St. Mary Lake
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.
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.
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
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
Boots : Buyers guide to getting the
right boot for hiking
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