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WN Hiking Series: Glacier NP's Avalanche Lake Trail

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| June 25, 2009 12:00 AM

(Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series of stories on hiking in northwestern Montana. Past hiking features have been done on the Flagstaff Mountain Trail near Libby and the Old Highway 2 Interpretative Trail near Troy).

Coming around a bend out of the trees and into a clearing, Glacier National Park’s Avalanche Lake will provide majestic views that take your breath away.

This past weekend, Glacier National Park waived entrance fees and with a trip to Kalispell necessary for a work-related function, it seemed like a good time to enjoy a little side trip. So, this week’s hike takes us out of the immediate Libby-Troy area and over to Glacier National Park.

The lead-in description is the climax moment of the park’s popular Avalanche Lake hike. This is a fairly easy two-mile hike with minimal up-and-down climbs. To reach this area of the park from the west entrance, head down Going-to-the-Sun Road toward Logan Pass. Look for signage for Trail of the Cedars and the Avalanche Creek Campground.

To reach the trailhead, start out on the Trail of the Cedars, a very easy 0.8-mile loop that includes a bridge over Avalanche Creek. Not far from the bridge is signage that directs you to the Avalanche Lake Trail.

For those who do not want to go the entire two miles in, at least check out the first third of a mile. You will find several access points to the creek and the narrow canyon where it flows. The sights and sounds of the rushing water are very cool – the kids will love it (but don’t let them fall in).

If you go the distance, you’ll climb about 500 feet over the two miles to the lake. The forest scenery along the way is memorable with red cedar and western hemlock trees and various types of moss. You’ll also enjoy the sounds of the forest.

As you approach the lake, the forest floor changes and the trail emerges into the sunlight. You’ll be overwhelmed by the sight of mountains on all sides. To the left, you’ll come upon the lake and waterfalls coming down cliff faces on the opposite side. The source of the waterfalls is snowmelt from winter and Sperry Glacier.

If a possible bear encounter makes you nervous about hiking to Avalanche Lake, then head down this trail in the middle of the day. You’re more likely to see a bear in the early morning or late evening hours.

A pit toilet is available just before you reach the lake. If you’re looking for a quiet experience at Glacier, this hike might not be for you. It’s a popular spot, so expect a lot of other folks on the trail.

Avalanche Lake Trail

Location: Glacier National Park

How to Get There: From the Glacier National Park west entrance, proceed on Going-to-the-Sun Road toward Logan Pass. The area is located six miles past Lake McDonald Lodge in the Avalanche Creek Campground area. Start out on Trail of the Cedars and follow signage to the Avalanche Lake trailhead.

Round-Trip Distance: 4 miles

Difficulty: Easy