Hiking to Cracker Lake
One of our favorite hikes from the whole trip was our hike to Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park (GNP). We decided to do this hike on the day we were also supposed to be driving up to Banff National Park. We wanted to fit in one more adventure in GNP before leaving so Cracker Lake it was!
The hike is 12.6 miles out-and-back if you go all the way out to Red Rock Overlook, which we did. The drive to the trailhead was amazing. Lake Sherburne has quite a bit of glacier flour in it and is six miles long so we had a few minutes while we were driving up with amazing views of the lake and mountains around Many Glacier. At the beginning of the trail you'll hike by multiple signs warning you that you are in "prime grizzly country" and that you need to have bear spray. (Side Note: if you hike ANYWHERE out west you have to have bear spray on you.) But we didn't see a single bear probably because we were pretty good at whistling, talking and clapping our hands periodically. But anyways, back to the hike! We started around Lake Sherburne and then hiked straight into the woods for a few miles before tackling a few sets of switchbacks. After about three miles we emerged from the woods and we were down in an incredible canyon! We hiked along a river and along the sides of the mountain, tripping over our feet because our eyes were always looking up at the mountains around us. We crossed over Canyon Creek and disappeared back into the forest for the last time before emerging once again on the other side. Towering mountains rose from both sides of us and the views were endless looking down both sides of the valley. After a few miles of traversing the valley we finally came to Cracker Lake. No pictures could have prepared us for the color of the lake in person! The turquoise was a shade I'd never seen before and it changed ever so slightly when the sun went behind the clouds. My camera couldn't capture the color and after messing around in photoshop for over half an hour Michael and I felt nothing really showed the true color. It really was amazing!
The color of the water is due to "glacial flour." Glacial flour is created when glaciers grind down the surrounding rocks into a fine powder or silt. This silt is carried by runoff and rain water into the lakes and rivers but it isn't heavy enough to sink in the water so instead it is suspended throughout the water. The result is rivers and lakes that look bright turquoise, bright emerald and milky white... depending on the kinds of rock powder concentrations! Pretty cool right?
From the first overlook at 5.8 miles we decided to hike the additional half mile around the lake to the red rock outcropping. At the outcropping we found a little crevice to shelter us from the whipping wind and ate some snacks and enjoyed the view. After lunch we hiked the half mile back to the top of the lake to stretch and enjoy the view one last time before beginning our hike back. The hike was so fun and my favorite part was probably the thousands (Michael reading over my shoulder just said, "Thousands? Maybe millions...") of wildflowers that dotted the hillsides with so many amazing colors. We were so lucky that the wildflowers were in full bloom the entire time we were out west.
This is so off track but growing up my parents used to read us a book called The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush. (If you have kids you should get this book! It was one of my favorites.) I've remembered the book my whole life but it wasn't until now that I've seen Indian Paintbrush in person and it was so gorgeous and definitely my favorite wildflower we saw while out there!
After we finished our hike we began our drive up to Lake Louise in Banff National Park. Doing this hike meant we arrived to our campsite a little late in the night (like 10:30pm) but it was so worth it. If you're ever in Glacier do this hike! It's amazing how if you hike over 5 miles in the park you lose most everyone else, it's definitely worth it :)