Glacier Guides and Montana Raft

Winter Wonderland

Avalanche Lake in December

It isn’t the thousands of icicles hanging precipitously from the cliffs of Mt. Cannon. And it’s not the white blankets on the ancient green cedars. It isn’t even the magic of hiking through a snow shower.

It’s the silence. The wonder of Avalanche Lake in December comes from the silence. You can hear each flake of snow fall into the next. You listen to your breath, which sparkles as you exhale. What you don’t hear is other people. And if you’ve been to Avalanche Lake in the busy season, you know that indeed, this is a wonder.

Avalanche Lake in December

Avalanche Lake on Saturday, December 2, 2017. Photo by Guide Corrie Holloway.

Going to the Sun Road Still Open

Usually by December, the Going to the Sun Road is closed at Lake McDonald, and the road belongs to skiers and snowshoers. But in December 2017, the stars aligned for a hiking trip to Avalanche Lake in winter.  My friend Corrie — a longtime Glacier Guide — and I decided it was an opportunity we couldn’t miss. So we rallied our kids — who were 4, 5, 6, and 7 — and hit the trail around lunchtime on the first Saturday in December.

the start of our hike to Avalanche Lake in December

The kids, of course, deepened the magic of Avalanche Lake in December. Hiking with children, if you have the patience and the pep talks in you, will bring the minutiae of your surroundings sharply into your focus. The kids will notice all that you do not, and then question you about it. On the Avalanche Lake trail, your brain will try mightily to recall the difference in stinging nettle and Devil’s Club. You will explain Leave No Trace principles by substituting pit toilets for potties, micro trash for fruit snacks, and preparation for a thermos of hot chocolate. You might watch your children — who woke up ready to torture each other — hold each other’s hands on a slick portion of trail and your heart will swell.

What We Saw at Avalanche Lake in December

Sure, there was a little whining on the trail to the lake. But mostly there were kids draping their hats with lichen and dissolving into fits of giggles.

A five year old with a lichen wig at Avalanche Lake in December.

hiking to Avalanche Lake in December

Kids testing boundaries, claiming independence, and hiking out ahead of their moms.

Kids dropping to their knees to marvel over the turquoise color of icy Avalanche Creek.

Kids throwing snowballs.

My friend and I weren’t sure we would get to the lake, as we got a late start and had committed to a firm turn around time in order to get out before dark. But somehow the two miles passed easily, and there we were at Avalanche Lake. We surprised the kids with a thermos of hot chocolate. It’s all about making it fun. I think sometimes people forget that if nothing else, hiking should be fun.

drinking hot chocolate at Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

kids celebrating their arrival to Avalanche Lake in December

The pride on the kids’ faces when we arrived at the lake gave my friend and I all the feels. She told me that in her 20+ years of guiding, she’s seen that look of pride on faces of every age at Avalanche Lake. And that’s part of the joy in what we do as guides: introducing our guests to the outdoors, or taking them further into the backcountry than they’ve ever been before. Keeping them safe. And making it fun.

Let’s Go Hiking!

Maybe Avalanche Lake in December isn’t your style, but you’d like to see it in July. We can take you there in the summer. I’d recommend booking ASAP, though. Our guided day hikes tend to sell out long before summer arrives, so don’t delay. Finally, if you have questions about Avalanche Lake, or anything else in Glacier National Park, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

All photos courtesy Corrie Holloway. You can follow her on Instagram @mt.life.

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