Apgar Lookout Trail Glacier National Park ~ a slow hiker's guide™

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Apgar Lookout Trail

Lake McDonald Trail Map

Cover shot of my Wildflower Guide for Glacier National Park. Note: You need to have iBooks app installed on your computer for this link to go to the correct page. (iPad or Mavericks) Your iPad will need iBooks 3 or later, your MAC will need OS X.9 or later and iBooks 1.0 or later.

Available on iBooks wildflower book cover

A slow hiker's guide™ Glacier National Park Wildflowers
If the link doesn't take you to a screen with Get Sample then click on the View in iBooks Button.

June 8, 2014
Access road open to trailhead. Looks like plenty of snow still on top of Apgar. Quarter Circle Bridge is well above McDaonld creek as of June 8, 2014. This will change as snow melt accelerates.

July 3, 2013
Bring extra water this is a hot trail during the summer.
Quarter Circle Bridge open hopefully for the hiking season. Last trail report had one large tree down across the trail.
I last hiked this trail in late June of 2013 a few days after a early summer snow storm. At that time there was one small snow patch just before the lookout which will be long gone by now.
May 14, 2013
Quarter Circle Bridge closed due to flooding. Access to this trail will most likely open and close for the next month while the snow melts off. Sometimes it is noted on the parks web site most time not.

Beware of falling trees!

trees  down apgar trail © shawn coggins

Caution falling trees

I hiked this trail in late spring of 2013 and the trail was clear of fallen trees. However until there are NO DEAD TREES within fifty feet of the trail you will need to be on the lookout for falling trees. Luckily they usually come down very slowly. Do not hike this trail in a wind storm.


Last years warning concerning climbing over trees across the trail does not apply as of June 15, 2012. The lower portion of the trail when it first starts to rise still has trees near the trail to be careful of falling across the trail. Agility in climbing over or under fallen trees was required to climb this trail in 2011. Trail is clear of trees as of 6/15/12. - 2011 Note

Apgar Lookout Roberts fire 2003 Glacier National Park © Shawn Coggins www.glacierhikers.com

The biggest hazard on this trail is to be caught scrambling over downed trees and get crushed by another falling tree, unlikely but possible. Most not all of the standing dead trees fell this past winter and spring. As of June 15, 2012 there was not a single tree across the trail. The lower part of the trail is wet and muddy.

Apgar Lookout Trail is a good early wildflower trail

Wildflowers blooming including the obnoxious Black Elderberry. The shrub is pretty but the blossoms have a cloying odor. If you have allergy problems I would suggest you try another trail. Beside the Black elderberry, Alpine Paintbrush is displaying its nearly fluorescent reddish flowers. I can not distinguish between the Alpine Paintbrush and the Common Paintbrush since this trail goes up to 5,200 feet I'm going to call them Alpine Paintbrush. The photos are from Paintbrushes a couple hundred feet below the lookout. Blue clematis is not as abundant on this trail as the paintbrush. Lower part of the trail has some bear grass blooming. Spring beauty blooming in the sub-alpine meadows along the lower part of the Apgar Lookout Trail. I believe it's Oregon grape ~ berberis repens is the cluster of yellow flowers in the sub alpine area of this trail. A few heart leaved arnica are adding yellow to the color palette along the trail. Hopefully will add some of these flower pics along from June 15, 2012 hike in the near future. Buckbrush - Ceanothus velutinus -has a fire resistant seeds so it is a comeback queen to repopulate bare ground after a forest fire. (see Wildflowers of Glacier National Park - A great resource) Serviceberry Amelanchier alnifolia - The berry are popular with bears.


For those wanting to get an understanding of the effects of wildfire on forests it is important to hike this trail first then to hike the West Shore Trail. Both trails were burned during the Roberts Fire of 2003 the difference in the regeneration is very striking.

In 2012 the mosquito waited in anticipation of hikers exiting their cars in the parking area. Except for the first half mile the trail is dry. The entire trail and surroundings are free of snow. There were as of 7/8/11 some twenty trees across the trail. Two of them fell across the trail about twenty feet in front of me on my way out. Another two fell alongside the trail a few minutes later. This trail can get very windy and the temp can drop rapidly. Lots and lots of vegetation filling in after the Roberts Fire of 2003. Indian Paintbrush, ferns, cow parsnip, may apples, Rocky Mountain Maple and various other wildflowers and shrubs fill the slopes.

The Lookout is no longer pink as it has been repainted since my last hike up in 2005. Lake McDonald with the heavy runoff from the peaks is a soft turquoise. On - Site Report as of 6-29-11 The QUARTER CIRCLE BRIDGE ROAD CLOSED AT THE HORSE CORRAL DUE TO FLOODING once again. The vehicle access to the Apgar Lookout Trail was open for 36 hours. Last week.

McDonald Creek Glacier Park © Shawn Coggins www.glacierhikers.com

Reports from 2011 regarding the Quarter Circle Bridge.
Seems that the Quarter Circle Bridge has been under water as of 6-27-11 the water is under the bridge instead of over the bridge. The Quarter Circle Bridge is is opened on 6-28-11 then closed during the afternoon of 6-29-11.
The Apgar Lookout Trail is one of the earliest view trails to be snow free in Glacier Park. As of June 28, 2011 Apgar Lookout Trail is reported to be essentially snow free.

The views towards West Glacier have opened up considerably since 2005 as more and more of the dead trees fall over, frequently across the trail. If your bothered by hiking through a burnt out forest then this isn't the hike for you. The trees were whistling in the wind as I hiked up towards Apgar Lookout. As I went up the wind increased and the temperature dropped. Bring a windbreaker/raincoat otherwise even on a hot day you can get cold on this trail.


Since the Roberts Fire of 2003 there is no shade on the Apgar Lookout trail. I seriously miscalculated the amount of water needed for the hike and suffered for it. The view of Lake McDonald from the fire tower is very nice but this is one of those hikes that is not on my list to hike again. Well after hiking this trail with an ample supply of cold water I have changed my mind about this trail. It is now on my list of regular hikes. Particularly to witness the changes after a major forest fire plus to see the difference in Lake McDonald. The view from Mount Brown Lookout is much more spectacular of Lake McDonald. The Apgar Lookout Trail is a series of switchbacks that crisscross the mountainside. The main attraction for me of the Apgar Lookout Trail is that the trail clears of snow earlier then most trails, thanks to the burned out forest canopy. If you want to see the effects of a forest fire up close then this is a good trail for you. You can also view the effects of a forest fire at a distance when looking down on the west shore of Lake McDonald. The burn you see there was caused when the Roberts Fire, pushed by high winds, crested Howe Ridge and burned all the way to the lake. High winds and fire are a dangerous combination. I remember the winds the day the Roberts Fire crested Howe Ridge. I was hiking down the Danny On Trail on Big Mountain and nearly got blown off the trail just below the Summit House.

The Lake McDonald West Shore Trail provides a much easier and much more diverse close up look at the after effects of the Roberts Fire in Glacier National Park.

Lake McDonald from Apgar Fire Tower Glacier National Park © Shawn Coggins glacierhikers.com

Apgar Lookout was repeatedly doused by fire retardant during the Roberts Fire in 2003. In 2005 the building was still pink. The application of fire retardant was in preparation for the Forest Service igniting the forest to act as a firebreak against the Roberts Fire. The helicopter shown above set fire to the forest to the west of Apgar Lookout. I know it looks like a 'painted' backdrop but the sky was filled with smoke and ashes. For those of you familiar with the area around West Glacier, Montana, the USFS command post was set up on a small knoll next to the large eagle on US Hwy 2 in West Glacier. The helicopter flew over the command post after igniting the forest to the west of Apgar Lookout.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things
that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream.
Discover.”
    Mark Twain


apgar lookout was still pink for years, finall was repainted white. Apgar Lookout Glacier National Park © Shawn Coggins glacierhikers.com

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