The Lakes of Glacier National Park
St. Mary Lake

Mt. Gould in Glacier Park

St. Mary Lake

St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park
Photo Use Guidelines

St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park is absolutely stunning. This long and big lake is surrounded by huge, steeply rising mountains on three sides, with gently rolling prairie and forested hillsides found along its eastern shoreline. The water is exceptionally clear and remains quite cool all summer long.

St. Mary Lake lies on the eastern side of the continental divide in Glacier National Park. The eastern side of Glacier is much different than found in the western side of the park. It is more arid and gets increasingly arid the further one moves down in elevation and away from the continental divide. The eastern side of Glacier National Park is also much windier than is found in the western half of the park. And Saint Mary Lake is no exception to this. Indeed, it defines it. Saint Mary Lake has strong winds on it for much of the time during the year. Unlike Lake McDonald, which lies just 12 air miles away on the western side of the continental divide, a calm day is a rarity on Saint Mary Lake.

Saint Mary Lake in Glacier National Park
Photo Use Guidelines

There is a wide variety of fish in Saint Mary Lake. Lake trout, rainbow trout, whitefish, cutthroat trout and even an occasional bull trout can all be caught out of this lake. Except for right at the lakes outlet (which is next to St. Mary Campground), the lake receives little fishing pressure. Most of the boating use on St. Mary Lake is for recreational uses. Even recreational boating on St. Mary Lake is very light due to the lakes remoteness, its high winds and lack of good places to launch a boat. Indeed, most of the recreational use on St. Mary Lake comes from boat tours of the lake a couple times of day during the summer.

Access to Saint Mary Lake is easy as the Going to the Sun road follows the lake on its northern side - although a steep scramble down to the lake is often required. If you don't want to scramble down through the brush and rocks, numerous places along the road allow for an easy walk down to the lake, particularly along the eastern half of the lake. In addition to having good road access, a number of hiking trails roughly follow the shoreline of the entire lake.

St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park - seen from a distance
Photo Use Guidelines

Shore fishing is possible due to the lakes easy access. However, most of the best fishing will be found well away from shore. As a result, successful fishing for anything but whitefish really requires a boat - preferably one with a strong motor in order to successfully fight the winds and waves on the lake. Whitecaps are common on Saint Mary Lake; so make sure any boat you use can withstand waves 2-3 feet tall. Don't even think of using a float tube except in calm conditions. The high winds and whitecaps on the lake will make float tubing an exercise in futility on all but the calmer days.

The exception to having to use a boat is when an angler is fishing for whitefish. Whitefish are commonly caught along the shoreline, particularly at the lakes outlet near St. Mary Campground. Virtually any dry fly will work for these fish, although the lakes high winds can make casting and simply spotting your fly a challenge at times. Small spoons on spin fishing gear also works very well.

In addition to the fishing, the whole St. Mary area provides some of the best hiking to be found anywhere in Glacier National Park. Trails such as the Gunsight Lake Trail, Piegan Pass Trail and Okotomi Lake Trail all begin at trailheads off of Saint Mary Lake.

Two campgrounds on are located on Saint Mary Lake. St. Mary Campground is located near the lakes outlet. Rising Sun Campground is located mid-way down the lake along the Going to the Sun Road. In addition, a boat ramp is also located near Rising Sun Campground.

Hiking Gear & Equipment Guide for Glacier National Park

Hiking Boots : Buyers guide to getting the right boot for hiking
Hiking Socks : Guide to getting the right sock for hiking
Trekking Poles : Why you should use one when hiking

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