shot doesn’t take!

Fishing

Fishing near McDonald Falls is another popular activity. Lake McDonald is popular with fishers, as are many of the other lakes, streams, and pools around the region.

If you’re well-versed in finding fishing spots, you may do well without a guide, but if this sort of terrain is new to you, you may wish to hire a guide or book a trip with an outfitter to help make sure you find great fishing holes in the area.

Both Glacier Guides or Get Your Guide can help you find guides. Or, if you’re ready to embark on your own, these locations are noted as great fishing spots.

  • Logging Creek
  • Flathead Lake
  • Trout Lake
  • Flathead River
  • Yaak River
  • Mary Lake
  • Stillwater River

Other Water Sports

There are many bodies of water throughout the park that make for great spots to participate in other water sports as well. Some of the most popular activities include

  • Waterskiing
  • Paddle boarding
  • Wake boarding
  • Knee boarding
  • Kite boarding

Cycling

Many of the hiking trails throughout Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park are excellent sites for mountain and off-road biking.

No motorized bikes are permitted on these trails, but your hybrid and mountain bikes will do well.

Be sure to bring proper safety gear, wear bright colors, and fully charge those lights before heading out, though, as darkness may fall while you’re out there.

Trail Running

Also popular throughout the area is trail running. You’ll find many of the best trails for this in the country are tucked within Flathead County and Glacier National Park.

Check Great Runs, Trail Run Project, All Trails, and All Trails – Flathead for the best trails to check out for your run.

Horseback Riding

If you own your own horses, bring them along for some amazing trail rides through Glacier and Flathead!

Or, if you need a rental, book in with a tour guide or outfitting company that operates in the area. There are many to choose from who can take you through some of the most amazing portions of the park and forest. You’ll never forget your adventures on horseback in these stunning locales.

Book in for short (1 hour) or partial day rides, several hours, packages with meals or wine, private guides, or multi-day treks with the following companies for an amazing experience.

Camping

RV parks, tent camping, backcountry sites, and cabins are available throughout both Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park.

You’ll find multi-site campgrounds located near many of the most popular lakes both within the park and outside the park, as well as designated backcountry sites.

Be aware that backcountry camping requires a permit and not all areas are eligible for camping. Be sure to consult the rules and regulations for more details and information.

Campsites are equipped with campfire rings and grills, tables, and parking areas in many locations, while backcountry sites rarely have any amenities.

Hotels and Cabin Rentals

Glacier National Park is one of the most visited tourist destinations in America, so there are many hotels, cabins, and motels available in the area. They do often fill up fast in peak season (late spring to early autumn), so book as far in advance as possible to guarantee yourself a spot.

Some of the most popular rentals and rooms may be found at

Or you can book rental cabins and vacation homes through

Museums and Educational Programs

The natural wonders and incredible history of the region lend themselves to many museums and galleries within accessible distance of McDonald Falls.

If you’re leaving the park for any length of time or just want to learn about the region, check out the many galleries and museums nearby.

You’ll also find educational programs and ranger-led presentations and hikes/walks in the park, along with three visitors’ centers and the Apgar Nature Center.

Trail Routes

trail routes
Image: GlacierNPS

Because McDonald Falls is a roadside waterfall, hiking is not necessary to reach the falls. However, there is a trail you may hike that takes you past McDonald Falls.

Upper McDonald Creek Trail

Upper McDonald Creek Trail is an easy trail that takes most people less than 2 hours to complete. The trail is popular for birders, horseback riding, hiking, and trail running – but dogs are not allowed on the trail.

Because the trail is considered an easy hike, it makes for a great trail for families who want to enjoy a low-key hike through the beautiful terrain of Glacier National Park.

Along the way, you’ll find plenty of shade along the way, as well as the falls, both forest and wetland, and general peace and quiet much of the time.

  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 278 feet
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Trail type: Out and back
  • Notes: No pets allowed on this trail

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