Top Picks: Lake McDonald Area Highlights in Glacier National Park

Lake McDonald Area | Introduction

Glacier National Park is divided into five areas: Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, North Fork and Goat Haunt, St. Mary, and Two Medicine. The Lake McDonald area surrounds the large lake on the western side of the park, starting from the park's west entrance and extending along Going-to-the-Sun Road to the Trail of the Cedars.

Since most visitors enter the park from the west entrance, the Lake McDonald area is often the first stop. From the west entrance, driving along Going-to-the-Sun Road past the 10-mile-long Lake McDonald takes about half an hour, but there are many places worth stopping along the way, including one of the park's three visitor centers, Apgar Visitor Center, and the nearby Apgar Village, Lake McDonald Lodge, boat tours, and 12 hiking trails.

Taking the park shuttle is also convenient. Although some stops were closed in 2021 due to the pandemic, key stops like Apgar Visitor Center, Lake McDonald Lodge, and Avalanche Creek are still open. Note that shuttle reservations are currently required, and tickets can be picked up at Apgar Visitor Center. About 2 miles from the west entrance is Apgar Visitor Center, where you can get tickets and information such as maps.

If you want a quick overview, a half-day itinerary will suffice. However, if you want to explore more trails or take a boat tour, spending 1 to 2 days in this area is recommended.

Lake McDonald Area | Essentials and accomodations

Apgar Village

Apgar Village is located at the southern end of Lake McDonald and is the area with the most restaurants and shops in the park. During the pandemic, this was the only place where we saw indoor dining available. Glacier Outfitters offers a variety of outdoor equipment rentals, including bikes and kayaks. We rented bear spray here, as Glacier National Park has many bears, and bear spray is essential for hiking.

Even if you're not dining or shopping, Apgar Village is worth a visit. It sits on the southern shore of Lake McDonald, offering a different view of the lake from the other locations along Going-to-the-Sun Road. From here, you can see Stanton Mountain and Mt. Brown to the north. During our visit to Glacier National Park, the surrounding area was mostly smoky due to wildfires, but the air at Apgar Village was relatively clearer.

We passed through Apgar again on our return trip, and the lake view was even more beautiful on a clear day.

Lake McDonald Lodge

Lake McDonald Lodge is the largest lodge on the west side of the park and one of the earliest lodges in Glacier National Park. Its exterior is Swiss chalet style, facing the lake with a row of quaint cabins, offering the most comfortable rooms of our entire trip. The restaurant here is also one of the best along Going-to-the-Sun Road, although it only offered takeout in 2021 due to the pandemic. Nearby, there is a camp store selling slightly cheaper drinks and snacks.

Across from the cabins is the lakeshore of Lake McDonald, where water activities and boat tours operate. Despite the slightly hazy lake view due to wildfires, enjoying the lake is still very atmospheric.

Lake McDonald area | Hiking Trails

There are twelve hiking trails in the Lake McDonald area. We started early in the morning with Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake Trail. These two trails are actually connected, with Trail of the Cedars leading to Avalanche Lake Trail, and the entrance is at Avalanche Picnic Area. Parking in Glacier National Park is very limited, so we arrived around 6 AM to secure the last parking spot at Trail of the Cedars. If you don't mind waiting, you can take the shuttle to Avalanche Creek.

Trail of the cedars

Trail of the Cedars is a flat, easy loop trail through a cedar forest, 0.7 miles long, suitable for all ages.

Avalanche lake trail

Avalanche Lake Trail is the most recommended trail in the Lake McDonald area, with a moderate level of difficulty. The one-way distance is 2.3 miles, totaling over 7 kilometers round-trip, but it is not hard to walk. The scenery along the trail is beautiful. The trail generally follows Avalanche Creek upstream, passing through Avalanche Gorge to Avalanche Lake. We started early, and the trail was not crowded. We could enjoy the tranquil lake view when we reached Avalanche Lake. By 8 AM, the trail was much busier on our way down.

At the end of the trail, Avalanche Lake is surrounded by mountains, with clear water reflecting the mountain peaks.

Further reading

Thank you for visiting our website.

All the content on this site is original and shared with the purpose of providing valuable information. We sustain the operation of this site through a small amount of advertising and sponsored links. If you click on links to third-party merchants on our site and make purchases, we may receive a portion of the sales as a commission. If you click on links to third-party merchants on our site and make purchases, we may receive a portion of the sales as a commission.

Find more posts on a map Here.

My recommended resources for hotel bookings.

My recommended resources for activity bookings.
Recommended travel credit card for US-based travelers
Travel with just a backpack!
Buy me a coffee and support my contents!

If you are interested in quoting this article or using any part of its content and images on your website or publication, please contact us via email to request permission.