Avalanche Lake Trail is one of the best day hikes in Glacier National Park. Whether you are bringing your kids along or not, the Avalanche Trail hike provides scenic views, little elevation gain, and a varied hiking experience. At almost 5 miles, it is definitely one of the most popular hikes in the park, and there is a good reason. Here is a guide to Avalanche Lake Trail so you know what to expect on your visit to Glacier National Park.
Getting to Avalanche Lake Trail
If you are coming from the West Glacier Entrance, this is one of the first major trails you will find. Keep following the Going to the Sun Road past the Apgar Visitor Center and Lake McDonald to your left. You will then see the Avalanche Campground area towards the right and some parking on the side of the road. This is where you park. If you are not here early in the morning, parking can be very difficult, as there are not many spaces.
The trailhead to Avalanche Lake Trail is accessed through the Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail. That is the only trail marker you will find at the start, in addition to signs that lead to towards Avalanche Gorge and Lake. Trail of Cedars is a boardwalk loop hike that takes you through some beautiful tall red cedars and ferns. This is a great little trail for toddlers or those with mobility issues. However, if you are planning to do the Avalanche Lake Trail, then do not do the loop. Take the Trail of the Cedars Trail until you see the Avalanche Gorge and follow signs leading to Avalanche Lake (they are very clearly marked).
What to Expect on the Avalanche Trail Hike
Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail
In order to reach Avalanche Lake, you will have to hike a short section of the Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail. This wheelchair and stroller friendly boardwalk trail takes you through a tall hemlock forest and right along the Avalanche Creek.
I would consider this more of a walk than a hike. If you do the loop, it is a mile, but if not, then keep heading towards Avalanche Gorge/Lake area. If traveling with little ones who may not be up for an almost 5 mile hike, then stop at Avalanche Gorge and turn back. It is a stunning area with beautiful colors and the sound of the rushing water is very soothing.
Avalanche Lake Trail
Once you pass Avalanche Gorge, here is where you continue on towards Avalanche Lake. The Avalanche Lake Trail is close to 5 miles round trip, but it’s not a difficult hike as the elevation gain is gradual and only about 600 feet. At the start of this trail, you will walk alongside Avalanche Creek. We stopped to take some pictures here and ended up with one of my favorite family vacation travel photos.
The Avalanche Trail hike up to the lake is about 2 miles, yet it is a beautiful wooded hike. We visited in 2018 and there was still evidence of a fire back in 2012 (the trail was closed for almost 3 years). I had read that this trail can close due to grizzly bear activity in the area, but we didn’t see anything. Be sure to carry bear spray when visiting Glacier National Park, as bear sightings are common in the park.
Once you reach Avalanche Lake, you are met with a gorgeous view of the mountains and greenish-blue clear water. There will likely be plenty of people here relaxing, picnicking, and even wading in the glacier-fed water! Take some time to soak in the views and appreciate the beauty of Glacier National Park. Once you are here, you will clearly see why this is one of the best day hikes in Glacier National Park.
We stopped to take some family pictures, have a snack, relax for a bit before heading back to the car. I was very lucky that when I walked up to Avalanche Lake, it was relatively quiet. We only stayed for 30 minutes, but as soon as we left, people were wading in the water and I would not have been able to get the picture I took above.
I didn’t know this when I hiked Avalanche Lake Trail, but you can keep going to the end of the lake, which is just under a mile further. I read that it much quieter over there and gives you a different perspective of the lake. I hope to hike this trail in the future and definitely plan to hike it to the end next time.
We enjoyed our hike back and went much quicker on the way back down, excited to hike to more areas of Glacier National Park. These two trails, Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake Trail, are just two of the hikes in the West Glacier area. There are so many more hikes in this Apgar area by Lake McDonald. If you’re looking for a guide on some activities and hikes to do in each area of the park, check out my review on what to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Our trip to Montana was part of a national park road trip out West we planned because our son was in 4th grade and we wanted to take advantage of the Every Kid in a Park program. Our whole family visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton, Glacier, Badlands, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park for free with the 4th grade national park pass and participated in quite a few junior ranger programs with the kids. This was one of the best national park vacations we’ve had!
Tips When Hiking to Avalanche Lake
- Bring bear spray
- Trekking poles are not really needed but may be helpful
- Wear layers, as the temperature varies from the forest to the lake
- Use hiking shoes (they provided much better grip)
- Bring snacks or a picnic lunch for when you get to the lake
- A Hydroflask water bottle is always important on a hike
- The All Trails app is useful to see your GPS location on the trail
Visiting the national parks is a great way to experience the beauty of the country and enjoy some outdoor activities. We often center vacations around the national parks and visit small towns along the way. Check out some of our other outdoor-inspired long trips:
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