Rocky Point Trail is a fairly easy hike on the west end of Lake McDonald, that leads to a couple of nice, but not perfect, viewpoints of the lake. And, since it seems to be less well-known than some of the other hikes on this side of the park, you probably won’t encounter a lot of hikers.
I was visiting Glacier National Park in late June, 2014. I thought Going-To-The-Sun Road would be open, but a late-season snowstorm had put the road crews behind, in the massive effort to clear the road. So, I spent my day on the west side of the park, looking for things to do. After hiking to Johns Lake and McDonald Falls, I still had a couple of hours remaining before dark, so I decided to follow a ranger’s recommendation and check out Rocky Point.
The trail begins at the southern end of the Inside North Fork Road, just above the Fish Creek Campground. If you’re staying at the campground, a side-trail provides easy access.
The sign may be a little confusing, so let me break it down. If you’re headed straight to Rocky Point, it will be a .8 mile hike, one way. If you want to take the Nature Trail loop, which includes the Rocky Point viewpoints, it’s .6 mile to the start of the loop, then a .7 loop, then .6 to get back to the trailhead, making for a 1.9 mile lollipop.
The first section of the trail drops down, then climbs back up — but it’s not very difficult. along the way you’ll be passing through a forest of small, new-growth trees.
You may also spot some wildlife, like this deer.
After you’ve passed the turnoff to the campground, and reached the loop portion of the trail, the viewpoints begin. There are a half-dozen marked spots, but not all of them are truly good viewpoints.
At first, you have a nice view of Snyder Ridge to the east. Going-To-The-Sun Road runs alongside Lake McDonald at the bottom of this mountain.
A wider view shows Snyder Ridge on the left, and the Apgar Mountains on the right. The opening in the middle leads to West Glacier.
In late June, I found some wildflowers blooming here.
The very best viewpoint is marked as spot #2 on the trail guide (available at the trailhead). This really is a “rocky point” that offers several good places to look out over Lake McDonald. The views are good, but not great, since it seems like whichever way you look, the view is slightly blocked by trees.
I took a few pictures here, then continued up the trail to see if I could find a better viewpoint. Keep reading — more pictures from this spot are below.
From marker #2, the trail switchbacks up a small hill. Markers #3 and #4 are located along this portion of the trail, but neither one offers a perfect view.
There are spots along the trail where you can look towards the upper end of Lake McDonald. Through the trees, you can see the awesome jagged mountains that tower over Going-To-The-Sun road. With the road closed by snow at Logan Pass, this is the closest I’d get on this trip to seeing that incredible scenery.
Near marker #5, the loop trail intersects with Lake McDonald Trail, which continues for miles up the lake’s west side.
I decided to walk up the Lake McDonald Trail for a while. I was hoping I’d find a spot where the trail reaches the shoreline — maybe a spot that would have an unobstructed view of the mountains to the northeast. Sunset was coming, and I wanted to find the very best spot to photograph it. But, as I hiked, I realized I wasn’t going to break free of the fire-scorched tree skeletons.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a very beautiful area. And, the fire that burned these trees actually helped provide a better view of the lake. Before the fire, I’m sure, you couldn’t see much.
Eventually I turned around and headed back around the loop, to marker #2, which offered the best views I could find.
The best views at Rocky Point are all blocked, at least partially, by trees. Getting a shot that’s as clear as possible involves perching on the edge of the rocks, balancing, straining, and reaching. While it wasn’t perfect, it was pretty darned good, especially when the final moments before sunset arrived…
… and the peaks above the Continental Divide were set aglow by the sun.
The clouds above the mountains were glowing — not from direct sunlight, but from the reflection off the snow-covered peaks.
While I focused my attention on the harmless, puffy clouds over the mountains, the clouds directly over my head had turned threatening. A few pops of thunder convinced me that it was time to leave Rocky Point behind.
As I hurried back to the trailhead, the clouds stopped threatening and started delivering. I got a nice shower, and saw a few too many flashes of lightning, as I walked — and ran — back to the car. It’s probably the quickest I’ve ever covered a mile in the forest, ever.
The Bottom Line
I would suggest hiking the Rocky Point Trail as a day-ending hike, or perhaps as your second or third short hike of the day. The views are very good, but you won’t find the perfect, unobstructed view up the lake that you’re hoping for. The slight elevation drops and gains are not difficult, which makes this hike very enjoyable.
Just after entering Glacier National Park on the west side, you’ll come to a 4-way intersection. Going straight leads to the Apgar Visitor Center, and a right turn allows you to continue on Going-To-The-Sun Road. Instead, turn left onto Camas Road, and in 1.3 miles turn right again onto Fish Creek Campground Road. Pass the campground, and you will be on the Inside North Fork Road. At Fern Creek, you’ll see a parking area on the left. The trail to Rocky Point begins on the opposite side of the road.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive into the park via West Glacier, and up GTTS Road to Avalanche: