Hyalite Creek Trail to Crater Lake
(12 miles, +4,500/-2,000 feet).
My buddy UltraShuffle called me a few months ago saying he had a wedding in Bozeman, Montana coming up, and could we please go hiking in Glacier National Park?
Sure, no problem!
So I designed a trip, we went back and forth on the details, and I submitted an application for a beautiful loop to the backcountry office starting right after my son’s birthday.
I bought a plane ticket to Bozeman. And then we waited.
A few weeks later we heard back: DENIED!
Why? Who knows. Probably because too many people were ahead of us in the lottery, but we’ll never know because we just got a boilerplate rejection letter. So lesson learned: if you want to backpack Glacier, you probably need more flexibility with dates than we had.
But we still had five days set aside to backpack, so we looked around Bozeman. And sure enough, there is a gorgeous ridge hike called the Gallatin Crest that goes all the way from the Hyalite Reservoir near Bozeman to the Sky Rim Trail in Yellowstone.
We originally planned to hike about 50 miles south to north, but when it came time to fly out for the trip the weather forecast was dire. Thunderstorms were likely for the next four days. Not a good prognosis for a very exposed ridge hike!
Add to that another problem: Yellowstone is very restrictive — you can only camp in designated spots, and we had not bothered to get a permit since we expected to make good time on the ridge and get to Gallatin National Forest the first night. We needed flexibility with the bad weather coming, so we reversed the route to give ourselves more options for camping on the first night.
So UltraShuffle, his son RainbowT, and I headed out to the Grotto Falls Trailhead this morning to start our hike. UltraShuffle has another son who attends college nearby, so he gave us a ride (thanks Clifford!). And then we started a slow, long climb through the woods next to Hyalite Creek.
It rained last night, so all the plants were covered in drops of water, and the numerous waterfalls in the valley were running strong and bright.
Beautiful red mountains tower above the canyon on either side.
By 10:30am we made it to Hyalite Lake where we had a nice snack break.
After our break we headed up towards Hyalite Peak
Once we got a few hundred feet below the pass we decided to head straight up a steepening talus field.
The cornice at the pass was steep but soft so kicking steps was easy.
From the pass, the trail continues up to Hyalite Peak, but we decided to take a use trail below to keep our elevation constant and rejoin the trail on the other side.
Soon we were back on the main trail and right on the Gallatin Crest.
The crest trail is a roller coaster – we were constantly going up one little bump on the ridge and down the other side.
Around noon storm clouds started gathering.
Around 1pm we heard our first thunder. It was never closer than a mile, but given how exposed we were it was a little nerve-wracking. One part of the trail threatened to go right up to the tallest point anywhere for two miles in any direction, but to our relief it skirted just below. We high-tailed it anyway, making it down to Crater Lake by a little before 2pm.
The storm never really made it to us. We got some sprinkles now and then, but nothing major, and we were protected in our copse of trees. After we set up our tents and had a nice lunch, we explored around the lake and gathered wood for a fire.
We lazed around for a few hours and had dinner around 5pm. By 6pm we were fading. I snapped a couple of “sunset” photos and climbed into my tent. Shortly after that we got a good rain, and I am now cozy in my sleeping bag ready for sleep.