FISH CREEK CAMPGROUND

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

With 178 campsites, Fish Creek Campground is situated on the northwest shore of Lake McDonald and is the second-largest campground in Glacier National Park.  It consists of 4 loops, with loops C and D being closest to the lake.  It’s location and proximity to Apgar Village and Campground, just 2.5 miles away, make it a popular campground that fills up fast.

Arrival

As we arrived at Fish Creek Campground in Glacier National Park, we noticed that it had become quite hazy.  Rangers informed us that it was from the smoke generated by the major wildfires burning in California.  Little did we know that the day we returned from our trip, a wildfire would start along Lake McDonald, forcing the evacuation of all of the Lake McDonald area, including Fish Creek and Apgar campgrounds.

A thin layer of haze from campfires in the campground hangs just over the water on Lake McDonald on a calm evening.

As I noted in one of my previous posts about planning our road trip to Glacier National Park, Fish Creek Campground was my “plan B” if I couldn’t get a campsite in Many Glacier, which turned out to be the case.  I had researched and noted the campsites that I wanted to shoot for in Fish Creek, which really was anything on Lake McDonald, preferably in Loop D, then Loop C. As I nervously rushed to lock in a site, I saw one campsite left on Loop C that was on the lake so I grabbed it for the entire date range that we planned on being at Glacier for. There – we were guaranteed a site for the dates we wanted and we didn’t have to worry about having a place to stay.

As it turns out, I was able to get a larger site on Loop D prior to our arrival date and I canceled the reservation for our site on C Loop.  I didn’t realize how lucky we were…

What a Campsite!

Prior to arriving, I had done a lot of research on the spot we ended up getting on D Loop. Based on the campground and campsite photos and videos I had found, this looked like a really great site but I was only able to find one reference to the site in a review and it wasn’t exceptionally descriptive. This being the case, I had told the family that the site looked to be pretty good and our anticipation for it was high – I always try and get everyone excited for a location if I think it’s going to be good, but it’s backfired on me a few times.  I really hoped this wasn’t one of those times.

As we turned into loop D and descended a short hill, we came upon the campsite and it looked just as it had in the photos/videos – it was HUGE – perhaps one of, if not the largest, campsite in the campground. I think I even let out a muffled, “wow…” under my breath. Not only was it big but it had many tall pines, a huge tent pad, and was about 50 feet from Lake McDonald, which you could see through the trees.

Our shelters in campsite at Fish Creek Campground in Glacier National Park. Lake McDonald is only 50 feet behind the trees. This site was incredible!

We pulled into the gravel drive and the kids jumped out, all exclaiming, “Whoa!”, in unison and ran to look at the lake. I have come to realize that while I may value location to hiking, photography opportunities, and privacy of a campsite, our kids value one thing above all else – water to play and swim in. I don’t recall enjoying 60-degree water as a child but I kid you not, I have seen my children play in water that I would chill beer in. Anyway, I digress…

The kids hanging out on the hammocks in our Fish Creek campsite in Glacier National Park.

The campsite was a hit. I think I can objectively say it was one of the best, if not the best, we have been in ANY park.  We were definitely spoiled by this site and it set the bar very high – almost too high – when comparing other sites.  When we were packing up to leave for Many Glacier, the kids didn’t want to leave.  It didn’t help to know that we had three separate rangers tell us that our campsite was their favorite.

Lake McDonald

There are three campgrounds along the shores of Lake McDonald, which is the largest lake in Glacier National Park: Apgar, Fish Creek, and Sprague Creek.  Apgar is the largest and includes Apgar Village, a very nice Visitor’s Center, and the campground.  Sprague Creek is located near the Lake McDonald Lodge and is a much smaller campground of 25 sites that do not allow trailed campers.

Malia perched on a log enjoying the view of Lake McDonald.

When making our reservations for Fish Creek, one of my goals was to have a campsite that was close to Lake McDonald. Several of the sites that are along the lake have short trails that lead to the shores of the lake that allow for swimming or lounging on the beach.  A family in one of the campsites next to ours brought kayaks and stand up paddle boards to use and there are a number of watercraft rental options in Apgar Village.

Haze from wildfires made for a sublime sunrise over Lake McDonald.

One observation I made was that it felt strange to see and hear a large motorized recreational boat cruise by in the distance; it removed me from the remote and isolated feeling that Glacier can provide.  This feeling quickly dissipated as I sipped a glass of wine and dipped my feet into the lake as the kids played in the water.

Ricky & Makena swimming in Lake McDonald. The water was warmer than I anticipated.

Quick Fact: Trailered boats with gas-powered motors are permitted on Lake McDonald but only after being inspected and quarantined for 30 days prior to launch.  Non-motorized boats do not require this quarantine period. We didn’t see anyone fishing but we did see quite a few smaller fish swimming about the shallows.

Other Observations

The main draw for us in this area of the park was Lake McDonald and it didn’t disappoint.  I wish it would have been less hazy but it was still an incredible view and experience.  My research prior to the trip showed that there was only one hike that I wanted to do in this area – Trail of the Cedars/Avalanche Lake.  I am sure there that there are other hikes and destinations on this side of the lake that we would like but I simply had not discovered them by the time we went.  If you have ideas, feel free to share them in the comments section of this article.

If you plan on driving to Avalanche to do Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake, I highly recommend you go early.  We arrived at about 8:30 AM and the lot was full.  We circled once and got lucky and found one last spot.

Rocky Point as seen from our waterfront campsite at Fish Creek Campground.

Things We Liked

  • Our Campsite on D Loop was incredible.  It’s location, privacy, and size were off the charts.
  • The proximity to Lake McDonald was awesome.  Even if you were on one of the other loops, walking to the lake was easy.
  • Even though we were on a loop that allowed generators, it was very quiet.  There was only an occasional generator but it was always during acceptable hours.
  • The sites on the stream in Loop D looked great. They were a bit smaller but they had direct access to the stream next to the campground and you could go to sleep listening to the rushing water.
  • The bathrooms were nice and clean and weren’t crowded.
  • A short, few minute drive from Apgar Village and Campground.

Critical Thoughts

  • There were some really small and/or uneven campsites, particularly on Loop C. Our original site was tiny – we would have had to pitch the tent on the gravel drive.
  • Only 4 showers for the entire campground and they are located at Loop A and offer no parking, you will need to walk to them.
  • Noticed that a number of people with trailers had very tough times getting level on Loop C.  Loop A did not appear to have this problem.
  • It could get surprisingly noisy from traffic (especially Harleys) traveling on the Going to the Sun Road, which is directly across the lake from the campground.

Useful Links

I couldn’t convince the ‘ohana to get up at 4:30 AM to catch the sunrise with me…

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