Glacier National Park is a breathtaking destination known for its stunning vistas, diverse wildlife, and pristine alpine lakes. With about a million acres of wildlands, lakes, and rivers there are numerous opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to find the best places to swim in Glacier National Park.
The waters are icy, but surrounded by unparalleled natural beauty. The average lake temperature does not get above 50 degrees in the summer.
See this post for everything you need to know to plan your Glacier National Park trip.
Whether you’re seeking a refreshing dip after a long hike or a leisurely swim in a serene alpine lake, Glacier National Park has something for everyone. Here are some of the best places to swim in Glacier National Park.
Best Places to Swim in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering stunning alpine lakes, scenic drives, and miles of hiking trails. Whether you prefer a leisurely swim in a serene lake or an invigorating dip in a rushing creek, Glacier National Park has some of the best places to swim in the pristine waters of its wilderness.
Swimming in Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park and a popular destination for swimming. The lake’s crystal-clear waters are fed by glaciers, creating a refreshing and invigorating swim, though it is probably the warmest lake in the park given its low elevation.
The lake is easily accessible from the west entrance of the park and offers several designated swimming areas, including Apgar Beach and Sprague Creek.
If you can’t quite muster the enthusiasm to swim in this Glacier National Park lake, rent a kayak, canoe, or other boat at Apgar Village.
Swimming in Swiftcurrent Lake
Located in the Many Glacier area of the park, Swiftcurrent Lake is surrounded by majestic peaks and offers stunning views. With its turquoise-colored waters and sandy beaches, Swiftcurrent Lake is a picturesque spot for swimming during the summer months.
The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn also offers boat tours on the lake, providing a unique way to explore and swim in this beautiful alpine lake.
Swimming in Bowman and Kintla Lakes
If you’re looking for more secluded and off-the-beaten-path swimming spots, Bowman and Kintla Lakes are worth a visit.
Located in the remote northwestern part of the park, these lakes offer crystal clear waters surrounded by rugged mountain peaks and dense forests. The lakes are accessible from the Polebridge — 30 minutes to Bowman and 40 minutes to Kintla.
The refreshing cold water and serene atmosphere of Bowman and Kintla Lakes make them the perfect spots for a peaceful and refreshing swim, away from the crowds of the more popular destinations in the park.
Swimming in Avalanche Lake
For those willing to take a hike, Avalanche Lake is a gem within Glacier National Park. The Avalanche Lake Trail is a popular hiking trail that takes you through old-growth cedar forests and along a rushing creek before arriving at the stunning lake. It’s 2.3 miles (one-way) with an elevation gain of 500 feet.
The lake offers a refreshing swim with its cold, clear waters, surrounded by towering mountains and lush greenery.
Swimming in Hidden Lake
Accessible from the Logan Pass Visitor Center on the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, Hidden Lake is a high-elevation alpine lake that offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Although the water is cold year-round, taking a dip in the clear waters of Hidden Lake is a rewarding experience after a hike along the Hidden Lake Trail.
Keep in mind that the trail may be closed due to grizzly bear activity, so it’s important to check for trail closures before embarking on your adventure. And remember, it’s quite a climb up out of the lake basin after your swim.
Swimming in Two Medicine Lake
Located in the southeastern part of the park, Two Medicine Lake is a peaceful and serene destination for swimming. The lake is surrounded by towering peaks, and its calm waters make it an ideal spot for a leisurely swim.
There are picnic areas along the shores of Two Medicine Lake, providing an opportunity to relax and enjoy a meal after your swim.
Swimming in St. Mary Lake
St. Mary Lake is another popular destination for swimming in Glacier National Park. This picturesque lake is located along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains, including the famous peaks of the Continental Divide.
The lake has several designated swimming areas, including the St. Mary Falls Picnic Area, where you can take a refreshing dip in the cold waters after exploring the nearby hiking trails.
Swimming in Upper McDonald Creek
For those seeking a more secluded swimming hole, Upper McDonald Creek offers a peaceful and serene spot to cool off during the hot summer months.
Access the Upper McDonald Creek Trail from the Going-to-the-Sun Road on North Lake McDonald Road. There is a small parking area on the right about 3/10 of a mile after turning off the GTTS Road. Or use the pull-off near the bridge over McDonald Creek, or the large lot at the junction of North Lake McDonald Road and the GTTS Road.
Walk along the Upper McDonald Creek Trail alongside the creek until you find a good place to wade in. Be careful, of course, in this sometimes fast-moving creek and choose one of the quiet pools or rocky beaches to relax in.
As you venture out to swim in Glacier National Park, it’s important to be mindful of the park’s rules and regulations. Always be aware of the potential presence of grizzly bears and other wildlife, especially when swimming in remote areas.
It’s also essential to be prepared for cold water temperatures, especially in the higher-elevation alpine lakes, as the water can be chilly even during the summer months. It’s recommended to bring appropriate swim gear, including wetsuits or drysuits, to ensure a safe and enjoyable swimming experience.
One of the best ways to explore and swim in Glacier National Park is by taking a boat tour. Many of the park’s lakes, such as Lake McDonald, St Mary, and Swiftcurrent Lake, offer boat tours that allow you to access pristine swimming areas and enjoy the stunning scenery from the water. These boat tours often provide knowledgeable guides who can share interesting facts about the park’s history, geology, and wildlife, enhancing your overall experience.
Find all the Glacier boat tours here.
In addition to swimming, Glacier National Park offers miles of scenic drives and hiking trails that showcase its breathtaking landscapes. The iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must-visit, with its winding mountain roads and panoramic viewpoints. Along the way, you can stop at various pullouts and picnic areas to take in the awe-inspiring views and maybe even spot some wildlife, such as mountain goats, bighorn sheep, or grizzly bears.
The park also has numerous hiking trails that lead to beautiful alpine lakes, waterfalls, and other natural wonders. The Avalanche Lake Trail, in particular, is a popular hiking trail that takes you through towering cedars and along a picturesque creek before arriving at the stunning Avalanche Lake, where you can take a refreshing swim.
If you’re visiting Glacier National Park during the summer months, you can also explore the nearby town of West Glacier and Columbia Falls. These towns offer various amenities, including restaurants, lodges, and campgrounds, providing you with options for accommodation and dining after a day of swimming and hiking in the park.
Here are some additional tips for swimming in Glacier National Park:
- Be aware of the water temperature. The water in Glacier National Park is typically cold, even in the summer. If you’re not used to cold water, it’s best to start by dipping your toes in and gradually work your way in.
- Be aware of the wildlife. Glacier National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including bears, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep. Be sure to stay on the trail and keep an eye out for animals.
- Be respectful of the environment. Glacier National Park is a beautiful place, and it’s important to leave it as you found it. Be sure to pack out all of your trash and practice Leave No Trace principles.
From the iconic Lake McDonald to the hidden gems of Avalanche Lake and Upper McDonald Creek, the park offers a plethora of options for a refreshing swim while surrounded by nature’s unparalleled beauty. So, pack your swim gear, grab your hiking boots, and get ready to dive into the natural wonders of Glacier National Park!
FAQs About Swimming in Glacier National Park
Q: Can you swim in Glacier National Park?
A: Yes, swimming is allowed in Glacier National Park, but it is important to be aware of the risks involved. The water in Glacier National Park is very cold, even in the summer, and it can be dangerous to swim in if you are not prepared. There are also a number of potential hazards in the water, such as rocks, currents, and wildlife. If you do decide to swim in Glacier National Park, it is important to take precautions to stay safe.
Q: How cold is the water at Glacier National Park?
A: The water in Glacier National Park is typically very cold, even in the summer. The average temperature of the water in Lake McDonald, for example, is 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be a shock to your system if you are not used to cold water, so it is important to take your time getting into the water and to be careful not to stay in too long.
Q: Does Glacier National Park have a beach?
There are a few beaches in Glacier National Park, but they are not very large. The most popular beach is at Lake McDonald, which has a small sandy beach area. There are also a few smaller beaches at other lakes in the park, such as St. Mary Lake and Two Medicine Lake.
Q: How clean is the water in Glacier National Park?
A: The water in Glacier National Park is very clean. This is due to the fact that the water is filtered by the glaciers and rocks in the park. The water is also relatively free of pollution, which makes it safe to swim in. But, do not drink the water.
Q: Why is the water so blue in Glacier National Park?
A: The water in Glacier National Park is so blue because of the way it reflects the sky. The water is also very clear, which allows the blue color to be seen more clearly.
Q: Can you take rocks from Lake McDonald?
A: No, it is not allowed to take rocks from Lake McDonald or any other body of water in Glacier National Park. This is because the rocks are part of the park’s natural resources and they should be left for others to enjoy.
Q: Is it OK to drink glacier water?
A: It is not recommended to drink glacier water directly from the source. This is because the water may contain harmful bacteria or other contaminants. It is best to boil the water or filter it before drinking it.
Q: Can you drink glacier water at Glacier National Park?
A: Despite the clarity of the water in Glacier National Park, you should never drink it without treating it first. The water from these lakes can infect you with viruses like Giardiasis or Cryptosporidium.
Q: Can you swim in Avalanche Lake?
A: Yes, you can swim in Avalanche Lake. However, it is important to be aware of the risks involved. The water in Avalanche Lake is very cold, even in the summer, and it can be dangerous to swim in if you are not prepared. There are also a number of potential hazards in the water, such as rocks, currents, and wildlife. If you do decide to swim in Avalanche Lake, it is important to take precautions to stay safe.