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Lake McDonald Boat Rentals – What You Need to Know

Updated: Apr 17, 2022

Last year when my fiance and I were first planning our trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, we knew that we wanted to do a Lake McDonald boat rental as part of our trip. The lake is stunning, and to get out there on the water to enjoy our time in such a unique place, we just had to do it! I’m so glad we did.


Here is everything you need to know about Lake McDonald boat rentals.


Who does Lake McDonald boat rentals?


Glacier Park Boat Co. does all boat rentals on Lake McDonald. They have locations for rentals in Apgar (just beyond Glacier’s west entrance) and at the other end of the lake near Lake McDonald Lodge.



On the left is the boat rental station in Apgar. On the right is Lake McDonald Lodge.




Where are Lake McDonald boat rentals?


Lake McDonald Valley is the hub of activity on the west side of Glacier National Park. We chose to stay on the west side of Glacier, mainly because it was cheaper, but also because


Lake McDonald looked beautiful, and we saw the hikes we wanted to do were primarily on this side! We also knew we wanted to kayak on one of the lakes, and Lake McDonald looked like the best one to kayak on because it was so easily accessible from the West Entrance. It’s literally like a 10-minute drive into the park.


In Apgar, the boat and kayak rentals are located right next to Village Inn at Apgar and Cedar Tree Gift Shop. There’s a bunch of shops along the road and a parking lot there – you can’t miss it!


At Lake McDonald Lodge, you’ll find them behind the main lodge building along the edge of the lake. Again – not easy to miss, and plenty of people to point you in the right direction. This was the most crowded place we saw in Glacier NP, so I was delighted we ended up choosing early morning in Apgar to rent a boat instead.


I would highly recommend choosing the Apgar Village location for renting kayaks. We ended up at Lake McDonald Lodge later in the day for a boat tour with Glacier Park Boat Co. It was much more crowded, and the views were not as great as Apgar. That’s where you should rent a boat in Glacier!


pebbles in lake mcdonald two days in glacier national park


kayaking on lake mcdonald two days in glacier national park

Apgar Village views

Reservations


You can make a boat tour reservation for Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, or St. Mary’s Lake. They will allow you to go on Going to the Sun Road with that reservation since these lakes require driving on the road to get to. The boat tour is how we got passes for Going to the Sun Road. They have not announced if this will be the case again, but it could be. Their Instagram is the best place to keep up with information.


You cannot book a motorboat, kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard ahead of time. It is all first-come, first-serve, so it’s best to get there in the morning before Glacier Park Boat Co opens.


However, you can arrive in person and make a reservation to come back. Reservations are available for a limited number of watercraft. Reservations require a minimum of 2-hour rental and are available at 10:00 am only. Rentals will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the ticket office location.


We arrived around 8:15 am, snagged a coffee at the lodge, and were the first in line at the Apgar location! Last summer they opened at 9 am. They have between 2-6 of each type of water vessel so you will have your chance to pick from what you want by arriving early! They only had two working motorboats the morning we were there.


This meant we were the first ones to get onto the lake and got it all to ourselves for the first 15 minutes or so! It was beyond peaceful and gorgeous to be on that lake. It was the perfect way to start the day. The lake’s bottom is covered with colorful pebbles. The water is a beautiful bright blue color due to the iron content in sedimentary pebble rocks and the degree of its oxidation.


It was well worth the earlier drive into the park.


lake mcdonald boarding boat two days in glacier national park

Lake McDonald Lodge Boat tour and rental location.

Boat Rental Options and Hours


All rentals are done by the hour with Glacier Park Boat Company at both locations. They have five different types of water vessels you can take onto the water. The kayaks and motorboats were the first things to go.

  1. $18 an hour for a single kayak

  2. $24 an hour for a double kayak, canoe, or rowboat

  3. $30 an hour for a motorboat

  4. $24 adult, $12 children for one hour boat tour of Lake McDonald with a guide (only from Lake McDonald Lodge)

10:00 am to 8:00 pm      May 14th to September 5th 10:00 am to 6:30 pm      September 6th to September 21st


They take credit cards and will hold your ID for the duration of your rental until it is returned. You prepay before taking the boat on the water and will ask you to pay extra if you go beyond the time requested. Honestly, this is a reasonable price considering how high and in-demand these boat rentals are!


Boat Tour Details


As mentioned at the beginning of the article, we had to book a boat tour to go on Going to the Sun Road. We chose to do a 1 pm boat tour to have a mid-day break. It ended up being a blessing and a curse. It was fantastic to get to ride on a historic boat across Lake McDonald, and the guide was hilarious, but also… it was a historic boat and the hottest part of the day.


We had a tough time hearing our guide, ended up sweating profusely, and fell asleep. Am I glad we did it? Absolutely! Would I recommend it? Only if you need it for a pass or can sit up front so you can hear the guide. The screaming baby and person arguing about wearing their mask were not fun either. Kayak or rent your own boat instead.


You should arrive at the location’s ticket office at least 30 minutes before your tour’s scheduled departure time. Any passenger that is not ready to board the boat 10 minutes before the departure will forfeit their seat. Provide plenty of time to arrive at the ticket office.


They don’t require a ticket in advance, but on the day we were there, they were completely sold out, so it’s best to buy ahead of time on their website.

lunch at lake mcdonald two days in glacier national park



clear water of lake mcdonald two days in glacier national park

Boat dock at Lake McDonald Lodge on the left. View from boat on Lake McDonald on the right.

Lake McDonald Boat Rentals Tips

  1. Arrive early – skip the crowds, make sure you get the boat you want, and enjoy the lake with fewer people

  2. Bring binnoculars – there are animals to be seen on the water while kayaking! There’s even an eagle sanctuary by the Apgar Village location, but we found it really hard to look for animals without binnoculars

  3. Bring your own meal – Lake McDonald Lodge has two restaurants (only one was open last summer), and they tend to have really long lines. Like, over an hour for take-out only… We were so glad we had packed a lunch of our own to enjoy on the lake. We were able to find a park bench near the lake and relax while we ate our packed sandwiches, chips, and snacks. I’d highly recommend this option over getting food in the park.

  4. Apagar Village has a cafe with coffee & snacks in the morning. If you get there early and you’re not alone, this is an easy way for one person to grab you coffee and snacks while the other person waits in line! It was nice to have a warm drink on a chilly mountain morning.



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