EAST GLACIER — The night before we were going to hike into Cobalt Lake, my friend read different reviews by people who had done the trek before.
We were staying at the Mountain Pine Motel just a hop from the Two Medicine entrance to Glacier National Park.
We had the perfect Saturday in mind: Tasty Americanos; a vigorous hike, smoke-free; maybe an animal sighting; and dinner at Serrano's, of course.
On my park map, Cobalt Lake seemed to fit the bill: just a smidge over 11 miles, elevation gain of 1,400 feet, vigorous but not difficult to do in one day.
I've explored the Two Medicine area some, but hadn't ever visited Cobalt Lake. My friend read one review by a man from the East Coast who said we in the West will call just about anything a lake.
Cobalt Lake underwhelmed him. His report underwhelmed us, and we stuck with our plan.
The following morning, we weren't in a hurry. We grabbed starter coffee in the motel room, and then great Americanos at Brownie's across the street before hitting the trail at 9:45 a.m.
The trailhead is the one that starts near the boat hut on the south shore of Two Medicine Lake. Right away, the air smelled sweet, a reprieve from the smoke in Missoula.
We kept a steady pace, seeing paintbrush, asters, and slices of majestic views. After a while the trail cut south, past some waterfalls, and then it climbed, climbed, climbed, and climbed some more. The huckleberry bushes along the way were an excellent excuse to pause now and again for a berry and a breather.
We reached the lake shore around noon, and the East Coast man was wrong. Cobalt Lake is small, but it's pretty, clear and reflects the rock faces and brushes of green towering over it. We watched mountain goats — several adults and a couple of kids — wander across the rock high above, and the little ones got frisky.
As of July, visits to Glacier had jumped 19 percent compared to last summer, according to statistics from the National Park Service. The weekend we visited, the fires had blown up on the west side of the park, so I had braced for a flood of people to the east side.
For some reason, things stayed quiet. Only two people were at Cobalt Lake when we got there. We ate lunch, cooled our feet in the frigid water, shooed off an assertive little rodent, and periodically checked on the mountain goats.
An hour later, we were on our way back, and the crowds, if you can call them crowds, were straggling to shore. We probably saw one pair of people, a group of four, and then a larger bunch led by a ranger.
On the way down we took a short spur trail to Rockwell Falls where we heard some backpackers relishing in the glory of being offline and far, far from the national news cycle. They may still be there, actually.
We had wanted to hop to the boat dock on the west end of Two Medicine Lake and ferry across as an end-of-hike treat. Our timing was off, though, so we walked the rest of the way instead, getting back to shore a little after 3 p.m.
We got soft serve ice cream at the store to cool off, and then took in the lake. I recommend a long, easy dip in the water, and really, you can swim in your sneakers if you're done with the hike; they'll dry off.
Yes, you can wear running shoes or hiking shoes on the trails. You don't have to wear boots.
I think you sometimes see enough gear on the trails in Glacier to outfit the entire state. Pack water. Pack your bear spray. Bring fuel. You really don't need to bring half of the products on the shelves of R.E.I. for a day hike.
We ended our day at Serrano's eating Mexican food on the deck. The day went as planned, and I barely noticed the haze that started to filter into the east side of the park.