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Rodeo, New Mexico
January 28, 2007
The cedar-hemlock ecosystem encountered on this trail is an unusual one for Glacier Park. Only along the McDonald drainage between 3,100-4,000 feet elevation is it moist enough for the profusion of ferns and lush plants that thrive on the forest floor, shaded by cottonwoods, cedars, hemlock, and birch. Again, knowledgeable Melanie of Sundance RV Park alerted us that Avalanche Creek Gorge was something special, even for Glacier. She called it a slot canyon, and it looked like one to us, though slot canyons are more often associated with the Southwest, not Northern Montana.
The definition of a slot canyon requires that it be cut into sedimentary rock by water, and that it be very narrow, much deeper than it is wide, with sculpted, convoluted canyon walls. Lower Avalanche Gorge is sculpted and narrow, the work of glacial meltwater, though maybe not quite large enough to qualify as a "canyon". This gorge, Avalanche Creek, and Avalanche Lake were so named by Lyman Sperry, an early visitor to Glacier, upon noting multiple avalanche tracks down the basin walls around the lake.
Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake Trail are very popular, which can make finding a parking place at the trailhead next to Avalanche Campground challenging. Between July 1st and Labor Day, consider taking the hiker shuttle from West or East Glacier, making stops at lodges and visitor centers. Both westbound and eastbound shuttles stop 5 times a day at Avalanche.
Much of the Cedars trail is on boardwalk, pleasant, peaceful and subdued, in filtered shade. Keep your eyes open for wildlife. Squirrels, martens, deer and bears roam about the forest floor. In the treetops, you might spot a pileated woodpecker, or an owl. Our sitings were limited to squirrels, birds, and fellow humans.
Even if you don’t hike the additional 2 miles to Avalanche Lake, go a ways up the trail, which forks off the Cedars trail. You’ll be rewarded by more fine views and watery sounds of Avalanche Gorge and Creek.
For an e-hike that will give you even more of a feel of this moist, ferny and lovely place to want to go there next summer, click on Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake eHike.
From journal Summer’s End, Glacier West
Depew, New York
September 28, 2004
From journal Scenic Glacier National Park