Lake McDonald, Montana, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Montana - Glacier Country -

It’s barely daylight and his family is still sleeping in their lakeside cabin on Lake McDonald. He was so eager; he couldn’t wait. Nothing breaks the quiet of the morning except the swish and pop of his fly road as he casts for trout in Lake McDonald. For years he’s dreamed of vacationing in Glacier National Park in Montana. Now that he is here the snow capped mountains leaning down to meet the tree lined shore and clean mountain water of Lake McDonald is much more than he imagined. He casts again sending the fly to touch down gently on the surface of the water hoping to entice one of the lake’s many trout to bite. Maybe the fish are still asleep as well, but it doesn’t matter. Standing thigh deep in the beautiful clear water in the shadow of the mountains, he has all the time in the world.

Stretching ten miles along a narrow glacial valley, Lake McDonald is the largest and deepest lake in Glacier National Park. The lake is fed by run off and several small streams. Its outflow is primarily into McDonald Creek which goes on to join the Middle Fork Flathead River. It is surrounded by coniferous forest – primarily spruce and pine. In addition to the lake trout, there are healthy populations of bull trout, cutthroat trout and whitefish. A concession on the lake’s shore rents canoes and rowboats, and visitors to the lake can take a boat cruise on the DeSmet, a historic wooden boat.

Lake McDonald, in Flathead County, is entirely within Glacier National Park. People have been coming to enjoy the majestic beauty of the area since the 1800’s. By the late 1890’s a train took visitors to Belton, now known as West Glacier. From there they could ride the stagecoach to Lake McDonald and take a boat to the Snyder Hotel. In 1910 President Taft established Glacier National Park as the nation’s tenth national park. The Lake McDonald Lodge opened on the shores of the lake four years later on June 14, 1914. The Swiss chalet style hotel still operates today, offering visitors a variety of overnight accommodations including the lodge, cabins and hotel rooms. There are restaurants, a gift shop and visitor center along with a lakeside campground. Lake McDonald rarely freezes completely, but there is a trail along the eastern shore for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. A trail for hiking rings the lake and crosses the surrounding area. Just outside the park in Whitefish and Columbia Falls, there are vacation rentals and real estate for sale in the beautiful Flathead Valley.

Every year over two million people visit Glacier National Park to hike, bike and horseback ride on the park’s 700 miles of trails. There are also ample opportunities to backpack through the wilderness. The park is home to grizzly bears, black bears, moose and mule deer all of whom occasionally show up on the northern shore of Lake McDonald. The local Blackfeet Indians called the area that includes Glacier National Park the “Backbone of the World,” for the mountainous ridge that runs down the region, and the park is just a few miles west of the Continental Divide. When people first started visiting Glacier National Park most places were inaccessible except on foot or on horseback. In 1932 after 11 years of work, the final section of the Going-to-the-Sun Road was completed letting visitors drive up and across 6,646 foot high Logan Pass. The 50 mile long road is a National Historic Landmark and gives visitors access to the park’s interior. Mountain goats and big horn sheep make their home at the higher elevations and Jackson Glacier is easy to reach from the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The road runs parallel to Lake McDonald’s southern shore.

Glacier National park is part of the 2.3 million acres Flathead National Forest which extends 120 miles south of Canada in the Glacier Country region of northwest Montana. On its northern border, Glacier National Park meets Waterton Lakes National Park. Established in 1895 the 124,800 acre park was Canada’s fourth national park. In 1932 after much lobbying by the Rotary Clubs of both countries, the governments of Canada and the United States of America designated the parks the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Both nations saw the importance of protection this spectacular area for generations of visitors to come.

Things to do at Lake McDonald

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Canoeing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park
  • National Forest

Fish species found at Lake McDonald

  • Bull Trout
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Lake Trout
  • Trout
  • Whitefish

Lake McDonald Photo Gallery

  • Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 6,823 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 3,153 feet

Maximum Depth: 472 feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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