Johns Lake trail is one of the most exciting hikes in Glacier National Park. I say this in retrospect. Glacier National Park gets plummeted with snow every winter. So much so that the park slowly opens up as the plows can remove the snow and make the Going to the Sun Road safe. The west entrance is where we stayed so Johns Lake Trail was one of the first real hikes that opened up to explore this last year. That alone was super exciting. The trail itself was great as well.
That beautiful May 23rd day it was announced that the West Entrance was opened up to Lake McDonald Lodge. I was elated with the idea that I could finally get in to the park and explore a little. Afterall, I had arrived at the Lodge I was workamping at on May 5th and had only been able to go as far as Apgar Village. Don’t get me wrong, still beautiful, but the exploring was limited. Once I received wind that there was more open, I was in my gear, with my camelback and on the road. I was not the only one with this idea. Everyone who was already in the area seemed to have the same idea and they were just as antsy as me to get out there.
Well, the joke was on a lot of us. It was advertised that Johns Lake Trail was open and it was a great hike (not a lie) but what isn’t made aware to you is that it is a pretty far walk from Lake McDonald lodge to the trail head. In fact it’s about a 1.3 mile hike to the trail head from the lodge. The walk was beautiful. Everything was turning green and starting to come alive, but after a while I started to wonder if maybe I had missed it. Maybe I wasn’t prepared for such a long walk, or maybe, I was misinformed. I finally saw someone coming back and got brave enough to approach them and ask if I was heading in the right direction. I know, that’s usually a male trait, refusing to ask for directions, but the good news was, they stated I was probably only ¼ of a mile away and gave me directions on what to do once I hit the trail head.
So, with a little more spunk in my step I continued forward knowing I was almost there, turn right off of the road and head up the hill and follow the signs for Johns Lake. Seemed easy enough and let’s be honest, I was in Glacier National Park. One of my top 3 places visited in the US to date. Once I got to the trail head there were several people standing there looking at the map, wondering which way to go. See, when you get to the trail head it is actually a trail head for a couple trails and what I found out from the couple I stopped was that I needed to head on the left trail. The good news was that I was able to lead the way for a few of the other people, however, when I start to hike, I really take off and kind of forget what I am doing or where I am. I just go, so I quickly lost them. I hope they figured out at the next fork that they needed to go right this time. So, here’s a hint for you. The first fork you go left, the second fork you go right.
After that fork you will start to come up to an area where you can start to see the beautiful John’s Lake. It is a very small lake surrounded by dense forest. The views are picturesque, and you can’t help but veer off the trail to soak in the serenity, the forming of water lilies and the ducks playing happily. Once you get back on the trail make sure this time you take a left at the fork to continue on the loop, otherwise you are going to be heading to a whole different hike. You won’t be disappointed with that hike, but you would be disappointed that you didn’t go left and experience the Sacred Dancing Cascades.
WOW! I really have no words for how beautiful these cascades are and how badly they are roaring tearing apart anything in their path this early in the season with the snow and ice melting away. Honestly, if you are obsessed with water and waterfalls like I am, you really need to visit Glacier in the beginning of the season. If you wait until the end of the season, it really gets dry, you will miss most of the waterfalls and the fire danger is pretty high, that is if there aren’t already fires happening.
Once you cross the Going-To-The-Sun Road you will come up to the cascades. Do yourself a favor. Take a seat, take some selfies and soak up the tranquility that is the cascades. Not only will this reboot you for the rest of the hike, I swear it re-centers you whether you thought you needed it or not. After you have soaked in as much as you can handle go across the footbridge and take a left. This will continue you on to the loop and provide more than enough places for you to stop, take pictures and soak in the roaring waters ripping through the park. Along this part you will encounter the powerful McDonald Falls. Take a minute here too.
Here is a tip for you that I wish I would have known. After the falls you will come up to a road. It is not labeled. You can go left or right but nothing will tell you which way to go. After walking 1.3 miles to the trail head and then nearly the full 3 mile hike of Johns Lake Trail this could put you in a panic. Especially knowing that you have another 1.3 mile hike back to where your car is from the end of the trail. Go left. Trust me on this one. Left is the way back. You will come up on a bridge to cross and about 50 feet after the bridge there is another foot trail that will take you back down to Lake McDonald Lodge. You are on the home stretch here. Only 1.3 miles back to the lodge where you are parked.
If you are lucky enough to come after the road is open there are some parking spots at the trail head and by the Cascade Falls, however, do not depend on them as after the park opens, it is full blown tourist season and you may be waiting and waiting for a parking spot that will take longer than just parking at Lake McDonald Lodge. So, all in all, this hike was amazing, not just because it was the first real one open, but because if you are able to get in to it when it first opens, the views are unbelievable, and no one will believe the pictures you took were yours and unedited. It really is that great.