Avalanche Trail: 5.6 Miles Roundtrip (approximately)
Avalanche Lake is just one of the many enchanting lakes in Glacier National Park, a wondrous park in the United States–Montana to be precise. It’s also one of several you have to work a little to get to, which makes it all the more enticing. What’s even more is that the trail leading to the lake has it ALL: a beautiful forest, an LOTR-esque gorge, a crystal clear creek, deer and other small critters–all the qualities to give one a Disney fairytale vibe…or, on a slightly more adventurous note, cause one to imagine Orcs running along after Dwarves bouncing in barrels along a river.
*I’m not much a photographer so if you’d like even more beautiful images of this trail, here’s a post from a photographer’s perspective: Photography at Avalanche Trail
Location of the Trail
- The best way to access the trail is from the West Glacier Entrance–as it’s very much near the darling Lake McDonald. Access to the trail is on the right, by Avalanche Creek, not very far after passing the very end of Lake McDonald. There’s a parking lot (or rather a few), but fair warning, it is CROWDED. We didn’t arrive until almost noon, so perhaps try getting a pretty early start.
- The name of the trail where you begin is actually the “Trail of the Cedars.” It’s a 1-mile, handicap accessible loop trail. It’s a very flat trail that takes you along the gorgeous Avalanche Creek.
- It is halfway (.5 miles) along this trail that you’ll reach the Avalanche Lake trailhead. You’ll be presented with the choice to (a) continue left along a bridge to complete the loop for the Trail of the Cedars or (b) veer right up a steady incline toward Avalanche Lake.
- I couldn’t wait until after we had returned from the lake to see the Avalanche Gorge though from the bridge (of the loop), so I skipped on over to it–little did I know the Avalanche Lake trail would offer even more incredible views of the gorge! I recommend viewing it before the rest of the hike AND after because I guarantee it will look slightly different each time.
- Once we veered up the official trail to Avalanche Lake, I kept stopping along the way to view the wonder of the water–glaring white or aqua-ish blue depending upon the way the light seeped through the trees.
- So I mentioned how flat the Trail of the Cedars is…therefore, one mile of the total 5.6 miles roundtrip requires only an easy stroll. The remaining 2.3-ish miles each way, however, is quite different. From the Avalanche Trail sign, one begins inclining. For some small stretches, it’s flat, and there’s even a couple downward slopes. I wouldn’t say it’s overly difficult–perhaps only slightly so or none at all if you’re an experienced hiker–but a novice will have to pause every now and then to take a breath most likely, as a few inclines can be quite steep. The best part about that though? It’s mostly downhill on the way back! When it comes down to it, the trail as a whole is most certainly doable. I do have to admit though–I love a destination you have to work hard to get to! I shook off my thin jacket pretty quickly.
- The lake is stunning. The water is ice, ice cold even in June. This didn’t stop me from taking off my shoes and wading through it a bit or a couple of kids from splashing around or even two daring guys from jumping right in it. (The sun was in and out–altering the look of the water–throughout these photos).
- There are three or so thin waterfalls rolling down the side of the mountains and into the lake; for me, the sight was reminiscent of the many similar waterfalls in Iceland. At the base of the mountains, the water has a sort of turquoise-ish hue, then is dark green mirroring the outlying forest, and finally brown, reflecting the bottom of the lake–the water itself clear, clear, and clean.
- What I absolutely loved about this lake–besides its beauty of course–is how much space is available to accommodate everyone. I read several warnings beforehand about it being highly trafficked, which was true (and can actually be a plus for avoiding bears), but not once did I feel overwhelmed by the number of people. We were able to sit on our own along a log and enjoy a small “picnic” of crackers and protein bars–all while feeling the peace of the lake.
It was all truly lovely–a day well spent!