Avalanche Lake is a beautiful 4 mile (roundtrip) out and back hike in Glacier National Park. This hike starts at the Trail of the Cedars trailhead located at the north end of Lake McDonald. Though the trail is very busy, the hike is beautiful and well shaded for most of the distance.
- Rating: moderate
- Distance: 4.0 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 730 feet
- Fees: Glacier National Park Fee
- Tips: Parking is tricky, so arrive early in the morning or later in the day. You can also ride the shuttle to this stop to avoid parking drama.
- We recommend hiking from the east side of the Trail of the Cedars toward Avalanche Lake. This way you will pass the waterfall on your way to the lake.
One of the main problems at Avalanche Lake is parking. This is increasingly true in all our National Parks, so plan to arrive early to get a spot. The trail begins along the Trail of the Cedars trail which wanders through the trees. The trees are helpfully signed, and include cedars, willows, hemlock, and yew. A boardwalk path keeps you off the forest floor for this section of the hike and it is nice and flat.
There are signs to help along the way, and about halfway around the Trail of the Cedars one will point the way to Avalanche Lake. This trail leaves the boardwalk and climbs up to Avalanche Lake. The first 50 meters is a steep, slick climb, but after that, the trail evens out. It is still uphill, but it is a steady angle from that point on.
The trail follows closely to the stream that cascades out of the lake, and the water is a nice light aqua color because it comes from the glaciers. Our youngest, who is six, had no problem with this hike, though he’s a pretty avid hiker. Eventually, you reach the crest of a ridge, and the trail begins to descend to the edge of the lake.
Avalanche lake is very shallow, sparkling blue, and in July when we were there, surrounded by cascades of water. The lake sits in a towering bowl with massive snow banks that are being pressed into glaciers all around. Each of these has it’s own waterfall running down into the lake.
If you continue along the shore to the right, the trail takes you all the way to the far end of the lake. There are openings in the trees that lead down to rocky beaches. You may even find a bench if the crowds aren’t too thick.
We tried dipping our feet in the water, and it is painfully cold. After just a few seconds, we were nearly frozen! The boys enjoyed skipping rocks across the glassy surface of the lake, though. Mom and Dad marveled at the beauty of Avalanche Lake while they watched the boys.
There are two options on the way back to the car. You may return the way you came, or you may return to the boardwalk and continue on around the Trail of the Cedars, which adds a little easy distance to this hike. If you didn’t see the cascade on the way out, make sure to stop and see the beautiful little waterfall which is near the branch off to Avalanche Lake. You can also just hike Trail of the Cedars if Avalanche Lake seems to long.
Be sure to check out all of our Glacier National Park Kid Hikes to help you plan your trip!