2024 Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park Hiking Guide

One of our favorite hikes of all time was Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park! We hiked this trail in August and it was absolutely gorgeous. Today, I want to share with you everything you should know about hiking Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park.

Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park Hiking Quick Facts & Important Info

The Avalanche Lake hike is located in Glacier National Park, which is in the northwest region of Montana in the northern United States, and is one of the best Western National Parks!

This park boasts over 700 miles of hiking trails with gorgeous mountains, glaciers, crystal blue rivers, and an abundance of wildlife which makes it a popular travel destination.

There are a multitude of gorgeous hikes, but Avalanche Lake is one of the best hikes in Glacier National Park.

Couple standing on a rock on the edge of Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park. They are surrounded by extreme beauty including blue skies, rugged tree-covered mountains, and a beautiful blue lake.

How to get to Avalanche Lake in the park

Glacier National Park is quite large, with multiple entrances. One of the nice things about the Avalanche Lake Trail is that it’s located near the West Glacier entrance.

You won’t have to drive the Going To The Sun Road to reach the trailhead, saving you a lot of driving time if you use the west entrance of the park.

The Avalanche Lake trailhead is a little over 30 mins drive from the Apgar Visitor Center, which is right inside the west entrance of Glacier National Park.

Avalanche Lake trailhead info

You’ll start your hike at the Trail of the Cedars trailhead, and after a short trek, you’ll then reach the Avalanche Lake trailhead.

The Trail of the Cedars trailhead has a very small, limited parking lot. We had to circle a few times before finding an opportunity to park.

You can often find an extended parking spot further down, but you must hike back up the road to reach the trailhead from the overflow parking area.

This trailhead is also near the Avalanche Campground. As far as trailhead amenities go, the campground offers restrooms with flush toilets and sinks with running water.

Nearby, Lake McDonald Lodge also offers additional amenities, which you can take advantage of on your drive into the park.

There is a pit toilet near the lake at the top of the trail, but it is more of an outhouse with a vaulted toilet.

The trailhead for Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park. The trail winds up through the trees, and an information sign is posted at the bottom.

Length and time for the hike to Avalanche Lake

The trail is 6.7 miles round-trip (including the Trail of the Cedars). It took us roughly 5 hours to complete the hike but we did spend a good bit of time enjoying the lake once we reached the top.

To be safe, we recommend leaving yourself 6-8 hours to complete the hike, especially if you plan to pack a picnic or take a swim in the lake.

Trail difficulty and elevation gain

The Avalanche Lake trail is rated as moderate and has a total elevation gain of 757 feet, and the highest point of elevation is just under 4,000 feet.

While most average hikers won’t have any difficulty on this hike, there are parts of the trail that include steep inclines and even some steps.

We took breaks as needed to rest and drink water. Plan to take frequent stops on your way up to the lake. Of course, coming back down is much easier.

If you are looking to enjoy a beautiful walk/hike in this area that isn’t difficult, the Trail of the Cedars is fully accessible, even for wheelchairs and strollers.

Best times to hike Avalanche Lake

The hike to Avalanche Lake is accessible in the Spring, Summer, and Fall months, although there can be periodic closures due to weather or wildlife.

The best months to hike Avalanche Lake are May through September, although July and August are the most popular months for sure.

As far as what is the best time to hike to Avalanche Lake, that really depends on your personal preference. Many people choose to hike early in the morning to avoid the larger crowds, but the lake is shaded in the morning and isn’t as beautiful in my opinion.

We started our hike in the late morning/early afternoon, and the view when we got to the top was stunning! The sun glistening off of the lake and surrounding waterfalls was absolutely gorgeous.

So, in my opinion, it’s best to start the hike a little later in the day. The extra people on the trail will be worth it!

Looking up at the trees in the forest on our hike. The trees are incredibly tall!

2024 park entrance reservation info

It is important to know that for the main 2024 tourist season, advanced vehicle reservations are required to enter the park.

Reservations are required at the west entrance from May 24 to September 8, 2024, from 6 am to 3 pm. You’ll need this vehicle reservation in addition to your park entrance pass.

These reservations are bookable the day before at 8 am and can only be purchased on Recreation.gov here.

If you can’t get an advanced reservation, you can still enter the park before 6 am or after 3 pm without a pass.

Hiking with dogs in Glacier National Park

Like most national parks, dogs are not allowed on most of the trails in Glacier National Park, so you must make arrangements for your pets accordingly.

Of course, this does not apply to service dogs. If you plan to hike in Glacier National Park with a service dog, you will need to attend a safety briefing and obtain a permit.

The Apgar Village Trail is dog-friendly if you’re looking for somewhere to take your dog for a walk. We took our dog Cap, and he enjoyed it! It’s a shorter hike and not nearly as scenic, but he enjoyed getting out with us.

Trail highlights and what to expect on this hike

Hiking to Avalanche Lake via Trail of the Cedars

Okay, now that we’ve covered some basic info and quick facts, let me tell you what to expect on this hike. First of all, this hike is gorgeous! It was my favorite hike in Glacier National Park, and is one of the best national park hikes we’ve ever done!

As mentioned earlier, the hike begins with a short walk through the Trail of Cedars. All can enjoy this easy hike. It is primarily a boardwalk trail and is very peaceful. We even enjoyed taking pictures with some giant uprooted tree stumps a short distance from the start of the hike! This first trail is a short loop; you can start at either end.

When you are almost to the Avalanche Lake trailhead, you’ll come to Avalanche Gorge. This is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places in Glacier National Park!

Avalanche Gorge in Glacier National Park showing the beautiful blue water of the creek flowing through the rocky cliffs.

It felt like it couldn’t even be real because it was so magical! Avalanche Creek flows through the gorge and is created by glacier melt-off. The water is insanely blue and is mesmerizing!

After starting on the Avalanche Lake trailhead, you’ll be running along the river for about a mile. Then, you will split off and climb through a forest of hemlock and cedar trees.

This is where things got steep, but there are plenty of large boulders that make perfect places to sit and rest if you need to! If it’s a hot day, make sure to stop and hydrate frequently.

Near the top of the trail, the foliage gets thicker. There were times when the foliage grew over the trail and made it narrow, which required us to hike single-file. There were also downed trees along the trail, but none had fallen over the trail.

Enjoying Avalanche Lake at the top of the hike

Once you reach the top of the hike, you will emerge from the woods and immediately be met with a stunning view of Avalanche Lake. The lake has gorgeous deep blue water, contrasting beautifully with the green mountains and ribbons of waterfalls surrounding it.

You can either access the lake right away, or you can hike around it to the opposite side. After stopping for a few quick photos, we highly recommend hiking around to the far end of the lake and enjoying the other side.

The view of Avalanche Lake when you first emerge from the woods. The edge of the lake is full of downed trees. There are two waterfalls visible in the distance.

A few glaciers feed the lake on the far side, so the water is much cleaner and more enjoyable. Trust us; it’s worth the additional hiking! We found that there were also fewer people on the far side of the lake, so it was easier to find a space with some privacy.

Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy lakeside on the long beach area and explore the beautiful colored rocks. If you’re brave enough to jump in the icy water for a swim, it’s crystal clear! Either bring a swimsuit to wear under your hiking clothes or consider packing a change of clothes for the hike back down.

We spent at least an hour or more enjoying the views and dipping our toes in the water. The views of this area are second to none! Glacier-covered mountains will surround you with multiple visible waterfalls. We counted at least 5!

Wildlife you could encounter on this hike

There is an abundance of wildlife in Glacier National Park. A few of the animals you might expect to see on the Avalanche Lake Trail include birds, chipmunks, deer, and bears. Of course, there are other animals in the park, including mountain goats, which we were lucky enough to see on a different day!

Four white mountain goats grazing on green grass in Glacier National Park. Three are adults and one is a baby.

During months when bears may be frequenting the area, the park rangers may close down parts of the trail. Always check the Glacier National Park website for the latest information on bear activity and trail closures.

We didn’t see a bear ourselves on this trail, but one had been spotted at the lake about an hour before our arrival. Our group did see a bear on the nearby Johns Lake Loop Trail on a different day.

Tips for hiking to Avalanche Lake

Keep an eye on the weather

This hike is best enjoyed during clear weather. If rain is in the forecast, you may want to consider an alternate hike. If you do decide to hike in the rain, make sure you are prepared with waterproof hiking clothes and shoes.

Additionally, snow can affect whether or not this trail is open in the early season. Always check the park website for current trail closures.

What to pack for this hike

There are a few things you should consider bringing along for this hike.

  • Bear Spray – Always be prepared for bear encounters when hiking in Glacier National Park!
  • A Swimsuit – For if you want to take a plunge into the lake.
  • Water – Make sure to stay hydrated!
  • Snacks – You’ll want a few snacks to enjoy along the way, as well as once you reach the lake. Maybe even pack a small picnic!
  • Offline Maps – Be sure to download an offline map of the trail. Service here is not reliable. We recommend using AllTrails.
  • Bug Spray – Keep the pesky bugs at bay so you can fully enjoy the hike!
Couple standing on a rock smiling at each other on the edge of Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park. The sky is bright blue, the mountains are rugged and stunning, and the lake is a mix of grey and blue hues.

Beware of bears

Glacier National Park has an abundance of both grizzly bears and black bears. If you are not used to hiking in bear territory, then you need to familiarize yourself with bear safety.

Always carry bear spray when hiking, and ensure you know how to use it. Also, make a lot of noise when hiking, especially if you’re hiking alone. Most bears here are harmless unless they feel threatened. If they hear you coming in advance, most of the time, they will leave, and you might not even see them.

If bear activity in the area is too heavy, park rangers may close the trail for safety reasons. You can check the park website here to monitor any current trail closures.

How to avoid crowds

Avalanche Lake is one of the most popular hikes in Glacier National Park. If you’re concerned about crowds and want to avoid them, it’s best to start this hike very early in the morning.

You’ll pass quite a few hikers on your return trip back to your car, but you should have much more privacy at the lake. If you wait until late afternoon, you’re almost guaranteed a large crowd.

Additionally, hiking this trail in May or even late September can be another way to avoid large crowds.

Other nearby hikes in Glacier National Park

While Avalanche Lake might be one of the most beautiful hikes in the park, there are many other amazing options nearby. Here are a few of the best!

  • Highline Trail: Starting at Logan Pass, this trail offers a heart-pounding hike along the Garden Wall with stunning panoramic views. It’s a must-do for those seeking breathtaking vistas and the chance to see some mountain goats up close.
  • Hidden Lake Overlook: Starting from the Logan Pass Visitor Center, this hike takes you through alpine meadows bursting with wildflowers. The reward at the end? An awe-inspiring view of Hidden Lake, surrounded by towering peaks.
  • Johns Lake Loop: A shorter loop that offers both serene forest settings and a chance to marvel at the powerful water dynamics of Sacred Dancing Cascade and McDonald Falls. It’s an underrated gem, perfect for a quieter day out.
  • St. Mary Falls & Virginia Falls: A relatively easy trail that showcases not one but two majestic waterfalls. Bring your camera for these cascades; the play of light and water is something to behold.
  • Apgar Lookout: Starting near Apgar Village, this trail gives you a steady climb up to a fire lookout with panoramic views of Lake McDonald and the Apgar Mountains. It’s a great spot to really appreciate the vastness of the park.
  • Sperry Glacier Trail: More challenging and best for seasoned hikers, this trail takes you past Sperry Chalet up to the majestic Sperry Glacier. It’s a strenuous journey, but the spectacular glacier views and alpine settings make it worth every step.
  • Lake McDonald West Shore: A mellow hike that runs along the western shoreline of Lake McDonald, it’s perfect for those wanting a lakeside stroll with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and occasional glimpses of local wildlife.
  • Running Eagle Falls Trail: This trail is an easy and accessible route that leads to one of the park’s most unique water features, Running Eagle Falls, also known as “Trick Falls.”

Depending on your mood and stamina, there’s always a perfect hike waiting for you in Glacier National Park!

Couple hiking in Glacier National Park. They are posed on a trail with a rugged mountain behind them.

Other things to do nearby in Glacier National Park

While the hiking here is fantastic, there are many other epic things to do in the park. Here are just a few!

  • Horseback Riding Tours: Experience the park in the most timeless way by saddling up for a horseback ride. Guided tours can take you through quiet forest trails, offering a different perspective of the park’s beauty.
  • White Water Rafting: For those seeking a heart-pumping adventure, white water rafting on the Flathead River is a must. Feel the thrill of the rapids, surrounded by Glacier’s dramatic landscapes.
  • Driving Going-to-the-Sun Road: A bucket-list experience, this iconic road offers jaw-dropping vistas, alpine meadows, and the chance to see wildlife. Make sure to stop at the Logan Pass Visitor Center and take in the views!
  • Kayaking on Lake McDonald: Glide through the calm waters of Lake McDonald, with the towering mountains reflecting in its pristine surface. Rent a kayak or canoe and experience the serenity of the lake first-hand.
  • Guided Wildlife Tours: Join expert naturalists to spot Glacier’s abundant wildlife. From elusive mountain goats to majestic bald eagles, these tours are a treat for nature enthusiasts.
  • Mountain Biking: Explore the park’s designated bike trails and get your adrenaline pumping. The varied terrains cater to both beginners and seasoned bikers.
  • Fishing Trips: The streams and lakes here are teeming with a variety of fish. Hire a local guide and try your luck at catching cutthroat trout or mountain whitefish.
  • Camping Under the Stars: Pitch a tent in one of the park’s campsites and spend the night under a canopy of stars. The clear nights here can offer spectacular stargazing opportunities.
  • Scenic Boat Tours: Take a leisurely boat tour on one of the park’s iconic lakes. With knowledgeable guides sharing tales of the park, it’s both relaxing and educational.
  • Take a Day Trip to Polebridge: Polebridge offers a delightful escape from the crowds. This tiny off-the-grid community, known for its rustic charm and the legendary Polebridge Mercantile (don’t skip their pastries!), serves as a gateway to the remote northwest corner of the park.

With so many varied activities and hidden gems around Glacier National Park, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

A group of people enjoying a whitewater rafting tour on the Flathead River in Glacier National Park

Where to stay nearby

Here are a few accommodation options near the Avalanche Lake hiking trail.

  • Lake McDonald Lodge: A historic gem nestled on the shores of Lake McDonald, this lodge is known for its rustic charm and cozy ambiance. With its Swiss-chalet architecture and grand fireplace in the lobby, it’s the perfect place to unwind after a day on the trails. Enjoy lake views, fine dining, and a genuine sense of Glacier’s history during your stay.
  • Apgar Village Inn: Overlooking the southern end of Lake McDonald, this inn offers serene cabin accommodations right at the heart of the park. With its prime location, you’ll be steps away from boat rentals, guided tours, and the mesmerizing evening colors of the lake. The simplicity of the cabins, paired with the surrounding beauty, offers a genuine Glacier experience.
  • Belton Chalet: Located just outside the park’s West Entrance, the Belton Chalet is a beautifully restored historic railroad hotel. Boasting both modern amenities and a nod to the past, the chalet exudes old-world charm. With gourmet dining on-site and easy access to the park, it’s a delightful blend of comfort and convenience.

Each of these accommodations captures a unique essence of Glacier National Park, ensuring that even your nights are steeped in the region’s natural beauty.

Stunning panoramic views of Glacier National Park. There is a glacier visible in the distance between mountain peaks with green trees in front.

Final thoughts about Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park

I hope this post has inspired you to hike to Avalanche Lake during your next visit to Glacier National Park!

Happy hiking!

Much Love, Janae xoxo
Photo of author
Janae, alongside her husband, Tucker, has turned the world into her playground. Having lived and traveled in an RV for over four years, she has trekked through 22 US national parks, ventured across 28 states, and explored the natural beauty of 12 countries. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been when she witnessed Iceland's shimmering Northern Lights, explored the rugged terrains of Southern Utah, and traveled across Ireland for almost two months. A lover of adventure and couple travel, Janae's writings have been featured in notable travel websites and magazines, and she has collected an online community of over 30,000 passionate fellow travelers.

28 thoughts on “2024 Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park Hiking Guide”

  1. This is going to the top of the destination list. Your photos are amazing, what a gorgeous hike! Thanks for all the helpful information to make the most of your time in this area.

Leave a Comment