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Waterton, AB Backcountry Camping Trip

I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into approximately 8 months ago when I proposed the idea of a Backcountry Hiking Trip to Sean and his dad, Gord.  Gord is a well-seasoned outdoorsman and has been hiking and camping in the backcountry for about 13 years, and Sean would oftentimes accompany him.  The two have tackled major famous Canadian trails like the West Coast Trail, the Mantario Trail, the Chilkoot Trail, the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail, and countless other hikes and outdoor activities.  I think the boys may have been being extra-polite when they didn’t burst out laughing at my suggestion of the three of us taking a trip together.

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I’m not exactly a rookie to the outdoors – if you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that I’ve done my fair share of hiking and camping around the Rocky Mountains in the past few years.  But I’d only done one backcountry trip before, and it was when I was 17 years old.  It was a school trip, guided and organized by teachers and chaperones, and even though it was an awesome introductory experience, I basically just had to show up with my clothes, food and gear and follow the leader for a week through Yoho National Park.  This trip was going to be different.

We decided that 3 days, 2 nights, and approximately 30 kilometres of hiking would be a good start. Gord took the reins on trip planning – he decided where we would go, which I was more than okay with.  He also did the meal planning, which was incredible, by the way…he had us eating butter chicken and pasta with meat sauce and breakfast wraps.  We definitely weren’t “roughing it” when it came to food!

Day One – Drive Calgary to Waterton, Hike Red Rock Canyon to Goat Lake

We were well prepared and had everything packed and ready to go the night before departure, so we were on the road at around 7:30am on Day One to make the three hour drive from Calgary to Waterton Lakes National Park.  By the time we had picked up our permits, made it to the Red Rock Canyon parking lot and got all geared up, we hit the trails just before noon.  The hike from Red Rock Canyon to Goat Lake is about 7 km, and the first half is more of a nature walk.  It didn’t really get difficult until we began our ascent to Goat Lake…prepare to get your heart pumping.  It’s only 2.5 km but it took almost the same amount of time as the previous 4.5, especially with full packs.  You’ll know you’re almost at Goat Lake when you pass one of the most beautiful little waterfalls you have ever seen.

Day One - Ascent to Goat Lake
Day One – Ascent to Goat Lake
Day One - Ascent to Goat Lake
Day One – Ascent to Goat Lake
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The Falls – This Means You’re Getting Close!

The campground only has 4 tent sites, one outhouse, and campfires are prohibited.  We made our cook site by the lake, and there is a bear-proof food hanger well away from the tent sites.  The lake is full of fish (National Park fishing license required) and crystal clear.  It was extremely cold when we visited in Mid-July but we were so hot and sweaty by the time we arrived that we couldn’t help but go for a frigid (4.2 second) swim.  We were lucky enough to be the only people camping on the night that we were at Goat Lake, however the area was busy with day hikers during the afternoon.

Our Tent Site at Goat Lake
Our Tent Site at Goat Lake
Gord making sure we stay Hydrated
Gord making sure we stay Hydrated
Our Backcountry Birthday Celebration
Our Backcountry Birthday Celebration
Skipping Rocks on Goat Lake at Sunset
Skipping Rocks on Goat Lake at Sunset

Day Two – Hike Goat Lake to Twin Lakes

We woke up around 8 on the second day and took our time with coffee, breakfast, and packing up camp.  We probably weren’t on the trail until close to 11 for the 4 hour, 8km hike to Twin Lakes.  The hike down from Goat Lake was as difficult as the hike up, and it was HOT.  The hike to Twin Lakes was a bit of a challenge, but not quite as tough as what we had faced on day one.  What was nice, though, is that it was a lot more forested and therefore shady and cool.  We arrived at our site around 3:00 and ate an early dinner, but not before hiking down to Lower Twin Lake (much prettier than Upper Twin Lake) through the SNOW (yes, snow) for an extremely refreshing swim.  The water wasn’t quite as cold as Goat Lake, but it was still a challenge to stay in it for more than 10 seconds at a time.  I was so exhausted from the action-packed day…I think I retired to my tent by 7.

Day Two - Descent from Goat Lake
Day Two – Descent from Goat Lake
Day Two - Descent from Goat Lake
Day Two – Descent from Goat Lake
Hiking down through the snow (in pink crocs!) to Lower Twin Lake
Hiking down through the snow (in pink crocs!) to Lower Twin Lake
Swimming in Lower Twin Lakes
Swimming in Lower Twin Lakes

Day Three – Hike Twin Lakes to Red Rock Canyon

We got an earlier start on day three after a really rough sleep.  We were fed, coffee’d, and packed up and on the trail by 9:30, as we knew we had a 14 km hike ahead.  This long day of hiking had a pretty challenging start as we had to hike straight uphill for about a kilometre, and then through avalanche zones for about 2 hours, which meant deep, slippery snow, broken trees, tons of debris, and losing our trail a couple of times.  It slowed us down but it was nothing we couldn’t handle…I was very grateful to have brought hiking poles though for stability, balance, and confidence crossing the snow.  After we made it through the tough stuff, it was just a lot of slight decline, which we were all very grateful for.

Hiking through the Avalanche Zone
Hiking through the Avalanche Zone
Some of the Avalanche Damage…trees bent in half, others snapped clean off, others uprooted…so crazy
Some of the Avalanche Damage…trees bent in half, others snapped clean off, others uprooted…so crazy
Sean and I
Sean and I
Creek Crossing
Creek Crossing

We were following a bear down the mountain part of the way…we saw fresh scat and lots of overturned rocks.  I entertained myself by yelling “beep beep beep” and singing with Sean for hours on end so as not to startle whatever was lurking in the woods.  Luckily, we never actually saw the bear.  The last part of our hike was through the stunning Red Rock Canyon, which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Red Rock Canyon is also easily accessible (less than 1km) from the parking lot, so it would make for a super easy quarter-day hike / nature walk.  That last kilometre was the longest of my life, but it felt pretty amazing to turn a corner of the trail after 3 days in the backcountry and see a parking lot full of cars. Cars meant air conditioning and transport to a restaurant in town for burgers and beer.

Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon

After a wet-wipe sponge bath in the public washroom and changing into the clean clothes I had left in the car (highly recommended), we drove into the town of Waterton for a late lunch at Trapper’s Mountain Grill.  I out-ate both of the men and wasn’t even upset about it.  The avalanche burger (topped with onions, cheddar, bacon and a fried egg) is awesome if you’re starving.  We then treated ourselves to way too much ice cream at Big Scoop and then piled in the car for a food-coma drive back to Calgary.  It was glorious.

The 3 days we spent in Waterton were absolutely incredible.  I learned so much and I was so grateful to have two knowledgable, patient and supportive men to help make this idea a reality.  I’ll definitely be doing another Backcountry trip soon.

Have you ever been to Waterton?  Did you spend any time in the Backcountry or mostly just stick around the townsite?

Ashley Dempster is a twenty-something Canadian Travel and Adventure blogger based in Calgary, Canada. Her passions include good food, minimalist packing, running, music, and chasing down every opportunity for adventure.

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