The Goat Lake Hike in Waterton Lakes National Park


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.

Get to the Goat Lake trailhead via the Red Rock Parkway

Description of the Goat Lake hike

Hike details:

Distance: 13.6 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 525 m or 1722 ft.
Rating: Moderate
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 you’re 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 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 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
The hike to Goat Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park
Once I saw this group I slowed my pace to keep them in sight – for bear safety reasons
It's a steep hike to the lip
It’s a steep hike to the lip
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
Too much deadfall to open up the Goat Lake campsite just yet
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 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

Further reading on things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park

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The Goat Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

 



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