Climbing Mount Cleveland, GNP via the Stoney Indian Route



23.2 miles

Elevation Gain

6723 ft

Route Type


Added by Kyle Bitney

Standing at 10,479 feet, Mount Cleveland is the tallest mountain in Glacier National Park.  While not considered a technical peak, it is a fairly difficult climb with great exposure when approaching via the Stoney Indian Route.

The logistics of the approach to Mount Cleveland is the first main obstacle; its location requires one to hike many miles or take a ferry across Waterton Lake which still leaves a long approach.  Getting to the town of Waterton obviously involves crossing the US/Canadian border (multiple times) so if one wants to avoid this they should approach Mt. Cleveland from the Chief Customs trail head.  This description is via Waterton and Goat Haunt Customs.

To add even more difficulty, one has to figure out where to camp (this is a minimum of two-days trip; although I have future plans to attempt it in one day...).  I've been lucky enough to get Stoney Indian campsite each time I've climbed Cleveland; don't count on being so fortunate as it is considered one of if not THE most sought-after campsites.  If you are not familiar with obtaining back country permits in GNP, head over to their site at:  Just realize you DO need a backcountry permit. There are both "walk-in" reservations (can be made within 24 hours time frame) and an "advanced reservation"  

If you cannot get Stoney Indian I recommend staying at Kootenai Lake as this is the next closest and easier to snag a site.  Finally, if you have to, grab a reservation at Goat Haunt shelters as these are ALWAYS available.  Just note that this automatically turns it into a 3-day adventure (day 1: get to Goat Haunt via boat; Day 2: climb Cleveland and return to Goat Haunt; Day 3 depart on boat).  As you can see there are many different ways to handle the approach if you cannot get a site at Stoney Indian.

Also, as if not to make things more confusing, before heading out, check the boat schedule that travels from the town of Waterton to Goat Haunt (there is only one operation and they are excellent): Even though the 7pm boat lands at Goat Haunt you cannot cross the border that late... trust me, I've made that mistake before (Port of Entry hours are 11am to 5:00 pm daily).  I recommend taking the 1pm boat as to give yourself time, although I've taken the 4pm boat multiple times and still had plenty of time.

In the past I have done two different trips to climb Cleveland; on one route we parked our car at Chief Customs, crossed the border on foot (that was fun..) and caught our pre-arranged shuttle to the town of Waterton.  We only did this as we climbed both Mt. Cleveland and Mt. Merritt in the same trip and made one large loop.  I highly recommend this trip (it's a BIG one... message me if you would like more details).  With that said, the easiest approach for Cleveland is to take the boat across Waterton Lake and pre-book your return boat for the next day (or whenever you know you will be returning).

I've done this climb in two days but that doesn't give much room for error or bad weather and I was lucky to begin my climb straight out of the Stoney Indian campsite.  If you are worried you cannot make it in two days, or have to camp at a different site, just book the last night at Goat Haunt and catch the first boat out the next day (as I previously mentioned in the 3-day itinerary).

Now, for the description of the climb....

Get yourself to the Stoney Indian Campsite one way or another.  From here, if you look to the northeast of Stoney Indian Lake you will see a fairly prominent notch/saddle.  This is your destination (I have included a picture taken from the notch with the view of Stoney Indian Lake).  I generally climb up one of the many creek beds straight out of the campsite and eventually find a decent place to traverse before making the climb to the notch. Once below the notch, make your ascent up and eventually cross to the north side of the Stoney Indian ridge.  Here, one can view almost the entire traverse that is about to be made.  If you begin traversing north along the ridge keeping the Stoney Indian Peaks above you, you should find a fairly established trail with some cairns. Follow this trail (which has GREAT exposure at times) until reaching the first east-facing open face of scree.  From here you cross the face while climbing to gain the main ridge that eventually takes you to the summit.  There is a lot of route finding but nothing should be greater than class 3 up this first part of the ridge (see the following website by Blake Passmore for a description of the climbing classification: ).  Once you reach the top of that ridge you still have a ways to go, but from here it is a fairly easy scramble.  See the photo of the GPS track for a better idea.  Return route is the same way.

Total trip stats, as per my GPS:  23.2 miles round-trip with 6,723 vertical foot gain.  Broken down: 7.5 miles one-way from Goat Haunt to Stoney Indian campsite with 2,400ft vertical PLUS 8.2 miles round-trip from Stoney Indian campsite to the summit and back to the campsite with 4,323ft vertical.

The views are amazing (although my last trip was in the clouds so it made for an interesting route-finding experience).  Just remember you are a long ways from help and the weather can change extremely fast.

Any questions, please feel free to ask.  Have fun and good luck!!

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