Written by local author Jean Arthur, Top Trails: Glacier National Park leads visitors to secluded trails and unique settings while providing details of current and past human activity, wildlife movement, and geologic changes that altered the landscape and created America's tenth national park. The unique approach of Top Trails: Glacier National Park reveals the best trails that wind alongside sensitive meadows and climb above crystalline lakes and leads hikers to backcountry respites unique to Glacier. The guide also traces outlaws, poachers, and mining ventures that occurred inside the current park boundary.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Trail #1: Trail of the Cedars
Trail Use: Day hiking, child-friendly, wheelchair accessible
Length: 0.95 mile, 30-45 minutes
Vertical Feet: +32'/-32'
Difficulty: Level 1
Trail Type: Loop
Surface Type: Pavement and boardwalk
Start & End:
This loop trail circles through a grove of western red cedars, some of which are 80 feet tall and 15 feet around at the base. These lacy trees are among the easternmost groves of water-loving western red cedarsnot a true cedar but an evergreen cypress and the only Thuja species native to western North America. Its flat and lacy foliage is fragrant when crushed. Trail of the Cedars is a must-do hike for all visitors and a fine choice for the first hike of a park visit. It exemplifies why Glacier is unique; the 1.2-million-acre park encompasses three very different ecosystems. The microclimate here is more akin to the Pacific Northwest’s wet and temperate forest, while just 30 miles east, over the Continental Divide, begin the vast semiarid prairies of Montana.
Spring, summer, and fall, this trail is popular because of its gentle terrain and accessibility from Going-to-the-Sun Road. During hot summer days, the trail remains cool under the huge western red cedars, which act as an umbrella for hikers during inclement weather. During winter, access via cross- country ski or snowshoe is from the winter trailhead at Lake McDonald Lodge and is a 5.8-mile one-way ski. The Trail of the Cedars tends to be icy in winter, so caution is necessary.
Finding the Trail
From Lake McDonald Lodge, drive north on Going-to-the-Sun Road 5.8 miles to the Avalanche Campground, and park in the day-use parking either on your left or along the road in designated day-use parking spots. If taking the free shuttle (available July 1 to Labor Day) from Apgar Transit Center, the trailhead will be 14.7 miles northeast on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Listen for the shuttle driver’s announcement for Avalanche Creek. The trailhead sign at the junction of the road and Avalanche Creek will direct you to walk east along the mixed pavement and boardwalk trail.
The trail can be hiked in either direction; this description details a counterclockwise loop beginning on the south side of Avalanche Creek and walking east, where you can glimpse frothy Avalanche Creek with its moss-covered rocks and fishing holes and will encounter a campground, an amphitheater, and a restroom on the south side of the trail.
Cedars have a fire-resistant quality, thanks to thick bark and moist soils near streams or another body of water. Some trees in this grove are estimated to be nearly 500 years old. Although lightning has started fires nearby, these hardy cedars managed to remain protected. Interpretive signs offer some insight into flora and fauna. Mostly, however, you’ll see fellow hikers, strollers, walkers, and wheelchairs.
Near the halfway point, the trailhead for Avalanche Lake leads east and is clearly marked. Stay on the loop for a magnificent view from a large footbridge at Avalanche Creek gorge. Eons of icy waters have scoured the rock smooth. Beware of the very cold and very fast water. As noted by signs at the Avalanche Lake Trailhead, more people die each year in Glacier from drowning than from any other cause.
The canopy from the cedars and a few hemlocks and cottonwoods is so thick that few shrubs grow here. Notice, however, the fungi and saprophytes (organisms that live on decaying organic matter) that do not rely upon photosynthesis and can thrive in the subdued light.
1. 0.0 Start from Going-to-the-Sun Road at Avalanche Creek and Avalanche parking area.
2. 0.03 Trail of the Cedars Trailhead
3. 0.28 Where there’s a break in the trees, look left and up the cliffs of Mount Cannon and you may see white mountain goats. You’ll see Avalanche Creek and get a full view of the giant western red cedars across the creek.
4. 0.46 Just past the Avalanche Lake Trailhead is the Avalanche Creek footbridge, which provides an excellent opportunity for photos of the gorge.
5. 0.6 Benches provide time out to consider the significance of this forestyou can see the massive root system of a windfall cedar Try counting the rings on another downed cedar that has been sawn apart for trail clearing.
6. 0.9 Cross bridge on Going-to-the-Sun Road.
7. 0.95 Reach Avalanche parking area.
Table of ContentsThe Top Trails Series
Glacier National Park Map
Glacier National Park Trails Table
Using Top Trails
Introduction to Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park
On the Trail
West Side Trails: Lake McDonald Area and the North Fork
1. Trail of the Cedars
2. Avalanche Lake Trail
3. Sperry Chalet via Gunsight Pass Trail
4. Snyder Lake Trail
5. Fish Lake via Snyder Ridge Fire Trail
6. Mount Brown Lookout Trail
7. Going-to-the-Sun (Winter Trail)
8. Apgar Lookout Trail
9. Huckleberry Mountain Lookout Trail
10. Forest and Fire Nature Trail (formerly Huckleberry Nature Trail)
11. Akokala Lake Trail
12. Quartz Lake Loop
13. Logging Lake Trail
14. Boulder Pass Trail to Hole in the Wall
15. Bowman Lake Trail to Goat Haunt and Waterton, Canada
Logan Pass and Saint Mary Area
16. Hidden Lake Trail
17. Highline Trail to Granite Park Chalet (along the Garden Wall)
18. Loop Trail to Granite Park Chalet
19. Siyeh Bend Trail and Piegan Pass Trail (Siyeh Bend to Jackson Glacier Overlook)
20. Siyeh Pass Trail
21. Piegan Pass Trail
22. Gunsight Pass Trail to Gunsight Lake
23. Sun Point Nature Trail to Reynolds Creek
24. Saint Mary Falls Trail
25. Otokomi Lake/Rose Creek Trail
26. Beaver Pond Trail
Two Medicine and South Boundary Area
27. Running Eagle Falls Nature Trail (aka Trick Falls)
28. Upper Two Medicine Lake Trail and Twin Falls
29. Dawson Pass and Pitamakan Pass Trail (Oldman Lake)
30. Cobalt Lake via Two Medicine Pass Trail
31. Mount Henry Trail to Scenic Point
32. Autumn Creek Trail
33. Firebrand Pass Trail
Many Glacier Area
34. Apikuni Falls Trail (aka Appekunny Falls Trail)
35. Swiftcurrent Lake Nature Trail
36. Grinnell Glacier Trail
37. Iceberg Lake
38. Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail
Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada
39. Bertha Lake Trail
40. Crypt Lake Trail
Appendix 1: Top-Rated Trails
Appendix 2: Campgrounds and RV Parks
Appendix 3: Hotels, Lodges, Motels, and Resorts
Appendix 4: Major Organizations
Appendix 5: Useful Books
About the Author