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Upper McDonald Creek

Easy
 4.3 (7)

A short, level trail that meanders through the forest along the edge of picturesque McDonald Creek.


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Map Key

2.7

Miles

4.3

KM

Point to Point

3,354' 1,022 m

High

3,192' 973 m

Low

181' 55 m

Up

35' 11 m

Down

2%

Avg Grade (1°)

6%

Max Grade (3°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Waterfall · Wildlife

Family Friendly Short, flat, and easy, with a few sights along the way.

No dogs are allowed on the trails in Glacier. Always carry bear spray and know how to use it. Yield to horse traffic. Don't swim in the creek. Follow "Leave No Trace" principles.

Description

The official trailhead to Upper McDonald Creek is on the north side of N McDonald Creek Rd, 800 ft after you cross the bridge that spans the creek. The trail heads into the trees and veers left for about a third of a mile until the McDonald Ranger Station Horse Trail juts off to the left. In this initial section, you may see one or more unofficial connector trails that jut right to join up with a spur of the Upper McDonald Creek Trail that runs along the creek. To stay on the main trail, keep left and avoid any connectors until you reach the ranger station trail, at which point the trail heads right back toward the creek.

The main trail meets the creek near a bench and heads left up the creek. The aforementioned spur trail (Upper McDonald Creek Alternate) turns right from this juncture and runs down the creek back to the road, offering a great view of McDonald Creek Falls, worth the short detour. It is also possible to start on this spur trail from the road, 100 yards after the road bridge that crosses the creek, but this is not an official trailhead. You may also notice a trail that runs parallel to the road immediately after the bridge - this is a horse trail that starts as the Upper McDonald Creek Connector and becomes a spur of the Upper McDonald Creek Trail after the falls spur splits off and into the trees.

Turning left at the bench, the main trail continues north, offering picturesque views of the creek with glimpses of Glacier's characteristic glacial blue-hued water as it passes through several rapids and waterfalls. Do not to fall into the creek - many have drowned in it. After a while, there is a bridge on your right to cross the creek, which is part of the Johns Lake Loop Trail (that trail was joined with the creek trail south of this juncture). Upper McDonald Creek Trail does not cross the creek, but continues north along it, eventually cutting inland near a beaver pond. You may also see a feeder creek, depending on the time of year and the water level. The trail used to run all the way up Upper McDonald Creek, it now peters out around 3.5 miles in.

Note regarding trail conditions: This trail is often snow-free in the spring before many of the other trails in the park. However, it is often muddy due to its location along the creek and at the base of Stanton Mountain. The trail is accessible in the winter via snowshoes or skis, but you can't reach it by car because Going to the Sun Road is gated off at Lake McDonald Lodge.

Flora & Fauna

The softwood/coniferous trees are primarily Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Douglas Fir, and Western Larch. Of note, Western Larch is unique in that it loses its needles in the fall. Also of note, the Lodgepole Pine is a fire-dependent species, requiring the heat of a forest fire for its cones to release their seeds. The hardwood/deciduous trees you are likely to see on this trail are cottonwoods and cedars.

You are relatively unlikely to see most of the animals Glacier offers on this trail, due to the fact that it is near such a heavily trafficked area. That said, there are no hard and fast rules about sightings in Glacier. Mammals you are most likely to see are White Tail Deer, Black Tail/Mule Deer, squirrels and chipmunks. Keep an eye out for water fowl in the creek, including Glacier's prized Harlequin Ducks, which are known to nest almost exclusively in the park.

Contacts

Shared By:

Tom Hollo

Trail Ratings

  4.3 from 7 votes

#6764

Overall
  4.3 from 7 votes
5 Star
29%
4 Star
71%
3 Star
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1 Star
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Trail Rankings

#171

in Montana

#6,764

Overall
17 Views Last Month
3,111 Since Sep 3, 2015
Easy

80%
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Photos

McDonald Creek waterfall
May 16, 2016 near Red Roc…, MT
Winter view of Mount Brown above Upper McDonald Creek.
Jan 21, 2016 near Red Roc…, MT
Underpass for trail as it goes under Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Jun 5, 2016 near Red Roc…, MT
Cascades.
May 16, 2016 near Red Roc…, MT
Bridge over the river.
May 16, 2016 near Red Roc…, MT
A nice overcast day.
Jun 26, 2020 near Red Roc…, MT

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