Kintla Lake Glacier National Park

Kintla Lake, Glacier National Park

Kintla Lake

Key Takeaways:

  • Kintla Lake is the fourth largest lake in Glacier National Park, Montana, renowned for its remote beauty and abundant wildlife.
  • Its name stems from the Kutenai word “sack,” reflecting a local legend about its depth and potential danger.
  • The lake offers various recreational activities like camping, fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing, all within a stunning natural setting.

General Information:

  • Name of the Lake: Kintla Lake
  • Location: Northwestern portion of Glacier National Park, Montana, near the Canada-US border.
  • Type of Lake: Glacial
  • Formation: Carved by glaciers during the last ice age.
  • Geographical Coordinates: Approximately 49°07′N 114°09′W (Please note that exact coordinates may vary depending on the source.)

Physical Characteristics:

  • Size: 1,698 acres (687 hectares) in surface area, roughly 8 miles (12.9 kilometers) long and up to 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) wide.
  • Depth: Average depth of 131 feet (40 meters), with a maximum depth of 390 feet (120 meters).
  • Volume of Water: Estimated to be approximately 144 billion gallons (545 billion liters).
  • Shoreline Length: Approximately 12 miles (20 kilometers).
  • Elevation: 4,008 feet (1,221 meters) above sea level.
  • Water Clarity and Color: Generally clear and blue, with slight variations depending on weather and seasonal factors.
  • Temperature: Varies seasonally, with average summer temperatures in the 60s°F (15-20°C) and winter temperatures below freezing.
  • Ice Cover: The lake typically freezes over in December and thaws in late spring or early summer.


  • Water Source: Primarily fed by snowmelt from surrounding mountains and precipitation.
  • Outflow: The North Fork Flathead River is the primary outflow.
  • Water Level Fluctuations: Water levels fluctuate seasonally, typically rising in spring and summer due to snowmelt and decreasing in fall and winter.
  • Catchment Area: The drainage basin encompassing the area contributes water to the lake.

Ecology and Biodiversity:

  • Flora: Aquatic plants include various submerged and emergent species, while shoreline vegetation comprises diverse wildflowers, grasses, and coniferous trees.
  • Fauna: The lake supports a diverse fish population, including bull trout, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, and lake whitefish. Birds, amphibians, mammals, and various other wildlife species are also present in the surrounding area.
  • Invasive Species: While not currently a major concern, invasive species like zebra mussels and Asian carp pose a potential threat.
  • Conservation Status: The lake and its surrounding ecosystem are protected within Glacier National Park, and various conservation efforts are in place to maintain its ecological health.

Water Quality and Environmental Concerns:

  • Pollution Sources: The remote location currently minimizes the risk of significant pollution, but potential threats include agricultural runoff from upstream and climate change impacts.
  • Conservation Efforts and Regulations: The National Park Service implements regulations to protect water quality, such as restrictions on motorized boats and waste disposal.
  • Water Quality Indicators: The NPS monitors water quality through regular testing of parameters like pH, nutrient levels, and potential contaminants.
  • Eutrophication and Algal Blooms: While not a current issue, eutrophication (excessive nutrient enrichment) and algal blooms could become a concern if human activity or environmental factors change significantly.

Climate and Weather:

  • Average Weather Conditions: The area experiences a continental climate with warm, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. Average annual temperatures range from 27°F (-3°C) to 47°F (8°C), with average annual precipitation of around 20 inches (51 centimeters).
  • Seasonal Weather Patterns: Summers are characterized by warm days and cool nights, with occasional thunderstorms. Winters are cold and snowy, with temperatures often below freezing.
  • Climate Change Impact: Climate change is a growing concern for Kintla Lake and the surrounding ecosystem, potentially leading to increased water temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and more extreme weather events.

History and Cultural Significance:

  • Historical Importance: The area has long been inhabited by indigenous peoples, including the Kutenai tribe. The lake
  • The lake likely held significance for the Kutenai people, potentially reflected in the name “Kintla” and associated legends.
  • European exploration and settlement in the area began in the late 19th century, leading to the establishment of Glacier National Park in 1910.

Recreational Activities:

  • Boating and Sailing: Not permitted as motorboats are prohibited, but paddling with kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards is allowed.
  • Fishing: Popular for catching various trout species, with regulations and license requirements in place.
  • Swimming and Beaches: While no designated swimming beaches exist, the lake offers opportunities for swimming at your own risk, considering water temperature and potential hazards.
  • Hiking and Camping: Several trails offer scenic views and access to the lake, including the Kintla Lake Trail and the Upper Kintla Lake Trail. Camping options include the Kintla Lake Campground, known for its remote and quiet setting.
  • Water Sports: Kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding are popular activities due to the calm and scenic waters.
  • Wildlife Watching: The area around the lake provides excellent opportunities to observe diverse wildlife, including birds, bears, deer, and more.

Infrastructure and Human Use:

  • Dams and Reservoirs: No dams or reservoirs are present on the lake, preserving its natural state.
  • Water Extraction: The lake is not used as a primary source of drinking water or irrigation.
  • Tourism: The lake attracts visitors seeking outdoor recreation and experiencing the unique natural beauty of Glacier National Park. Limited facilities are available, focusing on maintaining a wilderness experience.
  • Local Communities and Economies: Nearby communities like Polebridge rely on tourism, with local businesses catering to visitors seeking accommodations, food, and outdoor gear.

Legal and Administrative Aspects:

  • Ownership and Management: Kintla Lake falls under the ownership and management of the National Park Service (NPS) as part of Glacier National Park.
  • Regulations and Restrictions: The NPS enforces regulations to ensure visitor safety, protect the natural environment, and preserve the lake’s ecological integrity. These include restrictions on motorized boats, camping permits, and responsible waste disposal practices.
  • International Agreements: As Kintla Lake lies entirely within the United States, no international agreements are applicable.

Challenges and Threats:

  • Environmental Threats: Potential threats include climate change impacts like rising water temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and increased wildfire risk. Additionally, human activities upstream and potential invasive species pose risks.
  • Conservation Challenges: Balancing recreational use with preserving the lake’s natural features and ecological health is an ongoing challenge. Managing visitor behavior, maintaining water quality, and mitigating the impacts of climate change are crucial aspects of conservation efforts.
  • Sustainability Initiatives: The NPS implements various sustainability initiatives within the park, including promoting responsible tourism practices, monitoring and managing invasive species, and conducting research to inform conservation strategies.


Kintla Lake

Kintla Lake stands out as a remote yet accessible gem within Glacier National Park, offering stunning scenery, diverse wildlife, and various recreational opportunities. Understanding its ecological significance, cultural context, and potential challenges is crucial for appreciating its unique value and ensuring its long-term health.


Q: What activities can I enjoy at Kintla Lake?

A: Visitors to Kintla Lake can enjoy activities such as canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and hiking.

Q: Are motorized watercraft allowed at Kintla Lake?

A: No, motorized watercraft are not allowed at Kintla Lake, making it a perfect spot for paddling enthusiasts.

Q: What kind of fish can I catch at Kintla Lake?

A: Kintla Lake is known for its trout population, making it a great destination for fishing.

Q: What amenities are available at Kintla Lake Campground?

A: The amenities at Kintla Lake Campground include a hand pump for potable water and pit toilets.

Q: Are there RV and trailer accommodations at Kintla Lake Campground?

A: Due to the challenging dirt road leading to the campground, RVs and truck and trailer combinations are not recommended.

Q: How can I reach Kintla Lake?

A: To reach Kintla Lake, visitors can take North Fork Road, which is 14.3 miles north of Polebridge.

Q: Are there any limitations on the duration of stay at Kintla Lake Campground?

A: The maximum stay at Kintla Lake Campground is limited to 7 days.

Q: What are some of the natural features of Kintla Lake?

A: Kintla Lake is one of the largest lakes in Glacier National Park, spanning over 8 miles in length and up to a mile wide. Its remote location adds to its appeal, offering a sense of solitude and tranquility.

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