Rocky Point Nature Trail 2021

Just west of Apgar, tucked behind the Fish Creek Campground and Picnic Area, lies a short hike to a unique vantage of Lake McDonald. This short, lollipop-shaped loop takes you through both mature and recently burned forests, along creeks, and out to rocky outcroppings.

The Rocky Point Nature Trail does have a short section of elevation gain, but the reward is some wonderful views of Lake McDonald without the crowds that gather along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

If you’re staying at the Fish Creek Campground having lunch at the picnic area, you can jump on the trail right for Rocky Point which parallels Lake McDonald. The trail can be a bit funny to find from the picnic area or at the southern end of the campground, but as long as you’re working along the lake, you’ll figure it out.

The approach from the Inside North Fork Road just past the campground’s entrance is a bit more straightforward as there is and obvious sign near a parking area off the road.

From the road, you enter into a mature, mostly lodgepole pine forest. You can hear Fern Creek just before you see it, and it should be fairly easy to spot birds flitting in this area. Huckleberries abound in mid summer, with leaves turning vibrant oranges and purples heading into fall.

Fern Creek flows into Fish Creek and the trail crosses the creek in a lovely shaded spot before climbing up on the other side. Here, a trail breaks off to the right to go into the campground, but stay left to work your way to the loop. The dynamics of forest fires are on display through this section as the trail acted as a fire break. To the left is the devastation and new growth of the fire while the older forest stands to your right.

After a short stint along this break, you get your first glimpse of Lake McDonald as the trail from the campground and picnic area join with the trail from the road. Stay left again, passing a couple of interpretive signs on the way to the loop around Rocky Point.

I did the loop counter-clockwise which visits the southern aspect first. You can go right down to the shoreline of Lake McDonald if you want, but the trail works its way through the older forest just up from the shoreline. Numerous social trails fan out, some staying low while others climb. All of them eventually merge as the trail sharply gains elevation and brings you out to the point. You get some wonderful vantages looking towards Apgar at the foot of the lake and up towards the iconic Glacier mountains at the head of the lake.

Check out the few vantages at the top before a last little climb that takes you up to the top and the boundary with the burn area. On the way down the northern aspect, you get more views of the lake and Howe Ridge, albeit with some gray snags partially obscuring the view.

The newer, tightly packed lodgepole pines are gradually obscuring the views as you drop down into a hall of trees and to the junction with the West Shore Lake McDonald Trail. If you have the time, you can wander down this trail for awhile with very limited access to the lake until you reach the backcountry campsite.

Stay left at the junction, however, to close up the loop as you climb back up to the ridgeline. The trail steeply descends through aspens, larches, and lodgepole back to the trail you came in on. Keep an eye out for birds through this section, especially through breeding season, before heading on back to your car.

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9 thoughts on “Rocky Point Nature Trail 2021

  1. I’m 73, my husband is 76. We are at Glacier National celebrating our 25th anniversary. We did not prepare sufficiently for this trip unfortunately. We have been here since last Friday, and only TODAY (Tuesday), did I realize the difference between a glacier and a snowpack. It turns out I’ve taken a LOT of photos of non-glaciers. It’s confusing though because snow covers a lot of glaciers right? We have literally one more day to experience Glacier. Believe it or not, we have yet to officially HIKE any trail. partly because I’m scared for my husband. His vision isn’t great; has had cataract surgery and has had some mild but real double vision. STILL, I want us to hike AT LEAST ONE trail, however easy, to say we did. We are staying in Whitefish, so the West Gate is the easiest access for us. Don’t tell us to go to Logan Pass. We went today, and it was a nightmare… could not park!!! finally had to leave. We have your map, but it’s a bit overwhelming, to be honest.

    1. Hello Helen! Yes, the parks are very crowded, so some strategy is necessary. You can visit Logan Pass at various times of the day to find parking spots, but it’s a tricky business. I’ve heard that late afternoon works best. That being said, to use my map, look only at the green section for shorter hikes. Then only look at hikes that have blue or green in their dots to focus on the Lake McDonald and North Fork areas. From there, you can look at hikes that have low elevation change. I think you’d do well to hike the McDonald Creek Trail as far as you want and then turn around. Be careful around Lower McDonald Falls and enjoy them from the trail, not from the rocks close to the falls. Trail of the Cedars is lovely, but parking around Avalanche Lake is a nightmare and you’d have to get there very early in the morning. I still would try to for Logan Pass, but like I said, go later in the afternoon or in the evening, not mid morning. St. Mary Falls is also a wonderful hike, but parking there is also limited. Once again, some strategy of going super early or later in the day might serve you well.

    2. As Jake said I agree. I have been 3 times to Glacier now and a fourth coming next August. It is amazing that at about 4:00pm there is a line of cars leaving the park but few going in. Some of the busier areas become easier to find a parking spot.

      Baring Falls is a nice shorter hike with a beautiful view of the lake going in and a very pretty falls. This is not a difficult hike and is mostly flat.
      I know it is late in the planning but East Glacier has Paradise Point and a boat you can take, “Sinopah” across Two Medicine Lake for a small fee. It is quite the experience along with Running Eagle Falls you pass on the way, another very short beautiful walk. It is faster to access by taking Hwy 2 around the south end of the park which is also a beautiful drive.
      My ($0.02) two cents

    3. Some additions to what Jake said. Tip #1 – for Trail of the Cedars, if you have a handicapped/senior parking tag, a small lot just for people with these tags is hidden at the very end of the parking area on the trail side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road (right side heading up the road from Apgar, go in even if a sign says lot is full, keep driving through the parking area, bearing left). I have such a tag and those 6 spaces were empty when I got there, all the rest of the lot was full. From there you can hop right on the beautiful Trail of the Cedars. Tip #2 – go to Logan Pass after 5 pm; you should have no trouble finding parking. You’ve still got 3 or 4 hours of daylight to walk as far up the boardwalk toward the Hidden Lake Overlook as you want (bonus: you have the best chance seeing mountain goats up close at the overlook at that time). Tip #3 – for the Baring Falls suggestion, that hike is short but drops 300′ to the lake in a short distance, and you have to climb back up; also parking is scarce, though I’ve usually found a spot there. Tip #4 – go to the Two Medicine area close to East Glacier (get there by 10 am to avoid parking problems), the Paradise Point trail which leaves from the boat dock is about a mile, some ups and downs, with a beautiful field of wildflowers and spectacular view of lake and mountains (hint: take the left fork of the trail as you approach the beach & lake, better view). My wife did it with a bum knee, so you can handle that too (we’re in our late 70s). And do use Jake’s hiking map, best one for Glacier!

      1. GREAT TIPS! Thank you! We’re coming in a few days – I hope there’s not much haze from the fires. Did you get the senior parking pass at the park? Or before you came?

  2. GREAT TIPS! Thank you! We’re coming in a few days – I hope there’s not much haze from the fires. Did you get the senior parking pass at the park? Or before you came?

  3. How early can we enter the park? We are stymied about how we will manage to get a parking spot at Logan pass and have enough time for the Highline Trail AND Hidden Lake. We haven’t been able to snag the shuttle tickets early in the am.

    1. Hi! We have been parking twice at Logan Pass on 8/10 & 8/13! During the week, if you can make it up there by 7, you should be able to get a spot! Today, Friday 8/13, we wanted to hike Highline Trail and we drove up & parked by 5.55! But by 6.20, the lot was FULL!!!! So be prepared to drive up early! We just took a car nap after we parked! We started our hikes between 7-8am!

    2. Also, the park is open 24 hours so you can enter anytime 🙂

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