Saint Mary Lake, Montana, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Montana - Glacier Country -

Also known as:  St. Mary Lake, Saint Mary's Lake, St. Mary's Lake

At 3900 acres, Saint Mary Lake is the second-largest lake in Glacier National Park. Saint Mary Lake is one of the most visited lakes, because the popular ‘Going To The Sun Road’ travels along the northern side of the lake for several miles. The road offers several spots where car travelers can get down to the water, and the two campgrounds in this part of the park are reached from the same road. The route for ‘Going To The Sun Road’ was specifically chosen to make the most of Glacier’s unusually scenic vistas, so sights at Saint Mary Lake don’t disappoint. The nearly 10-mile long lake offers picturesque views of a number of surrounding peaks such as East Flattop, Singleshot and Red Eagle Mountains, often best viewed from the tour boat that takes tourists and hikers the length of the lake.

Saint Mary Lake is one of the few for which statistics are available. The lake reaches depths of 300 feet and holds a healthy population of lake trout, whitefish, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and even a few bull trout. The lake actually gets little fishing pressure except at the outlets along the shore near the campgrounds, so those anglers who can find the rare calm day suitable for fly fishing will have excellent luck. Because the water seldom gets warmer than 50 degrees and the choppy waves make floating difficult, most find that float tubes and canoes don’t work well. A motorized boat is almost necessary for successful fishing here, except for the whitefish that stay in the shallow shore areas. There is only one launch ramp, so few motor boats ply the lake. In winter, the lake usually freezes over with up to four feet of ice some winters. Visitors do not swim in the lake due to the frigid temperatures.

Two campgrounds on the lakeshore offer campsites with potable water and restrooms. Many of the popular trails begin from the campground areas, with several leading to waterfalls. The tour boat concession has docks at the Rising Sun Campground halfway along the shoreline near the road. This campground offers token-operated showers for campers only and has nightly ranger-led evening programs and activities scheduled by the same rangers. A camp store and small restaurant are also located here. The free shuttle service that serves locations on ‘Going To The Sun Road’ stops here, making this an excellent place to embark on hikes in the area. The St. Marys Campground is located near the east end of the lake near the Glacier National Park Visitors Center. The campgrounds take reservations from June 1 through September 3, with a number of sites restricted to first-come basis. Primitive camping is available all winter, but there are no water or toilets available and campers must obtain a pass from the local rangers. In honor of the local Native American culture, Blackfeet, Salish, and Kootenai tribal members take part in the park’s Native American Speaks program featuring performing artists and local drummers and dancers at the St. Mary Visitor Center.

It is possible for first-time hikers and those less physically fit to access the vistas featured at the end of some of the hiking trails by utilizing the shuttle buses and the tour boat. Saint Marys Falls is less than a mile from the trailhead, which can be accessed by shuttle bus, but is a mile and a half walk after taking the boat. Virginia Falls is on up the same trail at the 2.2 mile marker. This trail connects to a much longer trail for backcountry hikers who must obtain a backcountry pass to stay overnight in the park. The trail to Otokomi Lake is a bit over five miles from the trailhead. Baring Falls is only a third of a mile from a shuttle stop. The Sun Point Nature Trail leads along the lakeshore for seven-tenths of a mile from the Sun Point parking area. Wildlife is plentiful; moose, bears and wolves can often be glimpsed.

Not everyone wants to camp during their stay, and the local area just outside of the park offers many options for more modern lodgings. The concessionaire that operates hotel facilities within the park manages a motel, lodge and cabins just past the Visitors Center. The little village of St Marys, population 50 during the off-season, boasts several motels, campgrounds and other lodging facilities during the season when the park is open. Groceries, gas and gifts are also available here. One large chain campground in the area offers a swimming pool and pet-sitting for park visitors, since dogs are not allowed on any trail within the park. The town swells in size in the summer months with accommodations for Glacier National Park workers provided. Several small restaurants also do a booming business here. Much of the area is Blackfeet Reservation land, but the small town of Babb halfway down the east side of Lower St. Marys Lake has a small motel and cafe that welcome overflow visitors from the park. There are neighborhood bars in most towns, and several guest ranches offer excellent lodgings, back country horseback trips and fishing trips. The entire area is geared to tourism and welcomes park visitors.

For those wishing to awaken to mountain views every morning, real estate is available in the area. Some properties can be found with frontage on lakes, although not on Saint Mary Lake. The winter season brings snow-lovers who enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing along the more accessible trails. Some of the rivers in the area offer rafting adventures, and working ranch vacations can be found. A rodeo or two can often be located nearby during the warmer months. There is never a shortage of things to do and see, inside the park and out. Glacier National Park and Saint Mary Lake await . . .and so do the local residents who want to make your vacation complete. Make sure to bring the hiking boots, binoculars and camera on this trip.

Things to do at Saint Mary Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Swimming Pool
  • Canoeing
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Saint Mary Lake

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

Saint Mary Lake Photo Gallery

Saint Mary Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 3,923 acres

Shoreline Length: 23 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,484 feet

Maximum Depth: 300 feet

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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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