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Avalanche Lake Trail at Glacier NP

The Avalanche lake trail is a very popular trail with gorgeous views of a gushing gorge and a lake with waterfalls. It’s less than 5 miles in total, “door-to-door” from the parking lot.

I’m not a big hiker and had already had a couple of false starts on this trip to Glacier National Park.

When we tried to go to St. Mary’s Falls, we realized we followed the wrong map and ended up with a much longer hike than we had time for. We had to go back before getting to the falls, which was pretty disappointing.

So on this hike, I was determined to get to the lake no matter how long it took! And I’m glad I did, it was a beautiful, fairly easy hike with great photo opportunities.

Avalanche Lake Trail

You start this hike on the Trail of Cedars which is a super-easy “accessible” loop. About half a mile in, you detour to on the Avalanche Lake trail to the lake which is 2 miles out.

So in total, it adds up to about 5 miles. Enough to do in an afternoon, and still get some blood pumping.

For more tips on the trail itself, here’s another article on the Avalanche Lake Trail.

Avalanche Gorge

There are two main exciting views on this hike. One is the gushing gorge which is very close to the start of the Avalanche Lake trail.

Since I was so determined to get to the lake, I decided not to dilly-dally at the gorge, although I made a mental note to come back to it.

And I did. The gorge is surrounded by lush greenery that looks incredible against the shocking white of the water.

Avalanche Lake Trail

Exposure
1/50s ƒ/8 @ ISO 320
Focal Length
18mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
June 9, 2017, 4:13 pm

It amazed me how powerful the water is. I never see that in California, especially with the drought in the last decade, the best you see on most hikes is a babbling brook that dries out after spring.

And the plants around it practically glow with life. It almost feels a little magical and hobbit-like.

Avalanche lake trail gorge

Exposure
1/50s ƒ/8 @ ISO 320
Focal Length
18mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
June 9, 2017, 4:18 pm

Avalanche Lake

The second exciting view is the lake itself. Several waterfalls cascade into the lake which is clear with a hint of turquoise.

Exposure
1/60s ƒ/8 @ ISO 125
Focal Length
18mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
June 9, 2017, 3:06 pm

The rock face combined with the sky and the water makes for a lot of dynamic range to capture. What this means is, it’s quite hard to get the blue in the sky as well as the color in the rocks.

You will need to take advantage of HDR if you have it in-camera, or bracket the shot and take multiple exposures which you can then combine to increase the dynamic range.

To learn more about this technique, read this primer.

Waterfalls cascading into Avalanche Lake

Exposure
1/200s ƒ/8 @ ISO 125
Focal Length
50mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
June 9, 2017, 3:07 pm

Here’s one final shot from another viewpoint.

Avalanche Lake Trail at Glacier NP

Exposure
1/400s ƒ/5 @ ISO 125
Focal Length
10mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
June 9, 2017, 2:58 pm

Still Life

Along the way, there are some details you can shoot as well – just beautiful forest scenes. So keep your eyes open, and look around you.

Green leaves and log at Glacier National Park

Exposure
1/60s ƒ/5.6 @ ISO 500
Focal Length
17mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
June 9, 2017, 2:15 pm

Remember to look up, remember to look behind you for more angles.

Forest trees looking up

Exposure
1/125s ƒ/5.6 @ ISO 500
Focal Length
12mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
June 9, 2017, 2:31 pm

Safety First

We also saw a giant fresh bear poop, which was scary, but there were a lot of people on the trail so I figured we were safe.

Turns out, one week later they closed the trail because there were 6 reports of grizzly bears approaching hikers. SIX! Yikes!

I mean, we had bear spray, and I was talking loudly like a crazy person the whole time, but I’m super glad we didn’t bump into any grizzlies.

With grizzlies, you want to let them hear you before you get close so the recommendation is to talk loudly at all times, and to carry bear spray.

The sad thing is, the talking loudly also ensures you won’t see any deer or other less scary wildlife. At least if you’re doing it right.

Exposure
1/125s ƒ/5 @ ISO 125
Focal Length
10mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
June 9, 2017, 2:56 pm

Another trick is to let your significant other walk ahead of you, so the bear can get them first.

Final Words

The Avalanche Lake trail is a fun hike that will get you some beautiful shots. I liked that it had views along the way as well as a stellar endpoint so it kept my interest the whole time.

If you are on the West side of Glacier NP, you should definitely check this hike out.

Nitty Gritty

This post has affiliate links. If you use the link, you don’t pay anything extra but Sidecar Photo gets money for another glass of wine!

What to ExpectA 5 mile trail door to door with beautiful views of a gorge, a lake and cascading waterfalls. The trail is easy-moderate - you'll feel like you got some exercise but there's no real tough spots.

Versatile GearBecause of the need to capture the dark rocks and the bright sky, I venture to guess that a DSLR will perform better in these conditions. Especially if you bracket and create an HDR. So a wide lens would be great paired with your DSLR.
Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
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Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 HSM Lens for Nikon
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If you go at sunset, or any lower light time of day, I would also take a tripod.
Dolica LX600B502DS Professional Lightweight Tripod
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Useful AccessoriesA polarizer will bring out the most detail and color out of the grass and sky
Hoya HD circular polarizer
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Did you find this post useful? Do comment below and let me know! Thanks for reading.

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Shimona Carvalho
Photographer, Engineer, Traveler who wants to help you take incredible photographs on your next trip.
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