It’s no secret that Waterton Lakes National Park offers some of the most scenic hiking in Alberta. While I’ve enjoyed a few visits to this park, I hadn’t spent any time in the backcountry. So I planned a quick trip to Goat Lake and tacked on Avion Ridge for a fantastic two-day backcountry trip. Seriously some of the best hikes in Waterton! I’d highly recommend an overnight at the newly re-opened Goat Lake Backcountry Campground. Keep reading to see what I mean.
As I was nearing the end of my second day, I crossed paths with one hiker for brief chat. “I really think the Goat Lake hike and Avion Ridge should be part of the Triple Crown,” she said. Waterton’s Triple Crown Challenge includes Crypt Lake, Carthew-Alderson, and Akimina Ridge. Maybe someday Goat Lake and Avion will make the cut. They’re certainly some of the best hikes in Waterton!
About Goat Lake Hike and Avion Ridge
Location: Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Distance: 26 km loop
Elevation: 1,500 m elevation gain
Time: 10 hours
Dog-friendly: Yes, but dogs must remain on-leash.
Features: If you appreciate spending time in the backcountry, you’ll enjoy visiting Goat Lake in Waterton. The campground is nestled in the mountains and you might even see mountain goats nearby. Continue to the Avion Ridge for mind-blowing views along some of the best hiking in Waterton.
Locating the Trailhead
The trailhead for Goat Lake is located at Red Rock Canyon. After arriving in Waterton Lakes National Park, take the Red Rock Canyon Parkway until you reach the parking area. There’s an outhouse here as well. When you’re ready to go, cross the footbridge over the canyon to begin hiking along the Snowshoe Trail.
Day 1: Trailhead to Goat Lake Campground (7 km)
In late August, I called Parks Canada for a last minute reservation and learned that Goat Lake Backcountry Campground had recently opened. I booked my backcountry permit and drove to Waterton from Calgary on Friday afternoon. By the time I started hiking, it was around 6:30 and the sun would set at 8:30. So Bella the Berner and I hit the trail.
The Goat Lake hike begins at Red Rock Canyon. Cross the footbridge and hike along the fairly flat Snowshoe Trail for about 4.5 km until the “Goat Lake” sign. At this point, the trail starts gaining more elevation for about 2.5 km until reaching the campground. The hike from the trailhead to the campground is about 7 km and gains over 500 metres elevation. This section takes most people between 2.5 to 3 hours. The pooch and I arrived by 8:30pm and I quickly set up camp before the remaining daylight disappeared. After we ate supper, it was time to settle in for the night. Tomorrow would be a much longer (and more challenging) hiking day.
Waterton Backcountry Camping at Goat Lake
Goat Lake Backcountry Campground and the trails closed after the Kenow Wildfire in 2017. The trails reopened in 2020, and the backcountry campground just reopened in August 2021. In fact, I think I was among the first to experience this new and improved Waterton backcountry camping. If you enjoy camping off the beaten path, I’d highly recommend Goat Lake Campground.
There are only four tent pads available at Goat Lake. You cannot book individual campsites, and a backcountry permit is required to stay here. You’ll find food storage lockers, an outhouse, and a communal space for meals. I wonder if Parks Canada will eventually add some picnic tables? There are no fires pits and fires are not permitted in the campground.
I gotta say: The new outhouse at Goat Lake is the nicest I’ve ever used in the backcountry. I was curious about the design, so I reached out to a friend who works in sanitation technology. The rounded belt inside the toilet directs urine into one container, and the poo moves on the pedal-operated conveyor belt to another container. This ultimately means less odour in the outhouse (no ammonia) with very few (if any!) flies. Separating the waste can also help speed up decomposition. Sounds like a great setup to me!
Day 2: Goat Lake to Avion Ridge to Trailhead (19 km)
After a chilly night at Goat Lake, we ate breakfast and packed up our gear. Well, I packed while Bella laid in the morning sun. And I was grateful for the late morning at the campground because we saw three mountain goats above the lake. It was a special sighting while eating oatmeal for breakfast.
If you’re planning to hike Avion Ridge, I’d recommend staying one night at Goat Lake. Of course, you could try to do it all in a day, but it will likely take 8 to 10 hours to complete. In my opinion, it’s much more enjoyable over two days. From Goat Lake, the 19 km hike took us about 7 hours.
After leaving the campground, follow the creek upstream to connect with the trail. There’s no signage until you reach the ridge saddle, with Newman Peak to the right and Avion Ridge to the left. I continued on toward Avion and the entire ridgewalk is approximately 5.7 km. Then you’ll begin the 3-km descent toward Snowshoe Campground where you could stay the night for more backcountry camping. But I just continued along Snowshoe Trail for 8.5 km until reaching Red Rock Canyon. I was happy to see my car! (and Bella slept like a baby in the backseat).
Know Before You Go
Backcountry Reservations: Booking Goat Lake was very easy and completely last minute. Call the Waterton Visitor Centre to book: 403-859-5133. I arrived after hours so they left my permit at the gate. You must make a reservation.
Bikes: Bikes are not permitted on Avion Ridge or the trail to Goat Lake. However, several people ride along the Snowshoe Trail to reduce their time. For day trips, riding into the Goat Lake turnoff and then hiking up would work well.
Dogs: Hiking with dogs is allowed in Waterton. However, canine companions must remain on a leash. Remember to pack out any dog poo and leave no trace. Worried about the smell? I use this Ruffwear Pack Out Bag.
Bear Country: Waterton is bear country. Be sure to bring bear spray, keep it accessible (I wear mine on my pack chest strap), and know how to use it. Regardless of whether you’re in a group or hiking solo (like me), make lots of noise by talking or singing. Bringing bear bangers or an airhorn isn’t a bad idea either. At the campsite, put all animal attractants (food, scented products, etc.) in the food storage locker.
Navigation: The trail is relatively well-maintained, but there are a few sections without much signage. I’d recommend bringing the Waterton Lakes Gem Trek Map.
Water: There is no water source once you’re on the ridge. Bring at least two litres with you.
Map to Goat Lake and Avion Ridge
What’s your favourite thing to do in Waterton Lakes National Park? Have you hiked Goat Lake and Avion Ridge? Let me know in the comments below.
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