Montana USA Northwest Travels

Glacier National Park: Lake McDonald Boat Tour

Glacier National Park: Lake McDonald Boat Tour
Lake McDonald Boat Tour

When I visited Glacier National Park for the first time I wanted to experience everything. So I booked a tour on the red bus, took a helicopter flight over the Glacier and took a cruise around Lake McDonald on the DeSmet.

Historic wooden boat tours on the lakes of Glacier have been around since the late 1930’s. As we were closest to Lake McDonald we took a 1 hour tour for $16.25 USD. There are tours also offered at ST. Mary Lake, Two Medicine, Swiftcurrent and Lake Josephine.

Glacier National Park: Lake McDonald Boat Tour
Inside the DeSmet

Our tour started out on the dock behind the Lake McDonald Hotel where we loaded into the 57-foot vessel made of cedar and oak. Although the boat can hold up to 80 passengers we only had a sprinkling of people that day. We found ourselves a seat on one of the wooden benches and awaited our cast off.

The boat moved at a slow pace around the lake, taking in the sites of the snow covered mountains, highlighting the burned mountains from the 2001 fire. I find it interesting that the NP service does not interfere with forest fires if the fire was created by nature (ie lighting strikes) within the park unless they are threatening structures, which in 2001 was the case with Apgar Village. The village was protected but the forest was allowed to burn as it is nature’s way of rebuilding the forest. I understand the concept, but I also find it bizarre as our natural reaction is to put out a fire.

Lake McDonald Boat Tour
The milky green waters of Lake McDonald

As we were cursing around the lake I could not help but notice the interesting color of the water.  I had never seen such vivid colors, ranging from deep blue to a milky green color, all within a few minutes of each other.  The daylight and minerals in the water influence the colors we visually see in the water. The sunlight gets refracted by the minerals and sends back to our eyes the blue and green colors while absorbing the reds, which creates the intense glacial water colors.

Lake McDonald Boat Tour
Lake McDonald

Due to the lack of people I was able to move around the boat and capture lots of photos, even moving to the back of the boat where I took this photo, which so happens to be my favorite photo of the entire trip to Glacier. I love the dramatic low hanging clouds, the greenish blue waters and the snow covered mountains… and yes Dad – I know my horizon line is crooked 🙂

As I mentioned there are many boat tours to chose from.  We took the Lake McDonald tour as it was closest to where we were staying, and who wouldn’t want to see that lake up close? Tour times vary by season and pricing varies by which tour/lake you take a cruise on. I would definitely take another boat cruise, most likely on Swiftcurrent Lake as it is really a two for one cruise. Your cruise starts out on Swiftcurrent, stopping at a dock on the opposite shoreline, where you take a brief walk to Lake Josephine for another boat ride. There is also the option for a guided walk to Grinnell Lake or Grinnell Glacier – which seems like a real bargain for $24.25 USD for adults!

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10 replies on “Glacier National Park: Lake McDonald Boat Tour”

That’s interesting that they don’t put off a natural fire, I also thought it was better to put them off. Was the forest growing again?
The last picture is amazing, with those clouds reflected in the water…

I love the color of the water – beautiful shot of the mountains and their reflection!

I know letting the fires burn is a controversial policy – it goes against all our instincts to see something burning and not try to stop it! But they’ve figured out that we actually cause worse fires – ones the forest can’t recover from – by interfering with the normal fire and regrowth cycle.

that’s understandable that it would cause worse fires. I think it was also interesting that thinning out the forest helps the wildlife as the plants they would typically eat would not be able to grow in a thick, overgrown forest.

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