Picturesque Lakes – Glacier National Park

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.

Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald viewed from Apgar Village, with craggy mountain peaks as the backdrop

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.

Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald looking south from Lake McDonald Lodge. Note the multi-colored rocks

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.

Saint Mary Lake
St. Mary Lake viewed from Going-to-the-Sun Road.  There’s tiny Wild Goose island out in the lake

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.

Fish Lake Trail

Bear Scat
Yup, a bear was there
Fish Lake
Breakfast with a view at Fish Lake, which is filled with lilies and surrounded by dense forest

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!

Trail of the Cedar
Ancient trees that were still young when Thomas Jefferson crafted the Declaration of Independence
Avalanche Gorge
Lower Avalanche Gorge, one of the highlights along this trail
Avalanche Lake
Multiple waterfalls feed the lake
Avalanche Lake
Avalanche Lake sits at the base of 8,694′ Bearhat Mountain, which rises almost 4,800′ higher
Avalanche Lake
Another view of the pristine lake

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.

Hidden Lake Trail
Snow still lingers well into July

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.

Mountain Goat
On the way to the lake, this friendly guy gave us a good morning greeting!
Hoary Marmot
A Hoary Marmot playing in the meadow stopped to say hello
What a wonderful palette of wildflowers we’ve been blessed with all this summer!
Hidden Lake
Hidden Lake at the base of Bearheart Mountain
Hidden Lake
Colored rocks glimmer from under the water
Hidden Lake
You will huff and you will puff when you climb away from this lake!

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!

Mountain Goat
Another mountain goat ignores the paparazzi
Hidden Lake
Crowds on the trail picking up

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.

Hidden Lake
I had to save my favorite picture of pristine Hidden Lake for last

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.




  1. Simply stunning! Hopefully your next post will let us know how much longer the glaciers will last. We’d love to bring our grandsons there in maybe 5 years….

  2. Fabulous. We haven’t been able to visit Glacier yet because we go home to the East Coast every summer and workkamp. We will use your tips when we are able to go.

  3. I am so envious. So much beautiful country you are seeing that we had to pass by due to timing. Fabulous images MonaLiza!

  4. My gosh…you two are in just about the most beautiful place in this country. Your photos are outstanding. The multiple waterfalls are gorgeous.
    What a hoot that the goat likes people. That is a first for me.

  5. Very interesting about the Triple Divide Peak. I didn’t know that. Very cool! Your Lake McDonald shots are as good as any posters I’ve ever seen of it. Love the shot of Steve walking through the tall old forests. I’m with him, up at 5:30. That’s the best part of the day and you can have nearly any place all to yourself. Wow the color of the water in avalanche gorge is stunning. You really have been so lucky to have such wonderful wildflowers seemingly all along the way and here.

    • I even tried to capture the triple peak but I was unable to identify it. I think we came at the peak of the wildflowers in full bloom. Even Steve would stop and admire them, really beautiful!

  6. So glad you had a great time and got to see the mountain goats. They are so cute;) Your photo of Lake McDonald with the colorful rocks is spectacular! Great job:) Can’t wait to see more of one of my favorite parks in your next post:)

  7. I loved this post on the lakes and I think you truly saved the best picture for last!

    Don’t worry, I’ll just ignore that comment about horses…….

    • Sue, that was my doing, and I told ML we’d probably hear from you! You gave me a good laugh this morning!

  8. Okay, this post REALLY makes me want to go to Glacier! Those lakes and hikes are absolutely incredible. And you’ve really hit the jackpot with wildflowers this spring/summer. Your “early” is at least an hour before my idea of “early” —but I clearly need to learn from you. You often seem to have the trails to yourselves, even in the busiest parks in the busiest seasons. Wonderful photos!

    • Hi Laurel,
      We don’t usually start quite that early unless it’s really a busy trail during a busy time. But it has helped here, even though it can be dangerous. I don’t mean the hike can be dangerous, I mean waking ML up at 5:30am!

  9. We left this area July 9th! Absolutely beautiful. Enjoyed many long walks and by far thought this was the most beautiful place on earth (plus the fact that hubby was raised nearby, so hometown loyalty)… THEN we had the chance to visit Colorado Rocky Mountains…. Oh, my… who can say?!! Your pics are amazing! It is so hard to capture the span, depth and height on a lens…. I can’t wait to sort through our pics… a winter task… I may have to have your help naming! happy travels….

  10. wow after Wow after WoW after WOW!!! These are all wow views, and photos. Japan is so great, but I definitely would switch spots right now just to see those views. This whole post is just …. WOW!
    By the way, could you do me a favor and name one of the lakes “Lake Rommel”? 😀 Right next to Mona Lakes, of course. 😀

  11. Great post. We thoroughly enjoy all of them. When we were kids, back in the 1950’s, my parents took us to Glacier NP on several occasions. We would camp RIGHT ON the lake, and beach our boat, at night, right in front of our campsite. Great memories. We will most like be at GNP some time in early October…Dee Dee wants to stop there on our way back from Mt. Rushmore. BTW, Dee Dee wants to know where you got the sun shade that you attach to the outside of your front window? BTW again, we are going back to Puerto Penasco again this year. Wish you guys were there with us!

    • Hi Bob and Dee Dee, just sent you email about Puerto Peñasco before seeing your comment. We’re going to try to make it, would be great to party with you guys again. Hope we catch you at home when we come through WA this fall.

      Our window and tire shades are from Magneshade, and we love them. We got them for all of the front glass – windshield, driver’s window and door – and have had them for years. They are a good company and provide great service.

  12. I loved those hikes, but Iceberg Lake on the east side is still my favorite so far. Saw a few grizzlies and black bears along the way (thankfully from a safe distance) and other wildlife too!

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