Avalanche Lake: the essential hike near the West Glacier entrance of Glacier National Park, and the first trail we completed during our trip to the park.
Hiking Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park
Hiked: Early July
Best time to hike: June-October
Accessibility: Entirely paved highway and road
Length & elevation: 5.9 miles round trip, 757 feet elevation gain
Crowds: Highly trafficked
Trail views: Forest, stream, waterfalls, lake, mountains
We were based at Fish Creek Campground when we took this hike; it’s about a 30-minute drive to the trailhead from there. I had read that parking fills up rapidly at the trailhead, so we left our site at 6 am to arrive by 6:30. When we got there, the small parking lot right by the trailhead was already full! We later realized there were more possibilities for parking nearby, but ended up circling back and snagging a spot at the Trail of the Cedars lot right off the road on the right hand side (driving West to East).
The trail begins at the Trail of the Cedars, which is a lovely raised wooden platform walk through the trees with placards that inform hikers about the types of trees along the trail. It’s worth stopping to learn a bit about the natural flora. They even have haikus scattered throughout the trail.
After a short period, the Trail of the Cedars platforms end and you’ll end up on the Avalanche Lake Trail. The trail follows the stream/river for quite a distance; there are great opportunities to rest along and appreciate the water and it’s beautiful colors, so be sure to take some pit stops along the way.
The trail is mainly shaded through the forest, but there are a couple of spots where it opens up. One lovely area was this opening a bit more than halfway to the lake.
Above, left: early morning at the clearing. Morning light is so special. We also stopped on our hike back to capture the area when it was brighter with late morning sunshine.
The lake itself is as marvelous as it looks. Surrounded by mountains and waterfalls, with beautiful turquoise water, it’s one of the prettiest lakes I’ve been to. It’s not very swim-friendly, though, at least not in early July! It was painfully cold when we waded into the water.
There are several benches at the beach of the lake, so it’s ideal for a snack or lunch break.
We loved this hike. While it’s heavily trafficked, it’s still totally worth it. It’s a really great pay off for the amount of effort it took to get to the lake. It’s family-friendly, pretty flat, and easy enough that you can really just take it slowly and soak in the beauty all around you. Avalanche Lake is a people pleaser and a must-see if you’re in the western side of Glacier National Park.