With purple cliffs of solid granite tower over cerulean waters, surrounded by a grassy meadow with windflowers blooming, Cracker Lake is perhaps the most beautiful spot to camp in Glacier National Park! Cracker Lake is reached by a moderate, 12 mile out-and-back trail located in the Many Glacier section of the park. Far from the chaos of Glacier’s famous Going to the Sun Road, Cracker Lake is the perfect spot to find some solitude. In this article, we will give you all the information you need to plan your epic Cracker Lake trail hike or overnight backpacking trip.

Cracker Lake Trail in Glacier National Park

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Cracker Lake Trail in Glacier National Park

Cracker Lake Trail

  • Hiking distance | 12 miles
  • Elevation gain | 1650 feet
  • Total time | 6 – 8 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 8
  • Difficulty | Moderate
  • Permits | Required for overnight stays

Find this hike on AllTrails: Cracker Lake Trail

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.

Highlights

  • 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

Lowlights

  • 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)
Bright teal waters of Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park, a 12-mile out and back trail.

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!

A stunning sunrise and reflection over Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park

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How difficult is Cracker Lake Trail?

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!

When is the best time 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.

Backpackers walk down to their campsites beside Cracker Lake

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 National Park on the NPS website.
Moose walk through a campsite at Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park

Cracker Lake HIKE DETAILS

In the section below, we’ll detail each part of Cracker Lake Trail so you know what to expect from the hike.

Our experience

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!

Moose walk through a campsite at Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park
Moose walk through a campsite at Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park
Moose stroll through the campsite at Cracker Lake

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!

Lake Sherburne

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.

Canyon Creek

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.

A rocky area perfect for taking a rest along Cracker Lake trail
Canyon Creek is a nice spot to rest about halfway to Cracker Lake

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.

Two backpackers at Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park
A hiker sits on the shore of Cracker Lake, with a stunning reflection overhead.
Sunrise over Cracker Lake, with a mountain casting a reflection over the teal waters.
Seeing the sunrise at Cracker Lake is worth a one-night backpacking trip!

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.

Two hikers taking a swim in Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park
The water at Cracker Lake is freezing! If you take the plunge, you won’t want to stay in long.

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. 

Tents setup at the three designated campsites around Cracker Lake
The campsites at Cracker Lake offer a prime view of the water!

Return hike

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. 

Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park from the far end of the lake looking backwards.

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.

Beautiful views from Cracker Lake Trail hike in Glacier National Park

What to pack for HIKING Cracker Lake

Before you set off on 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).
  • 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!
  • 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!
  • 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) | To dry off with after taking a frigid swim!

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 road trip to Glacier National Park? You may also be interested in these nearby adventures!

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Have you been to Glacier National Park yet? Questions about hiking to Cracker Lake? Let us know in the comments below!

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