“Beneath the Surface” – Lake McDonald – Glacier National Park, Montana

Lake McDonald – Glacier National Park Montana


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This is a magnificent National Park and truly one of the finest North America has to offer.  West Glacier and Lake McDonald alone are worth the trip.

Even though I had been to Glacier in the late 80’s, (as part of a Canadian Rockies trip) I only scratched the surface from a photography perspective.  At the time, I was as much interested in high altitude hikes as I was photography.  I remember the excitement of renting a helicopter with no doors and camera in hand.  I thought I was in for the time of my life until he lifted off and my stomach stayed on the ground.  He made wide turns, dips, dives and went over the tips of mountains where it felt like the bottom fell out.  I could smell the scent of pines wafting up from below. Probably my most pleasant memory.  He said there was a mama grizzly and 2 cubs below this spot yesterday.  All I could focus on was not throwing up until I embarrassingly asked to just ride a straight line.  I never did get any pictures.

Nor do I remember much about Lake McDonald other than driving by it on the way up to the Logan Pass area for some hiking.

It wasn’t until years later I learned that the beds of Lake McDonald and Medicine Lake were known for having these amazing colorful stones.  I saw a photograph of them somewhere and knew I had to return.  They are a wonder of nature.

This may sound absurd but if my only success on the trip was this one image, I would be content; not that one is ever enough.  It took several years before I could arrange the trip.  I went during the COVID pandemic, when there was nothing to do but get as far out of town as possible where some semblance of normalcy still existed.  Go West young man!  And so it was that Glacier National Park became my destination.

The East Glacier entrance (one of the 2 “main” entrances) was closed because it bordered the Crow Reservation and the Native Americans had a particularly difficult time dealing with COVID.  Closing the entrance was one way to minimize their exposure to the virus.  It meant that West Glacier was the only other main entrance to the park so I made my base in Kalispell, Montana about 45 minutes to an hour away depending on traffic.

I commuted to West Glacier daily during October of 2020 and felt like I scored a private pass into the park.  When I saw Lake McDonald, I knew I would be spending many hours there.

It exceeded my expectations.  I hiked along the shore off and on for several days from every access point that I could find seeking the most striking example of these “Hidden Gems”.  The still waters and mountainous backdrop further enhanced my love for this lake.

Something to note.  If you arrive when the sun is high in the sky, you might not notice these colorful stones due to the reflective glare off the lake.  But, arriving during the morning or evening light yielded a spectacle to behold.  I bought waders at a Cabela’s in Kalispell to insure I could explore every option possible.  I wanted to be right on top of these rocks.

I shot this image where Lake McDonald emptied into McDonald Creek. There was a mini break wall of these colorful stones as Lake McDonald flowed over and through them into what becomes McDonald Creek.  I spent multiple mornings or evenings standing in the creek just behind and on top of the break wall. The lighting was different each day so I would return always looking for the best image possible.  I shot many compositions from in and around Lake McDonald but my favorite images were from the mouth of McDonald Creek.  This horizontal composition is entitled “Beneath the Surface”.  I have a vertical version as well entitled “Hidden Gems”.  This location was worthy of both for different reasons.  I’ll let you decide a favorite.


Lake McDonald – Glacier National Park Montana


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