Glacier National Park in Montana, USA has a dual personality.
The side west of the Continental Divide is very different from the east side. Pacific coast weather systems create a lush and abundant forest with species of trees and plants which cannot survive on the east side where much harsher and drier weather prevails. The difference is immediately apparent.
Following a satisfying and relaxing lunch in the Fireside Dining Room at Lake McDonald Lodge, the drive north-east on Going-to-the-Sun Road proceeds past Johns Lake Loop to the busy, large and crowded parking area for Trail of the Cedars.
This short, ¾ mile (1.1 KM) loop, around both sides of Avalanche Creek, is justifiably the most popular hike in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. The short, flat trail is wheelchair accessible on boardwalk and paved sections through old growth forest reminiscent of what is found on the west coasts of the United States and South-western British Columbia in Canada.
Old growth forest, primarily of red cedar and black cottonwood, towers above new growth of hemlock and a floor of dead-fall, moss, devil’s club and ferns mixed with a plethora of flowering plants.
Sight and sound is enhanced by squirrels on the ground and in the trees, and complemented by birds and butterflies in the air. The fascinating, tiny, water ouzel is equally adept airborne and underwater.
The aroma of the damp forest is strong and sweet. There are a lot of people on the trail but they tend to whisper. Consistently and politely, they acknowledge the presence of others as anyone might expect in a cathedral. The trail loops around to head back on a bridge over Avalanche Creek with amazing views of a surrealistic, tumbling, jade waterfall through the sculpted and colorful walls of Avalanche Gorge.
This short, easy trail is a vision in close proximity to the trail-head for Avalanche Lake and Monument Falls which is another more aggressive but worthwhile hiking experience along Avalanche Creek and Gorge.
There are many rest spots and benches along the way to pause and reflect on the power and beauty of this place. Even though it is a very short trail, plenty of time is justified to absorb and revel in the wonder of this exquisite old growth forest.
Trail of the Cedars is a leisurely treat that should be experienced and savored. To rush through here would make no sense and, for the most part, may not be possible due to its popularity.