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Glacier National Park Backpack – Goat Haunt to Waterton River Campsite and Rainbow Falls

In early 2010 I entered and won, a contest hosted by Agion Active. My prize? An all expense paid trip to Glacier National Park through Glacier Guides. All year long I waited patently for what ended up being the trip of a lifetime. So in early August my wife and I took a Guided 5 day backpack through Glacier’s Backcountry. We started at the head of Waterton Lake and traveled 26 miles over Brown’s Pass to the foot of Bowman Lake. The trip was so Amazing I am finding it too hard to fit it all into a single post…so I have decided to break it up into multiple posts. This post will feature the first day of our 5 day Backpack from Goat Haunt to Waterton River Campsite and Rainbow Falls.

Our five day Backpack began at the Goat Haunt Ranger Station located deep in Glacier’s Backcountry. You can only access it by hiking in, or by boat from Canada. We drove 3 hours from the Glacier Guides office in West Glacier to Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. Our original plan was to take the 1:00 pm boat from Waterton to Goat Haunt, but with construction and border crossing delays we missed the 1:00 pm boat.

Waterton Lakes National Park

The next boat didn’t depart till 4:00 pm…so my wife and I spent a little time walking the streets of Waterton. Waterton is a small town located entirely inside the National Park. Unlike the tourist traps that you typically see in American National Parks this was an actual town with residences, fast food, laundromats, vacation homes, and the like. Walking the streets you can feel the small town charm. My wife and I stopped in Waterton’s extensive gear shop (Waterton Outdoor Adventures) to pick up some last minute gear before picking up one last caffeinated fountain drink at the Subway. As we walked along the streets we couldn’t help but notice the large number of deer lounging around in the shadows of the building. At first this was fascinating….until we realized it is a common occurrence.

One of many deer wandering Waterton

Before long it was time to board the M.V. International. We went to set our packs down on the lower deck and then took our seats on the open upper deck. As we left dock and rounded the corner into Waterton Lake a strong 20 mph wind came rushing up the lake. This combined with the speed of the boat made a pretty windy ride. The boat captain began announcing small tidbits of info about the International Peace Park among other things that hardly kept my attention. About that time our Guide leaned over to tell us the best view is on the boats bow. Curious, my wife and I headed down the stairs to the front of the boat and stood on the tip of the bow. By far the best spot on the boat. We stood there with the wind in our hair taking in a spectacular view as we made jokes about cliche Titanic Movie scenes.

The M.V. International

My wife in the bow of the M.V. International

As the boat approached the Canada/US boarder the captain slowed down to show us an interesting fact about US/Canada peace treaty. It seems when the two nations were signing the treaty on where the US/Canada border would exist they both agreed they wanted to be able to physically see the border. With no natural features available to mark the 49th Parallel North the nations decided they should clear cut the forest along the Canadian border. I am told this is true of the entire border…where trees exist they are cut down, where there is only grass it is cut a little shorter along the boarder, and where no trees nor grass exist stone boundary markers are erected.

The clear cut US Canada Border
US Canada border with two stone boundary markers

Once we reached the US side of Waterton Lake a passenger on the boat yelled “bear.” Sure enough, a Sow with three cubs came walking out of the forest. The captain turned the boat around and inched up as close to the shore as possible allowing everyone on board a good, safe, look. Before long the sow began to be concerned about the boat of 100 people or so and began to stand on her hind legs repeatedly. The captain took this as his cue to move on before she got too spooked. We proceeded down the rest of Waterton lake passing only the occasional kayaker.

A sow with two of her three cubs

When we reached the head of the lake we proceeded to the Goat Haunt Port of Entry which consisted of two rangers at a pic-nic table. They politely asked for our passports, and asked what trail we would take. We received a passport stamp and were sent on our way. A much easier border crossing then the one we experienced earlier that day.

We didn’t have far to go that night. We headed down the Boulder Pass Trail toward the Waterton River Backcountry Campsites. Before long we reached the Waterton River which was flowing rather deep and fast. There is a ford for horses just opposite the campsites…but a little further down the trail there is a much dryer, warmer, although rickety suspension bridge. Stable enough for only one hiker at a time, the three of us patently waited our turn to cross. Our campsite was just past the river. We arrived at camp about 6:00 pm and went to drop off our food at the food prep area.

Preparing to cross the suspension bridge
My wife on the cable suspension bridge over Waterton River
Load Limit: One Hiker

Each Glacier backcountry campsite has three different locations, a site for tents, a food prep area, and a pit toilet. To protect campers from bears all food must be prepared, eaten and stored at the food prep area located approximately 200 feet from the nearest tent site. Each food prep area has a metal hanging system made out of iron pipe. Regrettably, I didn’t get a picture of these unique hanging systems.

Backcountry Pit Toilet
My wife looking accross Waterton River at the Waterton River Campsite

The next morning the three of took a short hike out to Rainbow falls. We crossed back over the suspension bridge and headed up the short trail to the falls located on Waterton River. The falls are not quite a real waterfall…more of a powerful cascade over large boulders. None the less, my wife and I were in awe at the power the river was displaying. What we didn’t realize was, this was just the beginning…and rainbow falls would be the least impressive waterfall we would see the rest of the trip.

Heading back across the suspension bridge
Hiking out to Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls
Waterton River

The Hike:

Red: Hike to Waterton River Campsite. Green: Hike to Rainbow Falls
Our Five Day Backpack through Glacier Backcountry. More Posts Coming Soon!

I used both the book and map featured below while planning my Glacier Trip. Buy them through these links and support MyLifeOutdoors

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  • -maria-

    August 24, 2011

    What a prize! I'm sure you had a wonderful time. Looking forward to Day Two!

  • Tim @ Appalachia and Beyond

    August 28, 2011

    Hey Steven,

    What an amazing trip. Makes me think back to my trip to glacier back when I was 18. I remember going into Waterford and thinking how amazing it was to see moose and other wildlife just walking around town like it was nothing. Looking forward to day two. Love the lake picture with the Prince of Wales Hotel in the background.


  • Jeff

    August 28, 2011

    Awesome Steven! One of my favorite parts of North America. I love it in Montana, Idaho, Alberta. Anxious to see the rest of your trip report.

  • Robert J Miller

    August 28, 2011

    great pics! and to see bears must have been a blast.

  • Marc Steensma

    December 31, 2011

    This is really cool. Great pics, loved the bears 🙂
    Marc – http://exploreandwonder.blogspot.com/

  • Mass Kumar

    May 13, 2013

    Great post, thanks for all the valuable information that you have provided.


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