McDonald Falls

Glacier National Park / Lake McDonald, Montana, USA

About McDonald Falls


Hiking Distance: roadside
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2010-09-24
Date last visited: 2017-08-05

Waterfall Latitude: 48.63968
Waterfall Longitude: -113.86445

McDonald Falls was one of two roadside waterfalls that Julie and I encountered while briefly touring the western side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

We experienced this river waterfall from a narrow viewing area that was accessed via a short stairs descending from the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Glacier_NP_315_09242010 - McDonald Falls with some foreground obstructions
McDonald Falls with some foreground obstructions

However, it seemed like the views were obstructed no matter where we stood.

It turned out that the best spot to view McDonald Falls (at least in my mind) was not even from the narrow lookout area.

It was from the road before descending the stairs (though that depended on how thick the obstructing vegetation was).

West vs East

We thought the scenery on the west side of Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road (at least closer to Lake McDonald) was less dramatic than the east side.

Glacier_NP_311_09242010 - This was the view of McDonald Falls from the official viewing spot set a little lower from the Going-to-the-Sun Road
This was the view of McDonald Falls from the official viewing spot set a little lower from the Going-to-the-Sun Road

And we felt the same way about the waterfalls here as well.

Nonetheless, it seemed like it was still quite popular on the west side as we noticed quite a bit more traffic here than the east side.

Over the years, I suspect that the reason why was because the Avalanche Creek Trail leading up to the scenic Avalanche Lake was wildly popular.

One of these days, I’m going to do that hike to see for myself why the place is so popular.

Authorities

McDonald Falls resides in Glacier National Park near Kalispell in Flathead County, Montana. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Glacier_NP_17_185_08052017 - This was the context of the short trail and roadside pullout by the McDonald Falls
Glacier_NP_17_186_08052017 - Looking in the other direction towards the pullout by a porta-potty right at the McDonald Falls view
Glacier_NP_17_188_08052017 - Context of the viewing area and the steps for the McDonald Falls
Glacier_NP_17_191_08052017 - Contextual look at McDonald Falls with backing mountains as seen in August 2017
Glacier_NP_312_09242010 - Not much has changed about the official viewing area for the McDonald Falls over the years as this photo was taken in September 2010

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We drove to McDonald Falls from the West Glacier turnoff for Glacier National Park.

Continuing to drive east from this turnoff for a couple of miles to a three-way junction, we then turned right to get onto the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

We continued to drive east on the road for roughly 11 miles as the road skirted the eastern shores of Lake McDonald.

There’s a large pullout area on the west side of the road.

For context, West Glacier was 50 miles (2 hours) west of St Mary via the Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan Pass, but since it was closed during our visit, we had to take the Roosevelt Highway to the south, which made the drive 89 miles (also 2 hours), but significantly less scenic. In addition, West Glacier was 33 miles (45 minutes drive) northeast of Kalispell and 136 miles (2.5 hours drive) north of Missoula.

Video showing about as much of McDonald Falls as I could see through the foliage


Right to left sweep starting at the falls and ending downstream


Top down sweep of the falls

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Tagged with: glacier, kalispell, flathead, montana, waterfall, rocky mountains, going-to-the-sun, lake mcdonald, mcdonald creek, apgar



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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