Best time to travel to Glacier National Park, MT

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, MT

This beautiful glacier lake is famous for its colored pebbles

Best time: late May–mid-September

Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald
Winter Fishing on Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald is the largest and most popular lake at Glacier National Park. Located in the west part of the park, the lake is surrounded by mountains, stretching for about 10 mi (16 km) and offering spectacular views during any season. The best time to hike in Lake McDonald Valley is in the summer. The Glacier Park's hiking season generally runs from late May or early June to mid-September or October. In the winter, some services are limited, and roads are closed due to snow. The section of the Going-to-the-Sun Road from West Glacier to Lake McDonald Lodge, however, is open year-round.

The road runs parallel to the southern shore of Lake McDonald. The eastern shore of the lake borders the Continental Divide. Lake McDonald Valley's flora is dominated by western red cedar, spruce, fir, and hemlock. Meanwhile, the fauna includes bighorn sheep, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain goats, mule dear, and elk. The lake lies on an elevation of 3,153 feet (961 m) and was once occupied by massive glaciers.

Rainbow Rocks

Lake McDonald's waters are crystal clear since its cold temperature doesn't permit plankton or algae. So, it's easy to see millions of colorful pebbles on the bottom. These rocks were formed during different times, starting from the ice age when the lake was created by glaciers. Rocks' color depends on the amount of iron and other minerals.

Hiking trails near Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald Valley is one of the most popular hiking destinations of Glacier National Park. The Trail of the Cedars is among the most accessible in Glacier National Park. A one-mile loop trail starts and ends on the Going-To-The-Sun Road. One of the easiest day-hikes is also the 2-mi (4- km) Avalanche Lake Trail with an elevation gain of 500 ft (152 m). The trail, which features a waterfall and a lake, starts at Avalanche Picnic Area. The territory also features many bike trails: the 1.5-mi (2.4-km) Apgar Bike Path, which starts south of Apgar Backcountry Permit Office and the 1.2-mi (2-km) Fish Creek Bike Path, which starts north of the Lower McDonald Creek Bridge on the Camas Road.


Even though Lake McDonald is not considered to be a great fishing destination, it's possible to fish here. Beautiful views will surely compensate for the poor catch, as the lake lacks sufficient nutrients to sustain a large fish population. Anglers can fish from the shore, using a hook and line. Only one rod per person is permitted according to the park's rules. Lake McDonald is home to westslope cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, bull trout, and lake trout. If you want to use a boat, you'll need to obtain a boating permit.

Lake McDonald Lodge and the campgrounds

The best place to spend the night in the park is the famous Lake McDonald Lodge, located along the shore. The historic lodge was built in 1913–1914 in Swiss chalet style. Other options in the park include Apgar Village Lodge and Motel Lake McDonald. At least four campgrounds are located in proximity to Lake McDonald: Apgar, Avalanche, Fish Creek, and Sprague Creek. Even though camping in the park is usually limited to the summer season, Apgar Campground is open year-round. The largest campground in Glacier National Park features the Apgar Visitor Center, gift shops, a camp store, and a restaurant. Boat rentals, tours, and horseback ride reservations are also available in Apgar Village.

Practical info

When is the best time to visit Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park?

Lake McDonald is best visited from June to September, as this is the peak season when all facilities and amenities are open. Crowds can be avoided by visiting in early June or late September, but visitors should be prepared for unpredictable weather conditions in the park. Show more

What types of fish can be caught in Lake McDonald, and what are the fishing regulations?

While not a known fishing destination, Lake McDonald offers fishing opportunities for westslope cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, bull trout, and lake trout. Shore fishing is allowed with one rod per person, and boaters must obtain a permit. Fishing regulations in the park must be checked before setting out to fish. Show more

What are the most popular hiking trails near Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park?

Hiking enthusiasts will enjoy The Trail of the Cedars and the Avalanche Lake Trail near Lake McDonald. The Trail of the Cedars features a scenic one-mile loop, while the Avalanche Lake Trail offers a 2-mile (4 km) hike suitable for all hikers. The park provides a range of additional hiking trails from easy to challenging. Show more

What is the history of Lake McDonald Lodge, and what are other lodging options in the park?

The picturesque Lake McDonald Lodge was constructed in Swiss chalet style during 1913-1914 and offers rooms including traditional lodge rooms, cabins, and motel-style rooms. Other lodging options include Apgar Village Lodge, Motel Lake McDonald, and four campgrounds offering tent and RV camping near Lake McDonald, with Apgar Campground accessible all year round. Show more

What is unique about Lake McDonald's Rainbow Rocks, and how were they formed?

Rainbow Rocks in Lake McDonald are a spectacular sight - millions of colorful pebbles on the lakebed. Originating back to the ice age, the rocks were formed in different geological periods with their color dependent on the diverse minerals present, notably iron. The clarity of the water in lake McDonald, due to the absence of algae and plankton, only enhances these magnificent rocks. Show more

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Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen