Early Season Hiking in Glacier National Park
Early season visitors often ask us, what are some hiking options in Glacier National Park when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed? While having the road open does give you easier access to many more hiking opportunities, there are still plenty of other options while the road is still being worked on in the early season. This week, we are going to cover three options for the West Side of Glacier National Park. From an easy level to more difficult, these three hikes all provide some unique view of Glacier National Park.
Johns Lake Loop
Trail Head – Johns Lake Trail head, 1.3 miles east of McDonald Lodge on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Distance – 1.9 miles
Difficulty – Easy
Johns Lake Loop is a short loop through a quiet old-growth forest of cedars that features glimpses of Lake McDonald, Johns Lake, McDonald Creek and two beautiful waterfalls called Sacred Dancing Cascades and McDonald Falls. At the beginning of the hike will be a fork in the trail. To continue to Johns Lake, take the left fork. A short while longer will be another fork in the trail. Going right at this fork will bring you to Johns Lake with a pretty view of Stanton Mountain in the background. There is also a great chance to see wildlife in this area. After leaving the lake and returning to the main trail, stay left to continue the loop. Eventually you will cross the Going-to-the-Sun Road on the trail towards Sacred Dancing Cascade, McDonald Creek and finally McDonald Falls before finishing the loop right back at your vehicle.
Trail Head – Begin on the Trail of the Cedars Trail head which leads to the Avalanche Lake Trail head.
Distance – 4.6 miles
Difficulty – Moderate
Avalanche Lake is a wonderful hike which takes you through old growth forest and travels along Avalanche Gorge the entire way until you finally reach Avalanche Lake. Avalanche Lake hike has medium grade steepness throughout most of its duration and eventually flattens out towards the top as you reach the lake. Upon approaching Avalanche Lake the trees open up to reveal a beautiful backdrop of Bearhat Mountain with multiple water falls cascading down. At this point the main trail to the top has been completed. If you would like to continue on towards the head of the lake, follow the off beaten trail alongside the western shoreline.
Trail Head – Half a mile past the West Entrance of the Park, turn left on the road for Apgar lookout and continue over the bridge until you reach the trail head sign.
Distance – 7.1 miles
Difficulty – Hard
Apgar lookout provides great views of Lake McDonald, Middle Fork of the Flathead River and Apgar Lookout Tower. The hike begins in the trees but quickly transitions to the burned (2003, Robert Fire) areas as you gain elevation. From the start of the burned area to the ridge just below the lookout is just less than 3 miles. The Lookout Tower was built in 1929 and is no longer in use today and is considered a National Historic structure.
These three hikes are great choices for early season visitors. They are all accessible in the early season when the road is not fully open. Remember when hiking in Glacier National Park, carrying bear spray is always a good idea. The bears have all waken up from their long winter sleep and are regularly seen in the Park. For more information on hikes or to pick up any gear you might have left home, visit Glacier Outdoor Center located at 12400 U.S. 2, West Glacier, MT 59936, just ½ mile before the Going-to-the-Sun Road turnoff.