Hiking Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park
Cracker Lake was one of the coolest hikes I’ve ever done. But don’t underestimate it! If you hike all the way to the end of the lake, it is about 15 miles round trip. I loved this trail because the terrain was constantly changing. It was also not nearly as busy as I expected. The whole nine hours we were there, we only saw about 30 other people total.
On the Way to Many Glacier
From St. Mary Campground, the drive to the Many Glacier area is about 40 minutes. The Many Glacier road is very rough and full of potholes. We were driving a sedan, so I had to keep maneuvering back and forth to avoid popping a tire. We stopped on the edge of the park next to the Lake Sherburne dam to fly the drone and get some pictures with the most beautiful reflection.
The Cracker Lake trail starts at the south end of the Many Glacier Hotel parking lot. The first 1.5 miles is shared with horses. It had rained heavily the day before we were there, so that part of the trail was already muddy. The horses made it even worse. Most of it was fine to walk in with hiking boots, but there were sections that were fairly deep, so I walked up on the slanted edge. My ankles were a little sore by the end of that stretch from walking on an angle. The majority of this section runs along Lake Sherburne, so the muddy trek is rewarded with beautiful views. This section would be pretty easy if there was no mud, as there is little elevation change.
Next up is a series of switchbacks, where the trail really starts to gain elevation. The trail follows a creek, and we stopped to taste the icy cool glacier water along the way. There are several small river crossings that are shallow and easy to do with hiking boots. We saw a deer here that was grazing right on the trail. She didn’t seem to fear us at all, and only moved out of our way when we were right by her. There was one fairly deep river crossing that had a wooden bridge going across half of it and then you had to hop across rocks on the other half. I ended up getting one of my shoes soaked on the last step across. When you get to the top of the switchbacks, there is an overlook of the creek with the mountains in the background.
As we gained elevation, we came across more spots of patchy snow. Most of it was over river crossings where the water had frozen over in the winter. Now that it was warming up, the water was flowing underneath the snow. We noticed a few spots where there were holes in the snow that had melted and there was a river crossing underneath. I was extra careful not to fall in at those points! The hike continues through a valley, and you can see the mountain at the end of the hike from miles back. It seems like you’re a lot closer than you are and it was frustrating for us as we would climb each hill hoping to see Cracker Lake at the top, only to be disappointed with a view of another hill we had to climb.
When we finally reached the view of Cracker Lake, we all collapsed on the grass overlooking it. I was so tired already and enjoyed a little snooze in the sun to soak up some energy before the hike back. We ate our sandwiches we brought for lunch and then continued on the trail to get to the giant rock formation that overlooks the lake in the middle. If you have the energy, I suggest making it to this area because the view is phenomenal! Make sure you watch your stuff because while we were taking pictures at the top, a marmot stole one of our hiking poles and started chewing on the hand grip!! We had to take it back from him and he ran off.
At this point, the boys had decided they wanted to swim in the lake (which was about 35 degrees F). They hiked down a massive snow bank and Carson and I watched from above while videoing their jump in. This was very entertaining, as they all jumped in and instantly got back out. They said it was worth the experience though!
I was dreading the hike back out because my feet were already hurting and I was very tired. We somehow managed though and collapsed in the parking lot outside of our car at the end. Our reward for finishing was a bag of Cheetos!
If you have the energy and athletic ability to complete this hike, do it! If not, there are plenty of other shorter hikes in the park that are gorgeous. I loved how accomplished I felt when I was done with this trail!
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Check out my video on our week in Glacier!