The trail to Avalanche Lake is the most popular hike in Glacier National Park. Measuring between 5 and 6 miles round trip, without significant elevation changes or rough trails, it’s well suited to hiking novices like us. The parking lot at the trailhead is always jammed, but we lucked out and drove in just as some other hikers were leaving.
The trail begins at the Going-To-The-Sun Road. The first section of the trail is a loop that is built with cedar planking and is so flat it is wheelchair accessible. It winds through towering pines, cedars, hemlocks, and cottonwoods. At the bridge over the roaring falls of Avalanche Creek, pictured above, the trail to the lake veers off the planking and takes you up onto a well-worn, well-marked dirt path into the virgin forest.
Shortly after we left the plank trail we encountered a young buck circling a huge boulder, on the prowl for forage, close enough that we could almost reach out and touch it. It moved quietly through the woods, vanishing as silently as it appeared, without paying much attention to the hikers who stopped to admire it.
As we moved along the path toward Avalanche Lake, we felt like we were in one of those “Discover the Forest” public service commercials. Although we didn’t get into a staring contest with a deer or marvel at a frog, we did gape at the size of the trees and, especially, the colors. Artists could only dream of their palettes having the rich variety of shades of green on display on the Avalanche Lake trail.
Ultimately the trail emerges at Avalanche Lake, a pure, cold lake created by the melting glaciers high up in the surrounding mountains. The first look at the lake is framed by countless huge logs pushed to one end of the lake by the water. If you then follow the trail around to the right, you emerge onto a huge and spectacular natural amphitheater created by the lake and framed by by the towering peaks.
The water is crystal clear and the air is cool. It’s a quiet place, with only the rustle of the wind moving through the trees behind you and the whisper of the multiple waterfalls tumbling down the mountainside in the far distance. We sat for a while on a log bench, taking in the immense natural splendor, and I tried to fix the scene in my memory as best I could.
The hike back seemed shorter than the hike out, as is so often the case. We walked over rocks and exposed tree roots that had been turned bright and glossy by the feet of innumerable other hikers who had gone before. We were very glad we had joined them in taking the trek to Avalanche Lake.