Glacier National Park, Montana -
The Hike to Avalanche Lake
by Joseph A. Sprince - Photography by Gerald B. Allen
Avalanche Lake sits just below the Continental Divide on the west side of Glacier National Park.
An excellent and popular trail follows roaring Avalanche Creek (left) up to the lake.
The dense woods are dark and damp early in the morning, almost spooky, and are an excellent wildlife
habitat. We observed deer here the previous day. A sign at the trailhead warns
that this area is grizzy bear country. There would have been no way to spot
a bear in these dark woods.
Avalanche Lake is a study in unspoiled wilderness with snow covered mountains
rising above the lake. There are glaciers on the these mountains but visibility
is limited by clouds and fog.
The lake is ringed by very dense and
lush vegetation. The Contintental Divide acts as a rain shadow for the Glacier National Park's
west side, and the closer you get to the barrier, the more precipitation. Thus,
the area features trees and vegetation much more akin to the lush coastal
forests of the Pacific Northwest. At right, a sample of the vegetation near the lake.
Hiking in a dark, soggy forest can sometimes be tricky. On the way back, I
tripped on a root, fell in the mud, and cut my hand. Trying to clean off
in the fast-running creek, I slipped into the water. No major trauma, but
a nice mess to clean back at the car. Outdoor life isn't always easy!
Trail of the Cedars. Across from the Avalanche Campground ranger station, this 0.4 mile loop nature trail on a level boardwalk allows elderly and handicapped visitors a chance to experience the lush forests of Avalanche Canyon. During our visit deer were present along this trail.
About Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is in northern Montana along the Canadian
border. West Glacier is accessed from Missoula, Montana, via US-93 North (160 miles) or Montana routes 200,
83, and 40 (about 170 miles, a bit slower but very scenic). St. Mary, the east side entrance, is accessed
from Helena Montana via I-15 North, US-2, US-89 (255 miles) or I-15, US-287, US-89 (203 miles but a bit
The remoteness of Glacier National Park gives the park a feeling of wildness and less congestion than you
will find in Yellowstone National Park or Jackson, Wyoming. You can
usually find a campsite even during prime summer season if you stop early enough in the day. Unfortunately,
the long driving distances will add days to your trip. If you are coming from Yellowstone, allow at least
five extra days to see some of the park.
The west and east sides of the Glacier National Park offer very different environments. The Continental
Divide creates a rain shield over Lake McDonald Valley, the heart of
Glacier's west side. The result is a mild, moist climate with dense forests and lush undergrowth similar
to the Pacific Northwest. Glacier's east side is drier and more open. Popular east side locales
include Many Glacier (north) and
Two Medicine (south). The remote
Goat Haunt, on the north side, can be accessed only by a unique boat ferry across Waterton Lake,
originating from Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park. There are no cars at the Goat Haunt
(but many mosquitos), and it has the feel of a different world.
There is a variety of lodging
available in Glacier National Park. There are historic grand hotels dating back to the early 1900's,
including the Lake McDonald Lodge and the Many Glacier Hotel. Here you can sit in beautiful old greatrooms
in front of a huge fireplace with a roaring fire. Other lodging ranges from modern motels to rustic cabins.
There are also two backcountry chalets available to hikers.
The most famous highlight of Glacier National Park is the
Going-to-the-Sun Road. The scenic drive is considered one of the most
spectacular in America. It climbs over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. The most stunning section
is the sheer western face of the divide below the pass. Many beautiful waterfalls can be seen in this
area as well as wonderful alpine views. Going-to-the-Sun is generally closed due to snow until after
The park offers opportunities for fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing. Moose are especially prevalent
in the Many Glacier region. Hikers need to be prepared for the possibility
of grizzly bears anywhere in the park. You can also obtain boat rentals, horseback rides, and guided hikes
For more park information, ranger programs and visitor services, visit the
Glacier National Park Website Visitor Center.
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Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana adjacent to the Canadian border. Access to the park's east side is by secondary roads from I-15 north of Helena. Access to the west side is by secondary roads north of Missoula which is on I-90.
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