Avalanche Lake has a reputation for being one of Glacier National Park’s “must-do” short hikes. Thanks to its incredible scenery and close proximity to the West Glacier entrance, it’s also one of the park’s most popular hikes.
From Avalanche Campground, you will take the Trail of the Cedars to its junction with Avalanche Trail, then continue two miles along Avalanche Creek to the lake.
The beauty at Avalanche Lake is reminiscent of the Elven valley of Rivendell in Lord of the Rings. The lake’s immaculate waters are surrounded by an alpine cirque with waterfalls fed by the Sperry Glacier above.
Chances are, this will rank as one of the most drop-dead gorgeous places you have been to.
Note: When we hiked up to Avalanche Lake in August 2020, downhill hikers reported seeing a black bear next to the trail. Make sure to take all necessary precautions and carry bear spray!
- Distance: 5 miles
- Hike Time: 3 hours
- Elevation Gain: 650 feet
- Fee: $35 for a 7-day pass to Glacier National Park
- Dogs: No
- Difficulty: Easy
Hiking the Trail to Avalanche Lake
We parked at the lot that runs parallel to Going-to-the-Sun Road on the right side. On a Wednesday at 6pm, the place was packed and we were lucky to find a spot.
The trailhead for Avalanche Lake isn’t readily apparent. From the road, we followed Trail of the Cedars for 0.6 miles until the junction with Avalanche Trail.
Trail of the Cedars is a boardwalk that runs next to Avalanche Campground then loops back around through a forest similar to what you might find in the Pacific Northwest.
Soon after the junction, you get a view of Avalanche Creek as it continues to erode away solid rock through a narrow canyon in the forest.
From this point, the trail climbs steadily through thick forest for about a mile before the canopy opens up, giving you a view of the backside of Mount Cannon and Bearhat Mountain. There’s a canyon between these two mountains where Hidden Creek flows.
Somewhere between here and the lake, some people on their way down mentioned they had seen a black bear not far up the trail. We were hoping to spot the bear but didn’t end up seeing it.
You will reach the northwestern tip of Avalanche Lake two miles from where Avalanche Lake Trail begins (at the junction with Trail of the Cedars).
There is a large, accommodating beach here with lots of space to photograph the lake and its Rivendell-like backdrop. If you are looking for more seclusion or a different view, continue on the trail around the western side of the lake.
From West Glacier, follow Going-to-the-Sun Road for 2 miles, then turn right at the intersection to stay on it. Continue for 14.4 miles, then park at Avalanche Campground (or near it like we did).
- Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks by Nat Geo