Lake McDonald, Montana, USA

Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Lake McDonald.

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Lake McDonald visitor and community guide

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.

Custom Lake McDonald house decor

Read our full review of these personalized lake house signs.

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

Best hotels and vacation rentals at Lake McDonald

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Lake McDonald photo gallery

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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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