Elevation Gain
1,009.00 ft (307.54 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
17.00 mi (27.36 km)
Warming hut
No
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In the summer, Avalanche Lake is a staple hike along Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. It is spectacular in the warmer seasons, but transforms into a rarely seen beauty of a trek in the winter time. As snow begins to fall in the park, the scenic road through Glacier closes 10 miles from the entrance and cuts off easy access to Avalanche Lake, but getting there is well worth the more strenuous adventure.

Setting out from the road closure gates at the Lake McDonald Lodge, the scenic road is transformed from a busy vehicle highway into a lightly used snowshoe and cross-country ski trail. This route is a 6-mile trek to the Avalanche Campground turnoff and has several gorgeous points of interest along McDonald Creek on the left. McDonald Falls and Sacred Dancing Cascades send crystal-clear blue water tumblling over rocks. Overhead, snow-covered mountains tower above the forest walls surrounding the road.

Continue just past the Avalanche Campground and turn right onto the Trail of Cedars junction at the bridge. This short section connects to the Avalanche Lake Trail and winds briefly through a stunning cedar grove before crossing over a deep and narrow chasm containing Avalanche Creek. Most of the trail is elevated on footbridges and is easy to follow without previous tracks.

In a half-mile, the Avalanche Lake Trail is marked and heads uphill to the left. Turn here and continue 2 miles to the lake. Because this trail seldom sees visitors in winter, light route finding may be required and deep powder makes this portion of the trail a strenuous trek even with snowshoes. The trail is about 4 feet wide, and signs of maintenance (cut logs, small bridges) clearly guide the way through the forest. The trail stays between Avalanche Creek on the left and the valley wall on the right. Just before the lake is the trail crest, and then a short descent to the shoreline brings relief from the uphill. Enjoy the spectacular views of a well-earned 8.5-mile journey as the forest opens up to display towering rock faces above the lake.

Avalanche Lake is likely frozen over and buried under several feet of snow in mid- to late winter, but exercise extreme caution and good judgement before venturing out onto the frozen water. To return, retrace a now broken trail back to the Lake McDonald Lodge.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Winter

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

Park entrance fee

Pros

Gorgeous. Secluded. Rarely seen. Wide-open view.

Cons

Cold. Remote. No park services.

Pets allowed

Allowed with Restrictions

Trailhead Elevation

3,228.00 ft (983.89 m)

Highest point

3,966.00 ft (1,208.84 m)

Features

Vault toilet
Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Wildlife
Big vistas

Typically multi-day

No

Groomed trail

No

Snowmobiles allowed

No

Location

Field Guide

Comments

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