5 Top Day Hikes in Lake McDonald
Ten miles long and nearly 500 feet deep Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park, echos the carving of Ice-age glaciers. The main valley glacier thousands of feet thick carved McDonald Valley and Lake. As the glacier receded, the rocks and debris carried in its ice were deposited to form the lateral moraines or ridges east and west of the lake.
High peaks surrounding the lake all show evidence of the power of glaciers to sculpt even the hardest of rock. Many popular hikes originate here and with Glacier’s shuttle getting to these trailheads has never been easier. Here is a list of some of the day hikes I had the opportunity to explore. Check them out!
List of Day Hikes To Check It Out
Apgar Lookout Trail is 3.6 miles one-way (5.8 km) with the elevation gain of 1,850 ft (564 m) The trailhead is located 0.5 miles north of the West Entrance. The summit of Apgar Mountain provides a spectacular view of Lake McDonald and the mountains in the distance. 95 percent of the trail is exposed to the sun. I would recommend bringing sunscreen, and 2-3 liters of water.
The trail is located in the grizzly bear area. Making noise either by clapping your hands or using poles will work. Carrying a bear spray is strongly recommended.
On the trail, I was happy to team up with my new friend Amanda and her husband Donnie. We hiked together the entire time. Overall, the hike is worth exploring it! The scenery and the views are spectacular!
Avalanche Lake Trail is 2.3 mi (3.7 km) miles one-way with an elevation gain of 500 ft (152 m) Trailhead is at the Avalanche Picnic Area. The lake sits at the base of 8694-foot Bearhat Mountain, which rises almost 4800 feet above the lake towards the northeast. The mountain dominating the view towards the south is 7886-foot Little Matterhorn. If you look closely at the cliffs and mountains that surround the lake you’ll notice several long waterfalls plunging hundreds of feet as they make their way towards the lake. Many of these waterfalls originate from Sperry Glacier, which rests beyond Little Matterhorn and can’t be seen from the lake.
For perhaps a little more solitude, as well as some varying perspectives of the surrounding mountains, hikers can continue on the trail as it follows along the western shoreline to the head of the lake.
3. Sperry Chalet
The hike to Sperry Chalet begins from the Sperry Trailhead, located across the road from the Lake McDonald Lodge. In a very short distance, after passing the horse path, the trail becomes known as the Gunsight Pass Trail. It is 6.3 miles (10.1km) with an elevation gain of 3,432ft (1,046 m). Almost immediately the trail begins climbing, passing through an old growth forest of red cedar, western larch and hemlock in the lower elevations, to a dense spruce-fir forest as it ascends higher. Hikers will have already climbed more than 900 feet before reaching the Mt. Brown Trail junction, roughly 1.6 miles from the trailhead. Many hikers and horseback riders will be sharing this heavily used segment of the trail as they head up to Sperry Chalet and other points in the area.
4. Huckleberry Lookout Trail
Huckleberry Lookout trail is aptly named, for huckleberries do abound in this area. During certain times of the season, usually late summer-early fall, the trail closes due to bear activity. The heavy concentration of huckleberries attracts a significant bruin population looking to bulk up for the winter. The trail begins with a gentle walk through lodgepole forest. Soon the path climbs, steadily gaining elevation amount larches until it emerges on steep-sloped meadows and reaches a saddle at 4.5 miles. In a short reprieve from the climb, the trail traverses a wide bowl until it crests the Apgar RAnge for the final ascent to the lookout at 6,593feet. A spectacular view of the North Fork Valley and the park’s Livingston Range unfolds. Snow often packs the upper trail until mid-July.
5. Mt. Brown Lookout Trail
Mount Brown is located just northeast of the northern end of Lake McDonald on the west side of Glacier National Park. It is one of the first larger peaks seen by visitors entering the Park from West Glacier. Mt. Brown Lookout Trail is 5.2 miles (8.4 km) with an elevation gain of 4,325ft (1,318m). The summit of Mount Brown offers excellent views of much of the Park.
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