Goat Lake Hike, Waterton Lakes National Park

Goat Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park
Goat Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park

The Goat Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park is a moderate hike that is easy for the first 4 km or so but then there’s a thigh burner of a hill takes you up to a waterfall and finally Goat Lake. Speedy hikers may want to add on Avion Ridge – a high mountain ridge in the northwest corner of the park. Access to the Goat Lake hike is via a trailhead at the end of the scenic Red Rock Parkway.

Goat Lake hike summary

Distance: 13.6 km (8.5 miles) round trip
Elevation gain: 525 m or 1,722 ft.
Trail rating: Moderate
Hiking time: Allow 4- 5 hours round trip

  • You will need a parks pass to do the Goat Lake hike. They can be purchased at the entrance to Waterton or online. If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in Canada’s national parks over the year, the Discovery Pass is your best bet.
  • Check trail reports for up to date trail information before you go. The Goat Lake trail often gets closed at the last minute due to grizzly bear activity.
  • Recommended reading – Tips for Staying Safe in Bear Country.
  • Dogs are permitted on the trail if on a leash.
  • Always pack the 10 hiking essentials.
  • The paper map to take is Gem Trek Waterton
  • After the Kenow fire in 2017 there is a lot more sun exposure, so be sure to bring a sun hat and lots of sunscreen. The steep hike to the lake can be a hot one.

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It's a steep hike to the lip on the Goat Lake hike
It’s a steep hike to the lip on the Goat Lake hike

Goat Lake hike trailhead location

Once you’re in Waterton Lakes National Park, look for the well-signed Red Rock Parkway, 5.6 km from the entrance on the right. Follow this beautiful road for 15 km to where it ends at the Red Rock Canyon parking area. If it’s a beautiful summer day, be prepared to wait for a parking space if you show up after 10 AM.

Get to the Goat Lake trailhead via the Red Rock Parkway
Get to the Goat Lake trailhead via the Red Rock Parkway

Goat Lake hike route description

The Goat Lake hike starts at the end of the Red Rock Canyon. You might consider doing a quick 20-minute hike on either side of the pretty canyon while your legs are fresh. 

I did the Goat Lake hike by myself, so I was on high alert for grizzly bears. After about 45 minutes of hiking – I noticed a group of four off in the distance. Then I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that there were fellow hikers around. I also sort of, kind of stalked them – until I eventually passed them. They gave me some peace of mind when it came to the bears. On my way back to the trailhead, I ran into far more people on bikes and on foot and became a tad more cavalier about seeing a bear.

Route description

Cross the canyon on a footbridge and look for the sign with trail distances pictured below. The first 4 km of the Goat Lake hike are on the Snowshoe Trail, a gently rolling wide old road that is shared with bikers. You’ll see plenty of wildflowers along this section. There are a couple of particularly pretty areas showcasing the stark contrast of a burnt trees against colourful grasses and flowers. 

At the 4.3 km mark, 75 minutes into the hike, look for a signed junction on the right. The climbing begins immediately and doesn’t let up until you reach the lip of the hanging valley. Fortunately, the trail switchbacks and in short order you enter the subalpine zone where the vistas improve with every step. The hiking is airy at times, but it never feels dangerous – though you might feel differently early in the season if the slopes are snow-covered. At some point on the trail, you’ll be able to see exactly where you’re headed – and where you’ve come from.

The Goat Lake hike starts at Red Rock Canyon
The Goat Lake hike starts at Red Rock Canyon
A good map of the hike at the trailhead
A good map of the Goat Lake hike at the trailhead
There isn't a soul on the trail when I start hiking
There isn’t a soul on the trail when I start hiking
Pretty hiking on the Goat Lake Trail with lots of wildflowers around
Pretty hiking with wildflowers around
Burnt forest and wildflowers
Burnt forest and wildflowers
 Once I saw this group I slowed my pace to keep them in sight - for bear safety reasons
Once I saw this group I slowed my pace to keep them in sight – for bear safety reasons

At the lip of the stream – the lake’s outlet, you’re only about 7 minutes from Goat Lake and the hard hiking is over. The lake itself won’t wow you the way many an alpine lake will so consider enjoying your lunch before you reach the lip.

There is a campground at Goat Lake, but the park didn’t reopen it until summer 2021, perhaps because they were worried about some of the deadfall and burnt trees. You can keep an eye on its status by visiting the backcountry camping section of the parks website. Backcountry reservations for Goat Lake open on March 30. 2023 at 8 AM MST. The opening dates vary from year to year.

Arrival at Goat Lake - elevation 2017 m
Arrival at Goat Lake – elevation 2017 m
There are four campsites at Goat Lake
There are four campsites at Goat Lake. This map also shows how to pick up the trail to Avion Ridge
Too much deadfall to open up the Goat Lake campsite just yet
There was too much deadfall to open up the Goat Lake campsite in 2021 but it reopened in 2022
A tent pad they don't want you to use just yet at Goat Lake
A tent pad they don’t want you to use just yet at Goat Lake

The Avion Ridge option from Goat Lake

From the Goat Lake campground, you can continue to Avion Ridge visible through the trees. It’s a steep 1.6 km one-way hike to gain the ridge – which I didn’t do – but if you’re after a bigger workout with grand views, do it.

It will be a 3.2 km return hike from Goat Lake to Avion Ridge
It will be a 3.2 km return hike from Goat Lake to Avion Ridge seen in the distance
The trail is easy to see through the low vegetation
The trail is easy to see through the low vegetation
A dramatic peak easiest to see on the way down from Goat Lake
Dramatic Anderson Peak is easiest to see on the descent
Bikers on the Snowshoe Trail part of my hike
 I ran into numerous mountain bikers on the Snowshoe Trail on my way back to the trailhead

Where to stay in Waterton Lakes National Park

For the summer and fall, the Townsite Campground by the lake is a good choice if you’re into camping. You can reserve online or call Parks Canada at 1-877-737-3783.

I highly recommend the conveniently located Waterton Glacier Suites. You can also do your own cooking.

For a B&B experience, Northland Lodge is an excellent choice. If you’re after lodging in an incredible setting with a view down the lake, check out the Prince of Wales Hotel. At the very least, have a drink in their lounge.

The view from the Bear's Hump hike
The view from the Bear’s Hump hike though you’ll see much of this lake from the Prince of Wales Hotel

A few things do take on your Goat Lake hike

  • Don’t forget a can of bear spray that is no more than three years old. Keep it in a bear spray holster that is easy to access. 
  • Carry a whistle.
  • Layer up – as the weather can change quickly in the mountains.
  • Some people will be happy to have hiking poles for the descent.

Further reading on things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park

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The Goat Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park

 

 

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