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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hiking to Avalanche Lake

Rick Morgan

Last year when I did this hike there was so much smoke over the lake that I couldn’t even see the mountains or waterfalls behind the lake. The smoke was coming from a fire in the park, as well as, from fires from as far away as Idaho.

This year, I did the hike a week ago before smoke from fires in the surrounding area covered much of the park. What a difference!

I really like this moderate 4 mile (round trip) hike which gains only about 700 feet in elevation. This is a popular hike and I think a perfect “first” hike in Glacier. There is parking at the trailhead but it typically fills up early. I think a better option is to take the shuttle from the transit center in Apgar and exit at the Avalanche stop.


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The hike begins from the Trail of the Cedars trailhead. As I stared the hike it felt more like I was hiking in the Pacific Northwest as I passed through a forest of western hemlock and red cedars. Some of these trees reach heights of more than 100 feet and are over 500 years old. Ferns and moss also cover the forest floor.


Just past the Trail of the Cedars and the Avalanche Lake trail junction I started a short, but stiff climb. At the top of the climb is one of my favorite parts of the hike. Here I walked along the banks of Avalanche Creek and had an up-close view of glacially melted water as it rushes down the narrow Avalanche Gorge. 


At about a mile into the hike (a rough estimate) the trail departs from Avalanche Creek. While I could no longer see the creek, I could definitely hear it much of the way to the lake.

About half a mile from the lake and at confluence Hidden Creek and Avalanche Creek I reached a clearing where hundreds of downed trees have fallen - evidently the result of avalanche activity.


At what I think was slightly over 2 miles I reached Avalanche Lake and was rewarded with a really spectacular view of the lake and the impressive Bearhat Mountain, which rises 4800 feet above the lake. (Last year I couldn’t see any of this.)



There are also several spectacular waterfalls tumbling down the mountain for hundreds of feet.




While most hikers stop at the “beach” I continued on trail along the west shore to the head of the lake, which gave me an entirely different perspective.


Confirmed: This is a one of my favorite hikes.