Avalanche Lake

In addition to the backpacking trip in Glacier National Park on which we got engaged, we went on several day hikes in the area. Wedding planning temporarily delayed our posts, but now we plan to catch the blog up on all the cool stuff we saw in Montana.

Avalanche Creek Gorge
Avalanche Gorge

On an afternoon in mid-September, we headed out on the Trail of the Cedars, a flat boardwalk and paved path through beautiful old cedars and hemlocks. Walking a foot or two off the ground on the boardwalk paths was fun, and offered a slightly different perspective than we typically experience walking through the forest. The trunks were huge and the canopy towered far above. The trees were so massive they had created their own ecosystem, much more moist and shaded than other areas in the park. Ferns fanned out over the forest floor.

Near the Avalanche Gorge Bridge, we turned off onto the smaller Avalanche Lake Trail. After a short climb up, we peered down into the narrow Avalanche Gorge. Fast-flowing water had sculpted the rock walls into all kinds of beautiful shapes.

As we continued the trees grew smaller and denser. Green moss carpeted everything.

Avalanche Lake Trail

Tree we saw crack and fall
Tree we saw crack and fall

Several people passed us going the opposite direction, but besides their voices and footsteps, we heard only the sound of a gentle breeze in the trees. During one of the quiet solitary stretches, the forest let loose a booming CRACK! A severely leaning tree about 10 feet from the trail had snapped and fallen the remaining distance to the ground. Our adrenaline was racing. (Several years ago in California, a large tree had fallen directly on the trail where we had been standing, and took out another tree on its way down. We had to run far down the trail to escape them both.) Lucky for us, this tree fall was more isolated. After the sudden drama, all was quiet again. Moments like these are one of the many reasons we love hiking.

We wound our way slowly upward through the forest, occasionally catching glimpses of the towering peaks surrounding us.

When we reached Avalanche Lake, we both broke into big smiles and chuckled. Everything in Glacier is so out-of-this-world grand and magnificent! Cliffs encircled the lake and rose over 2000 feet from where we stood. The huge glacier melt Monument Falls cascaded down the cliffs into the lake. The peaks and cloud-dotted sky were reflected in the clear, calm lake.

Avalanche Lake

We walked a good ways along the beach, soaking in the spectacle surrounding us. The dropping temperature caused mist to form on the lake’s surface.

Mist on Avalanche Lake

As the sun fell farther behind the peaks and shadows grew longer, we knew it was time to head back. This is an out and back trail, so we retraced our steps back to the road, with the added bonus of vibrant sunset colors peeking through the tree tops.

As we drove back to our campsite, the day gave us one last moment to savor. We pulled over to watch the light fade on Lake McDonald.

Evening light on Lake McDonald
Evening light on Lake McDonald


Trail: Avalanche Lake
Location: Glacier National Park (Montana)
Distance: 4.7 miles round trip (0.7 miles on the Trail of the Cedars, plus 4 miles on the Avalanche Lake trail)
Elevation gain: 500 ft, easy
Usage: About 100 people on a Monday in September


  1. beautiful pics and exciting story! Was there with my 10 and 7 year olds in July, but we chose Trail of the Cedars (ok) and didn’t do this hike. I think maybe we missed out. Looking forward to heading back one day.


  2. I love the beautifully sculpted rocks, and the picture of Shutterbug soaking in the out of this world scenery. It certainly is out of this world!


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