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Glacier National Park: Backpack to Cracker Lake

backpack to cracker lake

the rundown

Duration: 2 days/1 night

Distance: 12.2 miles round-trip

Elevation Gain: 1,400'

Trailhead: Cracker Lake Trailhead

The highlight of Alex's and my trip to Montana was an overnight at the Cracker Lake backcountry campsite in Glacier. It is a destination I have been wanting to make it to since last summer and it felt so surreal finally rounding the corner to see the icy blue Cracker Lake nestled below towering 4000' mountains. Unfortunately, the weather left something to be desired for the duration of our time in Glacier and this hike was no exception but we pushed through and made the best of it, even if that meant stopping every 15 minutes to either put on or remove our rain gear. 

planning your hike to cracker lake

Are permits required? Yes. Half of all backcountry campsites in Glacier National Park are available for advanced reservations, if a campsite has an odd number of campsites they round up. Reservations for each season are accepted on March 15 through their online advanced reservation application (HERE). If you choose to reserve your campsite ahead of time you will be charged $40 ($10 administrative fee + $30 fulfilled trip request fee). When you pick up your permit in person the day of or before your trip you will be charged an additional $7 per person per night. If you don't plan your trip ahead of time you can attempt to score one of the sites reserved for first-come first-serve permits no sooner than the day before your trip. Since this hike was a bit of a last minute decision during my trip to Glacier this was the route I chose. The website has an availability calendar for each backcountry site in the park. Cracker Lake has 3 backcountry campsites and 2 are available for advanced reservation, leaving one available for a walk-in permit. I showed up at the ranger station at 6:30am (they open at 7am) the day before our hike in order to secure the last campsite. In addition to the permit you will be required to pay the $25 entrance fee for Glacier National Park (good for 7 days).

How to get to Glacier and the trailhead: The nearest airport to Glacier is in Kalispell. Cracker Lake is located in Many Glacier and is accessed from the east side of the park. The trailhead to Cracker Lake is located in the large parking lot behind the Many Glacier Hotel. The parking lot is large so even during busy times finding a spot shouldn't be a problem. Before setting out on your hike you will need to pick up your permit at a ranger station. The nearest ranger station in Many Glacier is located just behind the Many Glacier Campground a few minutes further down Route 3. 

                            For Google Directions Click  HERE

                            For Google Directions Click HERE

                           For Google Directions Click  HERE

                           For Google Directions Click HERE

When to go: July - September (I would recommend August). The backpacking season is short in Glacier. Going-to-the-Sun road doesn't open until late June or early July and most of the trails are still snow-filled well into July. You can check the trail status of the Many Glacier trails through this link to make sure the trail is open before heading out. July and August are the most popular months to visit as the trail and roads are clear and the temperatures are warm, however, it will be harder to get a permit during this time. 

Special Notes: Grizzly and black bears call Glacier home so it is imperative that you carry bear spray and know how to use it, make noise, and hike in large groups. Despite making noise Alex and I ran into a bear on the trail and I am glad that we were prepared and knew what to do in that situation. 

Gear to Pack:

  • The 10 Essentials
  • Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent
  • Bear spray
  • Bear bag - there is a pole at the backcountry site where you must hang your food/scented items
  • Insect repellent
  • Camera gear
  • Trekking poles
  • Water filter


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