Exploring Lake McDonald Lodge

Lake McDonald Lodge near the west entrance of Glacier National Park is a fantastic base camp to spider out from and explore the park’s west side.

Before beginning, please keep in mind that this section is not designed for information on the lodge; for that, please refer to the West Glacier Montana lodging options.

Rather, whether you’re choosing to sleep in one of the 12 cabins or 100 rooms within Lake McDonald Lodge, or opting to pitch your tent on a campground off its shores, use this page as a guide for planning your adventure in the Western region of Glacier National Park.

Everything I Know About the Lake McDonald Area

Even those from the Rockies who’ve grown accustomed, or, dare I say, jaded, by mountain lakes, will be blown away by the gargantuan size of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

Nowhere else in the country–and few places in the world–has a mountain lake larger than this.

Lake McDonald Lodge

For reference, a large mountain lake is typically around 100 acres…

Yet Lake McDonald is 10 miles long and over 450 feet deep!

Thanks to a massive, retreating glacier carving this valley centuries ago, we are blessed with this magical lake.

The balconies behind Lake McDonald Lodge are perfectly suited to chat with other visitors, while its zigzagging, endless shoreline provides a hideaway for those seeking solace.

 

 

Camping Around Lake McDonald

In terms of front country campgrounds, Lake McDonald offers a handful of options. Car campgrounds, which means RVs are allowed, are located at Apgar and Avalanche Creek. However, these campgrounds are heavily trafficked, loud, and offer little serenity.

My preferred campground is Sprague creek, a tents-only site (cars are allowed to pull up, but no RVs) a few miles up the road from Lake McDonald Lodge.

Wildlife Around Lake McDonald

Like Bowman Lake, Lake McDonald is not the most ideal for wildlife viewing opportunities due to the dense vegetation. That’s not to say however that you shouldn’t keep your eyes peeled for:

  • elk
  • deer
  • loons
  • mountain lions
  • and bald eagles

If you choose to ascend to higher elevations, there’s a lone mountain goat that parades himself around the Mount Brown Lookout. Additionally, the occasional black bear can be seen munching on huckleberry bushes near Trout Lake.

Although Lake McDonald used to have a healthy population of cutthroat trout, the recent introduction of lake trout annihilated the cutthroat.

If you’re looking for good fishing opportunities in Glacier National Park, avoid the Lake McDonald Lodge area.

Lake McDonald Hiking

The area surrounding Lake McDonald Lodge provides a plethora of mild to moderate day hikes, as well as one backbreaker.

However, the expansive vistas typically associated with Glacier National Park aren’t accessible unless you trudge above the tree-line. This is due to the heavy precipitation on this side of the park, allowing dense forests of cedars, birches and larches to grow and shroud hikers’ views.

Still, don’t let this dissuade you from exploring West Glacier, Montana and missing out on some of the most fantastic Glacier National Park hiking opportunities!

For day hiking trails, please consider:

Trail Length in Miles (roundtrip) Difficulty Description
Avalanche Lake 4.2 Easy A few hour hike from Avalanche Creek Trailhead
to Avalanche Lake, one of Glacier National Park
, Montana’s most pristine turquoise lakes.A family friendly hike that gains only 505 feet.
Trout Lake
7.0 Moderately strenuous Climbs 3,150 feet and loses 1,230. Provides an excellent view of Heaven’s Peak.This is prime black and grizzly bear habitat, so wildlife viewing opportunities are high, but know proper safety precautions.
Lake McDonald Trail 13.0 Moderate An easy day hike along the north shore of Lake McDonald. Park your car at Fish Creek Campground. Mosquitoes are plentiful, so be prepared!
Huckleberry Mountain
Lookout
12.0 Moderately Strenuous Begins at Camas Creek Road and climbs 3,403 feet to Huckleberry Lookout, which is at an elevation of 6,593 feet.
Snyder Lake
8.8 Moderate Begins at Snyder Creek Trailhead, which is directly across from Lake McDonald Lodge. Cutthroat trout are plentiful, so this is ideal for fisherman visiting Montana
Fish Lake 4.8 Easy Gains 1,000 feet and begins at the Snyder Creek Trailhead
Mount Brown Lookout 10.8 Strenuous A grueling, backbreaking, thigh-burning day hike that begins at Snyder Creek. Though incredibly strenuous, the rewards are plentiful with unique views of Lake McDonald and a mountain goat that poses for pictures at the top.Be sure to fill your hydration backpack, as there are no water sources.
Apgar Lookout
5.6 Moderate Begins at Rubideau Road and gains 1,835 feet. Like Mount Brown, bring enough water with you, as there are no water sources to replenish your supply

The area surrounding Lake McDonald Lodge is one that should not be overlooked, but also shouldn’t have too much time devoted to it. In my opinion, Lake McDonald itself is the best attraction in this area of Glacier National Park.

If I were to recommend two hikes from this area, IÂ’d suggest Avalanche Lake for the family oriented trip and Mount Brown Lookout for those looking to challenge themselves.

Additional Glacier National Park Hiking Info

Glacier Park Hiking – Return back to an overview on Glacier National Park Hiking

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Comments

  1. Richard George says:

    I worked at Lake McD in 1960, 62, 63, 64. I’ve tried to make contact with others who worked there
    In the early and mid 60s, but haven’t gotten any responses. I worked as a busboy and grill waiter.

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