Lake McDonald and its colored rocks. USA
Glacier National Park is located in the U.S. state of Montana near the Canadian border. This park is famous for its forests, mountains, and glacial lakes. There are more than 700 lakes here. An interesting fact is that only 131 of them have their own names, the rest are unnamed. Many of the lakes are quite decent in size. The beauty of the mountains and glacial lakes always makes the heart beat faster. And Glacier Park is no exception.
It should be recalled that this is the Rocky Mountain region, and it is extremely rich in amazing bodies of water. For example, north of Glacier Park is Canada’s Banff National Park, also famous for its lakes, such as Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, and Lake Peyto.
Among such a variety of mountain lakes in Glacier Park, the most notable one should be highlighted. This is Lake MacDonald. It is the largest lake here and is located in the northern part of the park, 40 kilometers south of the Canadian border.
Lake McDonald on the map
- Geographic coordinates 48.591376, -113.914942
- Distance from the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C. Approx. 3150 kilometers in a straight line
- The nearest Spokane International Airport is about 300 km away
Lake McDonald has an elongated shape from northeast to southwest. It is just over 15 kilometers long and reaches a width of 1,600 meters. The maximum depth is 141 meters. The water surface area is 27.6 square kilometers.
The places here are extremely amazing and stunning, but that’s not even the main thing. The main difference between some of the lakes is the colorful rocks covering their bottoms and shores. It is in Lake McDonald that this effect is most colorful. Stones of bizarre, sometimes some unreal colors are abundantly scattered around the lake. Red, yellow, green, and even blue colors are mixed in a fabulous extravaganza.
Where do the multicolored stones come from?
If the appearance of multicolored stones on the famous Glass Beach in California can easily be explained by the piggyback nature carelessness of man, the colored stones of Lake Macdonald are entirely the merit of the planet.
Without going into a detailed geological analysis, we will only say that the color of the pebbles is due to the content of iron in the sedimentary rocks and the degree of its oxidation. So, for example, where iron was in tight contact with air, there prevail red colors. But the green colors are characteristic of rocks that were formed at great depths, where the access of oxygen is very limited.
If you want to see what nature is capable of in artistic terms, we strongly recommend reading about the Colored Rocks of Zhangye Dangxia in China. Their formation process is most likely much like the formation of the colored rocks in Lake McDonald.
But who poured this splendor into the lake? Was the mythical truck carrying the colored stones for building the rainbow, but got lost and unloaded the contents in the wrong place? Actually, it’s quite simple. Originally, there were rocks, which had been formed over millions of years and, depending on the conditions, acquired the most amazing colors. Subsequently, during the Ice Age, these rocks were ground into small pebbles by giant blocks of ice. Meltwater streams brought the colored rocks into the valley, which was filled with glacial runoff.
Colored stones are also found in other lakes in the park, but in Lake McDonald their number is maximal, which looks very spectacular.
Another feature of the lake is its ineffable purity, which puts it on a par with such clean bodies of water as, for example, the Verzasca River in Switzerland. The purity of water in Lake McDonald is due to its temperature, which never rises above +10 degrees Celsius. Such conditions do not allow plankton to reproduce and survive here, hence the transparency of the water. The bottom here can be seen at a depth of 8-10 meters, and sometimes deeper.
If plankton is uncomfortable in the lake, the fish feel like … “fish in water”. There are quite a lot of fish representatives. Especially trout and salmon. McDonald Lake is surrounded by dense coniferous forests dominated by firs, spruces and larches. Animals in the area are also plentiful. Elk, deer, and bears are found here.
For tourists around the lake are 15 hiking trails of varying length and complexity. On the shore of the lake you can find infrastructure for tourists. These are hotels, cafes and eateries, as well as boat rentals.
McDonald Lake in Glacier Park (Montana, USA) | McDonald Lake
McDonald Lake in Montana, USA, is usually the first thing that greets you when you arrive in Glacier National Park. We, too, after a long drive from Spokane to the famous park since early morning, were finally in the park almost by lunchtime. And it was encouraging that it was the lake that greeted us, clean and beautiful. We decided to relax as we strolled past McDonald’s crystal-clear glacial water and take in the atmosphere. They say that in Montana any puddle is proudly called a lake, that’s how the locals love their nature. But Lake McDonald is by no means just a puddle, but a beautiful pool of water. Here we are inevitably and inevitably falling in love with the beauty of Glacier. And hopefully, mutually.
Lake McDonald is the largest glacial lake in Glacier National Park and belongs to the western portion of the continental divide. It fills a trough of glacial origin that has undergone erosion. The lake is home to many fish, mostly trout. Parallel to the lake’s shoreline runs the famous Follow-the-Sun Road, which was built in the 1920s and 1930s.
Glacial Lake McDonald and its clear blue water
- The lake has an elongated shape from southwest to northeast;
- The surface of the lake is 960 meters above sea level;
- Length 16 km;
- The width is 1.6 km;
- Area – 27.6 sq. km; Area – 27.6 sq. km;
- Depth – 190 meters;
- Several streams flow into the lake and one brook, MacDonald, flows out.
In August 2003, there was a big fire in Glacier National Park. As a result, all of the forest growing on Howe Ridge was lost. And now Lake McDonald looks very different. Before, the green foliage in the spring and summer months reflected in the clear water of the glacial lake, and the mountain burned with golden colors in the fall.
Howie Ridge was left without its lush forest.
Now all that is visible on the shore are the burned trunks, a gray canvas covering the lake. It would take some time for the forest to recover.
As sad and tragic as it is to realize the loss of the forest in Glacier, there are positives to what happened. New species of birds have taken root in the charred hulks and will be a curiosity for birdwatching. Biologists have a chance to observe the ecosystem’s recovery step by step. And geologists can study the landscape of the mountains without forest cover.
What about us? We had no childhood memories of the way things used to be. We arrived and saw the amazing lake, the gray and formidable Howie Ridge above it, and its reflection in the clear waters. Wasn’t that a joy?
Along the south shore of Lake MacDonald is the scenic Going-to-the-sun road that connects the two entrances to Glacier Park and is closed during the winter. Along the road, there are several parking lots and vantage points where you can stop and admire Glacier Lake.
You can get close to the shore and see how clear the water is
How to get there
The lake is very close to the west entrance to West Glacier Park and the Apgar Visitor Center. The Going-to-the-sun park road runs right along its shore. The nearest town, Kalispell, is 58 kilometers from the lake, but it takes a lot of work to get to Kalispell. The state of Montana is on the border with Canada, and only brave independent travelers will include Glacier National Park in their U.S. itinerary.
From the eastern entrance to Glacier Saint Mary Park, it is 76 km to Lake McDonald.
We recommend renting a car to travel around the U.S. for the lowest price here →
Lake McDonald on a map of the United States
Hiking around Lake McDonald
There are 15 hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty around Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, from simple walks to climbing 1,320 feet! We’ve compiled information about them in a spreadsheet.
|Trail name||Trail length, km||Altitude gain, m||Trail description|
|Apgar lookout||10,5||563||Views of Lake McDonald. After entering West Glacier Park, take the first left turn. Be wary of falling trees. Carry water with you.|
|Lake McDonald West Shore Trail||22,5||The trail goes through burnt forest.|
|Mount Brown lookout trail.||17||1320||This is a very tough trail. You have to carry a lot of water with you.|
|Snyder lake trail.||14||655||The trail goes through old-growth forest to Snyder Lake.|
|Sperry Chalet trail.||19||1046||You don’t see anything until you get to the end of the trail. All the views are there!|
|John’s Lake Loop trail.||4,8||50||Easy trail, but signs on the trail itself are a bit confusing, so you need to study the map carefully before you hike|
McDonald Creek and a small waterfall
In addition to the lake, there is also McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park. It flows out of the lake of the same name and is not very wide, but its rocky shores are very scenic. At the beginning of the Johns lake trail, there is a bridge to cross to the other side of both McDonald Creek and the lake. We just walked along the shore. There’s also a small waterfall on the creek.
You can cross the bridge and walk on both sides of McDonald Creek
As we walked along the bank, we saw the waterfall
Photos and video of the creek and waterfall
The water in the creek is cold and clear-clean!
It’s an extraordinary shade! Still, it’s good that there are still places protected from the influence of man-made civilization
A row of woods along the creek.
These slabs form the bottom.
Video of McDonald Creek.
And over all this marvelous scenery reign the eternal mountains
And to get a better view of the snowy peaks of the mountains, we took the road to the sun, or Going-to-the-sun, one of the most scenic roads in the world! And since we’re on a road trip across the U.S. by car, it would be odd not to take a drive. And for more things to do in Glacier and what it’s like, Montana in the United States, read our post about the history and sights of Glacier National Park.