Avalanche Lake Hike in Montana’s Beautiful Glacier National Park

Avalanche Lake Hike Glacier National Park

 

I hiked Avalanche Lake trail twice – once in the rain on my first full day in Glacier National Park and a couple of days later on a beautiful afternoon. It’s a wonderful hike rain or shine but you certainly get to see more of the mountains at the summit on a clear day. If you are staying in West Glacier be sure to hike Avalanche Trail when you drive the Going To The Sun Road – it’s only about 6 miles east of Lake McDonald Lodge along the GTTSR.

Read my guide for Glacier National Park so you can plan your visit – bookmark the page so you can use it during your trip.

 

Avalanche Creek at Trail of Cedars beautiful walk through the forest in Glacier park

Avalanche Creek at Trail of Cedars beautiful walk through the forest in Glacier park

 

Avalanche Lake Hiking Trail

Arriving at the trailhead to Trail of Cedars and Avalanche Lake Trail around 8:00 on a rainy morning I didn’t see anyone else or any vehicles in the parking lot. Gathering my gear I hoped to see other hikers on the trail. I love traveling alone but sometimes hiking solo makes me nervous. Luckily another car pulled into the parking lot – I asked the two women if they were hiking Avalanche Trail and asked to tag along with them. Happily they said yes and we set out along Trail of Cedars to get to the trailhead for Avalanche Lake.

 

Avalanche Lake Trailhead sign with trail info and photo of the lake/mountains at the summit

Avalanche Lake Trailhead sign with trail info and photo of the lake/mountains at the summit

 

See the map of Avalanche Lake hiking trail below.  It’s a well marked trail and it’s a family friendly hike suitable for hikers of all ages. There is some elevation gain (730 ft/223 m) during the hike but if you get tired just take a break and enjoy the scenery and remember to keep hydrated while hiking. Bring a refillable water bottle when you hike or buy a hydration bladder backpack.

The other thing you will need on Glacier National Park hiking trails is bear spray.

 

Map of Avalanche Lake trail - a beautiful West Glacier hike

Map of Avalanche Lake trail – a beautiful West Glacier hike

 

Bring bear spray and know how to use it

I have a healthy fear and abundant respect for wildlife. When hiking in regions with bears you should hike in a group not alone, make noise on the trail, carry bear spray and know how to use it.

Please watch this informative video to learn how to use bear spray and here’s a longer video from NPS about bear safety.

You should practice the movements you would need to make during a bear encounter scenario. Make sure your bear spray is easy to access either in a holster or clipped to the front of your backpack.

According to a recent review on AllTrails app there was a sign posted at the Avalanche Lake trailhead on May 21st 2019 stating a bear is frequenting the area.

I didn’t see any bears during either hike at Avalanche Trail but I did see a mule deer and a cute chipmunk during the late afternoon hike.

 

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Chipmunk eating dinner at Glacier National Park in Montana

Chipmunk eating dinner at Glacier National Park in Montana

 

Where is Avalanche Lake Trailhead?

You’ll access the trailhead to Avalanche Lake via Trail of Cedars. Park at the lot for Avalanche Picnic area or take the free shuttle bus and avoid the parking hassle. Get more info in my guide to visiting Glacier National Park.

Another option is to camp at Avalanche campground so you can walk to the trailhead. That’s what I’m hoping to do this summer when I drive down from Calgary Alberta! Campsites at Avalanche are given on a first-come first-served basis. You can check the National Park Service website for more info on camping in Glacier National Park.

 

Trail of Cedars and Avalanche Lake trail signage along Going to the Sun Road

Trail of Cedars and Avalanche Lake trail signage along Going to the Sun Road

 

Avalanche Lake Hike Description

The beginning of the hike follows along the Avalanche Creek and  takes you through a beautiful forest of cedar and hemlock. The forest floor is lush with ferns and abundant moss. It’s uphill on the way to Avalanche Lake. At the summit you will enjoy views of the lake and the Rocky Mountains. Several waterfalls spill down from the Sperry Glacier (not visible from this hike) and make for a gorgeous and serene setting.

 

The beautiful Rocky Mountains at Avalanche Lake in Montana's Glacier National Park

The beautiful Rocky Mountains at Avalanche Lake in Montana’s Glacier National Park

Wildlife in the area includes bears, mule dear, mountain goats, squirrels, chipmunks, and birds.

 

This chipmunk paused long enough for me to get a photo at Glacier National Park

This chipmunk paused long enough for me to get a photo at Glacier National Park

 

Distance: 4.6 miles (7.4 km)

Elevation gain: 730 ft (223 m)

Type of hike: Out and back

Difficulty: Moderate

Time: Allow 1 – 2 hours

Dogs allowed? No dogs allowed on the Avalanche Lake Trail or any of the trail in Glacier National Park.

 

Waterfalls flow down the mountain from Sperry Glacier at Avalanche Lake hike in Montana

Waterfalls flow down the mountain from Sperry Glacier at Avalanche Lake hike in Montana

 

Avalanche Lake Hike Rainy Day vs Clear Day

There is a big difference between hiking in Glacier National Park on a rainy day versus hiking on a clear day. When you only have a couple of days in the park you make the best of it and hike in the rain. The main thing is be prepared for the weather. It’s best to wear layers and a waterproof jacket of course.

 

 

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My first time hiking Avalanche Lake the weather forecast called for rain and fog for both East and West Glacier so I opted to stay in West Glacier to minimize the driving with wet and foggy conditions.

 

Avalanche Creek flowing rapidly during early June

Avalanche Creek flowing rapidly during early June

 

The first portion of the hike through the forest was not affected by the fog. Light rain intensified all the colors, making the moss a brilliant green.

 

Avalanche Lake Trail on a rainy day with low lying clouds at Glacier NP

Avalanche Lake Trail on a rainy day with low lying clouds at Glacier NP

 

Where the rain and fog make a big difference is at the summit of Avalanche Lake trail. The clouds hung low and obscured the view of the mountain peaks. And of course the sky was a dreary grey. Still it was a beautiful hike and I am glad I did it rain or shine!

 

Avalanche Lake trail summit at Glacier park in MT

Avalanche Lake trail summit at Glacier park in MT – there’s more to see on a clear day!

 

Returning to hike Avalanche Lake a couple of days later on a beautiful clear afternoon in early June I was rewarded with outstanding views of the waterfalls from Sperry Glacier spilling down the mountain.

 

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One of the staff at the Lake McDonald Lodge told me he hikes Avalanche Lake almost every day. That’s a nice benefit to working at Glacier park. For more information about Glacier National Park visit the National Parks service website here. You’ll find information about current weather conditions at Glacier, road closures, campgrounds, etc.

 

What to Bring Hiking to Avalanche Lake

Wear hiking shoes or sneakers with good grip on the sole. The trail is often muddy.

Wear layers for your hiking clothing and be prepared for a variety of weather. It can snow in the mountains any month of the year. Shop Amazon now for hiking clothes.

Bring your refillable water bottle – I always bring two stainless steel water bottles. One is small so I have a reserve 40 oz water bottle in my backpack.

Bug spray – or the mosquitoes may enjoy a picnic lunch at your expense. I have tried the non-DEET stuff and it didn’t work at all. So I went back to using the DEET insect repellent. Remember that using DEET insect spray also protects against ticks!

Sunscreen – especially on sunny days but also for overcast days too – protect your skin from UV rays.

Sunhat or baseball cap is always a good idea when hiking – protection from the sun, rain, and ticks.

Pack something to eat at the lake or along the trail. I like to bring pumpkin seeds, beef jerky, crackers, fruit, and cookies. But you may want to pack a gourmet picnic lunch.

Bring a small backpack to carry your picnic lunch and other supplies for the hike. It’s best to buy a waterproof backpack or bring a large plastic bag to cover the backpack if it starts raining during your hike.

Remember it’s always a smart idea to pack the 10 Essentials on every hike. You don’t want to get caught off guard – lacking the basic supplies like waterproof matches or a compass when you really need it!

Bear spray is another essential when you are hiking in bear country. I carry mine clipped to my backpack waist strap so that I can access it easily. Remember that you cannot bring bear spray on an airplane. So far I’ve been okay bringing it in my car while crossing back and forth at the USA-Canada border.

Tip: If you are staying at a hotel ask at the front desk if they have any extra bear spray. A lot of travelers will leave theirs behind since they can’t take it on a plane.

 

Enjoy getting outdoors and exploring Glacier National Park!

 

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Glacier National Park Avalanche Lake Hike Montana

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About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 4 of living a nomadic life, roadtripping around the USA and Canada and writing about her experiences with a focus on hiking and cultural encounters. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

7 Replies

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  1. I will be in Montana in September and I hope I can hit this trail!

  2. I was there last year and absolutely loved this hike! Beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing :-)

  3. Emily says:

    Thanks for this! We’re heading to Glacier for the first time this summer and this looks like an awesome hike.

    • You will LOVE Glacier National Park! Hope you have a few days there, enjoy the mountains and hiking. I’m in Calgary for the summer so I hope to get back down to Glacier again, drove to Waterton a couple days ago but just for a day trip. Happy travels!

  4. Sue says:

    This looks just beautiful! I love hiking alone but the bear bit sounds a bit scary!

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