The veritable nerve center of Glacier National Park’s popular west side is the peak-studded Lake McDonald Valley, named for the majestic lake that sprawls out as its centerpiece.

Once occupied by massive glaciers that carved this area thousands of years ago, the valley is now peppered with spectacular sights, hiking trails, diverse species of plants and animals, historic chalets, and the grand Lake McDonald Lodge.

Ten miles long and nearly 500 feet deep, Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park, is a direct result of glacial carving. Towering peaks surrounding the lake all show evidence of the power of glaciers to carve even the hardest of rock.

The powerful glaciers that carved the broad “u-shaped” valley that Lake McDonald sits in also carved smaller hanging valleys with waterfalls that are accessible by numerous hiking trails.

Evidence of the Robert Fire of 2003 scores the mountainsides that rise up from Lake McDonald’s west shore, a reminder to visitors of the park’s worst fire season in history.

Several popular day hikes originate in the Lake McDonald Valley, including Avalanche Lake and the wheelchair-accessible Trail of the Cedars. With Glacier’s shuttle, accessing these trailheads and other destinations in the valley has never been easier.


1. Trail of the Cedars

The Trail of the Cedars, one of two wheelchair accessible trails in Glacier, is a loop hike that begins and ends on the Going-To-The-Sun Road, located 5.5 miles east of the Lake McDonald Lodge. This is an extremely popular hike, and parking can be a problem during peak travel season.

Visitors can start from either side, but most people begin their hike on the eastern portion of the loop. This side of the loop travels along a raised boardwalk, and passes though a forest of ancient western hemlocks and red cedars, some of which are more than 500 years old.

2. Avalanche Lake

The well-traveled trail to Avalanche Lake begins near the Trail of the Cedars and leads hikers to stunning views of the mountains and surrounding waterfalls, as well as the mirror-like lake.

Accessible to the entire family, the hike from the parking lot to the lake and back is a gradual 4.5 mile round trip. But don’t be deceived by the relative ease of the hike, which features eye-popping scenery along the entire route.

You might also spot evidence of recent avalanche activity, with broken trees scattered about on distant hillsides – a firm reminder of the awesome power of Mother Nature.

3. Mount Brown Lookout

The hike to the Mount Brown Lookout is a long tough slog. It climbs more than 4,200 feet in just 5 miles, making it one of the toughest hikes in Glacier National Park.

A constant climb to the top, there’s no strolling on this quad-buster, but the payoff at the top is worth the effort.

The hike to the Mout Brown Lookout begins from the Sperry Trailhead, located directly across the street from the Lake McDonald Lodge. In a very short distance, after passing the horse path, the trail becomes known as the Gunsight Pass Trail.

Follow the signs to the lookout, which is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.

Bucket List

Lake McDonald Lodge

Along the shore of Lake McDonald sits Lake McDonald Lodge. Constructed in 1913-1914 to resemble a rustic hunting lodge with Swiss-influenced architecture, this warm and inviting building provides comfort for overnight guests. After a long day of hiking, horseback riding, or a scenic boat tour on the historic DeSmet, which departs from the lakeshore, cozy up in front of the massive fireplace inside Lake McDonald Lodge or attend a ranger-led evening program.

For a live glimpse of the Lake McDonald Valley, check out the park’s webcam feed at the foot of Lake McDonald, featuring a view up the lake to the Continental Divide.