by Joseph A. Sprince – Photography by Gerald B. Allen
The Glacier National Park Travel Guide is a resource for those planning to tour Glacier National Park and/or Canada's adjacent Waterton Lakes National Park. The adjacent national parks are typically visited at the same time and offer a variety of experiences. Both parks offer outstanding opportunities to view wildlife.
Activities in the west side of Glacier National Park focus around Lake McDonald, with Apgar Village near the west end of the lake, and the Lake McDonald Lodge near the east end.
One of the Glacier National Park’s largest and most scenic lakes, Lake McDonald is ten miles long and 472 feet deep, having been carved by a huge glacier. Located on the park’s west side, it is surrounded by mountains on the north, south, and east. The continental divide with its jagged backbone runs north-south east of the lake. Called the Lewis Range, it provides a spectacular backdrop for the lake and also acts as a rain block. Much of the blocked precipitation ends up falling on the Lake McDonald Valley. The result is a mild, damp climate with an environment very similar to the Pacific Northwest coast. The forests here are extremely dense with very lush undergrowth. The western red cedar and hemlock trees, mainstays of the northwest coast, predominate. Spectacular wildflower displays are common. Beargrass with white, fist-sized blossoms are quite common in the area.
The Lake McDonald Lodge was started in 1895 as a hunting lodge. The lodge is similar to the others in and just outside the park, aging but filled with rustic charm and a lovely fireplace in the lobby. At the bottom of the stairs is a boat rental dock for the fisherman. The lake holds 17 kinds of cold water fish, primarily varieties of trout. Various programs are available at the lodge, from ranger-led activities to boat tours on the lake. The trailhead across the street from the lodge offers trails to the Sperry Chalet, Snyder Lake, and Fish Lake, all challenging day hikes.
Tree-lined Apgar Village offers quaint and quiet lodging at the west end of the lake as well as traveler services. The Apgar Visitor Center provides information year-round. The McDonald Creek bike path goes from Apgar Village to West Glacier town. The easy Fish Creek Hiking Path connects Apgar with Fish Creek Campground. The Apgar Lookout trail offers fine views of the lake but has a challenging 1,850 foot elevation gain in 3.3 miles.
Just east of Lake McDonald there are several overlooks for McDonald Creek. During the spring and early summer, the creek can be a spectacular raging torrent (photo, right) as the park’s snowmelt runs off. Check out the McDonald Falls and Sacred Dancing Cascade overlooks. There is a trail along the creek. A short loop goes to tiny Johns Lake where there is a chance to see moose.
Less than five miles further east on Going-to-the-Sun Road are the trailheads for two of the park’s most popular trails. The popular and wheelchair accessible Trail of the Cedars loops about 1/4 mile through a beautiful woods on a boardwalk. It also features a footbridge over Avalanche Gorge. The Avalanche Creek Trail reaches Avalanche Lake in two miles with a 500 foot elevation gain. The lake has a spectacular mountain backdrop. A ranger-led hike to Avalanche Lake is available in season. The trailhead parking lot has very few spaces. It is recommended that you take the free park shuttle bus from Lake McDonald Lodge or Apgar Village where there is more parking available.
West Glacier, Apgar Village, and Lake McDonald
This symbol indicates links to articles on AmericanWestTravel.com.
- Beautiful Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, Montana.
- Boat Tours on Lake McDonald
- Free Park Shuttle System.
- Trails in Lake McDonald Area. (Interactive Flash Map – Place mouse on numbered black dots for more info.)
- Apgar and Lake McDonald Trail Rides (horseback).
Services in West Glacier, Apgar Village, and Lake McDonald Area
Food and Lodging
- Apgar Village Lodge. Late May to end of September. Rustic cabins and motel-style rooms at Apgar Village, two miles from west entrance. All rooms include private bathrooms. Some rooms with view of lake or creek. Most cabins have kitchenettes. Restaurant, stores, and gift shops in Apgar Village. Boat cruises, ranger programs, golf, and fishing. 406-888-5484
- Village Inn at Apgar. Early-June to mid-September. Motel-style rooms on shore of Lake McDonald near Apgar Village, three miles from west entrance. All rooms include private bathrooms and lake views. Kitchenettes and two-bedroom units available. Restaurant, stores, and gift shops in Apgar Village. Boat cruises, ranger programs, golf, and fishing. 406-892-2525
- Lake McDonald Lodge. Late May to late September. Classic lodge constructed in 1913 originally as a hunting lodge. On the shores of Lake McDonald (ten miles from west entrance), the lodge offers rooms in rustic cabins, lodge rooms, and motel-style rooms. All have phones and private bathrooms. Beautiful lobby with fireplace and huge veranda overlooking lake. Lounge, restaurant, and store. Horseback rides, boat tours, ranger programs, etc. 406-892-2525
- The Historic Belton Chalet. Open year-round. Classic lodge constructed in 1910 by Great Northern Railroad. Located at Belton station, near West Glacier. Rustic motel rooms with or without balconies. All have private baths. Also, cottages with three bedrooms, living room, fireplace, refrigerator and microwave. Grill Dining Room and Taproom. Fishing trips, golf, off-season packages.
Food and Lodging – Backcountry
- Sperry Chalet.
Main Sperry Chalet Building Lost Due to Sprague FireHigh winds pushed the Sprague fire into Glacier National Park's historic Sperry Chalet Thursday August 31, 2017, burning it down, according to InciWeb. "A highly skilled group of firefighters were staged at the Sperry Chalet over the last week. ... The firefighters, supported by three helicopters, made a valiant stand to save the structure but were unsuccessful in saving the main Sperry Chalet," the national wildfire information service posted shortly after 7 p.m.
- Apgar. Open: Summer: Early May to early Oct, Primitive (no water): Apr, May, and Oct, Winter: Nov to end of Mar. Largest campground in park with 194 sites (25 sites can accommodate up to 40 ft. RVs). Located adjacent to Apgar Village near west entrance. Water and flush toilets. Mostly wooded sites offering shade and some privacy. Ranger programs. Services available at Apgar Village. Numerous day hikes in area. Access to free park shuttle bus.
- Fish Creek. Open: Early June to early September. Second largest campground in park with 178 sites (18 sites can accommodate up to 35 ft. RVs). Off of Camas Road, on northwest shore of Lake McDonald. Water and flush toilets. Mostly wooded sites offering shade and some privacy. Ranger programs. Services available at Apgar Village, 2.5 miles away. Numerous day hikes in area. Access to free park shuttle bus. Reservations available.
- Sprague Creek. Open: Mid-May to mid-September. Small but popular campground on northeast shore of Lake McDonald. Has 25 sites (no towed RVs). Adjacent to Going-to-the-Sun Road. Water and flush toilets. Mostly wooded sites with some unobstructed views of the lake. Camp store, ranger programs, tours, and other services at Lake McDonald Lodge, one mile away. Access to free park shuttle bus.
- Avalanche. Open: Early June to early September. Popular campground in a beautiful and lush scenic area with lake and mountain views. Large campground on west side of divide with 87 sites (50 sites can accommodate up to 26' RVs). On Going-to-the-Sun Road, east of Lake McDonald. Water and flush toilets. Heavily wooded sites offering privacy and cool summer days. Ranger programs. Boat tours. Area has good day hiking and excellent chances to see wildlife. Trailheads nearby for popular Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake trail. Access to free park shuttle bus.
Camping – West Glacier, Montana
Please see our page on Campgrounds in and around Glacier National Park for campgrounds located outside Glacier National Park.
Nearest Visitor Center
The Apgar Village Visitor Center is open daily May to October and on weekends November to April. The visitor center has exhibits, brochures, and a bookstore/gift shop. Rangers are present to answer questions, issue backpacking permits, provide emergency assistance, etc.
Other services in area
Food services, general stores, and gift shops at Apgar Village. Restaurant, lounge, store, and guided activities at or near Lake McDonald Lodge.