Hiking to Johns Lake – Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park contains many stunning lakes within its boundaries. We set out early one September morning to hike to Avalanche Lake; however, the parking lot was already full. Since we didn’t have time that day to wait long for a spot, we decided to head to Johns Lake. This trail winds through pretty woods to a small lake and is a great short and easy hike option near West Glacier.

Enjoying the river views along the trail
Enjoying the river views along the trail

Getting to the Johns Lake Trailhead

The Johns Lake trailhead sits just off the side of Going-to-the-Sun Road on the north end of Lake McDonald. This parking area is only a small pull off that fits several cars. The parking areas along Going-to-the-Sun Road are often full. Luckily, there are a few other places to park to access this loop trail.

We parked a little further up the road closer to Sacred Dancing Cascade and tied into the trail at the bridge crossing McDonald Creek. There are also some spaces to park near the entrance to N McDonald Lake Road where it meets Going-to-the-Sun Road, down N McDonald Lake Road around where the Upper McDonald Creek Trail meets the road, and along Going-to-the-Sun Road near McDonald Falls.

Much of Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed during the winter and spring. Check the current conditions before your visit.

Lia's parents on the trail through the woods
Lia’s parents on the trail through the woods


A national park pass is required to visit Johns Lake. For a private vehicle, a seven-day pass costs USD$35 in the summer and $25 in the winter (November through April). You can purchase the various Glacier passes at the toll stations or self-registration booths at the park or beforehand online.

You may find it worth it to purchase an America the Beautiful annual parks pass. It costs $80 and is worth it if you spend a lot of time visiting national parks, monuments, recreation areas, etc. This pass covers the entrance to Glacier National Park.

Note that in addition to a parks pass, visitors need a vehicle reservation to access Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor between mid-May and mid-September between the hours of 6a.m. and 4p.m. For more info on the reservation system, click here.

Driving down the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road
Driving down the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road

Hiking to Johns Lake

Hike Overview

Hike Type: Easy loop

Distance: 1.9 miles

Duration: 45 mins – 1.5 hours

Regulations: Pets and drones are not permitted. A pass and vehicle reservation are required to access this trail.

Pretty mountain and river scenery along the Johns Lake Loop
Pretty mountain and river scenery along the Johns Lake Loop

The Johns Lake Loop

After rounding the Avalanche Lake parking area a few times and failing to find parking, we decided to head back to hike Johns Lake to make the best of our last morning in the park. We began hiking the loop counterclockwise. Our route started with crossing the river via the bridge and making our way along the Upper McDonald Creek Trail.

The views are instantly beautiful as you walk the trail through the cedar trees with the blue river visible through the woods. There are a few spots that bring you down closer to the river for a great view of the cascades. Soon, the trail met N McDonald Lake Road. We followed the road briefly, crossing back over McDonald Creek at the mouth of McDonald Lake.

Crossing the river where it enters Lake McDonald
Crossing the river where it enters Lake McDonald

Upon reaching Going-to-the-Sun Road, we followed the trail to the right and walked beside the road a ways before crossing to the Johns Lake trailhead. The trail left the road, leading us through towering trees. It was a calm stroll compared to the trail we had hiked to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook the day before.

A ways into the woods, we reached Johns Lake. The lake is small and lily pads dot the surface of the water. The dense vegetation makes access to the lake difficult, but we found a nice spot not too far away from the shores to enjoy a snack. After taking in the scenery by the lake for a bit, we continued down the Johns Lake Trail towards Going-to-the-Sun Road. The trail dumped us out at the road just across from where we parked to begin the hike.

A peaceful morning at Johns Lake
A peaceful morning at Johns Lake

Notes on Hiking John’s Lake Loop

In all honesty, the John’s Lake Loop doesn’t quite have the jaw-dropping views that many of the other hikes in the park offer. However, this is a quick and easy trail with some nice river views and forest scenery. It’s also a great option if you’re looking for something close to the West Glacier entrance. This may not be one of the more popular trails in the park, but it still can get busy. So, it is best to arrive early to secure a spot at the limited parking areas.

Glacier National Park is known for its abundant wildlife, and there’s a chance you could encounter various animals along John’s Lake Loop. Along with many birds, squirrels, and other smaller species, you may also see moose and bears, so be aware and know what to do in case you run into one.

There are many trails winding through this area, but they are all pretty well marked. Service is spotty back here, so if you’d like a map, download one beforehand or pick one up at the park entrance.

Signs marking the many trails in the area
Signs marking the many trails in the area

What to Bring to Hike John’s Lake Loop

Water: A hike essential.

Passes: You’ll need to present your park pass and your reservation to access Going-to-the-Sun Road if required at the time of your visit.

Comfortable Walking Shoes: The trail isn’t too rough, but it can get muddy and icy during some parts of the year. There are also the occasional fallen trees you may need to navigate if they haven’t been cleared.

Mini First Aid Kit: An item we always like to have just in case.

Camera: To capture the views and the wildlife you may  see.

Bear Spray: Bears have been spotted in the area, so bring along your bear spray and know how to use it.

Layers: Even in the summer it can be chilly. We recommend bringing light layers and/or a wind breaker.

Sun Protection: Most of the trail is shaded, but sunglasses, a hat, and/or sunscreen are good items to bring to protect your skin while outdoors.

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Johns Lake

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