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Avalanche Lake and Trail of the Cedars

Are you a Glacier Institute Member?
Please give us the 3 best date options for your Personalize Educational Outing.

Join us as we explore a primeval forest nestled in the maritime climate of the McDonald Valley. One can expect to find ancient markers of centuries past, the lush cedar-hemlock complex, is home to an explosion of life and awakens one to the grandeur and biological fullness of Glacier’s timeless spaces. Following mossy boulders and smoothed ravine walls of Avalanche Creek, the aquamarine waters guide a 4.5-mile round trip hike to Avalanche Lake, home to the Westslope Cutthroat trout who feed in the chilly clines of this lake and tell a remarkable tale of adaptation and change. Encountering the remnants of avalanche blowdown, colossal stones plucked out by pressures of ice, and finishing in a glacier-fed cirque basin leaves the gravest of hikers misty-eyed.

Meeting Place: Outside of The Glacier Institute Field Camp Library/Office

Meeting Time: 7:00am *we will confirm this time with you leading up to your tour

Anticipated return time: 3:00pm – 4:30pm *depending on pace of group

Recommended booking dates: June through September.

Physical Requirements: Easy- Moderate 

Distance (roundtrip): 4.5 miles / Total elevation gain: 730 feet

          *This is your hike! If you wish to do just a portion of the trail we are happy to accommodate that

Food: Please bring a trail lunch, snacks, and at least one liter of water. Please bring a pack to carry your lunch as we will be having lunch out on the trail.

Equipment: Bring rain gear, warm jacket, gloves, a hat, and comfortable hiking shoes. It can be cold, so plan on having lots of layers of warm clothes to add and shed as necessary. Please keep in mind that snow can linger at higher elevations in Glacier National Park well into the summer months. Binoculars are useful, but optional.

Transportation during course: We will be traveling in a Glacier Institute vehicle.

Weather: This course will not be canceled due to weather. Please check the weather forecast in advance and refer to the gear list for proper attire.

Tentative Itinerary:

*Please note that times are approximate!

7:00 am: Meet outside of The Glacier Institute Field Camp Library/Office.

7:00 am- 7:15 am: After we make our introductions, we will have an overview of the day’s itinerary followed by a brief training in bear safety procedures, Leave No Trace Ethics, and trail etiquette.

7:30am - 8:30am: Drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Trail of the Cedars. Along the way, we will stop at Lake McDonald to learn about how this massive lake was formed and how it plays a role in the ecology of the entire Lake McDonald Valley.

8:30am - 11:30am: We will hike along the Trail of the Cedars boardwalk and continue onto the Avalanche Lake trail. Along the boardwalk, we will learn about the old growth cedar/hemlock forests that dominate this area. We will learn about the ecological concept of succession, with an emphasis on how disturbances impact the region. We will also learn about how Native Americans have historically relied upon plants like the western red cedar for food, tools, and cultural traditions.

11:30am - 12:30pm: After reaching our destination of Avalanche Lake, we will pause for a leisurely lunch on the shores of Avalanche Lake. Over lunch, we will learn about native fish species in the lake and the genetic introgression that occurs in these fragmented headwaters.

12:30pm - 2:30pm: During our hike back to the trailhead we will take time to learn about the cottage-sized boulders and their unusual placement along the trail. Finally, from the smallest red-backed voles to the Northern flying squirrels, we will learn about the unique animals that call this old growth forest their home, stopping near the end of Avalanche Creek to scan its waters for American dippers, a fascinating songbird that dives into the rapids in search of aquatic insects.

2:30pm - 3:00pm: Return to Glacier Institute Field Camp.

3:00pm - 3:30pm: Arrival back at Field Camp. Wrap-up, Q&A, course evaluation forms.