Hiking Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park: Detailed Guide

Have you ever stepped off the trail because of a loud pair of Chatty Cathy’s behind you? Or taken an extra break to let a rambunctious family get a little farther ahead? If you are like most folks who step on to the trail you are hoping to commune with nature. And that is pretty hard to do when you have a lot of people walking with you. There are trails where I felt that we might as well be walking down Michigan Ave during the Christmas shopping season. I love the hustle and bustle in the city, just not on the trails.

So I was surprised when I found myself loving our hike to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park. I actually enjoyed the crowded trail. It’s a fairly easy 4.5 mile round trip hike with a wide open trail and an elevation gain of only 700ft. And the end goal is an amazing, beautiful glacial lake surrounded by tall mountain waterfalls. It is the perfect hike for families or less athletic visitors. It’s no wonder that it is a very popular walk in Glacier. Rather than being annoyed by the busy trail, I found myself enjoying the people around us.

Link to Glacier National Park Travel Guide

About the trail to Avalanche Lake

The trail started with 3 families traveling with a gaggle of small children. I turned to Brad and suggested we let them move ahead so we could enjoy the quiet. We were destined to be tangled with them throughout the whole hike. As we progressed we found ourselves enjoying them. Yes they were noisy to which we laughed about their natural bear repellent ability. But they were also interested in the trail. Brad found a standing hollow tree and showed it to a couple of the older children to their delight. It was great fun to observe the trail through the eyes of these youngsters.

The path follows Avalanche Creek for most of the hike. Along the way there were plenty of places you could stop and sit on a log or boulder and enjoy the energy of the creek. At one point we were in awe of the strength of the water rushing down the creek. The erosion had rounded the giant boulders create a whirlpool effect.

About halfway to Avalanche Lake, we came across a large group who were completely blocking the trail as they listened to a ranger talk. Rather than being irked by the trail blockage, we decided to take a break and eavesdrop as the ranger talked about water conservation.Avalanche Creek in Glacier National Park

What you will see at Glacier’s Avalanche Lake

Upon arriving at the magnificent Avalanche Lake we found several dozen hikers mingling and helping each other with pictures. Each group politely moved out of the way to allow the next arrivals to get the best shots. There was a feeling of comradery and respect you seldom find in our hectic world.

You can’t help but be in awe of the waterfalls racing hundreds of feet down the far mountain wall to feed this lake. It was fun to pull out our hiking binoculars and trace the waterfalls down the side of the mountains.

Avalanche Lake Waterfalls in Glacier National Park

We wandered down to the far end of the lake where the trail is less traveled and found a mountain view that many only dream of. Some crazy kids were swimming in the lake which you can imagine was quite chilly!

Hike to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park

The hike to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park reminded us of an important life truism. It’s so easy to get caught up in working to achieve your goal that we often forget to enjoy the small delights of the trail. Instead of distracting from our opportunity to observe nature at its finest, the busy trail forced us to slow down and see the woods around us.

We won’t be purposely seeking out busy trails as we do enjoy the quiet of the woods. But when we do find ourselves walking with a large group we are going to slow down and embrace what they bring to the experience.

What Do you Need for Hiking to Avalanche Lake?

This hike is fairly easy and flat with a wide well marked trail. You don’t need to bring a full backpack. What you will want is your camera, binoculars and plenty of water. I’d also suggest a light jacket as it was rather cool once we arrived at the lake. Rain is always possible with no notice in the mountains! If you are planning to make a day of this easy hike, bring along one of these ultralight camping chairs and a lunch. The beach on the far side of the lake is a perfect place for a picnic.

Where is the trailhead to Avalanche Lake?

You’ll find the start of the trail about 5 miles West of Lake McDonald Lodge on Going to the Sun Road. Note this is a popular family hike, so parking will be limited. The good news is that because it is a shorter hike, cars are leaving quite often so you shouldn’t have to wait long for a spot.

What are the best hikes in Glacier National Park?

We gathered some of our other favorites in this post on the Best Day Hikes in Glacier. Some are short easy family hikes and some are full day challenges. Pop on over to that article for more great hiking ideas.

For more Hiking ideas while you are visiting Glacier National Park check out these other articles:


  • Ladona Stork

    The Authors: Hey, we are Ladona and Brad, avid campers and hikers. We are crazy about getting outdoors at every possible moment and have decades of experience exploring nature. Our current goal is to visit all 63 US National Parks and just completed #42. WooHoo! Our mission is to help you plan your own adventures and create memories beyond your imagination!