On the other side of the lake, a moose hides from the hot summer sun and cools off on a melting patch of snow. Towering, purple cliffs of solid granite rise above the cerulean waters while wildflowers bloom in the fields of wild grass all around. The scene is Cracker Lake, located deep in the backcountry of Glacier National Park.
Cracker Lake is reached by a moderate, 12 mile out-and-back trail that begins in the Many Glacier section of the park. Among the million acres of wilderness in the park, this spot may be among the most beautiful and should definitely be at the top of your Glacier National Park hiking bucket list. In this article, we will give you all the information you need to plan your epic Cracker Lake Trail hike.
- Overview | Hiking Cracker Lake Trail in Glacier
- Details | Cracker Lake Trail hike
- Logistics | Planning your Cracker Lake Trail Hike
- When in the best time to hike to Cracker Lake?
- Where to stay before hiking Cracker Lake
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!
About Glacier National Park
Located in northern Montana, Glacier National Park is widely recognized as one of the most beautiful areas in the entire national park system due to its vibrant alpine lakes, rocky mountain peaks, diverse species of wildlife, and stunning vistas. Accordingly, in 2019, the park welcomed over 3 million visitors and annual visitation to the park continues to grow.
With several distinct sections, Glacier National Park spans over 1500 square miles and contains more than 700 miles of trails and approximately 700 lakes. The park is home to a huge variety of wildlife, including mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and the largest population of grizzly bears in the lower 48.
If you are looking for a truly memorable outdoor experience, Glacier should be at the top of your list!
Fun Fact: Ironically, Glacier National Park does not have the highest concentration of glaciers in the contiguous United States. That award instead goes to North Cascades National Park in northern Washington, home to over 300 glaciers!
About Cracker Lake in Glacier
Cracker Lake is one of the most beautiful hikes in Glacier National Park. The lake itself is known for its bright blue water, which looks like it can’t possibly be real. It’s unlike any lake we have ever seen! Surrounded by mountains and wildflowers in every direction, Cracker Lake truly epitomizes the rugged beauty of Glacier National Park.
The Cracker Lake Trail is located in the Many Glacier section of Glacier National Park, on the northeastern side of the park. Although Cracker Lake is a popular hike, you can expect to find fewer crowds than more famous hikes like the Highline Trail and Hidden Lake Trail, which are located off the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Remember to Leave No Trace. Pack out what you pack in, stay on trail, be well-prepared, leave nothing behind, take only photos and memories with you, treat the area with respect and help preserve this beautiful spot for generations to come.
Cracker Lake Trail: Hike Overview
Hiking distance | 12 miles
Elevation gain | 1650 feet
Total time | 6 – 8 hours
Epic-ness rating | 8
Difficulty | Moderate
Find this hike on AllTrails: Cracker Lake Trail
- Stunning teal alpine lake
- Escape the large crowds found on many hikes in Glacier
- Option for an epic backpacking trip
- Good chance of seeing wildlife
- Part of Cracker Lake Trail is used by horses, making for a smelly, mucky first few miles
- Long drive to reach the trailhead from more popular areas of Glacier (Going to the Sun Road)
How difficult is the Cracker Lake Trail hike?
Cracker Lake Trail is a moderately difficult hike. The six-mile trek out to the lake only gains about 1600 feet of elevation, making for a fairly gradual incline. There are a few steep up and down sections, but nothing too difficult. As such, Cracker Lake is a great hike for beginner and seasoned hikers alike!
Hike Details | Cracker Lake Trail
In the section below, we’ll detail each part of Cracker Lake Trail so you know what to expect from the hike.
We hiked to Cracker Lake as a one-night backpacking trip, spending the night on the shores of the lake. Backpacking to Cracker Lake was easily our favorite experience in Glacier National Park, and remains one of our all time favorites backpacking trips.
Almost immediately upon arrival at Cracker Lake, an afternoon thunderstorm rolled in and we quickly threw our tents up and took shelter. For the next hour, we napped to the peaceful sound of raindrops on our tent and thunder rumbling in the distance, before the sun finally came out again just before dark.
We spent the evening watching the sunset over the lake, and were thrilled when we spotted two moose all the way across the lake – so far away you could barely spot them! One was cooling itself on a patch of melting snow and the other opted to cool off by going for a swim in the lake!
Sunrise at Cracker Lake
The next morning, we woke up for the sunrise and headed up to a rocky viewpoint overlooking the lake. A surreal morning was made even better when the two moose we had spotted the night before came strolling around the lake, walking right behind our tents through our campsite! It was a magical morning and one that we will never forget.
If you’re into backpacking, we can’t recommend spending a night at Cracker Lake enough!
Getting to the Cracker Lake trailhead
The trailhead for Cracker Lake is located just behind Many Glacier Lodge. Parking is available on the hill behind the lodge. Head past the horseback riding ticket booth, and you will find the trailhead on the southern side of the parking lot.
Starting the hike
The first few miles of the trail are shared with horses. Unfortunately, this means… a lot of poop! It smells, it’s gross, but we promise that Cracker Lake is worth slogging through!
Be Bear Aware! This is grizzly territory, and the trail to Cracker Lake winds through some pretty thick brush. Hike in groups and make lots of noise as you go – clacking hiking poles, raising your voice, etc – to avoid sneaking up on a bear. It may sound silly, but it’s better than coming face to face with a grizzly!
About half a mile into the hike, you’ll get a view of the southwestern end of Lake Sherburne. The trail continues along the lake for another half a mile. After passing the lake, you with cross over Allen Lake and reach an intersection. Follow the trail to the right to continue towards Cracker Lake.
In another quarter mile, you will reach another intersection. Stay to the right once again and make your way up a series of switchbacks.
After a few series of switchbacks, the trail levels off and you will reach Canyon Creek. This is about the halfway point of the hike, so it’s a great place to rest and have a snack. The trail continues along Canyon Creek for about a mile. Canyon Creek eventually leads all the way to Cracker Lake, though it is not visible at all times from the remaining section of the trail.
Cracker Lake viewpoints
At 5.5 miles into the hike, you will come up over a hill and finally catch your first view of Cracker Lake! The vibrant color of the lake is shocking – it’s hard to believe a place like this exists in real life, not just in over-edited photos! The lake is larger than you’d expect and there is more to see, so continue along the trail from here.
In another quarter mile, there is a rocky viewpoint looking down over Cracker Lake. This is the perfect spot to rest and enjoy lunch while you take in the views.
Continue to the shore of Cracker Lake
From the viewpoint at the end of the hike, you can continue along a short, steep trail down to the shore of Cracker Lake. It’s definitely worth dipping your foot into the ice-cold glacial waters, or if you’re feeling bold, taking a plunge into the frigid lake! On a hot summer, day this is the perfect way to cool off after a long hike, but don’t expect to swim for long!
The water is so cold it literally takes your breath away, and almost as soon as your body hits the water you’ll be scrambling out.
Campsites at Cracker Lake
Cracker Lake features three incredible backcountry campsites, with views looking down over the lake. Perhaps the most beautiful backcountry campsites we’ve ever seen, waking up to a sunrise at Cracker Lake is a one-of-a-kind experience! Permits are required to backpack, and you can find more information about backpacking to Cracker Lake below.
Cracker Lake is an out and back hike, so once you’ve soaked up every last drop of beauty, return back the way you came.
Logistics | Planning your Cracker Lake Hike
In this section, we’ll help you plan all the details for your hiking trip to Glacier, from when to visit, to where to stay and what to pack.
When is the best time of year to hike Cracker Lake Trail?
The best time to hike to Cracker Lake is mid June through mid September. Peak hiking season in Glacier starts surprisingly late in the summer, so if you plan to do other popular hikes, like the Highline Trail or Grinnell Glacier, we wouldn’t recommend planning your trip for before July. In fact, the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road that bisects Glacier National Park typically doesn’t open completely until early July due to snow cover.
Compared to other popular trails in the park, Cracker Lake is located at a relatively lower elevation, so it’s typically passable by mid-June. The backcountry campsites at the lake are reservable starting on June 15th.
Where to stay before hiking Cracker Lake Trail
There is a campground, lodge, and inn located in Many Glacier, within a few minutes of the trailhead for Cracker Lake, making for convenient options to stay before you hike.
Many Glacier campground
Many Glacier Campground is located less than 5 minutes from the trailhead for Cracker Lake. There are 109 campsites at Many Glacier Campground, and sites cost $23 per night. The campground is open mid May through mid September.
During peak season (early June through early September), half of the campsites are reservable in advance on recreation.gov, and the remaining campsites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
If you plan to aim for a first-come-first-serve spot, be aware that this is a very popular campground and spots fill up quickly. You can check historic fill times in advance of your trip to get a sense of how early you will need to arrive to get a spot.
Many Glacier Lodge
When Glacier was first designated as a National Park in early 1900, the park constructed a series of buildings meant to portray Glacier as “America’s Switzerland”. Many Glacier Lodge was one of those buildings and still welcomes visitors today.
Sitting right on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, Many Glacier Lodge is absolutely beautiful and super convenient as a home base for hiking to Cracker Lake. However, this magical place comes with a high price tag. Nightly rates run close to $500 during the peak season, and rooms book up many months in advance!
Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins
If Many Glacier Lodge is a bit out of your price range, the nearby Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins offers rustic cabins and motel-style rooms at more budget-friendly rates. However, staying anywhere inside Glacier is always pricey, so expect to pay between $200 and $300 per night during peak season.
Other campgrounds in Glacier
If you want to camp and aren’t able to get a spot at Many Glacier Campground, there are a total of 13 campgrounds in Glacier National Park.
That being said, because the park is so huge, some of the campgrounds are more than 2 hours away from the Cracker Lake trailhead. Your best alternative to Many Glacier is St. Mary Campground, located about 40 minutes away, followed by Rising Sun Campground, which is about 50 minutes away.
Backpacking Cracker Lake Trail
The best way to experience Cracker Lake (in our opinion) is as a one-night backpacking trip. There’s nothing quite like waking up to the sun rising over the lake with the mountains reflecting onto the water!
Permits are required for backcountry camping in Glacier National Park. Two-thirds of backcountry sites may be reserved in advance via a lottery system and the remaining sites are available as first-come-first-serve walk-in permits.
The campsites at Cracker Lake are open starting on June 15th. Backcountry campsites are $7 per person per night and a $40 fee is charged for advance reservations.
- You can find more information about backpacking in Glacier here.
What to pack for your Cracker Lake Hike
Before you begin your Cracker Lake hike, make sure you are prepared with the following essentials:
- National Parks Pass | gives you access to all U.S. National Parks for one year.
- Bear Spray (Counter Assault)| There are grizzly bears in the area around Cracker Lake. Be sure to carry a can of bear spray in an accessible location (odds are you won’t need it, but in case you do, you want it to be easy to grab).
- Backpack with bladder (Hers: CamelBak Helena 20L, His: Camelback Rim Runner 22L) | We both love our Camelback day hiking backpacks. They’re just big enough to hold the essentials and even come with a 2 liter bladder!
- Hiking boots (Hers: Danner Mountain 600s, His: Salomon Ultra 4 Mid GTX) | While not particularly steep, the hike to Cracker Lake is long so a good pair of hiking boots will help keep your feet comfortable.
- Pullovers (Hers: Smartwool Merino Quarter Zip, His: Smartwool Merino Quarter Zip) | Expect chilly mornings in Glacier, even during the summer. We love our comfortable and warm Smartwool quarter zips!
- Down Jacket (Hers: Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Hoodie, His: Cotopaxi Fuego Men’s)| Be prepared for chilly mornings in Glacier, even during the summer.
- GPS Device (Garmin InReach Mini) | The trail to Cracker Lake is easy to follow, but there is no service in this area of the park. We always carry our Garmin on remote hikes in case of an emergency.
- Bug Spray | The mosquitos around Cracker Lake can be brutal!
- Headlamp | Always good to have on a long hike in case you finish hiking later than expected. We both use the Black Diamond Storm 400.
- Plenty of water and water filter (Katadyn BeFree) | Whether you’re backpacking or just day hiking, a Katadyn water filter is great to have because it allows you to carry less water and is so easy to use!
- Camera (Canon M100)| Cracker Lake is picturesque. The photo opportunities are endless, and it’s totally worth carrying a camera with you. The Canon M100 was my first “real” camera and its compact size makes it great for hiking, while still taking great quality photos!
If you want to go swimming in Cracker Lake, don’t forget these:
- Bathing suit | If you’re bold enough to take a plunge into Cracker Lake, bring a bathing suit so you don’t have to wear wet clothes the entire hike back.
- Towel (PackTowl lightweight towel) | If you do decide to take a swim in the frigid Cracker Lake, you will want to make sure you have something to dry off with afterward!
P.S. If you plan to backpack to Cracker Lake, you can find a complete list of our favorite backpacking gear essentials here.
Other useful resources
Planning a trip to Glacier? Interesting in adding a road trip to Grand Teton in Wyoming or the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho? Check out the resources below!
- Scenic Point in Glacier National Park’s Two Medicine
- 18 Best Hikes in Grand Tetons National Park
- A Complete Guide to Hiking to Holly Lake in Grand Teton
- How to Hike to Delta Lake in Wyoming
- The Perfect 2 Day Grand Teton Itinerary
- Backpacking the Alice Toxaway Loop in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains
- Sawtooth Lake in Idaho: Ultimate Trail Guide
Have you been to Glacier National Park yet? Questions about hiking Cracker Lake Trail? Let us know in the comments below!