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A Guide to Lake McDonald – Glacier National Park

Lake McDonald - Glacier National Park

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.

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What would you want to do at Lake McDonald?

Hiking the Highline Trail at Glacier National Park

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Tammie
    July 25, 2017 at 2:29 am

    Hi Bailey, really nice pictures! Thanks for sharing! Just curious, what month were you there and these photos taken? Was planning to make a trip to Lake McDonald end November but not sure if the view then is worth th trip. Any thoughts? Thanks!

  • Reply
    Lauren
    June 7, 2017 at 1:14 am

    Gorgeous scenery and photos! Followed on insta!

  • Reply
    Mimi
    November 8, 2016 at 6:00 am

    Your pictures are incredible, makes me want to go there to have a shoot! The water reflection and the color of the sky is just perfect! What a trip!

  • Reply
    Ty Ward
    November 8, 2016 at 3:01 am

    Amazing! Great photos! I will have to add this to my list of things to do next year. A picnic by the water sounds lovely.

  • Reply
    Sally
    November 8, 2016 at 2:07 am

    Wow, I love all of your pictures of Lake McDonald! The water just looks crystal clear. Thanks for the tips of where to stay regardless of your budget, that’s really helpful!

  • Reply
    Megan Jerrard
    November 7, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    Thanks for the guide to Lake McDonald – we would love to get to Glacier National Park, and it’s been on our list for a while now. Photo opportunities seem amazing here!

    • Reply
      Bailey K.
      November 18, 2016 at 11:47 am

      Oh yes – they are abundant!! Hope you get to go soon!

  • Reply
    Noemi of Pinay Flying High
    November 7, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    I think staying in Lake McDonald Lodge for a night would be my cup of tea. I like unique accommodations and frankly speaking, I haven’t really stayed in a lodge but it sounds interesting. That lake looks so calm and serene!

    • Reply
      Bailey K.
      November 18, 2016 at 11:48 am

      The lodges at national parks really are quite amazing.

  • Reply
    Tara
    November 7, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Your photos are so beautiful! We camped at Sprague Creek a few years ago. It was July, but the water was SO COLD! So I definitely won’t tell you that I want to go for a swim. What I’d really like to do is head back with my camera and spend a weekend photographing those mountains!

    • Reply
      Bailey K.
      November 18, 2016 at 11:53 am

      Yes the water was very cold still in August, too, but my husband can never resist getting in. I am happy with wading in the water about knee-deep. 🙂

  • Reply
    Love From Scotland
    November 7, 2016 at 11:55 am

    What a great guide to the national park. I really liked your photography suggestions about how to get the reflections. I really need to get myself a tripod for those fast shutter speed moments!

    • Reply
      Bailey K.
      November 18, 2016 at 11:54 am

      They are useful, but I still rarely use tripods when I travel. Using them takes too much time that I’d rather be exploring!!

  • Reply
    Daphne from Girlswanderlust
    November 7, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Wauw! Lake McDonald looks amazing! The water looks so clear! I never visited Glacier National Park, but would love to go there one day. Especially, since most of the glaciers are expected to be disappeared in the next 100 years. I agree with you that the Apgar Village is indeed a good place to take photos. It all looks perfect. The camp grounds you described must be amazing. It is crazy that you must reserve for the more than six months in advance for the Fish Creek Campground!

    • Reply
      Bailey K.
      November 18, 2016 at 11:55 am

      Oh no, you don’t have to reserve six months in advance – they just take reservations UP TO six months in advance. We reserved our spot probably 2 months in advance.

  • Reply
    Jen Morrow
    November 7, 2016 at 6:36 am

    Beautiful lake! I would definitely want to spend all day and kayak those crystal clear waters.

  • Reply
    Sasha
    November 7, 2016 at 6:26 am

    Absolutely stunning photos! We were meant to road trip to Glacier National park when we lived in Canada two years ago but our car died and we never got the chance again. It is high on my list so hopefully we get to visit real soon and take your advice with me! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Sheri
    November 7, 2016 at 3:48 am

    This is so beautiful. It seems you went there at the perfect time. Weather looks great and the sky and water is beautiful. I really love the shot of where the stones can be seen underwater plus the landscape. Who would not want to go to Lake McDonald after reading this? Bookmarking and pinning!

    • Reply
      Bailey K.
      November 18, 2016 at 11:58 am

      Yes, we were lucky most of the time with good weather. Unfortunately, there were very large wildfires going on the entire time we were there – they were so bad that some parts of the park were completely closed off and effected the air quality when we got too close. We hope to go back one day to visit the parts of the park that we missed because of the fires.

  • Reply
    Krysti
    November 7, 2016 at 1:37 am

    Wow the lake looks so stunning and crystal clear! It really captures peace and tranquillity. I love how you’ve included all of the camping and lodging options- I think the Lake McDonald Lodge sounds perfect for me! This post is so wonderful and detailed for activities and food options.
    I would love to spend time here with my family and have a picnic, go kayaking and definitely watch the sun set and rise! I absolutely have to put Glacier National Park on my bucket list!

    • Reply
      Bailey K.
      November 18, 2016 at 11:59 am

      Thank you so much! I hope you get to go sooner rather than later! 🙂

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