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The Goat Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park reopened in the summer 2020. It had been closed for several years due to the 2017 Kenow fire that devastated some of the infrastructure in the park, including part of the Red Rock Parkway – the pretty access road to the trailhead. The trail to Goat Lake was closed many times again in 2020, but that was on account of bear activity. Two days before my visit, it had been off limits so it wasn’t until the day before I did it, that I knew it would be a go. When you visit the park, be sure to check out the trail reports for up to date trail information.
As luck would have it, I was able to do the Goat Lake hike in Waterton – but by myself. I was in the park on a press trip – and the others had gone off to do the Crypt Lake hike, a one of a kind experience I highly recommend. I don’t mind repeating hikes but on this trip, I really wanted to knock off Goat Lake – especially as it’s in a part of the park I had never visited before.
However, I must admit to being on high alert for many hours on the hike. I knew I was traveling through grizzly country so not only was my bear spray accessible but I also sang and made a lot of noise. That would be enough as my family will attest, to keep any bear at a distance.
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.
You might want to read Tips for Staying Safe in Bear Country.
Finding the Goat Lake trailhead
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.
Description of the Goat Lake hike
Distance: 13.6 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 525 m or 1722 ft.
Hiking time: 4- 5 hours
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.
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.
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 hasn’t reopened it yet, perhaps because they’re 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.
The Avion Ridge option
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.
Where to stay in Waterton
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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.
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.
- Always pack the 10 hiking essentials.
- 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
- The Best Things to Do in Waterton in Summer
- A Visit to see Waterton Lakes Spectacular Wildflowers
- A Hike on the Carthew Alderson Trail in Waterton Lakes
- The Crypt Lake Hike in Waterton Lakes
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