Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park. Known for its view of the mountains and its colorful pebbles lining the shores, Lake McDonald is definitely one of the places at Glacier you don’t want to miss.
Since this lake is so big, there are many ways to see and experience it. The Going-To-The-Sun Road winds alongside it for miles, offering tons of spots for a picnic lunch and skipping rocks. Lake McDonald Lodge offers easy access with parking, restaurants, trails, and more. Travelers can access Lake McDonald via several campgrounds, including Fish Creek and Sprague Creek, thereby getting a bit more private of an introduction to the lake. You can even drive the whole circumference of the the lake. But my favorite place to see the beauty of Lake McDonald is at Apgar Village.
APGAR VILLAGE AT LAKE MCDONALD
Apgar Village is an area of Glacier National Park that includes many amenities. Visitors can enjoy many shops, a casual restaurant, a couple of inns, and a campground. For recreation, travelers can find horseback riding, boat rentals, bike rentals, a shuttle service, boat tours and other tour reservations, and one of the main visitor centers at Apgar Village. However, the best thing about Apgar Village is its location on Lake McDonald. Here you’ll find a beautiful beach with pristine views of the length of the lake and view of the mountain range on the other side of it. And, of course, those colorful pebbles. (Because I know you love them!)
In fact, most of these photos were taken on that beach at Apgar Village.
Photographers love this area. High sun is a good time to get the photos of the colorful rocks, but you could also get that around dusk, as well, if you’re willing to use a tripod. Around that time you’re more likely to find still waters that are perfect for those coveted shots of the glassy lake with the vibrant rocks glistening below the surface. Lastly, photographers (including me!) flock here in the early morning for the always beautiful sunrises that this landscape provides.
It’s a great place to enjoy the lake – you can partake in the amenities and luxuries that the village has to offer while still engaging the nature surrounding Lake McDonald.
LAKE MCDONALD LODGE
Another great area on Lake McDonald is Lake McDonald Lodge. Though not as many as Apgar Village, this area boasts a few amenities.
Travelers can find a couple of inns here, located right on the lake, as well as a post office, a few restaurants (that have vegan food on the menu!), and a couple of shops. Recreation at Lake McDonald Lodge includes horseback riding, boat tours, tour buses, and evening ranger-led programs. Visitors will find that it is central to a couple good day hikes and Glacier National Park’s free shuttle service also stops here.
The views of the mountains here are almost as incredible as Apgar Village, and the sunsets are spectacular.
CAMPGROUNDS AT LAKE MCDONALD
Apgar Campground, the largest campground in Glacier National Park, takes reservations only for group sites, while the rest is first-come first-served. It is right next to Apgar Village, which offers a wide array of shops, activities, and other things (see above). Campers can enjoy a program amphitheater offering evening ranger-led programs, and is only a short walk away from the best view on Lake McDonald. Flush toilets and disposal stations are available here, but there are no showers.
Fish Creek Campground, the second-largest campground in the park, takes reservations for all sites up to 6 months in advance. Campers can enjoy a program amphitheater offering nightly ranger-led programs, many day hikes starting at Fish Creek, and awesome views of the lake, although no sites sit directly on the lake. Showers, flush toilets, and disposal stations are offered at this campground.
Sprague Creek Campground is a small campground and is first-come first-served. Arrive EARLY to get your campsite – in July and August, spots fill up on average by 10am, but sometimes as early 7:15am (see historic fill times here). Only tent and hammock camping is allowed – no towed-units (i.e. RVs and the like). Some sites have beautiful unobstructed views of Lake McDonald. Flush toilets are available here, but there are no showers.
LODGING AT LAKE MCDONALD
Lodging in the park fills up far in advance, so reservations during peak seasons (July and August) are highly encouraged. All lodging at Lake McDonald is located within walking distance to the lake.
Apgar Village Lodge is great for the budget traveler. The motel rooms are small and the amenities are simple, but you’ll find what you need here for a great national park stay. Families will love the cabins, as most of them are fully outfitted with working kitchens. Each cabin is unique and comes in many different sizes depending on your need.
Village Inn, located at Apgar Village, was built in the 50s and renovated in 2015. Guests will love the mod meets rustic decor that these comfortable rooms provide. Full kitchen units are available on the first floor while units providing for larger parties are located on the second. Smaller units are located throughout.
Lake McDonald Lodge was built in 1913 and is exactly what you think of when hearing the word “lodge”. The lodge’s rooms are mostly rustic and offer many amenities including private bathrooms. The Cobb House features larger suites while Snyder Hall, a converted historic dormitory, boasts hostel-like accommodations with access to a shared bathroom. Guests staying in the newly renovated Snyder Hall will think they are sleeping in a home remodeled by Chip and Joanna Gaines. Visitors staying at Lake McDonald Lodge are also able to rent out cabins on the property.
Motel Lake McDonald, located at the Lake McDonald Lodge area, is comprised of two 1950s-style buildings. All guestrooms have their own bathrooms and are decorated very rustic yet comfy, and include modest amenities. Here you’ll get the convenience of the Lake McDonald Lodge area without the large bill.
FOOD AND RESTAURANTS AT LAKE MCDONALD
Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, located at Lake McDonald Lodge, serves food all day in a nice, yet rustic atmosphere. Visitors can enjoy a full breakfast buffet or order from the menu (which includes a few vegan and gluten-free items). Both lunch and dinner menus offer vegan and gluten-free items, while the dinner menu is much larger. Guests will enjoy local draft beer, wine, or cocktails after a long day of hiking.
Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria, located at Lake McDonald Lodge, is a casual spot that has something for everyone. Serving lunch and dinner from a regular menu, lunch also features an all-you-can-eat buffet. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free items are offered and clearly labeled on the menu (the meatless “meatball” sandwich was my favorite). They also feature a great wine list.
Lucke’s Lounge, located at Lake McDonald Lodge, is an all-day full-service bar that features a small lunch and dinner menu with clearly-labeled vegan and gluten-free items.
West Glacier Restaurant, located at Apgar Village, serves food all day in a traditional diner atmosphere, perfect for the family. For traveler on the go, this restaurant even offers a walk-up window for ice cream and espresso. Vegetarians and vegans will find a few menu items they can enjoy at West Glacier Restaurant.
Freda’s Bar, located at Apgar Village, is a full-service bar where the vibe is down-to-earth and relaxing.
WHAT TO DO AT LAKE MCDONALD
If you have an hour to visit Lake McDonald, spend it at Apgar Village (especially the beach).
If you have half a day, spend it Apgar Village and driving around the lake. Have a picnic by the water.
Have a FULL day?! Do the above and take a couple of hours to kayak, canoe, or take a boat tour.
And if you have more than one day, do the above, stay at a campsite on the lake, and get up early to see the sunrise at Apgar.
What would you want to do at Lake McDonald?