Tag Archives: Westslope Cutthroat

Avalanche Lake – the story behind the name

The History

It is difficult to say how many people visit Avalanche Lake during a busy summer in Glacier National Park.  Countless pairs of shoes have trod the trail 2.3 miles from the Going-to-the-Sun Road to the magical shores of this lake nestled in a glacial cirque.

Many of the lucky ones have made more than one trip to Avalanche Lake and this writer remembers his first trip to Avalanche Lake with his family in the early 1970s.  I actually fell into the creek at the outlet only to have my uncle rescue me out of the cold water.  Since that time I have made numerous trips to the lake and enjoyed the views.

Avalanche Lake

In the past the area around Avalanche was known as Avalanche Camp.

Waterfalls flowing down from Floral Park.

Waterfalls flowing down from Floral Park.

In 1894, the Sperry party attempted to reach the glacier basin above Avalanche Lake which Schultz called Beaverhead Lake.

Avalanche Creek was called Beaverhead Creek.

Other names associated with this area include Royal Gorge for Avalanche Gorge and Glacier Lake for Avalanche Lake.

Still to others Avalanche Lake was know as Lost Lake.  Now there is a Lost Lake is near Rising Sun Point.

Avalanche Basin was called Beaverhead Basin by the Kotennai1 and Snow-slide-on-the Mountains.  That is an avalanche folks.


A beautiful stream that crosses the Avalanche Lake Trail.

So when did the Sperry party visit Avalanche Lake?

Sperry’s party of six, lead by Frank Geduhn, reached the lake after an arduous journey through tangled brush and deep forests.

They camped on the shore of the lake on June 3, 1895.  The area was named “Avalanche” because of the number of avalanches both seen and heard during their stay.

Sperry also wrote that in July of the same year a trail was cut from Lake McDonald to Avalanche Lake.  He expected to be in the first party to use the completed trail in August, but Mr. J. H. Edwards and his wife beat them to the lake by a few hours.  Mrs. Edwards became the first woman to see Avalanche Lake and she got a peak named for her as well.

An expenditure of $75 was provided to cut the trail by a Mr. Whitney from St. Paul, Minnesota.

A year later Sperry returned and actually reached the Sperry Glacier Basin via the Snyder Lakes Basin.

Hikers on the Avalanche Lake Trail

Hikers on the Avalanche Lake Trail

While you are at Avalanche Lake look for the peaks that early visitors called Sphinx, The Dome, The Castle, and Cathedral Spires.  All named by the Sperry party on their first visit to the lake.

Obviously, they did not make the Glacier National Park map.


1) This is a must see.  Hike the 2.3 miles and suffer through the 600 feet of elevation gain and loss.

2) Travel light but not too light.  It is always amazing to me when I see folks hiking with just a water bottle.  Prudent adventures will take rain gear and a little bit to eat as well as water.

3) Bears.  Every year people see bears along this trail.  Take your bear deterrent spray and you probably will not need it.

4) People.  Expect to share the trail with folks who walk slower than you and with other who travel at a bit faster pace.  Play nice with others.

5) Camera. Take one and use it.

6) Fish. There are native Westslope Cutthroat Trout in Avalanche Lake.  Take your fishing rod or fly rod and catch a few.  Release them so others can enjoy them as well.

7) Stay away from the edge of Avalanche Gorge.  Falling in there could really ruin your vacation.

What piece of Glacier National Park real estate do you want to learn more about?

Send me a message and I will get to work.

Thanks for joining in for this small bit of fun history about Glacier National Park.  Not all of it is true but it is interesting.


© Montana Outdoor Guidebooks, 2014

Schultz, W. R., Signposts of Adventure, Glacier National Park As the Indians Know It, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926
Robinson, D. H., Through The Years In Glacier National Park, West Glacier, MT, Glacier Natural History Association, 1960
Elmore, Francis, Collection from Glacier National Park Archives
Vaught, L. O., manuscript, Unpublished works


Trout That Look Up

Headers On The FlyOne of the biggest thrills for many people who visit Glacier National Park or other areas in northwestern Montana is backcountry camping.  There is something about putting in the effort to get to a campsite and settling in for a great night of sitting by the fire visiting and slapping mosquitos.

If you planned well your campsite will be near a mountain lake.  There is nothing better than spending evenings and mornings around the shores of a lake.  This is one of the essential experiences you must have on your visit to Montana.

For those who like camping the ways to spend time are varied.  Options include staying in the tent and reading a good book, playing cards, or spending time in great conversation with friends.

This is good eating!

Perhaps a more enjoyable pursuit would be to bring a fly rod or spinning pole and spend some time fishing for Westslope Cutthroat trout.

The Cutthroat trout is considered by many anglers as the easiest trout to catch.  They are the trout that always look up.  The fish here represent their species well and readily rise to any well-presented fly, as well as, take various tackle from spinning rods.

This is what the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks says about this fish:

The Westslope cutthroat trout is one of two subspecies of native cutthroat found in the state.  Together, they have been  designated Montana’s state fish.  Cutthroat trout are so named for the red slashes near the lower jaws.

Since the westslope is recognized as a very important part of  our native fish fauna it has been designated a Montana Fish of Special Concern in Montana. 

The average size of these fish is 6 to 16 inches, depending on habitat, but they rarely  exceed 18 inches in length.

Fish in mountain lakes are not super finicky and will hit just about anything if the time is right.  The right time is in the evening and in the morning and you will be there!

For those of you who like to eat what they catch you might be doing the other fish in the lake a favor by eating a few of the fish you catch.  Competition for food in these mountain lakes can be intense.  Too many fish competing for a small amount of food produces fish with large heads and small bodies.

Most of the fish in National Forest lakes are planted by wildlife management departments for harvesting by anglers.  In Glacier National Park most of the lakes are self-sustaining populations.  Trout cooked over a stove is a high mountain delicacy that everyone who likes the taste of fish can appreciate.  Look below for some tips on cooking your catch.

How do you catch these beautiful trout?  See the On The Fly blog section for tips and recommendations.

How I Like Cook My Catch: (both options work)

In The Fire Method:

  1. If this is part of your plan, bring some aluminum foil.
  2. Bring a bit of salt and pepper.
  3. Clean the fish and cut off the head.  Make sure to properly dispose of the entrails.
  4. Place the fish in the foil.  Hopefully the foil is big enough for all of the fish you want to cook.
  5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper
  6. Wrap the foil around the fish and make sure you have a good double-folded seal on all sides.
  7. Place the fish (folded side up) on the side of the fire or on a log on the edge of the fire.  The idea is to heat up the fish not cook it until its black.
  8. Cook it for about 5-7 minutes.  How long depends on the size of the fish, the bigger the fish the more time it takes.
  9. When cooked properly the meat should flake off with a fork.  That means its done.
  10. The skin is delicious and highly nutritious.

In The Pan Method:

  1. See steps 2 & 3 above.
  2. Place the fish in a frying pan
  3. Sprinkle with salt and pepper
  4. Cook it for about 3 – 4 minutes and then turn the fish over and cook for another 3 – 4 minutes.  How long depends on the size of the fish, the bigger the fish the more time it takes.
  5. When cooked properly the meat should flake off with a fork.  That means its done.
  6. The skin is delicious and highly nutritious.

Where is the best place you have ever ate a mountain trout?

Most recently I had fresh trout at Upper Cold Lake on a cold-rainy day.  We used the aluminum foil method and was it every delicious!  Wish we would have caught more than one.

Tight lines,