Glacier National Park: West Glacier and the Lake McDonald Valley

The Lake McDonald Valley, located near the western entrance of the park is one of the most popular and most visited areas in Glacier National Park. This wide valley was carved out by massive slow moving glaciers during the last ice age, and today it is home of beautiful Lake McDonald, the largest lake within the park.

Lake McDonald in West Glacier

The Lake

Lake McDonald is nearly 10 miles long and a mile wide, with a depth of more than 470 feet in it’s deepest regions. The surface elevation of Lake McDonald is 3,153 feet and it boasts a breathtaking backdrop of stunning glacier peaks that rise abruptly thousands of feet above the valley floor. Heavens Peak, Mt. Cannon, Mt. Brown, Edwards Mountain, and the Little Matterhorn are just a few of the stunning mountain peaks that add to the impressive backdrop of

Lake McDonald.

The lake is home to many native species of trout and other game fish including westslope cutthroat, rainbow trout, bull trout, Lake Superior whitefish, kokanee salmon and more.

The Lodges

The Going-to-the-Sun Road runs along the eastern shoreline of the lake and there are a number of historic lodging facilities that dot the shoreline as well including the Lake McDonald Lodge and cabins near the north end of the lake. Architecturally influenced by the lodges of the swiss alps, this beautiful lodge was constructed in 1913 - 1914 and designed to resemble a hunting lodge. The Lake McDonald Motor Inn is also a part of the Lake McDonald Lodging complex, but provides more basic motor-inn style rooms at an economical price. And the Village Inn and Cabins which is located at the southern end of the lake in Apgar Village.

Apgar Village

Apgar Village is a popular spot for visitors to the park to stop and relax on a summer afternoon. It offers lodging, a gift store and ranger station, a couple dining options, boat rentals, a small convenience store, and an ice cream shop. It also offers breathtaking views of Lake McDonald and some prime photo opportunities.

Inhabitants

The Lake McDonald valley is also home to several other species of Glacier National Parks inhabitants including grizzly and black bears, moose, mule deer and many species of birds and small forest mammals.

Hiking Trails

There are several popular trails that originate in the Lake McDonald valley and weave their way through the forests and wilderness areas and up the sides of steep mountains in Glacier National Park as well.

Some of the popular ones include:

Trail of the Cedars, a short, nearly level loop trail that is made up of paved blacktop and an beautiful boardwalk that weaves through an old growth forest of giant cedars. This trail is a family-friendly trail that nearly everyone in the family can enjoy including grandma. It is even wheel-chair accessible.

The Avalanche Lake Trail starts near the far end of the Trail of the Cedars loop, and continues back into a picturesque valley to your destination which is Avalanche Lake, a stunning glacierfed lake resting in a magnificent bowl surrounded by steep mountain walls and cascading waterfalls. The trail is approximately 4.6-miles round trip, and borders Avalanche creek for a large portion of the hike. The trail gains about 500ft of elevation over its duration but is a fairly easy hike for anyone in reasonable physical shape.

For those looking for a little more demanding adventure, the Trail to Sperry Chalet, is quite rewarding. This trail is about 12.6 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of about 3,400 feet. The trailhead starts alongside Going-to-the-Sun-Road near Lake McDonald Lodge and leads you six-plus miles back into Glacier’s stunning back country to a beautiful stone-built backcountry lodge built on a bluff overlooking the valley and Lake McDonald.

Campgrounds

The Lake McDonald Valley is also home to a few national park-run campgrounds including:

Apgar Campground

The Apgar campground is located near Apgar Village and is one of the larger campgrounds within the park. It provides 194 campsites and offers potable water, and restrooms with flush toilets and running water.

Fish Creek Campground

Fish Creek campground is located along the western shore of Lake McDonald about two and a half miles up Camas Creek Road. This campground offers 178 campsites also with potable water, and restrooms with flush toilets and running water.

Sprague Creek Campground

Sprague Creek Campground is situated further up the eastern shore of Lake McDonald between Apgar Village and Lake McDonald Lodge. Sprague Creek campground includes 25 campsites and is open from early May through mid-September. Potable water is accessible in the campground, and restroom facilities provide flush toilets and sinks with running water. A picnic area is also located within the campground.

Avalanche Campground

A few miles north of lake McDonald is where you will find the Avalanche Lake Campground. This campground is located right next to the popular Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake Trail. Avalanche Lake campground offers 87 campsites. Potable water is accessible in the campground, and restroom facilities are equipped with flush toilets and sinks with running water.

Some things to consider when making your camping trip plans to Glacier National Park

Many of the campgrounds located inside Glacier National Park are only available on a first come first served basis, and do not allow for prior reservations to be made in advance. During the summer months these available campsites will be all filled up within the first hour or two of daylight.

Also, many of the campgrounds inside the park are better suited for tent camping or very small travel trailers and campers, and are not well suited for larger RV's or travel trailers. If you are traveling with a larger rig, you might want to call and make reservations at one of the RV campgrounds just outside the entrance to Glacier Park, like Columbia Falls RV Park which is located just a few miles outside the western entrance to Glacier National Park. You can reach Columbia Falls RV Park to make reservations by calling 888-401-7268


Directions: From the intersection of Hwy 206 & Hwy 2 - Take Hwy 2 headed towards Columbia Falls (turn west). You will pass the Water slides, then further up go over the bridge crossing the Flathead river. CFRV Park is just about 1/2-3/4 mile after you go over the bridge on the Right-hand side of the highway. Watch for our Tall sign.

From the intersection of Hwy 2 & Junction 40. Head East on hwy 2 going to Columbia Falls. We are located on the East side of town, on the left-hand side of the road. Watch for our tall sign. After about the second or third light signal you will want to get in the left (inside) lane so you can make a left turn into our Entrance. This is on a slight curve just past the last stop light. Drive carefully. Watch for our Tall sign on the left.

Directions from Hwy 93 & Junction 40. From the intersection of Hwy 93 and Hwy 40 head east on Hwy 40 till you come to the intersection of Hwy 2 and Hwy 40 (approx. 4.5 miles). Continue driving straight east into Columbia Falls (hwy 40 automatically turns into hwy 2 at the intersection). After about the second or third light signal you will want to get in the left (inside) lane so you can make a left turn into our Entrance. This is on a slight curve just past the last stop light. Drive carefully. Watch for our Tall sign on the left.

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