The view from atop Apikuni peak, Nataki lake is the small ice covered lake
Natahki Lake is one of the lesser known gems of Glacier National Park. As far a sheer breathtaking beauty this lake may not stand up against many of the better known lakes in the park but the author has always found this to be one of the most enjoyable half day hikes in the park.
The slopes around Nataki are covered in Glacier lily's early in the year
If one wants to spend a few hours in solitude with their climbing companions there are few lakes that offer the peace of Natahki.
Looking down on Natahki from the summit of Apikuni. Grinnel point, Angels wing and Mount Gould lie directly behind the lake. Left of Gould along the Garden wall are Bishops cap, Pollock, and Piegan mountains. Mount Jackson looms above Piegan.
That being said the true greatness of Nataki is that it is a wonderful lunch stop on the way to up to the high peaks that surround it. The author has climbed Altyn, Henkel, and Apikuni mountains on different trips after enjoying an early lunch at the lake. The trip up any of these mountains (as well as the extended option of crowfeet) are made much more enjoyable by including a stop at Nataki. (Note I have climbed each of these mountains individually following different routes and have found this to be the most enjoyable by far.)
The route starts at the Apikuni falls trail head 1 mile before the turn to Many Glacier hotel or two miles before Swiftcurrent campground and the end of the Many Glacier road.
Note: I have included several maps that may be of use on this route.
This Google earth image show the entire route to Natahki lake
Follow the Apikuni falls trail until it makes a sharp left and their is an obvious trail straight ahead. Follow this game trail to the broad valley above Apikuni falls. The game trail continues through the valley until you reach a large gully after which the trail deteriotes. From there cross the small gully and continue towards the cliffs of the hanging valley in which Natahki lies. You will see three obviouse breaks on the eastern face of the wall. I have found that the second of these breaks is the easiest, and you will encounter only class 2 pitches (maybe 1 or 2 brief periods of class 3 depending on snow conditions). After reaching the top of the climb I have found that it is much easier to reach Natahki lake if walk to the south (the climber's left facing Mt. Altyn) and follow the rim of the hanging valley back to the west. This route allows you to avoid the difficult to navigate through and sometimes bushwhack prone forest that lies directly ahead. The rocky outcrop not only allows you to avoid the bushwhack through the forest but it all so allows one to see the unnamed lake that lies beneath Natahki. Note: do not confuse this with our main objective, continue to the west and Natahki is directly below you on a gradual walk (or snow slide depending on the time of year).
A closer view of the second break that should be used to gain access to the hanging valley
Route with topographic map
Hiking poles or an ice ax would be helpful in any early season climbs (before mid July in most areas of GNP) . The experience and ability to self arrest oneself on steep snow slopes is a vital skill that all should be familiar with before venturing off trail in GNP or any other area for that matter. Many of my most freightining momets have not been on class 3-4-5 pitches but on steep snow slopes when I was unfamiliar with, unprepared, or ill equipped to arrest myself.
I have hiked to Natahki as early as June 19. One of the nice things about this lake is that it allows you easy access to Altyn and Apikuni early in the year. On several early season hikes I choose the third of the gullies described above. The second was just to full of snow and the steepness of the break would have caused it hard to arrest on if you fell. The third break is less prone to be completely full of snow and allows access to the lake early in the season. This route however contains several class 3-4 pitches which can be complicated by slick rocks early in the year. I do not recommend it to those unfamiliar with the rock and conditions in Glacier.
Many Glacier campground is only 2 miles from the tail head. This is the premier campground in Glacier National Park and can fill up as early as 10am, so if you plan to camp there I advise that you arrive before 9am. The sites in the rear of the campground by the stream are particularly amazing if you are lucky enough to grab one. The Saint Mary campground is also only a 25 minute drive away and fills up much later than the Many Glacier campground.