Some Lakes of Glacier National Park
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Lower St. Mary Lake lies outside Glacier Park, in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. No soundings were made in this lake, nor was work of any kind done on it. Upper St. Mary lies wholly within the park. The elevation of the lower lake is 4,460 feet; that of the upper lake is 4,472 feet. Upper St. Mary Lake has a general direction of northeast and southwest, separated from the lower lake by a mile or more of river. This river is shallow and easily forded, either with horses or vehicles. The old trail, now made into a wagon road, crosses the stream at about the boundary line of the park, and follows the northern shore of the lake from the lower end to the upper, a distance of 12 miles by water and considerably more by trail. The wagon road extends only to the narrows, which is about half way up the lake. Above the narrows the trail climbs almost to the foot of the rocks of Goat Mountain and later descends nearly to the lake level.

Photograph copyrighted by Kiser Photo. Co. for Great Northern Railway.

The only work done on Upper St. Mary Lake was the taking of a series of soundings, extending from the narrows to the upper end. Through the courtesy of Mr. W. J. Hillegoss, of the Great Northern Railway, I was enabled to make use of the boat, which had been placed upon the lake the day before. The record of the soundings taken is as follows: A short distince below the narrows, in the middle of the lake, 150 feet; in the narrows, opposite the rocks, which are situated on the north side, 200 feet; out from the rocks 80 feet; half way from the upper end to the upper narrows, 166 feet; 100 yards off the rocks which are on the south side of the upper narrows, 137 feet; opposite the little creek on the south side of the lake, just west of Red Eagle, 123 feet; about the middle of the lake, half way between the upper and middle narrows, 292 feet. The temperature of the water was 56° F. These soundings were taken August 22, 1911.

Photograph copyrighted by Kiser Photo. Co. for Great Northern Railway.

One of the gentlemen at the camp stated that a few days before my arrival a Mackinaw Lake trout had been taken by a trolling line. The weight of this fish was 18 pounds. He also stated that some time prior one had been taken which weighed 30 pounds. Undoubtedly the lake is full of fish, many of them of good size. These can migrate onhy a short distance up the creek from the lake, as they are stopped by the falls. The introduction of fish into Gunsight Lake above would give the fish access to the streams at the foot of the Continental Divide.


This lake lies on the northern side of Gunsight Pass, its upper end reaching almost to the foot of the cliffs of the pass. It trends northeast and southwest is about a mile in length and perhaps half as wide, and is oval or elliptical, as are most of the smaller lakes in the park. Its elevation is 5,276 feet. Gunsight Mountain is on the west, Jackson Mountain on the south. At the upper end of the lake is a small, open stretch less than half a mile long between the lake and the cliffs. On the Gunsight side of the lake the timber and brush come down to the water's edge. On the Jackson Mountain side the shores along the lower half are quite dense with brush; along the upper half they are free. The remainder of the lake is open and has a good, pebbly shore, making the waters easy of access. The outlet is to the St. Mary River, by which the waters reach the Upper St. Mary Lake, 8 or 9 miles by trail. In this distance there are numerous waterfalls; how many has not been determined. There are enough, however, to prevent the ascent of fish from Upper St. Mary Lake to Gunsight Lake.

Photograph copyrighted by Kiser Photo. Co. for Great Northern Railway.

This lake is familiar to all those who have traveled over Gunsight Pass, as the trail climbs the steep slope above the lake, and the lake is constantly in view during the ascent of the traveler over the pass or during the descent from the pass to the beautiful camp site at the foot of the lake.

At the lower end of the lake the country opens out into a wide park, thinly timbered with beautiful open stretches here and there and with many dense masses of brush.

The lake is fed by numerous streams, probably 15 or 20 at different times, which come from the snow banks and glaciers lying on the slopes of the mountains far above. As a result they come abruptly into the lake and afford no opportunity for the ascent of fish to any distance.

St. Mary River, which is the outlet of the lake, receives the streams which come from the Blackfeet Glacier, making a network of small streams through the large and open park country, which extends for miles.

The water is usually turbid, due to the sediment brought down from the glaciers. Sometimes it is of a deep pea-green color; at other times the green color is much lighter. Sometimes streams of milky-looking water may be seen extending out into the green, showing where the glacier stream is flowing out into the lake and mixing with the lake water.

Photograph copyrighted by Kiser Photo. Co. for Great Northern Railway.

Soundings of this lake and collections were made on August 23, 1911. One hundred yards from the shore at the upper end the depth was 63 feet; one-third of the way down it was 42 feet; halfway down, 32 feet; three-quarters of the way down, 16 feet.

The temperature of the water at 11.30 a. m. was 53° F. and the temperature of the air at the same hour was 68° F.

From these figures it will be seen that Gunsight Lake, like Avalanche, is deepest at its upper end. It has about the same location with respect to mountains that Avalanche has, and apparently would make as good a home for fish, although they would be prohibited by the falls from migrating to the streams below and would be somewhat landlocked. Still, they would have an abundance of room for movement and would have miles and miles of streams which would give a big supply of insect food.

It would seem that this lake should, by all means, be stocked with fish. Tourists will camp on its shore in great numbers. The magnificent mountains, the glaciers, and fish in the stream and lake near camp would make a fairyland for those who will visit this region.

The net and dredge show that the lake is well supplied with the microscopic life which is necessary for the growth of small fish, and the streams coming into the lake will doubtless carry considerable quantities of fish food. The wooded and brushy shores will give a good supply of insect food, and this will be greatly increased by the insects that will fall into the streams from the brushy sides of the many creeks.


This lake lies at the foot of Gunsight Pass, on the Pacific side of the mountains. It has an elevation of 5,914 feet, and is therefore 638 feet higher than Gunsight.

The traveler standing at the summit of Gunsight Pass can see Gunsight Lake and this lake without changing his position, except to face about from the northeast to the southwest. Gunsight Lake has been described previously. The upper end of this lake touches the precipitous sides of Gunsight Pass. The lake is fed mainly by a stream of water coming down from the region of the pass. The stream comes from melting glaciers on either side. The stream makes a beautiful waterfall, unnamed. The trail passes the foot of this waterfall, giving the traveler a commanding view. The view of the lake from the pass and from any portion of the trail between the pass and the lake is exceptionally fine. The trail leads down to the edge of the lake. There is an excellent camping place, with plenty of wood and water and an abundance of feed for a goodly number of horses.

On the eastern side or shore of the lake the cliffs of Jackson Mountain come abruptly to the water, and on that side the water is doubtless very deep. On the opposite shore is a level stretch which has been mentioned as a camping place. Back of this rise the abrupt red cliffs of Gunsight Mountain. Over these a small stream of water, coming from a hidden glacier, falls over the precipitous rocks and disappears in spray before reaching the bottom. At the lower end there is a stream perhaps a quarter of a mile in length, winding back and forth over the ledges of rock, and finally falling over the cliffs 1,700 feet into a second lake below. This lake is therefore without streams of any consequence, either as outlet or inlet.

Collections were made here on September 5, 1909, and on August 23, 1911. The results show that the lake is not only deep, but full of microscopic life. The soundings were as follows: 200 yards from shore, at the upper end, 88 feet; halfway down in the middle of the lake, 118 feet; a little less than two-thirds of the way down, 244 feet. The temperature of the water was 49° F., temperature of the air 52° F., at 7.30 p. m.

It thus appears that this lake is like an immense bowl, without streams of any consequence as inlet or outlet, as before mentioned. A single haul of the surface net in the middle of the lake, where the water is deepest, produced an immense quantity of microscopic life. The mass of material was colored blood red, owing to the great quantities of red entomostraca. When we consider that the lake is oval, a mile long and about half a mile wide, with a depth of 244 feet, possibly still deeper at the lower end, we may conclude that the great amount of fish food in such a large body of water would supply large numbers of fish with planty to eat. It is true that fish would be landlocked, and would be confined to the waters of the lake. It is also true that not so many insects would be supplied as is the case with the other lakes mentioned, because of the absence of streams at the inlet and outlet. As the prevailing direction of the wind is from the south and southwest, considerable quantities of insect food from the regions below and near by, would fall into the water. Also considerable quantities of food would be carried down from the heights above by the streams mentioned.


It might be urged that the elevation of the lake would be too high to support fish life, or that the lake might freeze early in the fall and thaw out late in the spring, but the location of this body of water is such that the reverse is the case. It lies on the southern face of the Continental Divide, and receives the warm rays of the sun every day in the year when the sun shines, which is not true of most of the other lakes mentioned. With the high cliffs of Jackson on the east and those of Gunsight on the west, the sun will not strike the waters of the lake early in the morning and will cease to touch it early in the afternoon; but, during the middle and warmer portion of the day the surface of the lake will receive the full rays of the sun, with no obstruction whatever. Moreover, owing to this location the snow which will accumulate on the cliffs on either side of the lake will be melted early in the spring by the warm rays, very much earlier than would be the case on the opposite side of the divide, above Gunsight Lake. And again, as stated, the prevailing winds are from the south or southwest. Consequently the warm air from the lower regions will be carried upwards and assist in melting the snow and in warming the waters. We know that this is true in other places in the mountains that have a similar location, and consequently it must be true for this lake. Therefore, although this lake has an elevation of 638 feet above Gunsight Lake, it seems quite certain that it will have as much open season as will the lake at the opposite side of the range. Moreover, it has much greater depth, and this greater depth will give the fish greater room for activity, and will make possible the growth of much larger amount of life for food.

The shore of this lake is certain to be an attractive place for tourists. The scenery in every direction is very impressive, and if the lake is supplied with fish, it will have an additional charm. When the travel in the park becomes reasonably heavy, the number of fish that will be taken from its waters, should it be stocked, will, no doubt, be sufficient to keep down any excess of fish for the amount of food necessary to maintain their existence.

Everything considered, it would appear that this lake should, without question, be stocked with fish, and it is certain that they would do well until they reach such numbers that the food supply of the lake will be exhausted. It is hardly likely that this will be the case for a long time, and before that time comes the number taken from its waters by campers will be large.

The transportation of fish fry could be made from the St. Mary Lake side or from the Lake McDonald direction. If the fish are brought in from the eastern side of the mountains they could be transported from the Great Northern Railway to Upper St. Mary Lake by wagon or automobile, and up Upper St. Mary Lake by boat. From the upper end of Upper St. Mary Lake to Gunsight Lake is three or four hours' travel by pack horse. At Gunsight Lake they could be cared for and the water changed ready for transportation over the pass. A pack horse could be taken from Gunsight Lake over the pass and down to the waters of this lake in four hours or less. By this route the fish would be carried by pack horses for not to exceed eight hours, with opportunity to change the water and care for them at the end of four hours.

If fish are brought from Lake McDonald, they could be taken from the Great Northern Railway at Belton, transported over the excellent road from Belton to Lake McDonald, a distance of only a few miles, then by boat to the upper end of the lake. From Glacier Hotel at the upper end of the lake to Glacier Basin on the trail to Sperry Glacier, the distance is about four hours or less. Here the fish may be cared for and, if desired, a portion could be taken up the trail, about an hour and a half farther, to the small lakes, which lie high up along the trail most traveled at the present time by tourists. From Glacier Basin to this lake is between three and four hours' travel. So that whichever way the fish may be brought in the difficulty of transporting them is not great, and the chances of getting them into the water safely are very good. When once placed in the water they will have no enemies until they reach sufficient size to become enemies to each other.


Two beautiful little lakes lie high up on the mountain side at the end of the Sperry Glacier trail. They are 8 or 9 miles distant by trail from the Glacier Hotel at Lake McDonald. The elevation of the one highest is about 7,800 feet; the other lake is about 75 feet lower. Each lake has an area of from 10 to 20 acres. They are fed by little streamlets coming from springs among the rocks on either side or from snowbanks. A small stream pours over the rocks at the edge of Sperry Glacier, the water from the stream really coming from the snow and ice of Sperry, although the movement of the ice and the general flow of the water is in the opposite direction.

The scenery at these lakes is very rugged and picturesque. On the west lies the bare and rocky summit of Edwards Mountain. At the foot of the cliffs of Edwards and close to both the lakes is the trail leading to Sperry Glacier. The color of these two lakes mentioned is generally a very deep blue. This changes as the light of the sun becomes stronger or weaker or is obstructed by intervening clouds.


These two little lakes are very attractive to tourists, and the trail past them is at present traveled more than any other one in the park. It doubtless will always be the most public trail, especially for those who come into the park by way of Belton. This is because the trail opens up, with a minimum of time and travel, one of the glaciers of the park and one of sufficient size to be of more than passing importance. The magnificent scenery is very attractive and can be reached in a few hours' walk from the hotel. On several occasions I have visited these two little lakes. In the summer of 1911 it was found possible to transport the canvas boat to their waters for the purpose of determining more exactly the depth of the water and the life it contains. The depth of the higher lake only was taken owing to lack of time. It was found that its greatest depth was 32 feet. By the use of the net and dredge the life of the lake was examined. There are considerable quantities of fish food, and it is believed that quite a number of fish could maintain existence here. Owing to the high elevation of the lake and the lack of streams, either as inlets or as outlets, which would give opportunity for the fish to travel, they would be locked in the small lake itself. However, it would seem to be an experiment worth trying to introduce a few fish into each of these little lakes, as they undoubtedly could live, and as the lakes undoubtedly would not freeze to the bottom in winter. It would certainly add greatly to the interest and attractiveness of the trail to tourists if they could climb to this place, which appears to be impossible of ascent when viewed from below, and find at the very end of the trail and high up among the frightful rocks a body of water from which they could draw fish with a hook and line for the noonday meal. It is for this reason only that it is suggested as worthy of a trial, because the lakes are certainly not of sufficient size to maintain any great quantity of fish, and they never could get out.

Owing to lack of time soundings of the lower lake were not taken, but from its general appearance and the character of the rock it is probably not very much unlike the upper one. Previous observations tended to show that it contained about as much food or life as did the higher lake.

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Last Updated: 02-Apr-2007