10 Must-See Lakes in Glacier National Park

Nestled within the pristine beauty of Montana’s Rocky Mountains lies Glacier National Park, an enchanting haven for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers. This vast wilderness is renowned for its majestic peaks, sprawling glaciers, and vibrant alpine meadows. 

However, one of the park’s most awe-inspiring features is its collection of stunning lakes, each with unique charm and breathtaking vistas. These crystalline bodies of water settled amidst towering cliffs and dense forests, showcase nature’s unparalleled beauty. Glacier National Park’s lakes will captivate you with their serene waters and reflections of the surrounding landscapes, from the vast expanse of Lake McDonald to the hidden gem of Avalanche Lake. 

Whether you’re seeking tranquility, outdoor adventures, or simply a place to marvel at nature’s wonders, the stunning lakes of Glacier National Park are ready to astound and inspire. In this article, we will embark on a journey to explore these pristine jewels, diving into their distinct characteristics, recreational opportunities, and the breathtaking natural wonders that surround them. 

glacier lakes national park
Map showcasing beautiful lakes in Glacier National Park, nps.gov

Types of Lakes in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park encompasses a variety of lake types, each with its own distinct characteristics shaped by the park’s glacial history and geological features. Here are some brief descriptions of the types of lakes found in this amazing park:

Glacial Lakes: Many of the lakes in Glacier National Park are glacial in origin, formed by the melting of ancient glaciers that sculpted the landscape. These lakes are typically characterized by their crystal-clear waters, vibrant blue or turquoise hues, and surrounding peaks and glacially-carved valleys.

Alpine Lakes: Situated high in the mountains, alpine lakes are found in cirques, which are bowl-shaped depressions created by glaciers. These lakes are often smaller in size and exhibit a stunning array of colors, ranging from deep blue to emerald green. Alpine lakes are often fed by snowmelt and can be found nestled among rocky slopes and meadows.

Moraine Lakes: Moraine lakes are formed when glacial debris, known as moraine, dams up a valley or basin. These lakes can vary in size and shape, and their waters often exhibit a milky or grayish tint due to the sediment carried by glacial meltwater. Moraine lakes offer unique scenic beauty, surrounded by rocky moraines and lush vegetation.

Cirque Lakes: Cirque lakes are formed within the cirques, or amphitheater-like basins, carved out by glaciers. These lakes are typically situated at the base of towering cliffs and showcase pristine waters reflecting the surrounding peaks. Cirque lakes offer a tranquil and picturesque setting for hikers and nature enthusiasts.

Valley Lakes: These are lakes that formed within glacial valleys. They are often elongated and meandering, nestled between forested slopes and valley walls. They can vary in size and provide opportunities for boating, fishing, and enjoying scenic drives along their shores.

10 Stunning Lakes in Glacier National Park

1. Lake McDonald

Sunset on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

Lake McDonald, located in the western part of Glacier National Park, is surrounded by stunning landscapes and features that add to its allure:

Surrounding Landscapes and Features: Lake McDonald is surrounded by the awe-inspiring beauty of the park’s mountains and forests. Towering peaks, such as Stanton Mountain and Mount Vaught, provide a dramatic backdrop to the lake. The surrounding landscape is adorned with ancient cedar and hemlock forests, adding to the serene and pristine atmosphere of the area. The lake’s crystal-clear waters reflect the majestic scenery, creating a mesmerizing visual spectacle.

    Recreational Activities Available: Lake McDonald offers a variety of recreational activities for you to enjoy throughout the year. The lake’s expansive size and tranquil waters make it ideal for boating, kayaking, and canoeing. Fishing enthusiasts can try their luck at catching native trout species, including bull trout and cutthroat trout. Swimming is also popular during summer, providing a refreshing way to cool off. Additionally, scenic boat tours allow you to experience the lake’s beauty while learning about its natural and cultural history.

    Notable Hiking Trails and Viewpoints: Lake McDonald is a gateway to numerous remarkable hiking trails that offer breathtaking viewpoints and access to hidden wonders. Some notable trails include:

    • Trail of the Cedars: This accessible boardwalk loop trail begins near Lake McDonald and winds through an old-growth cedar and hemlock forest. It provides an enchanting walk among towering trees alongside the roaring McDonald Creek.
    • Avalanche Lake Trail: A moderately strenuous 4.5-mile hike from the Trail of the Cedars takes you to Avalanche Lake. The trail follows Avalanche Creek, leading to a picturesque glacial lake nestled amidst towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls.
    • Gunsight Pass Trail: For a more challenging and rewarding adventure, the Gunsight Pass Trail offers stunning views of Lake McDonald. This 20-mile trail traverses high alpine meadows, glaciers, and rugged mountain passes, providing an unforgettable backpacking experience.
    • Apgar Lookout Trail: This moderately strenuous hike leads to the Apgar Lookout, offering panoramic views of Lake McDonald and the surrounding mountains. It’s an excellent choice for those seeking a shorter hike with impressive vistas.

    2. Two Medicine Lake

    Two Medicine Lake scenic hiking trails in glacier national park
    A lovely hiking trail meanders along the edge of Two Medicine Lake. Scenic trails like these make for some of Glacier National Park’s best hikes.

    Two Medicine Lake is a gorgeous body of water located in the southeastern part of Glacier National Park. It is nestled within a picturesque valley surrounded by towering peaks, making it a hidden gem within the park.

    Scenic Beauty and Natural Surroundings: Two Medicine Lake offers breathtaking scenic beauty with its serene waters reflecting the surrounding mountains and forests. The lake’s tranquil ambiance and unspoiled surroundings help to create a peaceful atmosphere. Lush meadows, vibrant wildflowers, and dense forests enhance the natural beauty of the area.

    Cultural Significance and History: Two Medicine Lake holds cultural significance for the Blackfeet Native American Tribe, who have a deep connection to the area. The lake and its surroundings are rich in Blackfeet history, legends, and traditions. You can explore the region’s cultural heritage through guided interpretive hikes and learn about the tribe’s deep ties to the land.

    Outdoor Activities and Attractions: Two Medicine Lake offers a range of outdoor activities and attractions for you to enjoy. Hiking trails, such as the popular Scenic Point Trail and the Two Medicine Pass Trail, provide opportunities to immerse yourself in the breathtaking scenery and enjoy panoramic views of the lake and surrounding peaks. Boating and fishing on the lake are also popular activities, allowing you to experience the serenity of the waters and try your luck at catching native trout.

    Other attractions in the Two Medicine area include Twin Falls, a beautiful waterfall cascading down a rocky cliff, and the Two Medicine Campground, providing a scenic and convenient base for camping and exploring the area.

    3. St Mary Lake

    St. Mary Lake from Wild Goose Island Overlook
    Stunning view of St. Mary Lake from Wild Goose Island Overlook. NPS Photo

    St. Mary Lake is a breathtaking glacial lake situated in the eastern part of the park. It spans over 9 miles and showcases stunning natural beauty, captivating you with its azure waters and scenic surroundings.

    Panoramic Views and Iconic Landmarks: St. Mary Lake offers panoramic views that will leave you in awe. Its crystal-clear waters reflect the surrounding snow-capped peaks, creating a picture-perfect setting. One iconic landmark within the lake is Wild Goose Island. This small landmass has become an emblem of Glacier National Park, adding to the lake’s charm.

    Exploring the Lake via Boat Tours and Scenic Drives: To fully appreciate the beauty of St. Mary Lake, you can embark on boat tours that provide a unique perspective of the lake and its surroundings. These tours offer a chance to witness the grandeur of the mountains and the pristine waters up close. Additionally, scenic drives along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which runs alongside the lake, allow for unforgettable vistas and photo opportunities.

    Unique Features and Highlights: One unique feature of St. Mary Lake is its glacial origin, as it was carved by ancient glaciers. The turquoise-blue color of the lake adds to its allure and makes it a captivating sight. The surrounding landscape is characterized by dense forests, alpine meadows, and rugged peaks, creating a stunning backdrop for the lake.

    4. Avalanche Lake 

    Avalanche Lake with waterfalls flowing down into the lake
    Picture-perfect waterfalls can be seen cascading down the rocky mountain slopes near Avalanche Lake.

    Avalanche Lake is a beautiful alpine lake nestled in the heart of the park. It is known for its emerald-colored waters, surrounded by towering cliffs, lush old-growth forests, and cascading waterfalls, creating a picturesque and serene setting.

    Hiking Trail and Access Details: Access to Avalanche Lake is via a scenic 4.5-mile hiking trail that begins near the Trail of the Cedars, a popular boardwalk trail in the park. The trail follows the path of Avalanche Creek, providing you with a gradual ascent and beautiful scenery along the way.

    Spectacular Scenery and Natural Wonders: Avalanche Lake offers a breathtaking display of natural beauty. The lake is nestled at the base of towering cliffs, and its calm waters provide stunning reflections of the surrounding landscape. The area is adorned with dense forests, including ancient cedars and hemlocks. This region also features several picturesque waterfalls cascading down the rocky slopes.

    Recreational Opportunities and Wildlife Encounters: Avalanche Lake offers superb recreational opportunities for you to enjoy. Picnic areas near the lake provide a tranquil spot for relaxation and taking in the scenery. You can also continue to hike beyond the lake to explore additional trails and viewpoints. Wildlife encounters are possible along the trail, with chances to spot birds, small mammals, and potentially larger mammals such as bears or deer.

    5. Bowman Lake:

    Bowman Lake in glacier np
    Bowman Lake’s calm, serene waters are a spectacular sight to behold.

    Bowman Lake is a remote and pristine lake located in the northwestern region of the park. It offers you a serene and untouched wilderness experience away from the bustling crowds.

    Remote and Untouched Wilderness Experience: Bowman Lake provides a sense of solitude and an authentic backcountry experience. Its remote location and off-the-beaten-path setting make it an ideal destination for those seeking a tranquil and untouched natural environment.

    Backcountry Camping and Hiking Options: Bowman Lake offers backcountry camping opportunities, allowing you to immerse yourself in the beauty of the wilderness. Set up your tents at the designated campsites along the lake’s shoreline and enjoy the peaceful ambiance and starry nights. There are also hiking options available, with trails that wind through the surrounding forests and offer glimpses of stunning vistas.

    Scenic Drive and Wildlife Sightings: The journey to Bowman Lake is as rewarding as the destination itself. The scenic drive along a narrow, unpaved road takes you through breathtaking landscapes, including dense forests and open meadows. Wildlife sightings are common along the way, with opportunities to spot various species such as deer, moose, or even bears.

    6. Swiftcurrent Lake

    Grinnell Peak is reflecting in Swiftcurrent Lake's calm waters
    The lofty Grinnell Peak is reflected in Swiftcurrent Lake’s calm waters. Mt Gould can be seen to the left, and Mt. Wilbur is to the right. NPS Photo / Tim Rains

    Located in the Many Glacier area, Swiftcurrent Lake offers a picturesque setting surrounded by towering mountains and lush meadows. You can enjoy boat tours or rent canoes to paddle across the tranquil waters, taking in the breathtaking views and potentially spotting wildlife along the shoreline.

    7. Lake Josephine

    The Morning Eagle, a tour boat at Glacier National Park, floats on the waters of picturesque Lake Josephine
    The Morning Eagle, a tour boat at Glacier National Park, floats on the waters of picturesque Lake Josephine.

    Situated adjacent to Grinnell Lake in the Many Glacier region, Lake Josephine boasts crystal-clear turquoise waters framed by stunning alpine scenery. Accessible via a scenic trail or boat shuttle from the Many Glacier Hotel, this serene lake is a popular spot for hikers and photographers.

    8. Hidden Lake

    A misty day at Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park
    A misty day at Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park.

    Nestled at the summit of Logan Pass along the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road, Hidden Lake rewards intrepid adventurers with its pristine alpine beauty. A moderate hike leads to this glacial lake, offering panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and the chance to encounter mountain goats and other alpine wildlife.

    9. Redrock Lake 

    snow-covered peaks of the glacially carved mountains reflect onto Redrock Lake
    The snow-covered peaks of the glacially carved mountains reflect onto Redrock Lake.

    Tucked away in the remote and less-visited northwest region of the park, Redrock Lake offers solitude and natural beauty. This backcountry gem is accessible via a trail that winds through lush forests and open meadows, rewarding you with stunning views of the lake and its rugged surroundings.

    10. Grinnell Lake

    A pristine mountain wilderness surrounds Grinnell Lake's beautiful turquoise waters
    A pristine mountain wilderness surrounds Grinnell Lake’s beautiful turquoise waters.

    Grinnell Lake is surrounded by glacier-carved mountains and vibrant wildflowers, showcasing a breathtaking display of natural splendor. Accessed via a scenic trail from the Many Glacier area, this emerald jewel offers stunning reflections and a peaceful ambiance for hikers and photographers.

    Final Thoughts

    Glacier National Park’s stunning lakes are nature’s masterpieces, showcasing crystal-clear waters, majestic peaks, and pristine surroundings. From the captivating beauty of Lake McDonald to the hidden gems like Avalanche Lake and Two Medicine Lake, these lakes offer a glimpse into the awe-inspiring wonders of nature.

    Visiting Glacier National Park and experiencing its lakes firsthand is an opportunity to connect with the beauty of the natural world. Whether you embark on a scenic boat tour, hike to a hidden viewpoint, or simply soak in the serenity of the lake shores, the experiences around Glacier’s lakes will leave you with a lasting impression. 

    Don’t miss the opportunity to witness these natural treasures for yourself! See some of these magnificent lakes and plan your trip to Glacier National Park today! 

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    About Me

    My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

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    Happy Travels! Sandy

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