Johns Lake is probably one of the least interesting and most disappointing hikes in Glacier National Park. But, it’s highly worthwhile to spend at least a few minutes at McDonald Falls and McDonald Creek, right alongside Going-to-the-Sun Road.
If you end up at Glacier National Park too early or too late in the season, and the mid-section of Going-To-The-Sun Road (at Logan Pass) isn’t open, your options for hiking will be somewhat limited. My visit in late June followed an unusual late-spring snowstorm at the pass, so I had to look for other things to do. At the visitor center, one of the rangers suggested I hike the Johns Lake trail.
I knew I wasn’t going to see the jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring rocky cliffs and mountain peaks that are just a few miles up the road. But at least there was a lake. How bad could it be?
Johns Lake is about a half-mile from the trailhead, so if you hiked out and back, you’d be looking at a one-mile jaunt through the woods. The trail continues beyond the lake, though, so it’s easy to make this into a longer hike that loops back to the road and (thankfully) crosses over to McDonald Creek.
Johns Lake Trail provides a nice, quiet walk through the woods. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s quite nice — it’s just not the dramatic scenery you’re probably hoping for. So what about that lake?
At first I thought this was it… and it was not very impressive. It turned out, this was a smaller lake, to the south of Johns Lake.
Beyond the puddle, the trail continued, past this interesting tree…
… and on…
… and on…
… until I finally caught a glimpse of the real Johns Lake. Just like the previous puddle, it was very tough to get close to the edge of the lake.
From here, it’s about 3/10 of a mile on to Going-to-the-Sun Road…
… through more trees.
When you reach the road, cross over, and you’re at a parking area for Sacred Dancing Cascade.
The falls are just upstream from this footbridge. Thanks to the melt from that snowstorm the previous week, McDonald Creek was roaring!
I crossed the footbridge and walked a short distance downstream.
Directly across the creek, I noticed this stone underpass.
From this side of the creek, you’ll get a nice view of the mountains further up Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Since I wasn’t sure if I’d find another footbridge anytime soon, I decided to turn around and cross back over the creek, and head towards that underpass.
The view on this side of the creek was also great…
… and the rocks at the edge of the water looked like mountaintops, with the lapping whitewater playing the role of clouds.
After passing through the underpass, I was on another trail through the woods…
… a very muddy trail, but otherwise quite nice. This trail led back to the trailhead. I’m not sure exactly how far I hiked — probably a couple of miles.
Slightly further up Going-to-the-Sun Road…
… you’ll find this waterfall, viewable from a nice platform. I’m fairly certain that this is not McDonald Falls (and neither is the other waterfall at the footbridge). Even if you miss the actual, named falls, any of these stops along Going-to-the-Sun Road will allow you to enjoy a nice view of some rapids along the creek.
The Bottom Line
Hike the trail to Johns Lake only if you have plenty of time, and you’re looking for a simple walk in the woods. Don’t set your expectations too high, and you won’t be disappointed. You can easily stop at some of the McDonald Creek overlooks along Going-to-the-Sun Road, without having to hike.
The trailhead for Johns Lake is located on the west side of Glacier National Park, along Going-to-the-Sun Road. You’ll see a sign for the trailhead at the side of the road, at the north end of Lake McDonald. If you’re headed eastbound on GTTS Road, Johns Lake will be on the right, and several waterfalls including McDonald Falls and Sacred Dancing Cascade will be on the left.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive into the park via West Glacier, and up GTTS Road to Avalanche: