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Hiking GuidesMontana

Hiking Guide: Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park

Overview

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!

Kim takes in the view at Avalanche Lake
Kim takes in the view at Avalanche Lake

Quick Facts

  • 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.

Avalanche Creek
Avalanche Creek

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).

This is the first beach you see when you get to the lake
This is the first beach you see when you get to the lake

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.

At certain angles, the lake has a turquoise hue
At certain angles, the lake has a turquoise hue

Map

Location

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).

Get Directions

Resources

Guidebooks

Topo Maps

Links

Photos

Stepping stones on Avalanche Lake
Stepping stones on Avalanche Lake
Maia fell asleep on the hike in
Maia fell asleep on the hike in
Max (the author) and mountain reflections on the lake
Max (the author) and mountain reflections on the lake

More Great Hikes In Glacier National Park

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