As you might imagine, Glacier NP has an enormous snowmelt every spring and summer. Water cascades down the mountains and creates hundreds of beautiful waterfalls, some captured in my previous post. Then the glacial water continues down the cliff walls to fill picturesque lakes.
Of the over 700 lakes within the park, 131 are named. According to the NPS, Glacier’s water can be considered the headwaters for the entire continent. From Triple Divide Peak, a droplet can theoretically split three ways and eventually make it to the Pacific, Atlantic or Hudson Bay watersheds.
Having hiked to some enchanting waterfalls, our interest moved to the lakes that receive the meltwater. Two of the park’s big lakes are accessible from Going-to-the-Sun Road, and are therefore very popular. The hub of activity on the west side is Lake McDonald, the largest of the many glacially-carved lakes.
On the east side is St. Mary Lake – the park’s second largest – which provides incredible views of the mountains bordering it. The boat tour we took was at St. Mary Lake, that post is here.
Smaller lakes in the backcountry require hiking to reach, and we picked a few to head up to.
Fish Lake (west)
The 3-mile trail leading to Fish Lake begins a steep ascent almost immediately, passing through old growth forests of red cedar, western larch and hemlock to a dense spruce-fir forest at higher elevations. We didn’t like that this trail is also used for horseback riding excursions, but at least we got up there before those smelly creatures did.
We saw day-old bear scat on the trail, which kept us very “bear alert” all the way to the lake. This 8-acre lake is lined with lily pads and surrounded by dense forest. The quiet setting (we were all alone) made it a good choice for our breakfast, as we arrived before 8:30AM.
Avalanche Lake (west)
This was a great trek that reminded us of many trails we’ve hiked in the pacific northwest. The first segment is on a raised boardwalk, called The Trail of Cedars, as it passes through a forest of ancient western hemlock and red cedar. These huge old-growth trees created a wonderful canopy for us to walk under, as we moved parallel to a rushing creek.
A moderate hike of about 5 miles roundtrip, the lake with several dramatic waterfalls feeding it was our reward. The large number of people we encountered on our way back to the car was testimony to how popular this trail is. Highly recommended, but be sure to start early!
Hidden Lake (east)
For good reason, Hidden Lake is one of the most popular destinations in the park. The trail features views of alpine meadows and rugged peaks. As always, starting early was the best way to enjoy solitude – at least for a while.
The trail started at the west side of the Logan Pass visitor center, with a 500′ ascent on a raised boardwalk built into the mountain. That got the blood pumping pretty good right away. Then it was a fairly easy walk to the platform that overlooks the lake at the 1.5-mile mark. The majority of folks stop there to enjoy outstanding panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains, but they don’t continue the challenge down the mountain to the lake.
But we continued to the lake, tackling the strenuous 780′ descent/ascent over the next 1.2 miles to the shoreline. At just under 6 miles round trip, this was a great hike on which we encountered Hoary Marmots, Mountain Goats and a swath of vibrant wildflowers.
As expected, on our way back the trail from the visitor center to the overlook platform was swamped with people. The parking lot was total chaos as cars circled around looking for a spot. We were told the parking lot at Logan Pass fills up as early as 8:00AM, so remember that if you drive here during the busy months!
The lakes in Glacier National Park are stunning, with the towering mountains rising up right at their shorelines. Their waters are absolutely clear, and not surprisingly also cold even in late summer. Although we’ve seen only a few of the 700+ lakes here, we have no doubt they all have one thing in common – incredible scenery in an unspoiled environment.
So far we’ve hiked to cascading waterfalls and picturesque lakes. Next up is a hike to one of the few remaining glaciers that’s a source of the beautiful water here.