Trout Lake : Hiking & Fishing
The Trout Lake Trail isn’t the easiest of hikes in Glacier National
Park, although it is far from being the most difficult. Like most hiking
trails that begin in the Lake McDonald area, the trail gains quite a
bit of vertical due to its beginning low elevation. The Trout Lake Trail
itself begins near the shores of Lake McDonald
and makes its way up to the top of Howe Ridge. From there, it begins
a rather steep descent down to Trout Lake and Camas Creek. Total trail
length from the trailhead to Trout Lake is 3.7 miles.
The hike on the Trout Lake Trail isn’t the most scenic, as it
passes through moderately thick forests that were only partially burned
over by the Roberts Fire of 2003 (the Robert Fire burned over most of
Howe Ridge completely, but became more of a ground fire as it neared
Mt. Stanton). Also, there is no water found on the trail, except early
in the year. As such, be sure to bring plenty of water or a hydration
To reach the trailhead, from West Glacier, follow the Going to the Sun
Road up past the Lake McDonald Lodge. Once past the lodge, take a left
on the North Shore Lake McDonald Road. Follow this road for about ¾ of
a mile as it winds it way around the head of the lake. A small parking
lot and sign mark the trailhead. While the parking lot is quite small
(just a wide pullover on the side of the road), happily, the Trout Lake
Trail doesn’t receive that much hiking pressure.
From the trailhead, the Trout Lake Trail begins a moderately steep ascent
of Howe Ridge, gaining just a little bit over 2000 vertical feet over
the course of 2.5 miles. The first third of the ascent is the steepest
part of the climb, with the trail leveling off a little bit as it gets
near the top of Howe Ridge.
As the trail makes it way up towards the top of Howe Ridge, there are
scant views, owing to the moderately thick forest cover. However, about
2/3 of the way up towards the top the trail crosses over an avalanche
chute, that provides for some nice views back down on Lake McDonald.
Beyond the chute, the trail enters the woods again for a final climb
to the wooded saddle at the top of Howe Ridge.
From the top of Howe Ridge, the Trout Lake Trail descends steeply,
utilizing numerous switchbacks, as it drops 1300 vertical feet in just
over a mile. Other than a few glimpses of the mountains here and there,
there are few views to be had, as neither the Robert Fire nor the Moose
Fire of 2001 burned this area significantly.
Following the descent, the Trout Lake Trail meets up with the Camas
Lake Trail. Take a right on this trail and follow it for about a ¼ of
a mile of flat walking to the shores of Trout Lake.
The views from the lake shore are excellent – more than making
up for the lack of views on the hike in. Stanton Mountain, Mt. Vaught
and Heaven’s Peak dominate the skyline on the south side of the
lake while Rogers Mountain and Camas Ridge soar up from the lakes north
Once upon a time, there use to be a campground on the shores of Trout
Lake. However, in 1967 a “grizzly bear incident” occurred
at this campground – which gave rise to the movie Night
of the Grizzly. Ever since, the campground has been closed and
to the best of my knowledge there is no plans to open it back up again.
The fishing in Trout Lake is decent. While Trout Lake receives little
fishing pressure due to the difficulty of reaching it, the cold waters
of the lake keep the fish on the average size. Cutthroat Trout are the
primary species and can be caught on just about anything – the
fish aren’t finicky eaters, although lures and nymphs work better
for the larger fish than top water flies. Just keep in mind that the
clear water can cause a slow off in fishing during hot, sunny days. The “logjam” part
of the lake is the most heavily fished portion of the lake – owing
to its location by the trail and the fact that the “logjam” allows
anglers to pick their way out a bit into the lake. If you are in search
of parts of the lake that receive little to no fishing pressure, continue
on up the trail for a bit, then bushwhacking down to the shores of the
lake. You can also bushwhack your way to the other side of the lake,
too, although doing so will require a crossing of Camas Creek.
Overall, the Trout Lake Trail isn’t the most scenic of hikes.
If scenery is what you are seeking, both on the trail and at the destination,
then find another trail. On the other hand, if you don’t care about
the scenery on the hike itself but want to see a beautiful mountain lake
at the end of the hike, then the Trout Lake Trail is certainly worth
the effort to hike on. You’ll get fine views of an area of Glacier
National Park few people ever see. Plus, as an added bonus, you’ll
likely walk away with some native cutthroat trout if you remember to
bring your fishing rod.
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