Glacier National Park in Montana 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 quite apparent.
Following a satisfying and relaxing lunch in the Fireside Room at Lake McDonald Lodge, I drive north-east on Going-to-the-Sun Road past Johns Lake Loop to the busy and crowded parking lot for Trail of the Cedars. This short, 0.7 mile (1.1 KM) loop, around both sides of Avalanche Creek, is justifiably the most popular hike in the park. 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 deadfall, 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 in a cathedral. The trail tracks both sides of Avalanche Creek and turns around to head back at a bridge, over Avalanche Creek, with amazing views of a surrealistic, tumbling, jade waterfall through the sculpted and colourful walls of Avalanche Gorge.
It is a vision in close proximity to the trailhead to Avalanche Lake and Monument Falls which is a fabulous trail 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, I use plenty of time 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.