|Trail Features:||Lake, Waterfalls|
|Trail Location:||Avalanche Creek|
|Roundtrip Length:||4.5 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||730 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||324 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||4031 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||5.96 (moderate)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||48.6806|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-113.81923|
The hike to Avalanche Lake begins from the Trail of the Cedars trailhead, located 5.5 miles east of the McDonald Lodge.
The Trail of the Cedars, a wheelchair accessible trail, is a loop hike that begins and ends on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Although the western segment of the loop is slightly shorter, the eastern side is far more scenic. Hikers on the eastern portion of the loop travel along a raised boardwalk as they pass though a forest of ancient western hemlocks and red cedars. Situated on the eastern edge of the maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest, the Lake McDonald Valley also marks the extreme eastern limits for western hemlocks and red cedars. The humidity in the valley allows cedars to grow to heights of 100 feet, and diameters of 4 to 7 feet. Some of the trees in this area are more than 500 years old.
Look closely and you’ll also notice the lush green of ferns and mosses growing on the forest floor. The boardwalk on this section of the loop encourages visitors to take their time as they pass through a habitat more normally found on the Pacific Coast.
Roughly one-half mile from the trailhead you’ll reach a footbridge that provides a commanding view of the lower Avalanche Gorge, one of the highlights along this section of trail. Just past this point is the Avalanche Lake Trail junction.
After turning onto the Avalanche Lake Trail hikers will immediately have a short, but stiff climb. As you proceed up the rise look towards your right and you’ll notice a dense thick forest. In less than a tenth-of-a-mile you’ll reach the banks of Avalanche Creek, and will have an up-close view of the amazing power of glacially melted water as it rushes down the narrow gorge.
At roughly 1.1 miles the trail departs from Avalanche Creek. Although no longer in direct contact, the trail continues to follow the creek all the way to the lake. You won’t be able to actually see the creek, but you’ll definitely be able to hear the rush of cascading water for much of your hike.
Upon reaching the confluence of Hidden Creek and Avalanche Creek, roughly 1.6 miles from the Going-to-the-Sun Road, you’ll find hundreds of downed trees, the result of recent avalanches thundering down Mt. Cannon.
At 2.3 miles hikers will finally reach the foot of Avalanche Lake. A short distance away is a large beach area providing plenty of space to soak-in the scenery. You’ll also find several make-shift benches to sit on as well.
The lake sits at the base of 8694-foot Bearhat Mountain, which rises almost 4800 feet above the lake towards the northeast. The mountain dominating the view towards the south is 7886-foot Little Matterhorn. If you look closely at the cliffs and mountains that surround the lake you’ll notice several long waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet as they make their way towards the lake.
For perhaps a little more solitude, as well as some varying perspectives of the surrounding mountains, you can continue along the trail as it follows the western shoreline and travels all the way to the head of the lake.
This area of Glacier National Park was named by Dr. Lyman Sperry. While climbing the basin to reach the glacier that now bears his name, Sperry heard multiple avalanches roaring down the surrounding mountains.
If you’re looking to go home with some great photographs you may want to consider starting your hike around daybreak, in order to reach the lake before the sun rises above the mountains to the east, or, wait until later in the afternoon when the sun will be behind you. You should also note that this is an extremely popular hike, and parking can be problematic during the middle of the day, especially during peak tourist season.