Lake McDonald (Glacier National Park): FAQS For The First Time Visitor

Lake McDonald in Montana is a beautiful place to visit.

Keep reading to find the answer to all the questions you may have before your visit. 

Lake McDonald (Glacier National Park): FAQS For The First Time Visitor


The information provided in this article by is for informational purposes and is subject to change. Laws are updated. Accessibility guidelines and restrictions change. Be sure to confirm the land status and collection rules before you travel to an unfamiliar location or collect any material.

Where Is Lake McDonald?

Lake McDonald is close to the entrance to Glacier National Park in Flathead County, Montana. 

The lake is immediately inside the West Entrance to the park and can be accessed through Apgar Village with stunning views to greet you. 

The lake can be found at 48°35′N 113°55′W. 

Is Lake McDonald Open?

Lake McDonald is open year round, with seasonal road closures not affecting this area of Glacier National Park. 

The park does require an entrance fee even if the entrance gates are not staffed.

You must also register your vehicle to enter some areas in the park. 

Is The Lake McDonald Lodge Open?

Lake McDonald’s Lodge is run by Xanterra, not the Park Service and is open mid May to late September, but the season varies each year. 

The restaurants inside the lodge are open for lunch and dinner daily during the season and they all close at midnight. 

The lodging may become inaccessible in the event of severe winter weather, but this lodge is not affected by the Going-To-The-Sun road closures or renovations. 

Is Lake McDonald In Glacier National Park?

Lake McDonald is located inside Glacier National Park’s West Entrance.

The entire 10 mile long lake is contained within the boundaries of the park. 

It is the largest lake in the park and is the result of glaciers creating a 500 foot deep hollow in the rock. 

Is Lake McDonald Open In The Winter?

Lake McDonald is located inside Glacier National Park which is open year round.

It is open on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Martin Luther King Jr Day each winter. 

The Apgar Visitor’s center located close to the lake is open 8:30-5 during the peak season, but closes on some weekends and holidays from September to April. 

The restrooms and informational displays at Apgar are available year round. 

The lodging and restaurants around the lake operate from mid May to late September. 

The Apgar primitive campground and backcountry camping with a permit are available during winter months.  

Are Dogs Allowed At Lake McDonald?

While exploring Lake McDonald on foot, dogs are allowed only on the bike path between Apgar and West Glacier, and only when the path is free of snow.

They must be on a leash 6’ or less. 

Dogs are allowed in boats on Lake McDonald. 

Pets are allowed in developed areas like picnic areas and frontcountry camping areas and parking lots.

They are allowed along lake shores in developed areas, but must be leashed.  

Pets are not allowed inside any buildings, in any backcountry areas or trails or in primitive camping areas. 

You can read the detailed rules at Glacier National Park on the National Park website

Are There Fish In Lake McDonald?

There are native and non native fish in Lake McDonald. 

Lake McDonald was stocked with fish until 1971 when efforts began to improve the health of the lake ecosystem. 

What Kind of Fish Are In Lake McDonald?

Bull Trout, Rainbow Trout, Lake Trout, Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout, Kokanee, Lake Whitefish, Grayling, Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Suckers, Northern Pikeminnow, Reside Shiners and Peamouth are all found in Lake McDonald. 

Bull Trout are a threatened species and are native to the park. 

Is Fishing Allowed At Lake McDonald?

Fishing is permitted year round without a license inside the park.

No bull trout may be retained as they are listed as a threatened species. 

Shore fishing is the preferred method of fishing in the park. 

Hook and line fishing with only artificial lures and flies is permitted and it is limited to one rod per person.

No lead containing weights, lures, jigs or lines are permitted. 

The fishing is said to be relatively poor, and at times there is heavy boating activity which makes fishing difficult. 

Can You Kayak In Lake McDonald?

Kayaking is permitted in Lake McDonald year round.

Kayak rentals are available in Apgar Village and at Lake McDonald Lodge during the main season. 

How To Get To Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald can be accessed through Apgar Village after entering the West Entrance to Glacier National Park. 

It can be found through Camp Apgar, Fish Creek and Sprague Creek, but it is most easily accessed through Apgar Village where there are amenities, food, lodging and parking. 

Can You Drive to Lake McDonald?

The Apgar Visitor’s Center has a lot of parking and a fee-free shuttle service that can bring visitors to the Lake McDonald Lodge where you can access the lake. 

The Going-To-The-Sun-Road runs around the lake and has several scenic pull off spots for you to see the incredible views of the lake, get out and stretch your legs and let the dogs out. 

There is also a fee-free shuttle service that can be boarded at Apgar Visitor’s Center. 

What Kinds of Rocks Are In Lake McDonald?

The famous rainbow rocks in Lake McDonald are made of dolostone, limestone and argillite with various levels of oxidized iron that determine the color. 

The light gray to white rocks are limestone or dolostone, the dark gray to black is younger argillite which is metamorphosed mudstone. 

Green and purple or burgundy stones are other kinds of argillite that contain more iron that have oxidized at different levels.

White quartzite is also present in the rocks at Lake McDonald. 

Why Are The Rocks Colored In Lake McDonald?

The rainbow rocks in Lake McDonald vary in color because of the iron content of each rock.

The rocks were formed at different depths of the Earth and were broken up and brought to the surface by the glacier into the gravel at the bottom of Lake McDonald. 

Where Are The Colorful Rocks In Lake McDonald?

The colorful rocks at Lake McDonald are easily visible on clear days in the upper end of Lake McDonald near McDonald Creek. 

The Sprague Creek Campground has good access to the shallow shoreline of the lake where you can explore the rock types. 

Can you take rocks from Lake McDonald?

Do not remove the rocks from Lake McDonald, it is not allowed.

It is against the law to remove any natural material including rocks, shells or stones from any National Park. 

Can You Swim In Lake McDonald?

Swimming is permitted in Lake McDonald and the water can be accessed at several picnic and scenic pull off spots. 

The shallow water at Apgar Village makes this the best place to swim at Lake McDonald.

The proximity to bathroom, restaurants and parking make this a convenient swimming location in Glacier National Park. 

For more private swimming, a short hike towards McDonald Creek brings you to a small beach suitable for swimming.  

Does Lake McDonald Freeze Over?

Lake McDonald freezes over every few years, but does not completely freeze over every winter. 

The lake most recently froze completely in 2017 and 2019. 

Lake McDonald is over 500 feet deep and during most winters much of the lake does contain ice as chunks of ice flow into the lake from the shallower creeks that feed into the lake. 

What Are the Best Lake McDonald Hikes?

Rocky Point Trail

A short 1.9 mile hike, Rocky Point trail is easily accessible for families or those who are looking for an easier hike.

There are some inclines, but plenty of areas to stop and rest. 

Grinnell Glacier Trail

The most scenic trail in Glacier National Park, Grinnell is a challenging 11 mile hike that takes an average of 5-6 hours. 

The trail gives stunning views of waterfalls and the crystal clear water of Lake McDonald. 

This trail is very popular, so you will encounter other hikers and the trail is impassable in the colder months where snow and ice block the path. 

Dogs are not allowed on Grinnell Glacier Trail. 

Highline Loop Trail

This challenging trail is actually a one way hike that covers 11 miles round trip.

The hike starts in the Logan Pass off the Going-To-the-Sun road.

You may want to take the shuttle to the trailhead. 

This trail is at a higher elevation than many trails in the park and features some drop off cliff sections.

Those with a fear of heights should avoid this trail. 

Hiking With Pets at Lake McDonald

If you are hiking with pets you are limited to the bike trail between Apgar and West Glacier.

Pets must be on a leash no longer than 6’.  

Is Lake McDonald Man-Made?

Lake McDonald was carved by glaciers that are no longer in the area.

The melt and freeze cycle of glaciers carve a U shaped depression in the rock which has since filled with water to form the lake. 

The valley was completely carved by glaciers. 

Visiting Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald is a very beautiful and memorable natural wonder to visit.

It is accessible to visitors and the shuttle system makes it easy to see a lot of the park. 

Plan to visit between May and September to avoid road closures due to snow and ice that can make navigating the roads and trails in the park.  

Carry With You

If you are planning a hike where there will be rocks to pick through, consider packing one of the following:

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Visiting Lake McDonald