Backpack from Glacier NP to Waterton Lakes NP

Rate this Adventure Montana Backpackers' Roost

Added by Kathleen Morton

Head out on this 3-4 day backpacking trip in Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park and enjoy wildflower meadows, beautiful crees, glacier peaks, and less-traveled trails.

Day 1:
This gorgeous backpacking adventure begins at the Packer's Roost trailhead, which is almost halfway between West and East Glacier on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This trailhead is marked on the highway before you get to the "Loop." It's a quick left turn so keep your eyes peeled as you pass Lake McDonald. Here's an address you can put into Google Maps (48.745598, -113.780702). Take note, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed in the wintertime.

Once you get your gear strapped on and step onto the trail, you'll enter a shaded forest. This may provide you some relief from the hot Montana sun, but it also might mean you"ll begin to worry about hidden grizzly bears. After all, this park does have them. Fear not, though! You may not even see a bear on this whole trip.

After a few miles, you'll enter a burn area from the Robert fire in 2003. This is when the trek will start to pack a punch, even though you're only about 5 miles in. That's because you're heading up to Flattop Mountain (6,872 ft.) to camp. This part of the hike is less traveled than those who start at Packer's Roost and head toward Granite Park instead.

After one more mile (putting you at 6 miles that day), you will arrive at Flattop. You will thank your legs for making it up the steep trail when you see that your campsite features mountain views and a nearby creek.

Day 2:
You can sleep in on this day, because the next part of your hike (from Flattop to Fifty Mountain) is not too strenuous. Since most people choose to hike from Granite Park to Fifty Mountain instead, you may not see a person on this whole stretch (which is about 6 miles). Don't let the lack of people fool you. This part of the trail is quite scenic with wildflower meadows and shady forests. If you start early enough, you can make it to Fifty Mountain with some time to explore, and I would highly recommend doing just that.

This night's campground is in a wonderful spot with views of several peaks (Kipp and Cathedral, to name a few). Give yourself some time to hang and chat with other campers while you watch the sunset. Fifty Mountain intersects with at least four different trails and everyone has a different story to tell.

Day 3:
After packing up in the morning, your hike continues on to Waterton Lake. This part will be mostly downhill, and you will feel thankful when you pass exhausted hikers along the route going the opposite way.

Keep your eyes peeled for huckleberries, which will reveal themselves before you reach Stoney Indian Pass.

Once you hike down the meadow, you will see an old patrol cabin (Kootenai Creek Cabin). It's usually locked, but if it is open, pop inside to take a look.

After passing the trail to head up to Stoney Indian Pass, you'll notice a turnoff for Kootenai Lakes. If you have time, it's worth heading that way to catch some moose sightings and take some wildlife photos.

And just when you think you can walk no further, you'll arrive at Goat Haunt, which boasts an impressive view of Waterton Lake. Hang out there for a little bit. Use what extra time you might have to head over to the ferry station and grab a schedule so you can plan accordingly in the morning. You still have 2 more miles to kill before you'll be relaxing at your campsite, so make sure to give yourself some time to do just that.

This will be your longest day, about 11 miles (or longer if you venture off to Kootenai).

Day 4:
Figuring out which ferry to catch is key. When you're ready, leave the Waterton campsite to head back to Goat Haunt (about a 2-mile walk). You'll need to show the ferry caption your ID and passport before they will let you board. Once you're on the ferry, relax. You made it! Enjoy the views. It was during the ferry ride that we saw more wildlife than our entire trip (two bear and one eagle sightings from the boat).

You'll enter into Canada and someone on the boat will phone customs once you get off. Give yourself a pat on the back. You did it!

Head on over to Tamarack Outdoor Outfitters in Waterton to plan your shuttle ride to the Canada border. From there, they'll drop you off and you'll have to arrange another shuttle to come grab you at the border and take you back to East Glacier.

Note: This trip ranges from 25-28 miles depending on how adventurous you’re feeling and how many miles you want to pursue.

Before starting this trip, you'll have to think about how you will get back to your car when you finish. After all, you'll be in Canada and your car will be somewhere in Montana. At the start of the trip, you'll want to park somewhere in West or East Glacier, take the free shuttle on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and then make your way to the trailhead. At the end of the trip, you can then take a Glacier National Park shuttle from Waterton to East Glacier. If your car is parked in West Glacier instead, you would then take the Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle from East to West Glacier to make it to your car. Regardless of where your park is parked, schedule a shuttle in advance from the Canada border to East Glacier on the Glacier National Park website.

Make sure to read up on your Leave No Trace Ethics before you go. We want to keep this wilderness the beautiful way it is!

Pack List

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Water filtration
  • Stove (fires are generally not allowed)
  • Food for 4 days
  • Camera
  • Layers
  • Rain gear
  • Hiking boots
  • Backpack
  • Headlamp
  • Moleskin – for blisters
  • Sunscreen
  • Bear Spray
  • Passport
  • Driver's License
  • Wilderness Permit
Read More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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Activities:

Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Photography, Yoga

Skill Level:

Intermediate

Season:

Spring, Summer

Trail Type:

Out-and-Back

Distance:

25 Miles

Features:

Forest
Scenic
Swimming Hole
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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Added by Kathleen Morton

Instead of aspiring to be weekend warriors, let's thrive on being weekday adventurers. Let's explore together: tinyhousetinyfootprint@gmail.com

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