Johns Lake Loop Trail

Glacier National Park

The Johns Lake Loop is about 2 miles long but it is surrounded by a network of other trails.

We are lucky to find a spot to park as the parking area is quite small and only has room for 7-8 cars.

We learn from the plaque at the trailhead that Johns Lake is actually a pond encircled by a forest of western red cedar and hemlock.

It’s an overcast  day when we set out in a counterclockwise direction through the old growth forest. We are the only people on the trail and the only noise we hear comes from our own haunting footsteps. The trees tower over us like gaunt skeletal creatures warning us to beware of unpleasant surprises ahead.

About 1/3 of a mile in we come to a junction that is marked with a confusing sign. If we go left we will hike toward McDonald Lake. If we choose right we will be on our way to Avalanche Creek. And of course we have no map to guide us, it’s just a short loop  trail.

So, we decide to take the left route as we already know that Lake McDonald is on the opposite end of the trailhead. Off we go, for awhile, until we realize that we are on a horse path that is rutted and not very interesting. As we turn back, we notice another couple behind us, so the 4 of us collectively decide that we need to take the trail leading right. The woman even has a booklet describing all the hikes in the Park, and she was still confused!

Later we find out that the horse path has a name, the McDonald Creek Cutoff. I still manage to find redeeming qualities on our detour though. A very unique tree sculpture…

And a slate rock gathering moss…

About 1/3 of a mile later, we catch a glimpse of shimmering light through the trees. And there is Johns Lake. A side trail leads down to the boggy shore but we prefer to stay on higher ground to enjoy the lake sprinkled with water lilies and wetland grasses.

Stanton Mountain and Mount Vought tower over Johns Lake. I’m not sure which one is in the picture below.


Trees bulldozed by avalanches look like a pile of “pick-up-sticks”, a game I used to play when I was a child.

etsy.com


Soon we are heading out of the forest and across the Going-to-the- Sun Road. Look closely to the left of the slanted slate rock touching the trail on the lower left of the picture below. You can see the trail descending into a grove of trees. The gray light peeking through is the road.


Johns Lake Loop Trail leads down onto a crosswalk that takes us to the other side of the road where we encounter what we think is McDonald Falls.

A footbridge crosses the creek of the same name.

These are the pictures I take, but I think this is really Sacred Dancing Cascade.

After gazing into and enjoying the water sliding down the rocks, we come to another junction on the other side of the creek. The rest of Johns Lake Loop Trail heads left along McDonald Creek, to the right an unmarked trail runs parallel to the creek in the other direction.

We choose to detour away from the Loop Trail in search of another waterfall and footbridge.

Here are the highlights from our out and back detour:

After hiking for 15-20 minutes, we lose the creek and head away from it.

So, we decide to turn back.

And we are now back on the Johns Lake Loop Trail.

Woodpeckers have tagged their graffiti on this tree trunk.

The tunnel across the creek is part of an old horse trail.

This stretch of the forest is exactly how I pictured the one from the Hansel and Gretel fairytale. I imagine I am throwing breadcrumbs along the path.

Old McDonald had a creek e-i-e-i-o… And on that creek there was some whitewater e-i-e-i-o… With a swoosh-swoosh here, and a swoosh-swoosh there, here a swoosh, there a swoosh, everywhere a swoosh-swoosh… Old McDonald had a creek e-i-e-i-o…


Speaking of fairytales, these trees remind me of a game of Pick-Up-Sticks played by the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk…

Maybe these are the McDonald Falls?…

How do you explain this?

We reach a gravel path escorting us out of the forest…

The forest leads to McDonald Road where the ghost beard hang from the trees like tinsel at Christmas.

A footbridge crosses the creek as it empties into Lake McDonald.


The wildflowers along McDonald Road make up for the lack of forest trail.

Scouler’s Woollyweed or Hairy Arnica maybe?…

Wandering Fleabane or Howell’s Fleabane maybe?…

White Campion and Woolly Mullein

White Campion

McDonald Road leads into a side trail that runs parallel to the Going-to-the-Sun Road and we take this back to the trailhead.

Indian Pipe

We return to our car and head to Sacred Dancers Cascades. We think… It looks suspiciously like the Falls we crossed further downstream on McDonald Creek.

Except for the confusion with the trail markers and the names of the waterfalls, this was a lovely hike!

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