A quick drive from the West Entrance of Glacier National Park takes you to the head of Lake McDonald where McDonald Creek empties into it. The McDonald Creek Trail works its way up the playful creek, in an easy-going fashion with ample views of the crystal clear water.
The trail begins as a level, ADA accessible trail that winds through the Pacific rainforest of cedar and hemlock. Moss covers the ground and the noise of the creek can be heard in the background.
It doesn’t take long to get alongside the creek with a nice vantage looking into its clear waters as it bubbles around the stoney creek bottom. Just upstream, the accessible portion of the trail terminates at the whitewater of Lower McDonald Falls. You get right up close and personal to the falls and it’s worth noting that care must be taken as the swift water and slick rocks can be fatal.
From above the falls, the trail continues up as a more traditional single-track trail giving you another bird’s eye view of the water. The theme of being close to the water, then above it continues throughout the hike as you stroll through the forest.
It doesn’t take long to reach the bridge at Sacred Dancing Cascade where you’ll meet up with folks that have stopped at the pullout along Going-to-the-Sun Road. This classic bridge provides yet another vantage of the creek and a great look at the cascade.
Return to the west side of the creek and continue upstream. More views, forest, and cascades pass by. The trail begins to descend through a drier forest and then takes a hard left as the creek widens and slows down. Ferns are abundant under the trees and the exposed, rocky creek bed allows access to the water once again.
Just beyond this widening of the creek, the trail leaves the main creek to wrap around a beaver pond. Birds are frequent in this area at all times of the year. The forest is carpeted in moss with tall, straight trees providing shade.
The trail leaves the pond and enters the quiet forest, eventually popping out at a seasonal creek that dries out in early spring. Tall cedars dot the shale-y creek bed.
A little more up and down through the moss-carpeted forest before popping out at the creek once more as it squeezes through a couple of gorges. Across the creek is an overlook, but this side of the creek allows for more stream side access and plenty of rocks to relax on, have lunch and listen to the water crash below you before turning back.
Alternatively for a longer day, you can head back on the Johns Lake Loop Trail which will bring you out the North McDonald Lake Road where you can walk across the bridge back to your car.