The Lakes of Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald

Mt. Gould in Glacier Park

Lake McDonald

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Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park. With a length of 10 miles in length and more than a mile in width, Lake McDonald, which lies in a giant bowl, is, surrounded by thickly forested, towering mountains. On a calm day, which occurs fairly frequently in the mornings and evenings, the mirrored reflection of the mountains in the lake provides a stunning sight.

The lake itself, like many other lakes in Glacier National Park, was created during the last ice age. During the last ice age ten thousand years ago, massive glaciers with a height of more than 3000 feet slowly crept down from the mountains, pushing a massive amount of dirt, rock and other debris ahead of it (called a moraine) that often reached more than 200 feet high. It also scoured a deep depression underneath its path. As the ice age ended and the glaciers began to rapidly retreat, a part of the glacier broke off. Trapped in the massive bowl that the glacier itself created, the glacier melted, and, fed by additional inflows from other melting glaciers, created Lake McDonald.

Photo Use Guidelines

Lake McDonald receives most of its water from upper McDonald Creek. This little creek, which can be a raging torrent during the height of spring runoff, is fed entirely by snowmelt. As a result, the water is crystal clear, very cold and has next to no nutrients.

The waters of Lake McDonald, not surprisingly, mirror those of McDonald Creek. The water is exceptionally clear by any standard and is very cold- and remains cold all summer long. At the head of Lake McDonald, McDonald Creek flows out of the lake on a short but very beautiful journey to the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

Lake McDonald is the most popular destination in Glacier National Park. Several hotels and many other services are located at various points on the lake, primarily at the head of the lake near the entrance to the park at the town of West Glacier. That said, while it is developed, the development in Glacier National Park is a far cry from the development in other National Parks in the United States. Despite the development, most of the shoreline of Lake McDonald consists of trees, with development limited primarily to two areas.

Access to Lake McDonald is easy and excellent. The scenic and very popular Going-to-the-Sun Road follows the lake closely on the south side. Numerous parking areas are found all along the road. All one needs to do is hop out of their car and take a short walk through the woods to reach the lake. A boat ramp - rare for Glacier National Park - is also located at the head of the lake in the village of Apgar.

For all of its scenic beauty and recreational opportunities, Lake McDonald is sadly lacking in fishing quality. Years ago, Lake McDonald was a prime place for catching huge bull trout. The introduction of lake trout and other non-native species, however, sent the fishery into disarray. Today, Lake McDonald has a healthy population of small cutthroat and rainbow trout, a few large bull trout, and lots of lake trout - some of which can get quite large.

Due to the poor fishing, Lake McDonald gets little fishing pressure. The trout in the lake rise readily and greedily to pretty much any small dry fly presented their way. The best time to fish for these gullible trout is during the morning and evening hours, when the winds die down and the lake can become as smooth as glass.

One would suspect that with its scenic beauty, Lake McDonald would get a lot of use from motorboats and pleasure boats. However, somewhat surprisingly, boating use on Lake McDonald is generally light to non-existent. While some nice summer weekends can bring out the boaters from the nearby Flathead Valley, generally the lake has few motorboats on it even during the summer - although the lake can receive a fair amount of use from canoeists along the shoreline near the village of Apgar.

Photo Use Guidelines

Shore fishing for Lake McDonald trout is easily done. The lake is also easy to wade in many sections, as gravel bars are commonly found along the lakeshore. A boat is only really needed if an angler will be trolling deep for lake trout or if they want to easily access the north shore of the lake (which otherwise requires hiking in).

Overall, unless you are planning on fishing for lake trout, don't make Lake McDonald a destination fishing spot. Instead, use it as a beautiful place to fish in a stunning surrounding. Moreover, the gullible trout, low fishing pressure and easy access make Lake McDonald an excellent place to teach children how to fish.


Hiking Gear & Equipment Guide for Glacier National Park

Fleece Jackets : The best way to stay warm in Glacier Park
Hiking Pants : The best type of pants for hiking...period
Rain Jackets : Get the right type of rain gear for Glacier Park

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