Swiftcurrent Lake, Montana, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Montana - Glacier Country -

When many visitors to Glacier National Park think of lakes in the area, it is often Swiftcurrent Lake that comes to mind. Often photographed, this beautiful little glacier-fed lake hosts the Many Glaciers Hotel and is the one most park visitors to the east entrance first see. Stunning, with towering peaks reflected in the lake, Swiftcurrent Lake is the scene most remembered by park visitors. Nearly all visitors to the park, even if they aren’t interested in hiking, will visit this lake.

Popular boat tours take visitors from the hotel’s dock to the far end of the lake, where they can hike a few hundred yards to yet another beautiful lake. Or, they may rent a canoe or kayak or row boat and explore the lake at their leisure. The early morning boat tours often see a multitude of wildlife, including moose, bighorn sheep and the occasional grizzly bear. Trout rising to the surface leave dimpled rings on the water before the wind comes up. The air is crisp and clear, and all of nature’s beauty is on display. No wonder the vision of Swiftcurrent Lake remains in visitors’ memories long after they have returned home.

Just over 100 acres, Swiftcurrent Lake doesn’t have any official statistics on how deep it is. A 20th century report on the lake states that it consists of two basins, each between 15 and 30 feet in depth. The near shore shallows are great for a little wading, and fly fishermen often fish for brook trout either from shore or using the float-tubes they bring for the purpose. The row boats are often rented by fishermen to reach some of the more inaccessible inlets and coves where they try their luck. Average sized trout are hungry, even with boats plying the lake regularly. Although all visitors need a park pass, fishermen don’t need a special fishing permit for fishing within the park; the regular Montana fishing license will suffice. Regular visitors often bring their own canoes or kayaks and enjoy the water without time limits or fee concerns.

The shore of Swiftcurrent Lake near the hotel docks is the beginning of several of Glacier’s best hiking trails. There is an easy loop trail around the lake that is generally flat and easy walking. The Swiftcurrent Nature Trail loop is two-and-a-half miles long with a new vista opening up everywhere one looks. Great views of Mount Gould, Allen Mountain, and Mount Grinnell dominate the skyline, with snow-capped peaks forming a nearly continuous backdrop to the scenic lake. During the early summer, native wildflowers paint the small alpine pastures with points of riotous color. With a good pair of binoculars, hikers may see a bear or bighorn sheep on the slopes above. At the far end of the lake, a short diversion allows hikers to visit Lake Josephine. The Grinnell Lake Trail veers off to continue on to the longer, more strenuous hike. Staying on the nature loop takes one completely around the lake, with a variety of views all begging to be photographed. These are strictly walking trails. Other trails starting near Many Glaciers Hotel are also open to horseback riding. Guided horseback trips can be arranged within the park.

The Swiftcurrent Trail, beginning near the campground next to the Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge, eventually takes hikers along Swiftcurrent Creek on a strenuous trail to Swiftcurrent Pass, the Highline Trail along the Continental Divide, and the Granite Park Chalet. Other trails lead to Piegan Pass and other points of interest in the park. Glacier National Park is prime grizzly bear country. It is estimated that the park contains more grizzlies per square mile than any other location in the United States. When bear activity is high, trails are often closed, but they can appear along the trails at any time. Rangers will tell you to give them a wide berth and carry bear spray.

Many Glaciers Valley is one of the most scenic locations within Glacier Park. Staying at the Many Glaciers Hotel overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake allows visitors to experience the historic atmosphere of Glacier National Park, with continuous reminders of its origins in the early 1900s. The hotel still looks much like it did in 1915, and guest are sometime amazed to find that the rooms contain no such ‘modern’ conveniences as television or air conditioning. They are hardly necessary here; nature’s panorama is just outside, and the altitude keeps the temperature pleasantly cool even in summer. The campground near the hotel fills up quickly, so more active campers often move on to the back country campsites around Lake Josephine. Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge just down the road offers rustic cabins, motel rooms and yet another campground. There are no swimming beaches, since the water in Swiftcurrent Lake remains quite cold all summer. In winter park facilities are closed but trails are still open, although many may be impassible due to deep snow. Regular visitors sometimes use the lower trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Glacier National Park abuts the Blackfeet Reservation on the east a short distance from Many Glaciers Valley. A few services are located outside the park in the small towns of Babb and Saint Marys. Some lodgings can be found in these towns including a few guest ranches, small motels and bed-and-breakfasts. Local restaurants welcome tourists, and groceries and supplies can be purchased here. ‘Going To The Sun Road’ across the park is a not-to-be-missed drive with spectacular views. More private businesses can be found on the west side of Glacier Park. The largest city of any size nearby is Kalispell, over 125 miles away.

Real estate isn’t available within the park but is sometimes found outside of the park boundaries. The tiny town of Columbia Falls near the park’s western edge has several skiing locations and outfitters eager to offer their services. Private rentals are often available near here. The area is well worth a week or so to explore and see all of the sights, whether on foot, by car, or by boat and kayak. Don’t forget the camera and binoculars.

Things to do at Swiftcurrent Lake

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

Fish species found at Swiftcurrent Lake

  • Brook Trout
  • Trout

Swiftcurrent Lake Photo Gallery

Swiftcurrent Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 106 acres

Shoreline Length: 2 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,875 feet

Maximum Depth: 30 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".

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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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