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Avalanche Lake Hike and Trail of the Cedars

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

 Avalanche Lake & Trail of the Cedars Hike

Personalized Educational Outings

A primeval forest nestled in the maritime climate of the McDonald Valley, where 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 Time:  9:00 AM

Finishing Time: 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM (depending on pace of group)

Meeting Place: Glacier Institute Field Camp Meeting Hall (see campus map)

Food: Please bring a sack lunch, trail snacks, and at least one liter of water.

Equipment: Be prepared for any kind of weather including snow. Bring rain gear, warm jacket or pullover, 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. Binoculars are useful, but optional. 

Physical Requirements:  Moderate / Distance (roundtrip): 4.5 miles / Total elevation gain: 730 ft.

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

Weather: This outing will not be canceled due to weather. 

Tentative Itinerary:

9:00 AM: Meet at the Glacier Institute Field Camp

9:00 AM - 9:30 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.  

9:30 AM - 10:00 AM: 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.

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM: 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.

12:00 PM - 1:30 PM: 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.

1:30 PM - 3:30 PM: 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.

3:30 PM - 4:00 PM: Return to Glacier Institute Field Camp.

4:00 PM - 4:30 PM: Wrap-up, Q&A, course evaluation